Speech of Avner Shalev (President of Yad va Shem Memorial Centre, Jerusalem)
Banja Luka, 17.04.2005.
Djuro Schwartz, an engineer of Jewish descent, was brought to Jasenovac in August of 1941, and there kept until April, 1942. In his Memoirs, written immediately upon conclusion of the war, he wrote: "If all the inmates of the camp could combine their voices and their feelings of despondency as one voice of despondency, the shriek of the horrors of Judgement Day would resound in the mountains, for such was the scene in the camp at the time, when we were slaves in hell, and the meaning of the world be different than it is. Thus did all the former camp inmates forever stop being individuals and became equal among themselves, for they deeply felt and experienced on their own flesh the demonic nature of man…"
The words of Djuro Schwartz had a powerful echo.
Your activities here, and our work at the Yad va Shem Museum in Jerusalem, as well as the activities of various centres the world over, the work of teachers, investigators, public personalities concerned with the Holocaust, all these voices combine in one powerful and clear voice. They promise that we will remember the past, that we will weave it deeply into our lives, and that it will represent a basis for the future. These voices merge so that we might ensure that the horrors that occurred here 60 years ago might be uprooted from the modalities of human behaviour and from the people of Europe.
Thus did Mr. Borislav Paravac, the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia & Hercegovina, say a month ago in a speech he gave in Jerusalem, when he came to open with us a new museum on the Holocaust in Yad va Shem: "They who know not the past, will not be able to see the future."
We remember the Holocaust, we remember the Jewish world that was destroyed and exists no more, a world varied and rich. We remember the Jewish communities, and a whole world of culture.
This rich culture was also characteristic of Yugoslav Jewry. Thus did Rabbi Ignjac Hakonen Salag, the Ashkenazi Rabbi in Belgrade, write in 1927 about Yugoslav Jews: "At a time when the whole Jewish nation is in turmoil, in confusion and change, we here in Yugoslavia are decreasing, impoverishing tradition, but we enjoy freedom of ideas and freedom of expression, in a country tolerant by tradition, and we do not want to lag behind our brothers in more developed centres." This is evident in the publication of a Yugoslav-Hebrew dictionary, written by Meir Zilberberg. But they who were to have used this dictionary have disappeared.
According to Jewish tradition, remembrance is a basic value, but it must produce moral actions and obligations. Remembrance must represent the basis of activity and a source of strength for the creation of a better world.
The Nazis and their allies wanted to exterminate the Jewish people from this land. They denied the universal values given to the world by the Jewish nation on the basis of which Western culture was founded. The Holocaust was the first and unprecedented attempt to exterminate a whole people and an whole culture, a people that gave the world the idea of respect for life and the obligation to respect man.
Though the memory of the Holocaust is etched in ruins and in the evil that threatened all human values, out of this horror we must extract a positive message for ourselves and for the entire world, a message obliging all of mankind to respect all human values. Remembrance of the Holocaust is the universal inheritance of men of all cultures; the Holocaust has set the boundaries of absolute evil.
It is the common obligation of us all, and represents the foundation for the mutual cooperation that has been developing between us in recent years.
We at the Yad va Shem Museum will continue to cooperate with you; together we will remember the past and together we will secure this future.
We Jews, Europeans, people of the whole world, share this obligation to remember and to teach future generations about a world in which Jasenovac will be but a nightmare from the past.