Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Thursday addressed the European Parliament to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, held annually on Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Herzog delivered the main speech at a special session attended by lawmakers and Shoah survivors.
“The Holocaust was not born in a vacuum. We must never forget that the Nazi death machine would not have succeeded in realizing its nightmarish vision had it not met soil fertilized with Jew-hatred, which is as old as time itself. The stereotypical depiction of Jews had struck roots through Europe for centuries and generations, before the rise of Nazism. Nazi ideology intensified traditional antisemitism, and primordial fears fanned the flames of hatred,” said Herzog.
“Even before a single extermination camp was built, in the minds of the masses, the Jew was already human dust, sub-human. It is precisely for this reason, precisely because the Holocaust was predicated on much older antisemitic foundations that had taken root and flourished in Europe, that this dark abyss is a terrible, profound, and compelling lesson for the whole of Europe,” added the Israeli president.
“When we stand together, here, in the beating heart of the European Union, we understand well the mission of memory that we all share: We recognize that at the memorial site to which we make pilgrimage, we must remember not only the Holocaust and the destruction, but also the sacred alliance forged alongside this horrific disaster, to sanctify the memory of the victims, to prioritize the welfare of the survivors who are still with us, to teach and educate in light of the lessons of the historic catastrophe that was the Holocaust, and to prevent any repetition of these ghastly crimes,” he continued.
Herzog arrived on Wednesday morning in Brussels, where he met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and King Philippe.
In their meeting, the presidents discussed Israel-E.U. relations, which find expression in extensive and comprehensive collaborations in trade, agriculture, tourism and aviation, as well as R&D and culture, and ways to deepen cooperation in additional fields such as energy, food security and climate change.
“The European Union is a very important element in our lives, and it is a potential strategic partner for Israel in so many ways, and we are real potential strategic partners for Europe in so many ways,” said Herzog. “We have common challenges, we have so much to share in doing good for the world, and there are so many issues that we can work together on towards resolving and helping humanity at large.”
Herzog also addressed the Iranian threat: “One of the main challenges that we are faced with, and I think it is clear now that Europe is faced with, is the fact that Iran is in Europe. Iran is fighting Ukrainian citizens by supplying drones and lethal weapons, endangering the world by rushing towards nuclear capabilities [and] killing and torturing its own citizens, and we believe it is about time that Europe take a very firm stance on Iran as it is a challenge not only to Israel, the region, the Middle East, but also to Europe and the world.”
After the meeting, Herzog visited the Athénée Ganenou Jewish school and the Great Synagogue of Europe, and spoke with members of the Jewish community.
“Here we are together, in this unique, magnificent structure, this Great Synagogue of Europe. It is not just a building. It’s a masterpiece. It’s a symbol of the inalienable right of Jews to live as full and free citizens—in Europe and around the world,” he said.
“I can only imagine the Allied forces marching into Brussels [in 1944] and liberating the city and some Jewish soldiers, like my father, going into this building, just like the Maccabees cleared out the desecrated Temple. And while Jews should be free to be equal citizens anywhere they choose, and to make their home anywhere they choose—in Brussels, Paris, New York or Jerusalem—there are naturally special and unbreakable bonds between the Jewish people and the Jewish state,” he added.
Later on Thursday, Herzog was to meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and representatives of the alliance whom he will brief on Israel’s strategic situation.