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Thursday, 3 June 2004

Address by Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the President of the Republic of Poland, during the ceremonial unveiling of a...

Ladies and Gentlemen, O earth, cover not my blood, and let my cry find no resting place. These words, from the Book of Job, resound with a very special meaning here, in Belzec. The earth beneath holds the remains of six hundred thousand Jews – women and men, children and old people. The camp site is a mass grave of countless inhabitants that once dwelled in cities, towns and shtetls of eastern and south-eastern Poland. This whole Jewish universe of Galicia was wiped off the map and buried in this grave - centuries of Jewish presence in our lands, centuries of involvement of the descendants of ancient Hebrews in Polish history and culture. Buried here were people, their hopes and dreams, their belief in a world of brotherhood and goodwill. The enormity of the calamity that befell those communities is beyond the bounds of our comprehension. Escapes the power of words. And yet we have to find words, we have to speak, we cannot shroud the memory of the horrors in silence lest the Holocaust be forgotten. And forget we should not. The victims of that horrible crime cry out to us with an appeal for remembrance. And that call is not deadened by the mounds of earth piled by the Nazi criminals to conceal all traces of their evil deeds. We hear that call loud and clear. And we want that call for a world rid of hate and contempt for man, world purged of racism and intolerance, to travel wide and far, from this memorial of Belzec, to all people in all corners of the globe. Ladies and Gentlemen, As many as one in ten of all victims of Holocaust were murdered by the German invaders in the gas chambers of the Belzec extermination camp in the short space between March and November of 1942. How can that irredeemable loss suffered by the Jewish nation, by Poland, by the whole humanity, be commemorated? This memorial – in the unveiling of which we have the honor to participate today – is an earnest attempt to confront this formidable challenge. The symbolic shape of the memorial is meant to invite reflection - an attempt to apprehend and cognize the tragic fate of our Jewish fellow citizens. It is meant to embody a voice of conscience, a cry of protest and defiance embedded in stone for all time. This remarkable, demanding undertaking – the construction of the memorial – was accomplished through cooperation between the Council for the Protection of the Memory of Combat and Martyrdom representing the Polish authorities and the American Jewish Committee. The collaboration was not confined to the financial domain only. Thanks to rabbinical supervision, the required historical explorations as well as the construction work on the memorial itself were carried out in such manner as not to infringe the dignity of the place or disturb the peace of the dead. The work jointly accomplished with the lofty objective in mind marks an important step in the process of Polish-Jewish reconciliation. In this place of memory, after all, we honor the murdered not only as sons and daughters of Israel, but also and in equal measure as children of Poland that was and is the homeland of many nations and cultures. Of a country whose soil is stained with the blood of millions of her citizens that met a terrible death at the hands of a foreign aggressor. Ladies and Gentlemen, Among those murdered in Belzec, there were also Roms and Poles that were helping Jews. We pay homage to all victims of the camp. But Belzec is foremost a Jewish place of eternal rest. I trust that of today the memory of what happened here will not be only Jewish or Polish alone. We should spare no effort to make it part of the collective memory of the whole of Europe and the world at large. Preserving in memory entails more than just recalling. To remember is to learn the lessons of history, including those of its darkest chapters. The lesson of Belzec is this: never consent to evil, even in its seemingly most innocuous manifestations. Never sanction disregard and contempt for that which is different, never approve of humiliation or persecution of those of a different religion or beliefs. Do not allow anyone to propound ideology of hate, treat with due concern all acts inciting crime. Take up arms in good time against those intent on trampling human life or dignity. Free and democratic Poland has made these tenets an integral part of its identity. This is attested by our Constitution, it is attested by our deeds. No one, however, is totally immune to the demons of intolerance and xenophobia. The whole Europe is grappling with the question: how to counteract the resurgence of anti-Semitism? Today’s ceremony is also a voice, our laud sounding voice of appeal for reason addressed to all those that are infused with hatred or fan the flames of such ill feelings and postures. Ladies and Gentlemen, One of the constituent elements of the memorial is a wall inscribed with the names of people murdered here. The monument designers’, giving the victims back their names, have restored dignity to them, have endowed them again with their unique human individuality. The individuality the executioners wanted to erase. Emmanuel Lévinas, a philosopher, once wrote: To see a face is to instantly hear: Do not kill! Let us remember that in Belzec there rest Rachel and Hanna, Justyna and Solomon, David and Andrzej. People who could have been our brothers. People that were our brothers.
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