Readers, following is the core portion of President Reuven Rivlin’s speech on Tuesday to the Ukraine Parliament in Kiev. In his address, Israel’s 10th president warned the Ukraine lawmakers that although the relationship between Jerusalem and Kiev is today focused on the future, it is nevertheless important never to forget history.
Rivlin said that anti-Semitism ‘must be recognized for what it was’ when the tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews were slaughtered at Babi-Yar, and ‘for what it is today,’ and not rehabilitate or glorify anti-Semites. No interest can ever justify silence, apathy, or hesitation in the face of anti-Semites. * * *
“Ladies and gentlemen, every year we mark Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel and around the world by reading out the names of the victims, “Everyone has a name”. But there are names, there are many names, that we will never know, despite incessant efforts to locate them. My wife’s cousins – children, toddlers, infants and babies, are left unnamed. There is no one in the world who knows the name. They were once here but are no longer among us. Many thousands of Jews who were shot, butchered, slaughtered, burnt and buried alive in Babi Yar also have no name. They became extinct under the sky – without anyone bothering to register their names. They are anonymous. Then, as now – it was autumn. The valley was green. A hand squeezed the trigger, again and again. More than 33,000 Jews were killed over two days, in a cruel and brutal death. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am not describing this difficult image in order to shock you. I am telling you these stories because Babi Yar saw not only the murder of tens of thousands of people; Jews, Ukrainians, Romani, and other non-Jewish groups at the hands of the Nazis, with the help of their Ukrainian collaborators, but at Babi Yar the Nazis sought to forget, to deny, to erase, to conceal, and to obscure the horror and the evidence. The valley saw two horrific sins. The first sin, was the sin of murder and destruction. The second sin was the sin of concealment and destruction of the memory. The second sin was no less systematic nor relentless than the first – it was as comprehensive as the massacre itself. Beginning in July 1943, the SS received an order to conceal all the evidence of the murder from the mass graves. By then the number of the murdered had risen to more than 150,000 in Babi Yar. The order given to the 1005 Unit was clear: to hide the evidence. They first began by removing the bodies burnt at the stake. Then they crushed the bones and scattered the ashes to find any gold or silver. The despoilment was so efficient that the cruelly despicable massacre was almost erased from the pages of history.” He noted, “Many years after, when the Nazis had long disappeared from here, and the war had ended, there still was not a memorial at Babi Yar. The victims of Babi Yar were twice, twice to be erased from the face of the earth, in their lives and after their deaths. I have many times asked myself why the Nazis invested so much in defacing and obscuring the evidence. It seems they were afraid of justice, but today I am confident that the despoilment of the evidence was part of the destruction. Had the Nazis succeeded in destroying the memory, the Final Solution would have truly been final.” He went on to stress, “the sin of the destruction has already been carried out. We cannot bring the dead back to life. We will never know all their names, who they were, what were their dreams and thoughts as they were marched to their deaths. But we must not, we must not be partners in the second crime. We must not play a part in the sin of forgetting or denial. Around 1.5 million Jews were murdered in the territory of modern day Ukraine during the Second World War; in Babi Yar, and in many other places of murder. They shot them in the valleys, in the woods, into pits, into mass grave. Many of the collaborators were Ukrainian, among the most notorious the members of the OUN who carried out pogroms and massacres against the Jews and in many cases handed them over to the Germans. It is true, there were more than 2,500 Righteous Among The Nations, lone candles who shone in the darkness of humanity. Yet the majority remained silent.” The President went on to say, “The relationship between the Jewish and Ukrainian peoples are today focused on the future, yet the history – both good and bad – must never be forgotten. We must recognize anti-Semitism as it was and as it is found today, and not rehabilitate or glorify anti-Semites. No interest can ever justify silence, apathy, or hesitation in the face of anti-Semites. And national leaders who support anti-Semitic, racist, or neo-Nazi ideas will not be welcomed as friends among the family of nations.” He noted, “the Jewish people have a long history interwoven with Ukraine. In Kiev, in Lvov, in Odessa, and in many other cities spread across Ukraine. Here a large part of the Jewish people lived for more than 1000 years. Here, a bastion of world Jewish culture was created. Here they influenced and were influenced by the neighbors living around them, the people of Ukraine. Here on Ukrainian soil two of the most important modern Jewish movements grew and flourished; Hassidism and Zionism. Here some of the greatest of the Jewish figures grew and worked; the Ba’al Shem Tov, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, Ahad Ha’am, and my ideological teacher Ze’ev Jabotinsky. “I believe in complete faith that our future is up to us learning the lessons of the past, dealing with the past, teaching tolerance, love for one’s fellow man, and democracy. And to my pleasure, I don’t stand here in a minority. Ukraine today is sending the world a different message. Ukraine is proving by actions and words its deep desire for change and reforms. I am filled with appreciation for Ukraine, for the democratic rule which it proudly upholds, despite the challenges it faces – security and economic. I am filled with appreciation for this distinguished parliament which expresses the living spirit of Ukrainian democracy, and I am honored to stand and speak before you as a partner and a friend.” The President said, “Friends, this year we will complete 25 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Ukraine. Your Excellency President Poroshenko, during your visit to Israel a number of agreements in the fields of trade and economy were signed between Israel and Ukraine, and our policies are working to increase trade, and toward a free trade agreement. We are expanding our cooperation in science, in technology, in culture and tourism. Already today, the trade between our countries stands at more than a billion dollars, and it is important that we grow this, and to ease this growth remove bilateral barriers to trade. There is already no prior visa requirement to visit Israel, there are more and more flights, and the distance is quite short. We invite the Ukrainian people to come and see, to get to know firsthand the State of Israel and its citizens.” He concluded, “The State of Israel believes in the close connection between freedom, democracy, and prosperity. Freedom is a condition of prosperity, and prosperity is a condition of freedom. Over the years, the State of Israel has been forced to defend its freedom, and at the same time to prosper successfully. The challenges are not easy – just this year, we have faced the challenge of ongoing terrorism and have been exposed to the to threats whether from extremist Islamists such as IS, Hamas, or Hezbollah – who relentlessly test our readiness – or whether from hostile states key among them Iran. But we remain insistent not to surrender freedom, not to surrender life, not to surrender prosperity.
Hana Levi Julian