hToday the world celebrates the International Day of Holocaust Remembrance. The Holocaust is the most unimaginable crime committed in human history. A scar that never heals caused by ardent genocidal hatred, not in a distant land, but in the heart of Europe.
Today we commemorate the six million silent lives killed by the Nazis, including the countless children who were silenced with guns and poison gas before their lives began. Six million innocents were killed in a brutal genocide for one reason: because they were Jews.
The Holocaust did not happen in one day. It was a process. In January, just 80 years before, 1942, shortly before the start of mass deportations by the Nazis to the “Final Solution” of their “Jewish cause,” the world was still in the throes of the bloodiest war in human history.
Entire Jewish communities in Nazi Germany, Austria and Poland were imprisoned behind ghetto gates in inhumane conditions. In the Nazi-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, Jewish communities were rounded up by death squads to be shot to death.
Destruction plans over a cup of coffee
Meanwhile, 15 high-ranking representatives of the Nazi state, the NSDAP and the SS sat around a table and quietly sipped cups of coffee in the picturesque Berlin suburb of Wannsee. There was only one question on their agenda: how to ensure the cooperation of the entire apparatus of power of the Third Reich for the effective, rapid and systematic extermination of the Jewish people. About a month later, the crematoria at Auschwitz were running at full speed. The Silence of Evil did not scream as loudly as in Wansi before.
The indifference to the murder of innocent Jewish children, women, and men was the greatest achievement of Nazi indoctrination. The term anti-Semitism is difficult to express actual disgust with the Jewish people. Dehumanization of the Jews became the norm. This happened before the eyes of many, and the Nazis were not monsters, but people responsible for their actions.
In order to glorify and strengthen National Socialism, the basic social norms that matter to us today and to which we are bound have been eroded. It is hard for us to imagine how a loyal, centuries-old and well-established Jewish community, which contributed so much to German literature, culture, industry, philosophy and science, could have become so remote.
One would think that after the Holocaust, Germany and the newly established independent Jewish state – Israel – would be eternal enemies. The Nazis’ crimes were still fresh, and Israel was just beginning to breathe as a nation struggling for survival.
Germany was divided after the war and devastated. The decades-long rapprochement was painful and made possible by Germany’s willingness to take responsibility for unimaginable crimes against humanity.
Most developed laws in Europe
The German government supported Holocaust survivors, providing them with sick stipends and monthly pensions. Education about the Holocaust is mandatory in Germany, and German laws criminalizing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial are the most progressive on the continent. Our joint efforts last week to pass a UN resolution condemning the Holocaust denial by consensus is further evidence of Germany’s moral commitment.
Rarely has any other country in the world entered the public discourse about its dark past like Germany. “Loaded with great historical guilt,” Federal President Steinmeier said in Jerusalem in 2020, who did so much to commemorate the Holocaust.
These works tell a lot about the character of Germany today, its virtues and its willingness to repentance. Former Chancellor Merkel described Israel’s right to exist as a German reason for the state and made Israel’s security a priority of German policy.
Commitments that Chancellor Schultz reaffirmed when he took office. The Holocaust bound the fate of our state, and today Germany and Israel enjoy a unique alliance rarely found in the immoral realism of international relations.
An alliance based on common liberal democratic principles, a common language of moral values, an uncompromising belief in scientific facts, and fruitful cooperation in the fields of science, technology, arts and culture.
As we commemorate Nazi crimes and their victims, this day aims to teach us how fragile our democratic way of life is when we take it for granted, and how anti-democratic forces can exploit democratic systems to destroy the rule of law itself.
Don’t let anyone convince you that your democratic beliefs are inappropriate for hard times, and don’t let hard times undermine your commitment to defending our free democracies.
The special friendship between Israel and Germany is in many ways due to the flourishing and strong democratic institutions in our two countries, which together reflect us as two freedom-loving peoples. It is up to us to create a common vision of a peaceful society and a prosperous future.
The author is the speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.