A president’s personal Holocaust story

January 30, 2022 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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“Yehudit Berkovitch had just finished the first grade and was peacefully living with her parents and eight brothers and sisters in 1941 when the Nazis invaded her home country, Poland.

Chaim Herzog in British uniform

On April 15, 1945, lying sick with typhus in the camp’s barracks she heard a commotion outside, the sound of tanks crashing through the fence, and then the voice of a British Army officer calling out: ‘My brothers and sisters, you have been liberated, the war is over, you are free’.

From the depths of the hell of the Nazi camp, Yehudit lifted herself up. She came to Israel and served in the IDF during our War of Independence. She became a teacher, established a centre to aid new immigrants, and raised a beautiful family. I recently had the great honour of congratulating her on her 90th birthday.

This was especially moving for me, because the British officer, whose voice Yehudit heard in Bergen-Belsen declaring that she was free, was my father, Chaim Herzog of blessed memory.

My father, who later became the State of Israel’s sixth president, was a WWII fighter in the British Army, who took part in liberating Bergen- Belsen three months after the Red Army’s heroic liberation of Auschwitz.

My father related the terrifying scenes he encountered in Bergen- Belsen, scenes of barely clad human skeletons, death, raging typhus, starvation, smells of disease and torture. These scenes shocked and shamed humanity. The result of the Nazis’ genocidal anti-Semitic ideology, and of the willingness of too many to stay silent and turn a blind eye.

They contributed to the creation of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, and of entirely new fields of humanitarian and human rights law.

The nations of the world instituted this momentous International Holocaust Remembrance Day, they committed to the promise of Never Again, and created institutions and legal norms to make that promise a reality.

Though a great deal has been done, it is alarmingly clear that 77 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the shock is wearing off. We are seeing a surge in anti-Semitic assaults online; a normalization of anti-Semitic terminology in mainstream media; and an introduction of social media platforms refocused on Jew-hatred to newer, younger audiences.

We are seeing how the world’s worst human rights violators are being elected to the UN’s human rights bodies. We see how radical regimes and even terrorist groups, are distorting international law while some members of the academic and diplomatic community play along.

We see the Ayatollah regime in Iran calling for the annihilation of the State of Israel, initiating terrorism against Jewish communities around the world, and murdering civilians throughout the Middle East while some simply look the other way.

We see how present-day radicalism and antisemitism are overlooked, for economic or political gain. And, perhaps most disturbing, we see how the truth about the past is trivialized, and alternative facts are drowning out history. This is dangerous because, in the 21st century, the truth cannot sustain itself. It is our obligation to do so.

The Holocaust is not a disputed footnote in history. It is the most sickening assault humanity has ever committed.

Commemorating the Holocaust is therefore not a symbolic gesture; it is the duty of every person, of every nation across the globe. It is mine and it is yours. When we let our guard down and ignore our responsibility, the forces of hate quickly rear their heads and become bolder.

When we fail to strengthen our pledge Never Again, we are disregarding our debt to our past and forfeiting our rights on our future.

Friends, ours is the last generation privileged to hear a first-hand account from a Holocaust survivor, from a partisan, from the Righteous Among the Nations.

In a few years’ time, the duty to never forget will be ours alone. The obligation to tell our children’s children about the horrors of the Holocaust, to warn them about the dangers of antisemitism, hatred, racism and intolerance, will be entirely up to us.

So today, let us reaffirm our commitment to remembering the lessons of the Holocaust, together. Let us preserve the legacy of the Holocaust, by showing zero tolerance for all forms of antisemitism, racism and extremism, and by taking effective and timely steps to counter them.

I call upon all nations to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which states in the clearest of terms what hatred of Jews looks like.

We must make it clear to all radical regimes that they will never be treated as legitimate members of the international community until they end their calls for genocide and support for terror.

We must not allow political considerations to mute our moral compass and prevent us from speaking out, when those who commit gross violations of human rights attempt to use the UN or other international forums to hide or further their crimes. And we must expose and denounce any attempts to distort, rewrite or forget what happened, not so long ago.

I want to thank Yad Vashem and its Chair, my friend Dani Dayan, for serving as a moral lighthouse, reminding us of our responsibility to the future.

As President of the State of Israel, I look forward to working with all of you, to ensure that the Holocaust and its lessons are never forgotten and are passed down from generation to generation, within this distinguished family of nations.”

President Isaac Herzog. President of the State of Israel addressing Yad Vashem event for International Holocaust Remembrance Day


One Response to “A president’s personal Holocaust story”
  1. Pat Humphreys says:

    The anti semitism raising its ugly head again is shocking!! Sadly the UN will never change – the forces of evil are against you. Ezekial 38 and 39 predicts that Russia, Iran, and Turkey will combine and attack Israel. Our prayers are with you always.

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