Address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Yad Vashem
Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 27, 2014
The last time I visited Yad Vashem was with the Prime Minister of Canada
Stephen Harper, a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people. We went
through the exhibition rooms which present heartbreaking documentation of
the destruction of European Jewry.
Today in my office, I met Felah, an 82 year old Holocaust survivor. It was
important to her to tell me on this day of all days how her memories as a
child of seven who was forced to leave her two year old sister behind to
die, how those memories are always with her. She told me, "I don't remember
what happened yesterday or the day before that, but as is the way of
memories from that age, I remember the tearing, sad eyes of my two year old
I met Shalom, an 89 year old Holocaust survivor, who told me how he left
home at 18. He was 13 and the conditions in the ghetto were deteriorating so
he, a young boy, decided to leave. He said, "Mother objected and wailed and
Father was quiet. He stood and put his hand on my heard and blessed me and
told me to save myself".
All the exhibition rooms here are filled with such heartbreaking stories.
When we left Yad Vashem, I told the Canadian Prime Minister that the primary
duty of the Prime Minister of Israel is to ensure that there will be no more
memorial sites like this, that there will never be another Holocaust.
I have said many times in this place that we must identify an existential
threat in time and take action in time. Tonight, on the eve of Holocaust
Remembrance Day, I ask myself: why, in the years preceding the Holocaust,
did the overwhelming majority of world leaders and Jewish leaders fail to
detect the danger in time? In retrospect, all the warning signs were there:
the strengthening of the Nazi regime year after year; the horrific
anti-Semitic propaganda which grew stronger with each passing month; and the
murderous attacks on Jews which began as a trickle and transformed into a
In retrospect, there is a direct line connecting the racial laws and the gas
Very few world leaders understood the enormity of the threat to humanity
posed by Nazism. Churchill was one of them. Few among our leaders, primarily
Jabotinsky, warned against the imminent destruction facing our nation, but
they were widely criticized and their warnings were disregarded, and they
were treated as merchants of doom and war mongers.
So I ask: How is it possible that so many people failed to understand the
reality? The bitter and tragic truth is this: it is not that they did not
see it. They did not want to see it. And why did they choose not to see the
truth? Because they did not want to face the consequences of that truth.
During the 1930's, when the Nazis were gaining momentum, the influence of
the trauma of the First World War was still fresh. Twenty years earlier, the
people of the West experienced a terrible trench war, a war which claimed
the lives of 16 million people. Therefore, the leaders of the West operated
on the basis of one axiom: avoid another confrontation at any cost, and thus
they laid the foundation for the most terrible war in human history. This
axiom of avoiding conflict at any cost, this axiom was adopted not only by
the leaders. The people themselves, primarily the educated ones, shared it
In 1933, for example, the year Hitler rose to power, there was a meeting of
the Oxford University student organization – an institute from which
generations of British leaders had emerged. Following a heated debate, the
students voted for a resolution stating that they "would under no
circumstances fight for their King and Country". This resolution passed by
an overwhelming majority only ten days after Hitler entered the Chancellery
And believe me: that message reverberated in Berlin.
This example illustrates the West's feeble attitude vis-à-vis the rise of
Month after month, year after year, more and more information was received
in London, Paris and Washington regarding the capabilities and intentions of
the Nazi regime. The picture was becoming clear to everybody. However, "they
have eyes, but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear."
When you refuse to accept reality as it is, you can deny it. And this is
precisely what the leaders of the West did. They dismissed the murderous
Nazi rhetoric as internal German politics; they downplayed the seriousness
of the danger of the military build-up of the Nazis, claiming that it was
the result of the natural will of a proud nation, that it should be taken
into consideration, that it should be accepted.
The reality was clear, but it was cloaked in a bubble of illusions. This
bubble was burst by the stealth attack by the Nazis on Europe. And the price
of the illusion and desire was very heavy because by the time the leaders of
the West finally acted, their people paid a terrible price. World War II
claimed the lives not of 16 million people, the unimaginable number of
victims during World War I, but of 60 million, including one third of our
people, who were butchered by the Nazi beast.
Citizens of Israel, my brothers and sisters,
Has the world learned from the mistakes of the past? Today, we are again
facing clear facts and a tangible threat.
Iran is calling for our destruction. It is developing nuclear weapons. This
is the reason it is building underground bunkers for the enrichment of
uranium. This is the reason it is establishing a plutonium-producing heavy
water facility. This is the reason it continues to develop inter-continental
ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads to threaten the entire
Today, just like then, there are those who dismiss Iran's extreme rhetoric
as one that serves domestic purposes. Today, just like then, there are those
who view Iran's nuclear ambitions as the result of the natural will of a
proud nation – a will that should be accepted.
And just like then, those who make such claims are deluding themselves. They
are making an historic mistake.
We are currently in the midst of fateful talks between Iran and the world
powers. This time too, the truth is evident to all: Iran is seeking an
agreement that will lift the sanctions and leave it as a nuclear threshold
state, in other words, the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons within
several months at most.
Iran wants a deal that will eliminate the sanctions and leave their nuclear
capabilities intact. Such a deal, which will enable Iran to be a nuclear
threshold state, will bring the entire world to the threshold of an abyss.
I hope that the lessons of the past will be learned and that the desire to
avoid confrontation at any cost will not lead to a deal that will exact a
much heavier price in the future.
I call on the leaders of the world powers to insist on a full dismantling of
Iran's capability to manufacture nuclear weapons, and to persist until this
goal is achieved.
In any event, the people of Israel are strong. When faced with an
existential threat, the situation of our people today is entirely different
than it was during the Holocaust.
Today, we have a sovereign Jewish state. As Prime Minister of Israel, I do
not hesitate to speak the truth to the world, even when faced with so many
blind eyes and deaf ears. It is not only my right, it is my duty. It is a
duty I am mindful of at all times, but particularly on this day, in this
On the eve of the Holocaust, there were Jews who avoided crying out to the
world's nations out of fear that the fight against the Nazis would become a
Jewish problem. Others believed that if they kept silent, the danger would
pass. The kept silent and the disaster struck. Today, we are not afraid to
speak the truth to world leaders, as is written in our Bible: "I will speak
of your testimonies before kings, and I will not be ashamed…listen, for I
will speak noble thoughts; the opening of my lips will reveal right things."
Unlike our situation during the Holocaust, when we were like leaves on the
wind, defenseless, now we have great power to defend ourselves, and it is
ready for any mission. This power rests on the courage and ingenuity of the
soldiers of the IDF and our security forces. It is this power that enabled
us, against all odds, to build the State of Israel.
Look at the remarkable achievements we have made in our 66 years of
independence. All of us together – scientists, writers, teachers, doctors,
entrepreneurs, employees, artists, farmers – the entire people of Israel,
each one in their own field – together we have built a glorious state. The
spirit of the people of Israel is supreme, our accomplishments tremendous.
Seven decades after the destruction of the Holocaust, the State of Israel is
a global wonder.
On this day, on behalf of the Jewish people, I say to all those who sought
to destroy us, to all those who still seek to destroy us: you have failed
and you will fail.
The State of Israel is stronger than ever. It is a state that seeks peace
with all its neighbors – a state with a will of iron to ensure the future of
"The people will arise like a lion cub and raise itself like a lion; it will
not lie down until it consumes prey, and drinks the blood of the slain."