My fellow Israelis, 80 years ago, in June 1941, the Nazis and their local collaborators and enablers began the mass murder of Jews in the Soviet Union and annexed territories. The objective was to reach everyone, “until the very last Jew”. It was brutal murder aimed at the total, systematic destruction of the Jewish people. Jewish communities that were centuries old were wiped off the face of the earth. In trenches, in pits and in valleys of death, at Ponar, at Babyn Yar and other places. 33,771 Jews, including babies, children, women and the elderly, were shot and killed over two days in September 1941, just before Yom Kippur, in the valley of death at Babyn Yar. Their names were not even recorded. But their memories are engraved in our hearts.
My dear Holocaust survivors, Israeli citizens, the burden of memory that we carry in our hearts is a sacred duty. Whether we want it or not, the memory of the Holocaust shapes our identity as a people. The Holocaust places before us - its victims, the Jewish people and the State of Israel - an infinite task of remembrance. Bearing that burden of remembrance is no easy task. A people that carries in its historical memory a nadir that is so deep, so difficult, so impossible, is not like other peoples. Our historical memory requires us to continue learning and teaching about the Holocaust. To research without limits and without fear or favor, to know the history in detail, to leave no stone unturned. To try and touch, to understand the inconceivable. To preserve the memory of the Holocaust as a sacred memory. Not to use memory, or the Holocaust, as a tool or an instrument depending on the needs of the time or place. And, at the same time, not to allow this open wound to stop us from acting or looking to the future.
I stand here, in the hills of Jewish Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, on the eve of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Memorial Day 5781. Just over a year ago, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, I had the privilege and the honor of welcoming here dozens of kings, presidents and prime ministers who came from around the world. Together, we pledged to remember the Holocaust and to fight antisemitism, racisim, hatred and delegitimization – deadly enemies, home and abroad, that can bring down nations, undermine liberty and the human spirit. For me, this was the apex of a shattering personal journey. In recent years, I have stood next to other heads of state at death camps, valleys of death, memorial sites and museums across Europe. I did not stand alone. With me were six million of our brothers and sisters, ‘six million prosecutors’, six million witnesses. But not only the victims stood with me. You survivors also stood with me. I have no words to describe the strength I drew from you. You Holocaust survivors, heroes of our rebirth, who found the fortitude do get up from the ground soaked in blood and tears, to look forward, to choose life, to love, to laugh, to enjoy, to believe, to build and to create. To build a national home and a home of your own. To raise children in love and hope. From you, I learned that we were not doomed to grow and develop by negating, in fear and under threat. On your behalf, I made sure to tell my interlocutors that we the Jewish people will always, always, defend ourselves by ourselves and will never put our fate in the hands of others. On your behalf, I swore never to submit to the shadow the Holocaust casts over us, and that the Jewish people was not born at Auschwitz and that our spiritual, religious and political character was not formed there. I thank you for the privilege you gave me to walk with you in the paths of remembrance from Holocaust to rebirth. I bow my head to you. I will forever bear your testimony in my heart.
Soon, I will leave my official position as president, but I am not taking leave of my commitment as a person, a Jew, an Israeli to remember and remind, to educate according to the values you have passed on to us. As Gabor Ardash, a 13-year-old Jewish boy who was shot to death in December 1944 on the banks of the Danube wrote, "A ray of hope is still shining in me, rising as an arch, glinting in the light …nevertheless, I am not departing.” I am not departing. May the memory of our brothers and sisters be kept in the heart of the nation from generation unto generation.