Last night I went to a memorial and discussion at Kehillat Yedidya that was dedicated to Raoul Wallenburg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in Budapest from destruction in 1944. He himself was arrested by the Russians when they conquered the city and was never heard from again. The Swedish consul-general, Professor Shlomo Stern, who was saved from death by Wallenburg, and Eli Yosef, who works for the international foundation for the memory of Wallenburg, all spoke. Stern's talk was the most moving, since he spoke personally about how he and his family were saved by Wallenburg.
Today members of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) read aloud the names of family members or people from their communities who perished in the Holocaust.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, ministers, MKs and other government officials read names of those who perished in the Holocaust during the Knesset's memorial ceremony on Thursday.
The ceremony is called "Every Man Has a Name" (לא כל איש יש שם) after a poem by Zelda that was inspired by the Holocaust. Twelfth Knesset speaker Dov Shilanksy, a Holocaust survivor, initiated the ceremony in 1989.
Peres told the story of his birthplace, Vishniev, which was then part of Poland but is now Belarus. His mother had five siblings, all of whom moved to Israel, except for her brother Michael Meltzer, who stayed behind to take care of his parents. All three were killed, along with the rest of the town's residents, who Nazis locked in a wooden synagogue, which they then burned down. Anyone who tried to escape the synagogue was shot.
"No house, no school, no cemetery remained in Vishniev," Peres said. "Nothing was left."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin pointed out that the name-reading ceremony "becomes more important every year as the amount of witnesses among us becomes less and less." Rivlin read the names of the Jews from the town of Shklov, Belarus, from which his mother's family hales, that were murdered by the Nazis. He explained that the Jewish community in Shklov was established in the 16th century, and on the evening following Yom Kippur 1941, residents of the Shklov Ghetto were taken to concentration camps.
The Knesset Speaker pointed out that there are victims of the Nazis whose names will never be known, such as the infant son of Aharon and Ivgenya Kapsitzky and other young children from Shklov.
Netanyahu said that this year's ceremony was the first that his father-in-law, Shmuel Ben-Artzi, who passed away in November, did not attend.
"He would listen closely, because he thought this was a way to give expression to the souls that were lost," Netanyahu said. "He saw the loss as something both personal and national, in dimensions that cannot be described."
The prime minister read a poem Ben-Artzi wrote in memory of his hometown, Bilgoraj, in which he "expressed his pain over the Holocaust."
Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz read names of Jews killed in the Farhoud, a Nazi-inspired pogrom in Baghdad in 1941, adding that "the State of Israel must do everything to make sure the events of the Holocaust, the genocide, do not repeat themselves."
Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein read names of his family members, as did Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Justice Minister Ya'akov Neeman and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Deputy Education Minister Menahem Eliezer Moses choked back tears as he read the names of 70 members of his father's family who perished in Auschwitz.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar honored Janusz Korczak, the Polish-Jewish educator who directed an orphanage and stayed with the orphans when they were sent to the Treblinka extermination camp.
Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon and Deputy Minister for the Advancement of Youth, Women and Students Gila Gamliel read names of those who perished in concentration camps in Libya, where their families come from.
MKs from Likud, Kadima, Labor, National Union and Shas read names. MKs Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) and Avraham Michaeli (Shas) told of family members from Georgia who were forced to fight in the Red Army, and never returned. MK Amir Peretz (Labor) honored Jews from Morocco who perished in Europe.
MK Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) concluded his name-reading with a quote from Deuteronomy: "Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt…that he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at the rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear God…God gives you rest from all your enemies around, in the Land that God gives you as an inheritance to possess it…you shall not forget."
At the beginning of the ceremony, the IDF rabbinical chorus sang Zelda's poem "Every Man Has a Name," followed by the lighting of six candles by survivors, the heads of the Knesset Caucus for Holocaust Survivors MKs Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) and Ze'ev Bielski (Kadima), as well as MK Ruhama Avrahal-Balila (Kadima) and her son, an IDF officer. Then, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and IDF Chief Cantor Shai Abramson read psalms and prayers.