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Speech by Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem Directorate, 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

Dear presidents, colleagues, friends and, specifically, the survivors who are here with us today,

This afternoon all of us who are gathered here will be in Auschwitz-Birkenau not far away from crematorium III. There, after the war, hidden among the victims’ ashes a diary was found, written by a Jewish Sonderkommando Zalman Gradowsky. The diary contains his account of the part he was forced to take in the extermination process in Birkenau in ’43 and ‘44. As we prepare ourselves to conclude this morning meeting, the Forum, and moving to Auschwitz, let’s see some sentences from his diary.

And this is what Gradowsky writes: “I have sought to leave this writing as eternal testimony for the days of peace yet to come so that the world should know what took place here. I have hidden them in the ashes as I assume that this is the safest place, the place where they are sure to dig in order to discover evidence of the millions who perished.” And then Gradowsky adds: “For lately they have begun to erase the evidence.”

Zalman Gradowsky did not wait for the time that the evidence will be erased by the Nazis. On October 7, 1944, he led the Sonderkommando in an uprising in which he was killed.

Dear friends, Zalman Gradowsky was tragically accurate in foreseeing attempts to erase the genocides of European Jews. But his story and the personal stories of millions of other murdered Jews are stronger than anyone’s efforts to erase or to distort them. The authentic narratives of the victims and the survivors are studied eagerly by people in Europe and elsewhere. They have been sure that the truth will not be forgotten or twisted.

The Holocaust has, over time, secured the place in the consciousness of Europeans, including many youngsters among them. The theme that is now so unique and deeply relevant to their all lives and attitudes. It has profoundly changed Europe and the rest of the mankind, I think forever. And that, the combination of the Holocaust roots, purposes, forms, duration and extent make it distinct and paradigmatic for Western civilisation and the rest of the world.

Every day at Yad Vashem we meet this vigorous, compelling world-wide interest in the Holocaust. We are encouraged by thousands of European teachers who each year study with us about its history and the meaning of it. And while we are concerned by continued attempts of Holocaust denial, European society and culture as a whole seem to reject it.

But dear friends, we are troubled though by a recent trend that starts to be known in Europe: to avoid even obscure the full truth about the Holocaust, confuse, and equate it with other events and phenomena – what is called by many historians and others “trivialization.” The nations of Europe naturally want to understand those other historical events, made them tragic and very painful. And they should learn about them, they have the all right and need.

The Second World War was a terrible period for all Europe and left scars upon every nation. But the ideologies of Nazism and Stalinist Communism were very and critically different. As were the results of those ideologies: Nazism was not merely totalitarian. Nazism was rooted in an extreme racist philosophy that used the totalitarian regime to implement its unique world vision and to attempt to exterminate the entire Jewish people, culture and human values with it. A day of commemoration, August 23, which lumps together victims of all totalitarian regimes, and in effect equates Nazism with various other dangerous beliefs and systems is simply dangerously untruthful.

At Yad Vashem we believe in the power of education to save the future as many others of you who are sitting here. I am speaking about education, not propaganda, through education nurtures positive values to be teaching the full truth and shaping our future. Not blood and ambiguous generalisations about the evil of totalitarian regimes. Today people want the full truth. Only truthful Holocaust remembrance befits the eternal legacy of Zalman Gradowsky and all the other victims. Only truthful Holocaust remembrance should take place at Auschwitz-Birkenau and many other places to serve the future. And this is the same thing that we should do in Europe and all over the world.

Thank you for attendance.


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