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Speech by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Chairman of World Yad Vashem Council, at the third Let My People Live! International Holocaust Forum marking 65 years since the liberation of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau. Krakow, Poland


January 27, 2010

Very distinguished dignitaries!

President Buzek!

Former President Kwaśniewski!

President Lauder!

Our host, Dr. Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress!

Honoraries!

Ladies and gentlemen!

Brothers!

The performance we have seen last hour here, for me it was not a performance, it was an experience, a part of my life. My mother was born here, in this city, Kraków. Józefińska is the address. She grew up here in Kraków. My father came from Lvov and settled as the Chief Rabbi of Piotrków Trybunalski, when I was born. You saw the picture of the mother and the child. For me it was just a piece of my memories. When the Soviet Army was close, October 1944, the Chairman took us from the ghetto of Piotrków to the train station and there was a selection. The ladies and the children – on the one side, men on the other side. I went with my mother. I was only 7.5 years old. My father had been sent two years before to Treblinka with my other brother of 13. At the last moment my mother pushed me away to my brother’s arms, he was 18. We never met her and never saw. She died in Ravensbrueck in the last days of the war. She wanted to save my life and she understood the men have more chance to survive. They will work and be productive and construct. And my brother said “Mama, take the child, what shall I do with a child of 7 years old?” It means that when there is a danger to the life, that when there is a threatening to your existence you have to make hard decisions. To take a decision at a very critical moment of the life – do not hesitate. She saved my life by this pushing me away, it was painful for her and for me as it was separating a mother from a child, but it was saving the life.

I think that leaders of the world 65 years after the Holocaust have to learn from my mother – when there is a threat to a nation, when there is a danger to the existence of society – take decisions! Be brave enough, determined enough to save lives of society, of the mankind. Do not hesitate. Just to remember what happened in the past, with no conclusions at present for the future we waist our time. Moshe Kantor wants us to learn from the Holocaust. Not to be like that philosopher who said: “The only thing we learn from the history is that we didn’t learn from it anything.”

We were here five years ago, we were later in Babi Yar, you brought us. And a year ago, 70 years after the die Kristallnacht in the European Parliament in Brussels. We are gathered here today to show what real decisions, even if they came late but better late than never. And you need a coalition of allies to save the world from a mad man, from a mad phenomenon. I was not liberated in Auschwitz, but in Buchenwald by the American authorities. And with me in the same block No. 8 there was a Soviet prisoner of 18 years old from the city of Rostov-on-Don in Russia, Fedor Mikhailichenko. He took me out from the bullets of the machine gun of the Germans, the shooting. And American troops came almost to break the gate and the division of General Patton came in to liberate us. And I can understand today, January 27, when the Soviet Army came in Auschwitz to save the survivors “Juden, Sie sind frei!”, “Jews, you are free! You are liberated! You have the right to leave!”, “Let my people live!”, that Fedor seeing and listening to the bullets, to the bombs from air, he took me in his hands running with me to the gate, threw me on the ground and covered me with his body to save my life – he wasn’t Jewish. 18-year old Soviet prisoner. Last year his name was taken for eternity in the Mount of Memories in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem as one of the Righteous among the Nations. In Yad Vashem we have twenty-three thousand names of Righteous among the Nations who were ready to sacrifice their lives to save Jews. Twenty-three thousand is plenty… but so few… only twenty-three thousand. Among hundreds of millions who could do it. This is the lesson of the Holocaust. Don’t stand on the blood of someone. Do what is possible. The American authority in Buchenwald. The British army four days later in Bergen-Belsen, April 15. The Soviet Army here. The Polish people who gave the hand to cover, to save, to hide. Those who did it. Altogether they showed us that even in a very dark tunnel, a tunnel of six years working there is a light in the end of that tunnel. The light with the righteous, the light can be every one of you.

Thank you.


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