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August 22, 2014 2:49 pm

Full Transcript: Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid Speech at Platform 17 in Berlin in Memory of Holocaust Victims

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Finance Minister Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party. Photo: Yesh Atid.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party. Photo: Yesh Atid.

Below is the full transcript of Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s speech at Platform 17 in Berlin in memory of the victims of the Holocaust on August 20, 2014.

The Holocaust causes us all to ask of ourselves the same question: What would I have done?

What would I have done if I was a Jew in Berlin in 1933, when Hitler rose to power? Would I have run? Would I have sold my house, my business? Removed my children from school in the middle of the year? Or would I have said to myself: it will pass, it is just momentary madness, Hitler says all these things because he is a politician seeking election. Yes, he’s anti-Semitic, but who isn’t? We’ve been through worse than this. It’s better to wait, to keep my head down. it will pass.”

What would I do if I was a German in Berlin on the 18th October 1941, when the first train left this platform, heading East and on it 1,013 Jews – children, women, the elderly – all destined for death.

I don’t ask what I would have done if I was a Nazi, but what would I have done if I was an honest German man, waiting for his train here? A German citizen the same age I am now, with three children like mine. A man who educated his children on the values of basic human decency and the right to life and respect? Would I have remained silent? Would I have protested? Would I have been one of the few Berliners to join the anti-Nazi underground? or one of the many Berliners who carried on with life and pretended that nothing was happening?

And what if I was one of the 1,013 Jews on that train? Would I have boarded the train? Would I have smuggled my 18 year old daughter to the northern forests? would I have told my two sons to fight until the end? Would I have dropped my suitcase and started to run? Or would I have attacked the guards in the black uniforms and died an honorable, quick death instead of dying slowly of hunger and torture?

I think I know the answer. I think you do too.

None of the 1,013 Jews departing for their deaths fought the guards. Not them and not the tens of thousands who followed them from this place. Neither did my grandfather, Bela Lampel, when a German soldier took him from his home late at night on the 18th March 1944. “Bitte”, said his moher – my great-grandmother Hermine – to the German soldier. She slowly got down on her knees and hugged the soldiers boots. “Bitte, don’t forget that you also have a mother.” The soldier didn’t say a word. he didn’t know that from the bed, hiding under the duvet, my father was looking at him. A Jewish boy of 13 who overnight became a man.

Why didn’t they fight? That is the question that haunts me. That is the question that the Jewish people have struggled with since the last train left for Auschwitz. And the answer – the only answer – is that they didn’t believe in the totality of evil.

They knew, of course, that there were bad people in the world, but they didn’t believe in total evil, organized evil, without mercy or hesitation, cold evil that looked at them but didn’t see them, not even for a moment, as human.

According to their murderers, they weren’t people. They weren’t mothers or fathers, they weren’t somebodies children. According to their murderers they never celebrated the birth of a child, never fell in love, never took their old dog for a walk at two in the morning or laughed until they cried at the latest comedy by Max  Ehrlich.

That’s what you need to kill another man. To be convinced that he isn’t a man at all. When the murderers looked upon the people who departed from this platform on their final journey they didn’t see Jewish parents, only Jews. They weren’t Jewish poets or Jewish musicians, only Jews. They weren’t Herr Braun or Frau Schwartz, only Jews.

Destruction starts with the destruction of identity. It is no surprise that the first thing done to them, when they arrived at Auschwitz, was to tattoo a number on their arm. It is hard to kill Rebecca Grunwald, a beautiful, fair haired 18 year old romantic, but Jew number 7762 A is easy to murder. Yet it remains the same person.

75 years later, do we know any more? Do we understand more?

The Holocaust placed before Israel a dual challenge:

On the one hand it taught us that we must survive at any price, and be able to defend ourselves at any price. Trainloads of Jews will never again depart from a platform anywhere in the world. The security of the State of Israel and its citizens must forever be in our hands alone. We have friends, and I stand here among friends. The new Germany has proven its friendship to Israel time and again, but we must not, and we cannot, rely on anyone but ourselves.

On the other hand, the Holocaust taught us that no matter the circumstances we must always remain  moral people. Human morality is not judged when everything is ok, it is judged by our ability to see the suffering of the other, even when we have every reason to see only our own.

The Holocaust cannot be compared, and must not be compared, to any other event in human history. It was, in the words of the author K Zetnik, a survivor of Aushwitz, “another planet.” We must not compare, but we must always remember what we learnt.

A war like the one we fight today, which looks likely to continue and which the civilized world – whether it wants to or not – will be a part of, causes the two lessons we learnt from the Holocaust to stand opposite one another.

The need to survive teaches us to strike hard to defend ourselves.

The need to remain moral, even when circumstances are immoral, teaches us to minimize human suffering as much as possible.

