Czech PM at Terezín: It is important to stand up to anti-Semitism
Jaroslav Vodička, the chair of the Czech Freedom Fighters' Union, said today that German President Joachim Gauch's recent visit to the former Jewish ghetto at Terezín was a courageous step and a gesture of partnership. Hundreds of people remembered the victims of Nazism during WWII today at a commemoration ceremony in Terezín.
"We appreciate the gesture made by President Gauck. He has managed to remember the dark parts of his nation's history, which is a testament to his high moral credit," Vodička said in his speech.
Vodička called the stance taken by the German head of state a helpful gesture for the future. He also said he believes the past must be left to historians "because we can never change it."
The ceremony was also attended by Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Czech Social Democrats - ČSSD). "Terezín was a state of limbo from which people went to their deaths... Today we must remember how far an otherwise civilized and educated European society can go when the effort at international cooperation and social cohesion is exchanged for the uncontrollable national proliferation of hatred and industrial murder," the PM said.
Sobotka believes today's generation has the enormous luck to live at a time when European integration has facilitated the "displacement of the demons" that sparked bloody conflicts among European nations during the 20th century. He said we must never forget the time when that was not the case.
A Christian prayer was heard today at Terezín, performed by the provost of the canonry of St. Stephen in Litoměřice, Jiří Hladík, as well as a Jewish prayer performed by Karol Sidon, Chief Rabbi of the City of Prague and of the Czech Republic. The program closed with an aria from Verdi's opera "Nabucco", performed by a choir from Děčín.
The Terezín commemoration is a regular gathering to honor the memories of those who suffered in its repressive facilities during the time of the Nazi occupation, whether in the ghetto of Terezín, in the police prison run by the Prague Gestapo at the Small Fortress, or in the concentration camp in Litoměřice. The event has been held annually since 1947, always on the third Sunday in May at the National Cemetery in Terezín.
The Nazis forced 155 000 Jewish people from all over Europe into the Terezín ghetto between 1941 and 1945, 117 000 of whom did not live to see the end of the war. A total of 32 000 men and women from various countries, including Czech patriots, passed through the Gestapo prison in the Small Fortress, 2 600 of whom perished there, and executions were still underway there on 2 May 1945, a mere six days before the town was liberated.
Speech by Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka- 18 May 2014
Dear former prisoners of Terezín,
Dear constitutional officials,
Dear members of the diplomatic corps,
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
If you visit the local Museum of the Ghetto here, you will see an issue of the magazine Vedem on display. It was illustrated and written by boys between the ages of 13 and 16 who were torn away from their childhoods by the machinery of Nazism, marked with yellow stars, and then cast into the unnatural environment of the Terezín Ghetto.
Nothing better embodies the raw reality of wartime Terezín than the lines written by these gifted children. There is nothing more poignant.
That bit of filth on the dirty walls
and all around that touch of wire
and 30 000 sleeping.
One day they'll wake up
one day they'll see
their own blood, spilling.
This youth longed for other worlds.
No longer a child - I've seen the scarlet.
Now I'm grown up, I have known fear,
a bloody word and a day, slain.
This poem was written by Hanuš Hachenburg, who was murdered on 10 July 1944 in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was 15.
During the Second World War, Terezín earned its other moniker, "Limbo". Citizens of Jewish nationality waited here for transport to the extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.
It was precisely here that the Czech patriots who courageously resisted the Nazi occupation were imprisoned and tortured. During the time of the Protectorate, a new, terrible use was found for this fortress town, which had existed since 1790.
In June 1940, a Gestapo prison was established in the Small Fortress. In November 1941, the Jewish Ghetto was subsequently created in the Main Fortress.
During the war, an unbelievable 155 000 people passed through the ghetto. Those imprisoned here were not just Czechs, but also Austrians, Danes, Dutch, Germans, Hungarians and Slovaks.
A total of 118 000 of them did not survive the war. Of the 87 000 people who were sent in 63 transports to extermination camps in the east, only 3 600 were saved.
In the Small Fortress a total of 32 000 were imprisoned during the occupation. Of those, 2 600 perished here as a result of abuse, hunger and illness.
A total of 300 patriots were executed here. Others died in the Nazi concentration camps and prisons to which they were deported.
They were resistance fighters from Defense of the Nation (Obrana národa), the "We Remain Faithful" Petition Committee (Petiční výbor Věrni zůstaneme), the Central Command of the Home Resistance (Ústřední vedení odboje domácího - ÚVOD), illegal organizations of the Communist Party, Sokol functionaries, and members of Partisan divisions. Here in the Small Fortress, cold-blooded executions were carried out until the very end of the war.
On 2 May 1945, 52 imprisoned anti-Nazi fighters were shot dead here. That was a mere six days before the liberation of Terezín.
Terezín was not just a location where the victims of the inhuman Nazi extermination machinery were assembled. It was also a place of cynical lies and pretense to the whole world.
A propaganda film was made here about how Hitler had allegedly "gifted" a town to the Jews. Even as transports were departing from here in 1944, the International Red Cross was monitoring, and everything that could be done was done with Nazi thoroughness in order to deceive them.
Scenes from a would-be "normal life" were rehearsed, scenery was built including a bank, a café and shops. Nothing could have been farther from the reality of the Terezín ghetto than the carefully directed image that was seen and described by three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross during their visit.
Terezín is a place where we annually recall the horrors of the Second World War. It is a place where we honor the Czech victims of the Holocaust and realize the European dimension of the Shoah.
It is a memorial where we commemorate the brave Czech resistance. It is an exclamation point drawing attention to how far an otherwise civilized and educated European society can go when the effort at international cooperation and social cohesion is exchanged for the uncontrollable national proliferation of hatred and industrial murder.
We have enormous luck to live at a time when European integration has facilitated the displacement of the demons that sparked bloody conflicts among European nations during the 20th century. I firmly believe that, thanks to the European Union, our children will be able, just as we have, to live their lives in freedom and peace.
Be that as it may, we have a permanent obligation to commemorate the failure of civilization that brought us German Nazism. It is just as important to stand up to all present-day manifestations of anti-Semitism, hatred, racism and xenophobia.
It is necessary to take action against those who are trying to gain economic and political power by deliberately inciting people against each other and building populism instead of democracy and human rights. We must not repeat the mistakes that led to the rise of the totalitarian regimes and of destructive national and social conflicts.
Our task is to actively defend and promote the values of democracy, humanism and tolerance. I want to emphasize this in this place, above the graves of Terezin, in the shade of these walls that will forever commemorate the horrors of the Holocaust.
The victims of Terezín must never be forgotten. Their death and suffering was not in vain, so please, let us preserve their memory.
At the beginning I spoke of the remarkable children's magazine Vedem. This poem, "With You, Mother", was also published there:
In filth and sludge and hunger, we suffer here, Cast into a pit of darkness, of infinite pain,
Held down by our masters, deprived of our rights, Mother mine, we shall walk forever together.
We shall walk toward the sun, though tired and weary We shall walk with courage in our brethren's footsteps, Walk on, though our bodies be numb from the beating, We shall walk to the east through the pools of blood.
We shall walk to a distant place, far beyond mountains, Into a clean world, a world of equality,
Into a world where freedom's tlags fly, And all former ills are long forgotten.
We shall come to our goal, no matter how distant Fresh smiles on our faces, the race we shall win. Dear Mother, we'll be with you forever and ever, In freedom to live, and our rights to enjoy.
The author of this poem, Zdeněk Ornest, survived Auschwitz.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention.
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