At the March of the Living, Natan Sharansky delivered the following remarks earlier today:
We have come here today to remember. But it is easy to forget.
The last thing they saw was the gas chambers. We see the blossoming flowers and the lush forest that surrounds us.
They heard the sounds of the death trains pulling in to their final station. We hear birds chirping and the voices of spring.
They were torn from their families, reduced to a number, stripped of their dignity, and sent to their deaths. We stand here today with loved ones in safety and freedom.
I know it is easy to forget. I grew up in the Ukraine, and as a child played in the same killing fields where only a few years earlier, hundreds of thousands of Jews, including many of my relatives, were murdered.
My generation knew nothing about those tragic events. Our ignorance was the deliberate policy of a Soviet regime that wanted to deprive us of our memory and deny us our identity.
That regime understood the power of memory. It understood the power of identity. Soon, my generation would understand its power as well.
Here, in the most infamous place on earth, the Nazi regime tried to destroy more than identity – it sought to wipe out a whole people, a whole culture, a whole civilization. The power of memory and the power of identity will protect what they sought to destroy.
It is easy to say that the lessons of Auschwitz have been learned. It is easy to say those two magic words, never again. The hard part is giving those words meaning. That is our challenge. That is your challenge.
In order to prevent this evil from recurring, all who are here today have obligations.
There is a special obligation upon Israel. Israel emerged in order to guarantee the physical survival of the Jewish people. We fulfill this responsibility by taking seriously the threats made by our enemies to destroy us and by doing everything in our power to prevent them from carrying out those threats.
There is also a special obligation upon all Jews. If the State of Israel is entrusted with safeguarding our people’s physical survival, the continuation of Jewish civilization depends on each and every Jew.
Our grandparents and their grandparents and all our ancestors chose to stay Jewish despite all the persecutions. Will we be determined enough and strong enough to make that same choice? Will we be as true to our identities living in freedom as they were living in fear?
By choosing to identify ourselves as Jews, by seeing our past as a source of pride and inspiration, and by making that past relevant to our present and our future, the flame that our enemies sought to extinguish here will burn even brighter. It will burn inside each and every one of us. And its collective light will be seen across the world.
The Jewish people are not alone in remembering the Holocaust. Young men and women from different nations and different religions stand with us today. They, like so many millions of others across the world, are determined to turn the memory of the Holocaust into a rallying cry for a more humane, more just, and more decent world.
Together, we ensure that those who died here are not forgotten.
We see their final moments. We hear their last cries. And we know that their memory has become a part of who we are, of what we stand for and of the different future we hope to build together.
Natan Sharansky is Chair of the Executive, Jewish Agency for Israel
image courtesy Batia Dori