Our moral test is not taking place in a sterile laboratory or upon the philosophers’ page. In the past weeks the moral test put before us has taken place during intense fighting. Thousands of rockets were fired at our citizens and armed terrorists dug tunnels next to kindergartens with the aim of killing or kidnapping our children. Anyone who criticizes us must ask themselves one question: “What would you do if someone came to your child’s school with a gun in their hand and started shooting?”

Hamas, as opposed to us, wants to kill Jews. Young or old, men or women, soldiers or civilians. They see no difference, because for them we are not people. We are Jews and that is reason enough to murder us.

Our moral test, even under these circumstances, is to continue to distinguish between enemies and innocents. Every time a child in Gaza dies it breaks my heart. They are not Hamas, they are not the enemy, they are just children.

There for Israel is the first country in military history that informs its enemy in advance where and when it will attack, so as to avoid civilian causalities. Israel is the only country that transfers food and medication to its enemy while the fighting continues. Israel is the only country where pilots abandon their mission because they see civilians on the ground. And despite it all, children die, and children are not supposed to die.

Here in Europe, and elsewhere in the world, people sit in their comfortable homes, watching the evening news, and tell us that we are failing the test. Why? Because in Gaza people suffer more. They don’t understand – or don’t want to understand – that the suffering of Gaza is the main tool of evil. When we explain to them, time after time, that Hamas uses the children of Gaza as human shields, that Hamas intentionally places them in the firing line, to ensure they die, that Hamas sacrifices the lives of the young to win its propaganda war, people refuse to believe it. Why? Because they cannot believe that human beings – human beings who look like them and sound like them – are capable of behaving that way. Because good people always refuse to recognize the totality of evil until it’s too late.

Time after time we ask ourselves why people in the world prefer to blame us when the facts so clearly indicate otherwise. Across the world fanatic Muslims are massacring other Muslims. In Syria, in Iraq, in Libya, in Nigeria more children are killed in a week than they die in Gaza in a decade. Every week, women are raped, homosexuals are hung and Christians are beheaded. The world watches, offers its polite condemnation, and returns obsessively to condemning Israel for fighting for our lives.

Some of the criticism stems from anti-Semitism. It has raised its ugly head once more. To those people we say: we will fight you everywhere. The days when Jews ran away from you are over. We will not be silent in the face of anti-Semitism and we expect every government, in every country, to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and fight this evil with us.

Other critics, perhaps more enlightened in their own eyes, prefer to blame only us for what happens in Gaza because they know we are the only ones who listen. They prefer to focus their anger upon us not in spite of but because we are committed to the same human values which Hamas rejects – compassion for the weak, rationality, protection of gay people, of women rights, of the freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Let us not fool ourselves. Evil is here. It is around us. It seeks to hurt us. Fundamentalist Islam is an ultimate evil, and like the evil which came before it learnt how to use all our tools against us: Our TV cameras, our international organizations, our commissions of inquiry and our legal system. Just as terror uses rockets and suicide bombers, it uses our inability to accept that someone would sacrifice the children of their people just to get a supportive headline or an eye-catching photograph.

Standing here, in this place, I want to say clearly – that the leaders of Hamas, an anti-western, anti-Semitic terrorist organization cannot be safe while they continue to target innocent civilians. Just as every European leader would do, just as the United States did with Osama Bin Laden, so we will pursue every leader of Hamas.

This is the evil which we all face and Israel stands at the front. Europe must know, if we will fail to stop them, they will come for you. We must do everything to avoid suffering and the death of innocents but we stand in the right place from which to say to the entire world: We will not board the train again. We will protect ourselves from total evil.

Thank you.

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  • Video of the speech on youtube:

  • Ron Hurrell

    I am a Christian gentile who has long admired the Jews for their sense of family and sense of Nationhood. You are right, we in Britain have lost both and also the understanding of the totality of evil. Militant Islam is well aware of this and takes advantage. The Israeli people stand alone, at present, in the fight against a regime as evil as Nazism. I hold on to the hope that soon the truth you proclaim will be seen by the West.

    • Allan Altman

      Thank you. It is very clear to a majority of Jews that the loss of life in Gaza is a tragedy. But as Minister Lapid said so clearly: If someone attacks you, you must respond to stop the attack, and defeat the attacker. If that attacker prefers to use their own civilians, children, the elderly as shields to take the blows for them, and to make their case of disproportion (who ever heard of proportionality when fighting for your life) then reasonable and intelligent people can see through that.

      The UK government needs to hear your opinion. Again, thank you!

  • Black

    You know what?
    Every country in the world needs to wake up and say
    >>>>>> NO MORE <<<<<<< :to these blood thirty animals.
    And make no mistake we are not all alike and never have been.
    What makes this whole world work is our will and desire to exercise our G-d given free will: to pursue good over evil.
    For this is no war of honor. This is no "holy war" if anything it is an unholy war. This is a fight of right and wrong, a fight of influence. Good vs. evil.
    This is not a war of this race or that. Time goes on but the only real change in mankind, is our ability to choose to be be better than ourselves.
    To rise above our animal desire. To be more than just mortals, But to choose to exercise our shared ability to be human. To stand up and say, Yes you are different from me, But together our differences is what makes us stronger and better than we could be left on our own.
    That's what makes this whole thing work.
    In ancient times there were games of animals pitted against humans for sport. Today we still have that same desire of competition. But we choose to have organized an even disorganized sports. We choose to have free market competition. We still have the very desires that both propel or retard our humanity depending upon how we choose to control it.
    We have and continue to reform ourselves for there are no technologies to advance to without the humanity to control them.
    We can not look upon a cancer and lay complete blame on ourselves for the actions taken by others for over 1,400 yrs. While most of the worlds peoples have advanced from the days when animal sacrifice was made, to a time when our offerings are made with our lips, our thoughts and our deeds. How we treat ourselves and each other in our lives our families. How we conduct ourselves in business and political policies.
    Surely we have failed. We have failed to recognize there will be those who will choose to embrace evil. And there are those who choose to make this happen and to profit from it. While there may never be until the days of the Mashgiach, a time when the evil influence will be able to gain a foothold on mankind. And we must stand up and sometimes fight and kill this influence. It is not purely done with sword or gun. But in how we treat ourselves and others. That would slow many of those who would choose to turn to the evil influence. The ones left, the ones who know no shame would then be a small minority and we would find a way to deal with them. NO MORE.
    May Hashem, the Lord our G-d, and God of our fathers, The Lord our G-d who has never left us nor forsaken us Bless Israel and her people with courage, with strength, with wisdom, with glory, with peace and with healing.
    May the world look upon Israel and learn from her. May the world support and join in this opportunity to stand up for the best of ourselves everywhere. May all say NO MORE.

  • Pamela Pasake

    Absolute clarity. What more is needed to understand the enormity of evil faced by the entire world? This should be read in every school, house of worship and at every dinner table.

    This seething disease of hatred will grow stronger when fed by stupidity and appeasement.

  • Roz Shorenstein

    Eloquent speech, Mr. Lapid. Fight the good fight. This is the world’s chance to know what we would do.

  • Diana Hoffman

    So well said. There is nothing to add, as this is the truth. The world must band together to eliminate these Hamas, Isis, and other extreme Muslim savages. Wake up world NOW before it is too late!!!

  • syed siraj uddin

    I acknowledge the speech but one thing should be kept in mind that mercy is a God qualities that is lacking in the speech.Why the Jewish failed to protect themselves by the Holocaust? why such bad condition arose for them? There are Muslim making mistake because the are not following the principle life that God command to them, so they are being humiliated by their own weaknesses and action. So I think Jewish have power so, even if they are right they still have no right to deal with Hamas like the Hitler did with them. it is against the humanity and God’s will.So peaceful solution is not easy there but not impossible if we obey God command and love Abraham.

    • lynda bass

      when one makes comparisons they should be apples with apples and oranges with oranges. Israel/Hamas is the same as Hitler/Jews? I cannot understand the lack of intelligence here. Hamas are the Hitlers here. They are ruthless psychopathic terrorists. They use children and women as death tools for propaganda. The Jews were peaceable merchants, and professionals, and family civilians who were rounded up and slaughtered like cows. How dare anyone make this kind of comparison and expect their argument to be valid or heard? I wasn’t even going to address this, but it’s so irrational that I thought this kind of thinking is what helps cause all of this war and strife. It’s innacurate, unfair, and irrational.

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    Dear Yair,
    This is an excellent speech. Your statement about the moral aspect of Israel’s way of dealing with evil truly makes the point clearly that we Israelis value life and make every effort to honor it, protect it, and avoid human suffering. My concern is that we do not go overboard to protect the lives of others and at the same time put our lives on hold, as if to say that the life of someone else is more important than mine. The life of every human being is unquestionably indubitably important. However, I am entitled to defend myself, even at the expense of the loss of life of the “other.” It is not that I intentionally try to hurt the other instead of my being hurt: it is the fact that my life–my gift from G-d to me–is worthy of being protected at any cost. I believe that my G-d has given me this life to protect, to love, and to give love to others; at the same time, there may be a time in which I will have to put my life before the “other,” unless he or she is under my care, my own family member, or a fellow soldier.
    Kol tuv,
    Yoel Nitzarim

    • Allan Altman

      Well said!

  • Penny Levy

    Mr. Lapid.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving your heart-wrenching but deeply meaningful speech. It meant so much to me that I have kept a transcript of your speech so I can read it again and share it with anyone who will listen. In my 63 years of life I have never been so deeply moved by any other speech I’ve heard. Yours will stay with me always. I am prouder than ever today to be a Jew and a Zionist because of what you said as a representative of our people. Once more, thank you. Words don’t do justice to express how much your words mean to me. Baruch Hashem for human beings like you.