Holocaust Memorial Ceremony
Trusteeship Council Chamber
27 January 2009
10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Ambassador Gabriela Shalev
Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations
Today, we gather here to honor the memory of those who struggled, those who perished, and those who survived. As time distances us from the horrors of the Holocaust, we approach an era in which the living memories of the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz, Babi Yar and Treblinka will become mere history. A child born today will never meet a Holocaust survivor or hear first-hand the countless stories of tragedy and miracle that took place during the darkest hours of humanity.
And so, passing on the torch of remembrance, of bearing witness, and of education, becomes an even more critical task. It is not only our duty to the past but, perhaps even more so, our responsibility to the generations to come.
As living remnants of Holocaust victims, we must tell their stories –– one by one. It is the least we can do for them and for so many others who will never have their stories told.
My grandfather, Siegfried Manheim, was a successful lawyer in Berlin and the author of a weekly legal column in one of Berlin's largest newspapers. Like him, his two sons — my uncle Kurt who was a young judge, and my father Bernhard who was a medical student –– were Germans and Jews, proud of both their country and their cultural heritage.
In 1933, their dreams were shattered, their world collapsed. The rise of Hitler meant that my grandfather was banned from practicing law. Barred from his profession, my grandfather fled his native Germany together with his family.
The family settled in Palestina Erets Yisrael, then under the British Mandate, leaving behind all their belongings, to begin anew in whatever way they could. The Judge ended up a farmer, the medical student became a cook.
They viewed themselves, then, as anything but lucky. But, we know how lucky they were. Others in my family –– my maternal grandparents –– did not escape.
My grandfather, Shimon Peterseil, was a rabbi in Kiel –– a town in northern Germany. He could not leave Germany because of his age –– he was 70. But my grandmother, Hadas, had the foresight to send all their children to rebuild Erets Yisrael while she stayed behind with her husband.
For many years we had no idea as to what befell them. After the war, my family relentlessly searched for any piece of information on my grandparents. I remember myself as a child, sitting on the back stairs of our house in Tel Aviv, waiting for my grandparents to arrive.
I have never seen them.
Much later we learnt that they were deported to Teresienstadt and from there to Auschwitz, to their horrible end.
Some 60 years later, my firstborn granddaughter of 17 visited Auschwitz. She travelled from Israel to where my family, her family, together with so many millions, were murdered.
She saw the execution wall, the gas chambers, and the crematoriums. She saw the rooms with piles of tangled shoes, glasses, hair and suitcases. She witnessed the horror and the anguish of the victims –– unseen to her eyes, yet visible to her soul.
The fate of my family –– like the fate of millions –– remains a painful reminder of the genocide against them for merely being who they were: Jews.
The Jewish tragedy of the Holocaust was unique; to use Elie Wiesel’s words, “not all victims were Jews but all Jews were victims.” Yet the tragedy of the Holocaust is of far reaching universal implications, and confers responsibilities upon us all.
We have the responsibility not to allow genocide of the Jewish people, nor of any people.
We have the responsibility to learn and to teach the lessons of the Holocaust to prevent it from ever reoccurring.
We have the responsibility not to remain silent. For, to remain silent and indifferent to the horrors of the Holocaust is probably the greatest sin of all, let alone denying it.
We have the responsibility to act against the forces of anti-Semitism, bigotry, and racism in any form.
We have the responsibility to condemn those who educate children to murder and kill in the name of God.
We have the responsibility to condemn any Member State of the United Nations that calls for the destruction of another Member State and engages in Holocaust denial.
Fellow colleagues, dear friends, I wish to conclude with the words commanded to us by one human being, a survivor and a victim of Auschwitz, the scientist who became a prominent author, Primo Levi. These are the words that precede his book “Se Questo è un Uomo” – “If This is a Man.”
You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You, who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman,
With no hair and with no name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or, may your house fall apart
May illness impede you
May your children turn their faces away from you.
The views expressed by private individuals do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations.