Monday, April 16, 2007

Never Again

Holocaust Memorial Day 2007
by Adam Ross, IDF Spokesperson
Photo Credits: Yad Vashem

This Holocaust Memorial Day, the third annual ceremony "Flower for a Survivor" was held, with the allocation of awards of appreciation to Holocaust survivors, honoring their courage and bravery.

The project, overseen by the IDF Education and Youth Corps, takes place annually on Holocaust Memorial Day in order to show appreciation for those who survived the Holocaust and contributed to the birth of the State of Israel.

7000 soldiers, of all ranks and headed by the Chief of IDF Staff, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, visited over 4000 Holocaust survivors in their homes.

The soldiers heard the survivors' courageous stories of survival and of their immigration and settlement in Israel. In addition, the Chief of IDF Staff was accompanied by senior officers in his visit to the survivors' homes. They included, IAF Commander, Major General Eliezer Shkedy, Israel Navy Commander, Major General Dudu Ben-Bashat, Head of the Logistics Branch, Major General Avi Mizrahi, Head of the Teleprocessing Branch, Major General Ami Shafran, Head of the Manpower Branch, Major General Elezer Shtern, Departing Head Education Officer, Brigadier General Ilan Harrari, Incoming Head Education Officer, Brigadier General Eli Sharmeister, and Head Medical Officer, Brigadier General Hezy Levi.

"The soldiers presented the survivors with awards of appreciation on their numerous achievements and contributions they gave to the country. The most important thing for the survivors to see is that the problems they faced when immigrating to this country and the manner that they were accepted has been corrected", explained Captain Tamar Kobelar, project manager of "Flower for a Survivor", in the Jewish Israeli Identity Department of the Chief Youth and Education Officer Headquarters.

"This learning experience is extremely important for the soldiers because it allows them to hear stories that they would normally not be able to hear. Visiting the Holocaust survivors, one by one, is unlike hearing a lecture in a hall with dozens of soldiers, this personal experience touches and affects the soldiers as well as the survivors in a very deep way."

"Understandably the survivors are not required to tell their stories. But we try to visit every holocaust survivor," continued Captain Kobilar. "Generaly we don?t visit those survivors that we visited in the previous years, although there are a number of survivors we ask that we come again because it is important for them to relate their stories to as many soldiers as possible, and naturally we go to them. The goal is to visit as many survivors as we can and I believe that we will continue in this campaign until we have visited each and every survivor."

The Chief of IDF Staff: "Never Again!"

The Chief of IDF Staff, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, spoke a few words in the General Staff ceremony in the Hall of Names in Yad Vashem.

"Each person has a name, that god and his parents gave him. The power of the words of the poet Zelda who penned the phrase 'Hand and Name' is able through its simplicity to show the pain of this great tragedy that words simply cannot describe," said the Chief of IDF Staff during his speech.

"Here in Yad Vashem in the Hall of Names, we see the sacred work done to immortalize those killed in the Holocaust, as people, people with an identity and a name."

"We are gathered here", continued Lieutenant General Ashkenazi, "The members of the general staff and I, in order to declare that this will never again occur. There will be no more numbers on an arm in place of a name; there will be no more smoke and ashes in place of a body and soul.

We in the IDF are obligated to learn about and to protect the heritage of those tragically killed.

I am proud of the work of over 10,000 officers, commanders, NCOs, soldiers in compulsory service and the reserves, parents who lost children in service and survivors, who took part in the "Witnesses in Uniform" delegation and who hold the power and tools to educate generations of warriors. They understand fully the nature of military service and the great responsibility they hold in their hands.

Almost every soldier of the IDF visited and was involved in the programs in museums such as Yad Vashem in order to remember and learn from the Holocaust."

"The primary focus on this Holocaust Memorial Day is the courage of those survivors, 'In order for the next generation to know', continued the Chief of IDF Staff.

"A number of days ago I had the honor to personally meet a holocaust survivor, Mrs. Leleka Miller, 83 years old, who lives in Tel Aviv. Her story helped me to grasp the horror she experienced during the Holocaust and her suffering in the Lodz Ghetto and in Auschwitz-Birchenau.

Through her personal story she told the story of all of us, the continuing struggle of a nation that is determined to survive.

Unfortunately, even now in our 59th year of Independence we are still required to continue fighting for our right to live in this country. We must remain strong against any challenges we may face and all of us must declare aloud "Never Again!"

About Project "A Flower for the Survivor"

Miriam held up a tired photograph full of smiling young faces. The three Israel Air Force men sitting around her leant in close to listen, "There were 54 girls in my school in Hungary, only 15 survived."

This week, soldiers across the Israel Defense Forces took part in a special project to visit Holocaust survivors across the country.

"Flower to the Survivor" was born three years ago in 2005 as an initiative of the IDF Education Corp and the Museum for the Ghetto Fighters. The project pledged to arrange for soldiers to visit and deliver a flower to 1,000 Holocaust survivors across the country, thus uniting Israeli society through compassion and history.

Now living in a suburban Tel Aviv retirement flat, at 79 years old, Miriam Shwarz is the only remaining member of her original family. As if talking to her own grandchildren she turned back the pages of history to May 1944 when the Nazis came for her entire family along with the other Jews of Hungary. "On the same day, my parents, grandparents, and everyone I knew were taken to Auschwitz."

The soldiers were moved by the visit and clearly connected to Miriam's warmth asking questions about her family, friends and her eventual arrival in Israel after being interned by the British in Cyprus for 18 months. They heard a tale of sadness punctuated with moments of hope.

Jaber, a Druze officer commented after the visit, "it's important to learn about the nation you live with. This is a courageous and strong people." He said he thought many Druze knew about the Shoah, but many did not. He stated, "I have a duty to relay what I've heard today."

Following the success of the project in its first year, the number of survivors visited more than doubled, reaching 2400 in 2006.

This year more than 4,500 survivors opened their doors, their hearts and painful memories to some 7,000 soldiers taking part in the project. In one high profile meeting in another Tel Aviv apartment block, Alexander and Aviva Bartel were paid a visit by Israel Air Force Commander, Major General Eliezer Shkedy and three of his most senior officers.

Alexander was born in 1927 in a town near Lodz in Poland. Alexander told the officers about the Lodz Ghetto, the bitter journey that took him to Birkenau in August 1944 and combination of sheer determination and chance that led him to survive when the Americans liberated Matthausen on May 5th 1944.

Days after his liberation, exhausted and confused, Alexander spotted a group of troops he was later informed were the Jewish Brigades; volunteers who joined British Army in Palestine. "I had only ever known the yellow star as being a symbol of embarrassment, a sign to be ashamed of." He paused, swallowing the lump swelling in his throat. "Now Jewish soldiers had chosen this very symbol to fight with against the Nazis." At 18 years old, he approached the Jewish brigades and asked to join them; three years later he fought in Israel's War of Independence.

Alexander's own Air Force wings sat on the dining room table in front of him, crowning a pile of documents. Upon arriving in Israel, he enlisted and joined the Air Force. He said the Air Force Commander's visit was an experience he appreciated "beyond words."

Before the visit in Tel Aviv came to a close, Major General Shkedy presented Alexander and Aviva with a large framed picture of an IDF jet flying over Aushwitz Birkenau. A handwritten inscription addressed to the couple in the top right corner read, "We're with you with all our hearts and our love. 'Israel over Auschwitz Birkenau' in the name of the State of Israel and the Jewish People. Never forget, and trust only ourselves," Eliezer Shkedy, Israel Air Force Commander.

Besides the effect of such visits on survivors, the soldiers who visited also had much to gain. "A nation must know their history" said Project Coordinator Captain Tamar Kobiler. "This is a project that gives both to the soldier and to the survivor?we've been inundated with positive feedback."

The IDF project works in conjunction with the Foundation for the Welfare of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. Each year different survivors are visited, with many requesting to be added to the list every year.

'Flower to the Survivor' is a touching and important stamp on Jewish life and history; a synthesis of brotherhood, education and compassion and a true expression of a nation investing in itself.

In Other Security News Over The Past 24 Hours:

(14:59 16/04/2007)
Damage was caused to an Israeli bus from rocks and paint bottles hurled at it by Palestinians as it was traveling near the Israeli community of Karme Zur.

(14:53 16/04/2007)
An Israeli vehicle was damaged from rocks hurled at it while traveling near the Israeli community of eastern Gush Etzion town Tekoa. No injuries were reported. This daily activity follows the incident Thursday when three Israeli cars were shot at by Arab snipers. None of the drivers were injured, but two of the cars were hit by bullets.

(14:51 16/04/2007)
A 15 cm long knife was uncovered in the possession of a Palestinian who arrived at the Beit Iba checkpoint, west of Nablus, a short time ago. The knife was uncovered by soldiers manning the checkpoint during a routine security check. The knife was confiscated and the man was transferred to the Israeli police.

(14:48 16/04/2007)
During the night Palestinians hurled an improvised grenade at an IDF force operating in Nablus. No injuries or damage were reported. IDF forces arrested four wanted Palestinians in Tulkarm. The wanted men were taken for questioning.

(17:52 15/04/2007)
IDF soldiers arrested 12 wanted terrorists on Saturday night. Eight were arrested in Hevron, and four were arrested in Ramallah.

(17:51 15/04/2007)
IDF soldiers were attacked twice with gunfire as they worked to arrest a Fatah terrorist in Ramallah. No soldiers were injured. Soldiers searching the area near the scene of the arrest found a small weapons cache.

(17:48 15/04/2007)
IDF soldiers operating near Jenin were attacked by Molotov Cocktail. No soldiers were injured, and no damage was caused in the attack.

(08:54 15/04/2007)
A Christian bookstore and two internet cafes were blown up in Gaza City at 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning in Gaza by unidentified terrorists. According to a report by the Associated Press no one was injured and no terrorist organization has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks. Palestinian Authority security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told repoerters that "an investigation has been launched." Internet cafes and music stores have been frequent targets of terrorist attacks in Gaza over the past year by the “Swords of Truth,” a small Islamist terror group.

(10:42 15/04/2007)
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh contradicted a remark made over the weekend by his deputy, Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed, who said that Hamas was not demanding the release of Marwan Barghouti in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Haniyeh made clear that Barghouti, the former Fatah leader in the Judea and Samariah convicted on multiple murder counts in an Israeli civil court, is on the list of prisoners Hamas wants to see released as part of a prisoner swap deal with Israel.