Address by the President of Poland in Yad Vashem
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is extremely difficult to collect one’s thoughts, let alone to find the right words to express them, having seen what a moment ago, my wife and I have seen together with our delegation. It is not so that we have never before visited a Holocaust victims’ memorial. On the contrary, we all: my wife, myself, members of the delegation, we have been visiting on many occasions the former German Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, to name just one site. However, what can be seen here, in the Yad Vashem Institute, what can be seen in these memorial sites, impresses us profoundly. Since this is an illustration of the whole tragedy suffered by the Jewish nation, the Holocaust, in its full extent, in the most profound sense of the word, and it speaks volumes about the bestial attempt to annihilate the Jewish nation undertaken by Hitler’s German followers.
For me, as President of the Republic of Poland, what is particularly poignant is the realization which was suggested to me by Professor Shevah Weiss during this very visit. He said “Mr President, please be aware that one half of those six million Jews who perished were citizens of the Republic of Poland”. These were Polish citizens, the citizens of our country, who were murdered after Poland had lost its independence, after it had ceased to exist on the map and was no longer capable of defending its citizens.
What the museum here depicts is something unimaginable to us, the contemporary people. It is good it exists, thank God it exists! It should continue to be here for ever and ever coming as warning to the world and to all leaders, showing what insane hatred is about, what its consequences are and what kind of harm it can inflict. I have no doubt that anyone who has seen it, is going to say what I have noted before: never can people consent, not only politicians but also ordinary people, to hatred and to anti-Semitism. Never can they turn a blind eye on all ideologies that instigate such a hatred. Let me reiterate: this is a great lesson to be learnt by humankind, and I do hope that mankind will draw everlasting conclusions from it.
But I also wish to note that the museum and the Yad Vashem Institute, feature two sparks of hope, not sorrow. In the first place, this is the image of Israel reborn, the image of all the people who survived the Shoah, sometimes miraculously, and who came here to build the state that would be capable of defending Jews, the state that would never again allow for such a tragedy to happen. The state that would be strong and able to stand up for its citizens.
But it is also a place of remembrance of the Righteous Among the Nations. For me, as President of the Republic of Poland, among this sea of death and tragedy, admittedly it is also a place where one can be proud. Since most of the Righteous Among the Nations commemorated here, including those whose heroism, to use the right word, whose heroism has been proven and undeniably demonstrated, the vast majority of them are my countrymen, Poles. More than 6,000 Poles, the greatest share of all the nations of the world, are commemorated here as the ones who risked their lives to save Jews. I want to emphasize the point very strongly: often their neighbours, their friends, people from the same city, town, from the same village. It seems only natural that one helps people, but you must remember that on the Polish territories occupied by Nazi Germany, helping Jews was irreversibly punishable with penalty of death. All people who were helping risked their lives and those of their families.
The most telling example of such an attitude is the Ulma family whose museum has been inaugurated in the Podkarpacie region, the people who were helping three Jewish families. They were denounced and surrendered to the Germans, and the Ulma couple along with their children were murdered by the Germans together with their Jewish neighbours. This was the price of the brotherhood and also the price of the Christian charity which prompted the Ulma family in their actions, from what I know myself, and from the reading of documents left.
Thank you for this opportunity afforded to me to see this site during my official visit to Israel, the site which in my view ranks among the most important ones on the map of the world. May it continue to be so. Thank you very much.