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Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

Prince of Asturias Award for Concord 2007

Speech by Mr. Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem:

My colleagues from Yad Vashem and I,
began our journey to this place,
Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, Spain,
in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, a city holy to three faiths.

It was there that our Prophets articulated and instituted eternal values for human existence.
Values that emerged as a central buttress of Western civilization.
Values that collapsed during the Holocaust.

I address you today deliberately in the language of the prophets - Hebrew.
It was in this language that our patriarchs and matriarchs uttered their prayers.
It was in this language that tens of thousands of our people
cried out ``Sh´ma Yisrael´´ (Hear, O Israel)
before they were murdered
in the gas chambers, the killing sites, and the ghettos.
Our responsibility is weighty and intricate:
To re-institute the exalted values of sanctity of life, love of our fellow man,
and the aspiration to justice and peace -
in the face of the ghastly suffering of millions of victims.

As we made our way from Jerusalem to Oviedo, our plane crossed over Europe,
where six million of my brothers and sisters
were systematically murdered.
Their lives were cut short.
Their individual and collective efforts, their creative endeavors, their very culture - were all destroyed.
A poisonous outgrowth of a racist ideology suffused with Jew-hatred and antisemitism.
led to the emergence of a new reality, unprecedented in human history.
Examination of the events of the Holocaust tragically illustrates Elie Wiesel´s words:
``Although not every victim was a Jew, every Jew was a victim.´´

Six million victims of murder.
A figure we cannot grasp.
Yet it is our duty as human beings to do just that.
When I translate the number ``six million´´ into the individual terms of
my own grandfather and grandmother from Poland,
of my uncles and aunts and their young children,
real, flesh-and-blood people,
whom I never knew and will now never know,
then I can begin to grasp the enormity of our loss.

* * * *
Nahum Friedowicz, a Jewish businessman from Grodno, Poland,
was deported with his family to the town´s ghetto.
In 1943 he found himself facing an existential decision:
His extended family had prepared a hideout in advance of the impending German murder Aktion.
But the possibility of saving all of them had been put at risk due to the cries
of three young children, two of them his own grandchildren.
Who would sacrifice himself to remain with the babies?
Grandpa Nahum decided to stay.
To remain, exposed, and to escort the children along the inevitable route to death.
The Germans discovered most of the family soon afterwards - and murdered them, too.
Only one of Nahums grandchildren, a fifteen-year-old boy, managed to survive.
For approximately a year and a half, this boy,
Felix Zandman, remained in a hiding place:
A tiny pit under the home of Janowa and Jan Puchalski, Polish Christians.
At the war´s end, rather than seek revenge, or despair of this world,
Felix Zandman decided - to build.
He completed his higher education, raised a family, conceived new technologies
and initiated economic activity spanning three continents.
Still, not one day passes without his sensing the anguish of his murdered relatives.
Felix Zandman, grandson of Nahum Friedowicz of blessed memory,
is here with us today.
Other survivors are here with us as well.
All are steadfast partners in the commemoration of the Holocaust
and in the comprehension of its deep significance.
Each survivor underwent an agonizing existential ordeal during the Holocaust.
After their liberation they decided -
To choose life.

On behalf of those present here, on behalf of the Jewish people,
and - if I may - on behalf of civilized people of all nationalities,
I salute you, the survivors, and express deep admiration for the path that you have chosen.
You have borne witness to the rupture of our past.
You light the path to our future.

The Spanish-born author Jorge Semprún,
captured by the Gestapo as a resistance fighter,
survived for almost two years in the inferno of Buchenwald.
Semprún found a purpose to life after the war -
in the camp itself, of all places-among a heap of corpses of murder victims
from which the murmur of a Jew, more dead than alive, was just barely heard.
The dying Jew insisted on reciting - for whom? for himself, perhaps? - the Kaddish,
the ancient Jewish memorial prayer.
In the dying of this nameless Jew, of all things
Semprún, a native of Madrid,
discerned a reason to live.
In his words: ``To recount this death in its entirety is a task for infinity.´´

In 1953, the State of Israel established Yad Vashem
to commemorate, document, research, and convey the story of the Holocaust.
It is a story that commences with the vibrancy of Jewish life in Europe -
until the Nazi conquest.
The story then descends into systematic mass annihilation.
Yet it also contains the struggle to survive and to sustain the values and enterprise of the Jewish individual.
And there are invaluable chapters of fighting and resistance as well.
But at the end, the outcome ? Death.
``Darkness on the face of the abyss´´ [Genesis 1:2]
There is neither comfort nor meaning to be found in the deaths of all the victims?
We assume, with holy awe, the historic responsibility
of gathering from among the cupboards and drawers -
those letters and artifacts, the creative spirit,
that express the identity of the victims, created in God´s image.
We do so in order to retrieve the image of their faces,
to record their names in a ledger.
We raise generations of educators who will guide us
how to study the Holocaust, and learn from it.
And from all this
We establish a yad va-shem,
which offers a form and a forum to chronicle the rupture and eclipse.
In which the Murderer murdered,
the Victim struggled to survive humanely,
the Neighbor looked on silently,
and only the very Few arose to offer rescue.

These were the scant rescuers among the nations who
risked their lives and, at times, those of their dear ones,
to ensure that amid the oppressive gloom
a few rays of light might shine forth.
They are the Righteous Among the Nations,
outstanding individuals in whose honor a new concept in human civilization was coined.
Among them are members of the Spanish people.
We remember them, salute them, and express our deepest appreciation for their actions.

Esteemed friends,
As we extend our hand modestly and gratefully
to accept the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord,
we are filled with the sense of a shared mission,
an expression of a growing awareness that the memory of the Holocaust
must find its proper place in human civilization.
In this award we identify the triumph of
tolerance over racism
love over hatred
and good over evil -
not only the specific, unique historic Nazi evil,
but also the persistent, rejuvenating evil of our own time,
the evil of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia
everywhere on earth.
For our 21st century world can no longer contain nor tolerate a
genocide like that now transpiring in Darfur.

In its decision to bestow this award upon Yad Vashem,
the Prince of Asturias Foundation has stood up and proclaimed
that the struggle against the Nazis´ perpetuators
must not be the struggle of one institution, one nation, or one religion.
But rather mankind´s shared struggle,
in which Yad Vashem has assumed a central and leading role.

Ladies and gentlemen,
My associates and I will soon return from Asturias to our hilltop,
the Mount of Remembrance, in Jerusalem.
We shall proudly clasp and display the prize that you have awarded us.
We return to Israel strengthened by the hope that
the memory of the Holocaust continues, now more than ever,
to gain a place in mankind´s consciousness.
Thus we are brought closer to the realization of the words of the Prophets;
``And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. ´´

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