“Good evening to the thousands-strong crowd.
Dear Holocaust survivors and second and third generation survivors, IDF soldiers and commanders, Israel Police and the security forces, residents of the Western Galilee and the Mateh Asher regional council, cadets and youth movement guides, and friends of the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum in Israel and around the world.
It is our honor to have here tonight the head of the Zionist Union, MK Isaac Herzog, mayors and the heads of regional councils.
We thank the ambassadors of numerous countries and representatives of the diplomatic corps who honor us tonight with their presence.
Welcome to the closing assembly of the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day events titled “The Sun Shines Once Again.” The victory over Nazi Germany brought about the liberation of Jews from extermination camps, their surfacing from hiding places, and the return of partisan Jews from the forests.
Unlike the liberated Europeans, the day of liberation was not a happy occasion for the Jews but rather a day of sorrow and loss. In her book, “The Night Lasted Three Years,” my aunt, the late Chana Pines-Herzberg, wrote about the day when the town of Zwolle, Holland was liberated on April 16, 1945, exactly 70 years ago:
Like a wound spring set loose, the three of us burst out the door. We kept running and then stopping in the middle of the street gazing around nervously. Strange feeling. We are outside. In broad daylight. Two and a half years passed, and here we are looking at the sun. I can’t believe this is happening to me. The streets are filled with people, they are rejoicing. It is as if we don’t belong. Treading carefully, looking around with caution. “Look who’s here,” I hear a voice beside me. “You’re still here? I am so happy to see you.” Before long, a big circle formed around us. “How’s your husband and the children?” “My husband is gone,” I reply, and these words suddenly burst into my consciousness as the blow of a hammer. I am free but Louie and Lieneke are gone. I choke back tears. I sense no joy. I feel like I’m in mourning among the celebrations.
During the assembly tonight, we will open a window into the world of the survivors at the moment of liberation and follow the amazing way they coped with the many difficulties on their journey back to life, a journey full of obstacles, disappointments and a persistent struggle for their right to build a new life. There were survivors who, tragically, did not survive their release from the extermination camps. They were between life and death, unable to recover from the disease and hunger despite their liberation. The luckier ones returned from the horrors and were looking for their remaining relatives and homes that had been destroyed and plundered, and often taken over by strangers.
Even though the United States opened its gates for the refugees, most of them chose to make Aliyah to Israel. Many survivors took part in the struggle to open the gates for Aliyah to the land of Israel and for achieving a Jewish national sovereignty in it. The land of Israel was under British Mandate rule, and although many Jews had fought in the British Army against the Nazi enemy, Britain failed to treat the Jewish survivors as humanely as previously expected, and many were not issued permits to make Aliyah. The destitute survivors arrived to the country within the framework of the Aliyah Bet, with fake names and passports, and many of them were captured and sent to Cyprus -- from the death camps straight to detention camps.
And what of those heroic survivors who somehow managed to survive, very often as the last remaining members of entire families that had perished, who made it to the land of Israel, and as they got off the ships they were taken to fight in the War of Independence? How cruel was the fate of those who had survived the Holocaust, regained their freedom, and died fighting for this land? And among the fallen ones some were buried as unknown soldiers. These are things we cannot grasp until this very day.
The Aliyah of Holocaust survivors was the largest wave of immigration that ever reached this country–in-the-making. These survivors were a central component and a leading force in every aspect of its culture, economy and society. They channeled all the strength they could summon toward building their new homeland and forming their new identity, while they were letting go of their past. The author Aharon Appelfeld said:
I felt very emotional toward what there had been and then was gone. ... These longings were completely suppressed. The conscious desire was to put down roots in the land, to become “one of us.” This is how a disconnection in one’s personality is formed, because there were two personalities. ... Everyone in my generation has created a sort of dual personality: one that lives in another place, feeds through different roots, a different language, a different view, different experiences; and a second one here, in the kibbutz … in the army … And the truth of the matter is we didn’t know which was the important one – is it the one we left behind or the one living here?
Many survivors succeeded, God only knows how, to recover and build a new life in the State of Israel. They got to build wonderful families, and in this they saw their victory over the Nazis. They won. They had paid a brutal price, but they won. They had gone through horrifying tragedies and they carry enormous scars on their bodies and souls, but they won. They won because they believed it was their destiny -- to build this old/new home of the Jewish people, the State of Israel; to face the horrors of the past alone, and to build the State of Israel together — not just for them, but mainly for us, the sons and daughters of the second and third generation.
Let’s make sure their life’s work is not ruined and that we find the way to steer it finally to safety. Toward the end of the conflict and the long-awaited peace, toward social justice and solidarity, the eradication of racism and incitement from our midst.
Speaking of social justice, when will this disgrace end already, where every year we hear that the survivors that are still here with us get extra hundreds of millions of shekels to live out their lives in dignity, and then statistics are published indicating that they are getting poorer and poorer? We cannot bear this shame anymore. Maybe the members of the new Knesset will put an end to this disgrace.
The survivors chose life — they chose to transcend the circle of violence and revenge. Instead of repeating on every Holocaust Remembrance Day that the whole world is against us, the leadership of Israel must show responsibility and channel all its might to fulfill the vision and the dream; to assure the existence of the State of Israel forever and ever. We owe this much to the survivors; we owe it to ourselves and future generations.