(Editor’s Note: On Sunday, April 18, 2010, Menachem Z. Rosensaft delivered the following speech at Bergen-Belsen, Germany at a commemoration marking the 65th anniversary of that Nazi concentration camp´s liberation.)
On Nov. 30, 1952, after Dr. Nahum Goldmann, then the President of the World Jewish Congress, spoke at the formal dedication of the International Monument of Bergen-Belsen, my father came here to the Jewish Monument to say Kaddish, the mourner´s prayer, and remember. Fifty-seven and a half years later, Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, who is now President of the World Jewish Congress, maintains and reaffirms the life-affirming and forward-looking ideals that made the Displaced Persons camp of Belsen an inexorable force in the Jewish people’s rebirth after the Holocaust. It is highly symbolic, therefore, for me to speak here today after the address of President Lauder which was delivered in his absence because the international volcanic ash disruption made it impossible for him to travel here.
Sixty-five years ago, my mother and a group of other Jewish women kept alive 149 Jewish children here at Bergen-Belsen, in the midst of pain, hunger, epidemics, anguish and death, from late December 1944 until British troops entered the camp on April 15, 1945.
In early April of 1945, my father was brought to Belsen from another Nazi concentration camp, Dora-Mittelbau, in central Germany. Eighteen-year old Jakob Zylberberg, whose entire immediate family had been murdered at Treblinka, arrived at Belsen on the same transport. On April 15, 1945, the first part of their lives came to an end, and the second part began.
I have the honor of speaking to you beside this monument, which my father dedicated on the first anniversary of liberation because my parents, Josef and Hadassah Rosensaft, are no longer among us. And I am privileged to be together with Jakob Zylberberg, his wife Aviva and his daughters Susan and Joyce in this sacred place where he, my parents, and all the others who were liberated here rediscovered freedom 65 years ago.
Eva Holub, a young Czech Jewish woman, was in Belsen from November 1944, when she arrived from Auschwitz, until January 1945, when she was sent to another concentration camp, Raghun, in the eastern part of Germany. Today, her daughter, Vivian Bernstein, is here to remember both her mother’s suffering and her mother’s survival.
Romana Primus, who was born in the Glyn-Hughes Hospital of the Belsen Displaced Persons camp, tells the story of how, shortly after his liberation here, her father, Sigmund Strochlitz, borrowed a motorcycle and took her mother for a ride. They rode without a destination, purely for joy, to celebrate their freedom. Today, Romana is saying Kaddish, here for her parents and for their murdered families.
A few years after the liberation, Sam Bloch, then the youngest member of the Jewish Committee that administered the Belsen DP camp, met and fell in love with a beautiful young survivor named Lilly Czaban. For them, like for so many others, Belsen simultaneously epitomizes the extremes of the human experience. They married, had daughters, Jeanie and Gloria, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren. Today they are here as a link in our unbreakable chain of memory.
Yochi Ritz-Olewski and Sarah Posluszny Golandski, who were also born in the Glyn-Hughes Hospital, are here today to reconnect with the place from which they left a blood-drenched Europe for the land of Israel to realize the Zionist dream that had fortified their parents throughout the years of the Shoa.
Marcel Tuchman came to Belsen to show his sons Jeffrey and Peter where their mother was liberated.
At a time when virulent anti-Semites throughout the world, including the President of Iran, consistently question whether Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, the images taken by British soldiers upon entering Belsen 65 years ago stand as a permanent refutation of what has become the preeminent contemporary successor to Hitler’s and Goebbels’ big lie.
At a time when the enemies of the State of Israel, including the President of Iran, consistently threaten its destruction, the commitment of the survivors of Belsen after their liberation to the creation of a Jewish state must inspire us to be equally dedicated to its security and survival.
May the horrors that were perpetrated here cause us to recommit ourselves every day to fighting all manifestations of racial, ethnic or religious persecution anywhere in the world.
And let us never forget the heroic courage of the survivors who emerged from Belsen with their humanity intact and who found the strength to look steadfastly toward the future as they rebuilt their shattered lives and families.
In 1950, shortly before the Belsen DP camp was closed, my father came here and solemnly promised the dead of Belsen that that they would never be abandoned or forgotten. Today, we declare once again that the mass-graves of Belsen, the largest Jewish cemetery in Western Europe, will always be a cornerstone of the Jewish people’s post-Holocaust consciousness, and that we, the children and grandchildren of the survivors of Belsen, vow to remain the guardians of all the murdered Jews who were buried here anonymously 65 years ago, and whose ghosts in turn envelop us in a shroud of eternal loneliness.
Each of us has come here today looking for the past that connects us to one another. The survivors, some standing together with their children and grandchildren, remember the years of horror and the miracle of rebirth. Others among us close our eyes and are reunited with our parents and grandparents, if only for a few minutes. But in the hallowed setting that is Belsen we must also focus on who we are, and on our tomorrow. And so, please allow me to conclude with a reflection about my generation, the bridge between two worlds:
night fragments created
in fire shadows
we are the last and the first:
the last to taste ashes
from the cursed century’s valley
of unwilling passers through
where God revealed His face
to them alone;
and the first
transfixed by still burning yesterdays
to reach beyond heaven and its clouds
beyond crimson ghost illusions
in search of memory
(Menachem Z. Rosensaft, born in the Displaced Persons camp of Bergen-Belsen on May 1, 1948, is General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress, Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School , Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the Syracuse University College of Law, and Vice President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.)