Tomorrow night begins Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. I have a request. Wherever you are in the world – tomorrow night as darkness sets in, light a candle and think of the six million Jews and the millions of non-Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.
Maybe tomorrow night I’ll write about my visit to Poland a few years ago – but right now, I want to write about something else. I just read that today a group of partisans, fighters who fought the Nazis in the forests of Europe, anywhere and any way that they could, visited an air force base today. Israel is home to thousands of Holocaust survivors. They have lived here since the beginning – leaving the gas chambers of Europe to help build a nation.
Especially at this time of the year, as the annual commemoration of those horrible years arrives, we honor them and we listen to them, to the nightmares they still suffer, the fears they still have, the scars they still carry. Today, they had a request for our pilots. A request, and a question.
More than half a century ago, they faced an enemy that wanted, needed, dreamed of annihilating our people. They know such evil existed in this world and they know that it still exists. One woman asked an officer in our air force if our pilots could reach Iran. “They can reach anywhere,” he answered.
I love that answer for its simplicity. He did not explain about Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, spread over many sites, miles apart. He did not speak of the hatred they knew better than most; he did not talk of oil and political maneuverings. He did not speak of America and if it would talk or act this time, as it failed to do for the Jews dying in Auschwitz – the ones that could have been saved if American had bombed the rail lines, as they were asked.
He did not speak of other European nations, of the silence that murders as effectively as poison gas. He did not talk of how much uranium the Iranians have, when their nuclear development will reach critical mass. Instead, he offered them a simple answer carrying the reassurances these survivors needed. Yes, he was explaining, we can stop them. No, we will not be helpless again. No, you have nothing to fear and yes, this time they will not succeed because we will stop them.
We will not depend on others; we will do for our people now what we could not do then.
An air force plane slowly rolled past the group, and the partisans began to clap. The pilot wanted to honor them; they gave their honor right back. Israel has given them a home, a land, and the courage to live after learning all that would encourage a person to want to die. More than a decade ago, one of our defense ministers went to Poland, to the site of the Warsaw Ghetto. In a sad and solemn tone, he spoke to those who could no longer hear him. He told them that the air force of Israel had come to pay their respects. They’d come 50 years too late to save them, he explained, but they’d come to Warsaw. It was a promise that the air force would never be too late again. We would fly to Yemen, to Ethiopia, to Uganda. We would fly to Iraq and to Sudan, and we may yet fly to Iran.
A few years after that defense minister was in Warsaw, an Israeli pilot, son of a Holocaust survivor, honored those who died in Auschwitz by flying over the concentration camp. It was a message to his grandparents who had died there and to all the world. See us. Hear us. Know that this time, this time we can reach anywhere, not because we want to, but because we know that in this world, we have to.
Today, another survivor made her own request of the air force of Israel, “What I ask of you is to make sure that there will not be another Holocaust.”
Tomorrow night, when you light that candle, please think of my son Elie, a young and handsome soldier, one of tens of thousands of strong, proud young men who guard Israel today and tomorrow. Think of them because what they do, they do for this precise reason. Tomorrow night, my son will guard Israel. Our sons will guard the skies of Israel, the borders, the seas. Europe and America did what they did more than 60 years ago, and we know what they did not do. We know the railways to Auschwitz were not bombed and we know deals were not made. People were sent back to die rather than given refuge.
Today, Israel can send the bombs, make the deals, and offer refuge. It is an unbelievable thing, to ask a young man to make sure there will not be another Holocaust, but that survivor’s request was made to Israel and today, as our sons stand on our borders and fly our skies, they assure us all that they will honor that request, even if it means flying to Iran.
Israeli Air Force – flying over Auschwitz, 2003: