1944 was a decisive year in World War II. Defeat after defeat was inflicted on the German forces, but despite the fact that Allied victory was clearly in the offing, Nazi Germany was determined to complete the “Final Solution”, the murder of European Jewry. To this end, the Nazis redoubled their efforts to reach every last Jew before the war ended, annihilating community after community, individual after individual, in their homes, ghettos and hiding places. This was also the fate of most of Hungarian Jewry, the last large Jewish community in Europe. In just fifty-six days, the Nazi and Hungarian regimes deported 437,000 Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most of them were murdered on the day of their arrival. As their empire crumbled, the Nazis drew on sorely-needed resources from the war effort to liquidate the Lodz ghetto, to slaughter the last Jews in Kovno and Shavli, Lithuania, and to annihilate the Jewish communities of Rhodes, Corfu and Kos. Jews in hiding were hunted and killed; in July, just one month before France was liberated, 300 children and their caregivers were seized and sent to their deaths in Auschwitz-Birkenau; Holland saw the last deportation leave on 3 September 1944, with 1,019 Jews on board. As the Germans retreated, thousands upon thousands of camp prisoners were marched hundreds of kilometers on death marches towards Germany and Austria. Those who survived were forced to work; many finally gave out and expired.
During 1944, when the Allies had gained the upper hand, the world knew: the world saw, but continued to ignore the extermination of European Jewry. The State of Israel and Yad Vashem, have a historic duty to redeem the stories and names of the Holocaust victims. Yad Vashem is committed to salvage the memory of each of the six million from the oblivion the Nazis intended. To date, approaching 3,000,000 names have been recorded, but much remains to be done. It is upon the Jewish world to join this mission and help restore the memory of each and every victim.
We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to retrieve the memory of the life of every Jew killed in the Holocaust. The survivors have played a central role in transmitting the legacy of the Holocaust. When there are no eyewitnesses left, this responsibility will fall on the Jewish people, people of conscience, teachers and educators, historians and Holocaust research scholars. Teaching the story of the Holocaust to the younger generations honors the debt we owe the Holocaust victims, but over and above that, we owe it to ourselves, in order to consolidate our identity and to preserve a humane, moral and even political consciousness in a world where there isn’t always room for goodness and justice.
The endurance of the Holocaust victims in extreme situations and their efforts to preserve their humanity have universal significance. The Righteous Among the Nations, who jeopardized their lives to save Jews during this dark period, prove that it was possible to act differently. The Holocaust was unique to the Jewish people, but it has universal significance for humanity as a whole, now and forever more.
Sixty years after the Holocaust, we are once again witnessing a revival of antisemitism in Europe. When the war ended, many believed that the memory of the Holocaust would act as a deterrent, that mankind would never again let antisemitism rear its head. In recent years, however, we are again seeing arson attacks on synagogues, cemeteries desecrated, hate mail, blood libels and incitement. Once again, Jews are afraid to wear skullcaps and stars of David outside their homes.
Today, the left and the right are working together in Europe; antisemitism promotes demonizing of the Jews and the de-legitimization of the State of Israel. Antisemitism is diametrically opposed to human values. It is often intertwined with terrorism, and constitutes a threat to democracy. The struggle against antisemitism has to be everyone’s struggle. In a country where they burn synagogues today, the day is not far off when state institutions will be attacked, and the very existence of democracy will be endangered. We, the Jewish people, will continue to carry out our historic duty with pain and sorrow: to remember the Holocaust and impart both its legacy and the imperative to fight for the basic values of human society for the generations to come.