Published on 8 September 2015

Address of Haïm Korsia, Chief Rabbi of France

Ceremony in memory of the Martyrs of the Deportation Sunday, September 6, 2015

"70 years ago, death camps were liberated by the Allied forces. The world discovered the unbearable horror of Nazi cruelty. Children, elderly, women, men, confined in camps with the intention of eliminating them, but before, dehumanizing them, turning them into Stücke ; « emaciated men with head dropped and shoulders curved, on whose face and in whose eyes not a trace of a thought is to be seen » described Primo Levi in Survival in Auschwitz - If This Is a Man; millions of people intended to a certain death, industrial and systematic, subjected to exhausting tasks or directly « selected » for the gas chamber.
In 1947, Chief Rabbi Jacob Kaplan, standing here in my place, said: « it should not be my honor to address you today, but a Rabbi who had returned from a concentration camp. Sadly, there is no one who can stand before you. No one has returned… » Because these rabbis, who should have come back, have inspired us so much, because their incredible courage is matched only by their broken destinies, I decided, with the assistance of the Keren Kayemet Leisrael, to establish a forest in their honor and perpetuate their memory. And through them, we will give the tribute they deserve to all who kept Judaism much alive in so terrible circumstances.
Why, year after year, perpetuate in this way the memory of the Shoah? Teaching is not about healing, but learning the lessons of History, predict and prevent. It is neither a cult of death, nor an obsession with the past, but because it is our duty to teach our children, veshinantam levanekha (Deut. VI, 7) and to carry to the world what a man, moved by appalling ambitions, made, one day, of a man.
We honor the memory of the 6 million lost souls, but we also celebrate life. We know, say, repeat the horror of the camps and, equally, the rescues, releases and heroism. We pay tribute to the Righteous and Resistance fighters and we denounce the policy of the collaborationist Petain regime that gave up the Jews to the occupier. I would like to recognize the so strong move of Prince Albert II of Monaco, who recently apologized for the active intervention of the Monegasque police during the roundup of August 27, 1942.
I would also like to thank the President of the Republic who went, as I suggested, to the Natzweiler-Struthof camp on April 26. I wish to express my special emotion, as remains of 86 Jews gassed in this camp and found last July, are currently buried at the cemetery of Cronenbourg (Strasbourg). The historic visit of the President of the Republic at the Struthof, the only camp on French soil that had a gas chamber, allowed to mark all consciences and to show - if necessary - that evil is not always as distant from us we would like to believe.
Evil is never far from us because it is also in us. How can we not mention the evils that undermine our world today? Do we fight sufficiently extremism and new totalitarianisms? Are we tough enough in fighting against racism and anti-Semitism, which yet kills, even today, everywhere and everyone?
Last year in front of you, I strongly denounced the protests that took place in the streets of France, during which "Death to the Jews" cries resounded in a so sinister way, synagogues’ attacks but also the exacerbation of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic violence. In early January, the national community, and the Jewish community in particular, have been the target of terror, struck to the heart, bruised in their flesh; but deeply moved, the nation coped with dignity. On January 11, the society, too long mute and passive, came out of its frightened or complicit silence; it rose massively to affirm its determination to live in brotherhood. Together, we took to the streets throughout France to denounce these heinous acts and restore our common hope: the Republic. Today we must act!Act to fight in a united front against terrorism and those who exploit and pervert religion to kill in the name of God, wherever they come from and whatever they are. To act, to leave none by the wayside of life.
What commitment can we take for persecuted minorities from the Middle East?
What actions for migrants, refugees rushing for months in unbearable conditions to European lands, fleeing war, poverty and unspeakable suffering? France is a land of asylum and hospitality; France, the cradle of human rights, cannot ignore these women and men who fail the gates of our borders, with the only hope, that of living. France, which radiates around the world through its values of humanism, universality and sharing, cannot be silent while facing the trial of its fellow human beings.
Do not forget the terrible verdict of Chantecler in Roman de Renart: « Cursed be the eyes that close when they should remain open ».
I call for a civic and human burst, strong gestures from our country and the European Union, so that solutions can be found as quickly as possible. This Bible verse is worth to everyone: « Love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigner in Egypt » (Leviticus XIX, 34). That is what we will talk soon about with leaders of the major French Jewish organizations, in order to regain the so simple and perfect strength of the message Cardinal Saliège, from Toulouse in 1942: « Jewish men are men, Jewish women are women ». Yes, this message applies to all. We must be the Saliège and Théas, the Trocmé and Boegner of our time and say, in memory of our dead and in fidelity to our values: « Migrants are our brothers in humanity »."