Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion spoke at Auschwitz on the ocassion of the March of the Living on Holocaust Memorial Day Thursday.
Seventy-nine years ago, on March 15, the first transport of Jews departed from the Baron Hirsch neighborhood in Thessaloniki, en-route to Auschwitz-Birkenau. For five months – from March to August – the transports continued to depart Thessaloniki, the Jerusalem of the Balkans, and from other Jewish communities in Greece, to Auschwitz. Only nineteen “shipments”. That’s all it took for the Nazis to eliminate Thessaloniki’s Jews. Ninety percent of Greece’s Jews were killed in the concentration camps.
I am privileged to have here with me today, my father, Shalom Lion. His great uncle, Doctor Michael Pesach, marched with his patients to the killing pit. And his daughter, whose name we do not know, perished here, in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Did Grandma survive the journey? Seven days in packed cattle carts. Did her granddaughter and son accompany her on her last march? Were they on the train that arrived from Thessaloniki seventy-nine years ago, on the twenty-eighth of April, 1943, from which two thousand five hundred and forty-nine Jews were immediately sent to the gas chambers?
We will never know. We do not even know the day they passed away.
“It is time for the gates of acceptance to be opened, the day I shall prostrate before G-d. Please remember for me on the day of rebuke, recall the binder, the bound, the alter.”
These words are sung by the Jews of Greece and Eastern countries on Rosh Hashanah before the sounding of the Shofar, and the opening of the Gates of Heaven. This supplication, describing the awe-filled moment of the binding of Isaac, holds different meaning after the Holocaust.
Communities of Greek origin read it as if it was written about them. About the binding of their families, about the loss of their communities. I cannot forget the elders of the community weeping and sobbing, “The son born after ninety years, has gone into the flames, designated by the sword, where will I find comfort for his mother?”
The eyes cried bitterly, but the heart rejoiced, the binder, the bound, the alter.”
In these moments, I cannot but mention alongside my family, my dear wife Stavit’s family who also perished here in Auschwitz: Pinchas, Sarah, Malka and her son, whose name we do not know, to the Aust family, great-grandmother Atel, who died during the escape, and Grandma Tzipora Lerer.
Dear friends, this railroad, on which we now stand, the Auschwitz Railway Station, was – in the spring of 1944 – the busiest train station in Europe. Whoever stands here, on this damned rail track, can almost hear and imagine the cries of mothers, and the children torn from their arms. The barking of the dogs. The terrible selection, to life or to death. The cold-blooded orders of the guards: Fast, faster!
We are not in a hurry. We remember as a nation. And our memory is eternal. We will remember the Nazi as the nation of Amalek (the biblical tribe who sought to destroy the Children of Israel). We will remember those who stood idly by. We will not forgive those who saw the chimney smoke, heard the cries, and did not lift a finger.
I stand here today, on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, as Mayor of Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel, and the capital of the Jewish people.
And I say: We were commanded to walk – and we just walked, in the March of the Living, and we say clearly: We are here.
No, we did not march from Auschwitz one to Auschwitz two. We did not march from Auschwitz to Birkenau. We marched from the Holocaust to the rebirth. We marched from Auschwitz to Jerusalem.
Every step in the march, is an important and meaningful step in the history of the Jewish people. Even as antisemitism tries – even today – to raise its ugly head. Despite the murderous terror attacks, and the attempts to undermine the peace of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, we are the Jewish people, and we will continue to march as free people in our land. The land of Zion and Jerusalem! We will continue to build and develop Jerusalem as a city of peace, a city of hope, a city of the future.
I call to you, my father, standing here with me proud and strong, as part of the chain of generations. Dad, we survived the Holocaust, thanks to Jerusalem. Thanks to your father, Grandpa Moshe Leon, who held you in his arms, as a little baby and came with you, when he dreamed of Jerusalem.
And here I am standing today, proud and moved, as the Mayor of Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people and the capital of Israel, at the head of the Jerusalem delegation.
Father, as you can see: The Jewish spirit and the prayers for Jerusalem are the victors of history. They are the ones who continue to exist and become stronger. Like our family, like the special nation of which we are privileged to be a part. And like the most special city in the world, Jerusalem.
Father, as your son, as the father of your grandchildren, and as a grandfather to your great-grandchildren, with you, and together with all those present here, we say to grandmother, Mazal Tov Pesach of blessed memory, along with all the holy martyrs, the victims. We will never forget! Jerusalem is our heart. Jerusalem is the heart of each and every one of us. As we say, “If I forget thee Jerusalem.”