I am overwhelmed, at Auschwitz, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, where I join somberly with fellow Israeli leaders to remember and to learn lessons for the future.
The infamous arched sign over the gates to the concentration camp still commands: Arbeit Macht Frei. This was no mere motto. It was the final element of the Final Solution, an elusive promise that having endured the roundups and ghetto liquidations, the hunger and the forced train journey, here at last was the hint of humanity. Just obey the rules, my people were told, and somehow it would all turn out all right.
Lesson number one: Reject the lies told to us, especially the ones that fly in the face of reality and aim to annihilate rather than rescue us. This sign must be remembered each and every time our delegation enters the negotiating room to be solicitously asked for still more concessions, more prisoner and land retreats.
It must be remembered when stern words that under no circumstances will Iran ever be permitted to acquire a nuclear bomb are predicated on the lessening of pressure and freeing up of sanctions against the terrorist regime in Tehran. Once again the world tells us "work with us, be good guys," and everything will sort itself out.
We continue to the train tracks known around the world where hundreds of thousands of broken Jews were herded past impromptu selection teams who decided who should live and who should die, which mothers to separate from how many of their children.
Lesson number two: Those tracks could readily have been wrecked in but one fleeting, focused air attack by Allied forces. Leaders of the caliber of Churchill and FDR were privy to those begged requests, yet no such bombing run ever occurred, not once. The genocide was not stopped for one day, not for one hour. And the lesson is clear, we cannot live without self-reliance.
I do not blame the Allies for their failure to save countless lives by bombing the rail tracks. I blame the Nazi death machine, of course, but I also cannot help but castigate Jewish weakness. Undoubtedly, Jewish strength and influence, much less sovereignty, would have forever eradicated this picture of apathy and inaction. We were too low on the priority pole to compel those who had the power and the resources to act. They were admirably engaged in saving the West from Nazi bestiality, but saving the Jews was lost in the shuffle of competing demands.
Finally, as I gaze around, I see Members of Knesset from all parties. I see our government leaders. I see staunch Christian friends and allies from the United States and Europe. But I also see killing fields and crematoria filled with millions of the murdered. I cannot begin to image their horror or their sense of abandonment.
Lesson number three is: We dare not forget. We must also remember the precious lives wantonly, cruelly ended in this place and others like it through the unholy trio of Nazi madness, Western indifference, and Jewish weakness.
We must remember every day, every place we set foot, what happened at Auschwitz. And the memory must be totally pro-active, not passive. We must continuously ask ourselves, "How should I react to this situation TODAY, in light of the tragic lessons of the Holocaust?" How must we as a people, bring peace through negotiations, stop the Iranian threat, quash extremist Muslim terrorism… based on the lessons learned from the Holocaust?
I am in Auschwitz and I realize we must continue to picture the black smoke of the crematoria, consuming a generation of Jews. Then picture a different sky in which Israeli jet fighters streak across the horizon in pride and strength.
The sky is empty at this moment, yet the two visions co-exist. We must keep both pictures firmly engraved in our minds. And then, as we are wisely instructed, "We must choose life."
I leave Auschwitz with a huge life lesson engraved in my mind: We must be strong, and we can rely ultimately only on ourselves. If we remember that, we will not merely survive, but we will thrive.
This article was first published at www.jns.org.