(To be read during Passover after the reading of the traditional Haggadah) Today we also remember the tragedy that befell us during the Shoah.
The Shoah was the planned and organized murder of 6 million Jews out of nearly 50 million people who perished in WWII in Europe between September 1939 and May 1945. Our mothers, our fathers, our brothers, a million and a half of our children, a third of all the world’s Jews were killed. In Poland, Hungary, Romania, France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany, Holland, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Belarus, in entire cities, towns, villages we were herded together, tortured, hungered, humiliated and subjected to every conceivable indignity. It did not matter whether we were observant. It did not even matter whether or not we identified as Jews. We became the preferred targets of the Nazi machinery of destruction, which they created in the war they waged against us. They were following Hitler, and they did this with the open or tacit complicity of the common people of many countries who not only did not raise their voices against it, but too often took an active role in murdering us.
The purpose of their plan to exterminate us was to perpetuate what they imagined as “the superior race”. We were the first ethnic group designated victims, and in their master plan, after us, they would target what they referred to as “the inferior races” (Gypsies, blacks, yellows, browns). Believing that they were gods, they pretended to build a “perfect” human being, living in a “perfect” society; that is - Aryan. False ideas – prejudices – disguised as scientific truths were the ideological force that drew in hundreds of thousands of people as accomplices in this murderous delusion.
Let us remember the tools they used against us: overcrowded ghettos, hunger, massive killings, cruel medical experiments, humiliation, and control over our bodily functions.
Let us remember the cruel industrialization of death, our death in the gas chambers and our final cremation in the ovens. The extermination camps, the industry whose only product was death, was their supreme masterpiece. In Treblinka alone, 3,000 of us were taken in daily. They killed us, classified our belongings, took out our teeth and any other valuables that could have remained on our bodies, burned us, and left the camp neat and ready for the new group of 3,000 of us arriving the next day.
Let us remember the ghettos of Warsaw, Lodz, Vilna, and Krakow, among hundreds, and the extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka, Chelmno, Bergen-Belsen, and so many other concentration and labor camps.
Let us also remember the Mengeles, the Eichmanns, and the other murderers that owned our lives and decreed our deaths in plain view of political and religious leaders around the world, who remained silent.
We were unable to conceive of what was going to happen; we did not have any military training or fighting ideology; we were poor, peaceful, working people, and we had no chance to defend ourselves. Each one of us fought back within the limits of what was possible, even when it was impossible. There was armed resistance in Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, in the Vilna Ghetto, and in other ghettos such as Bialystok and Warsaw. In Warsaw, we fought for nearly three weeks against the German Army with the same heroism our Maccabbean brothers and with the same strength and desperation. We began on the first day of Passover, without guns, without food, without hope. We made them pay for our deaths. Even though victory was impossible, we fought. We did the best we could. We resisted will all our strength in all possible ways. In the ghettos, we kept underground schools, we organized lectures, concerts, debates, choirs, dozens of publications, community and social systems of assistance, food shelters, infirmaries and free clinics, community working groups and childcare. In the camps, we tried to keep up our morale, and we had exemplary behaviorial solidarity, given the inhuman conditions in which we were kept.
We behaved with dignity even though the well-oiled Nazi system was geared to dehumanize us in order to make it easier for them to murder us. There were very few suicide attempts among us, and we did what we could to save people by hiding, feeding, healing, and comforting them. From the underground, we acted with daily heroism, preserving life and resisting the forces of death. We ran to Russia when we could, and we hid in forests, houses, and barns. We changed our identities. Some Gentiles helped us, very few, but we must remember them for their courage. We took part in sabotage and armed resistance. Our children in the ghettos deserve special honour. The little smugglers kept us alive inside the ghettos by bringing in food and then guns. No one feels proud for being killed, but we felt proud fighting for our lives in the face of hopelessness. Clinging to life is a heroic and ethical act.
Let us remember tonight the names of our fighters, of those who left testimonies, of those who maintained our dignity in the face of outrage.
Let us remember the names of all our relatives and our relatives´ relatives that we lost.
The Nazis were defeated in 1945. Our “liberation” came after a period of infinite evil. When we freed ourselves from the Nazi yoke, we learned that we would never be able to free ourselves from the horror and the pain they inflicted upon us. We shall always treasure the memory of our lost people. With each of our six million murdered, each of us lost something of our own. Jewish Europe no longer exists. The culture we built there was destroyed together with the 6,500 small and large Jewish communities of Europe. We seek no manner of collective revenge because we value human life very highly. Those who remained alive had the good fortune to witness the birth of the state of Israel, a place where our right to live does not need any further justification, but must be sustained.
Let us remember tonight the murdered and the living, their children and grandchildren, because we are all descendants of the Shoah. We hereby make a pledge to keep their memory alive for future generations.