Ladies and Gentlemen. These are the days when we commemorate the Holocaust of the Jews of Macedonia – days when, 68 years ago, even the Almighty was silent. These are days of sorrow. Days when entire Macedonia was bidding farewell from its sons and daughters Jews.
Until recently, the only grave of our fellow countrymen, who are not among us any longer, were only the painfull memories. Starting from tomorrow, the Holocaust Memorial Center of the Jews from Macedonia will be an eternal monument to the 7148 Macedonian Jews. It will be a lasting memory of what
has remained of the victims, their ashes and a remembrance of those we have lost.
The Jews are deeply rooted in the Macedonian state, history, tradition and culture since time immemoral. Ressetled by powerful empires, persecuted by inquisitors and suppressed by pogroms, many Jews found their second home in Macedonia: the Romaniotes, the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi. The Romaniotes in Stobi, in Macedonia built their oldest synagogue in the Balkans. The Sephardi, with their melodic Ladino, enriched the cultural, public and economic life in Macedonia. There were also few Ashkenazi, who, coming from the north, found their home in Macedonia.
Be assured, the Jews in Macedonia have never been nor will be considered guests or strangers. Along with their fellow countrymen, the Jews were, are and will be part of Macedonian history and culture. In Macedonia, from past times, people of different confession were respected and tolerated. In Macedonia, famous Jewish philosophers such as Tobit, Meir, de Tudela and Ben Kalonimos, had freedom to create. In Macedonia, God (Yahweh) was celebrated by famous rabbis like Shlomo ben Abraham Hakoen and Joseph Ben Lev, Istrumica Daniel and Aharon Abayov.
And, just in a moment, in one fateful moment, Macedonia has lost almost all children of Israel.
During the Second World War, the territory of present-day Republic of Macedonia became the prey of the Third Reich and its fascist allies.
In 1941, the highest Bulgarian occupational authorities adopted numerous inhumane laws, regulations and decisions managing the “Jewish issue" which were compliant to the spirit of the notorious anti-Semitic Nürnberg Laws of 1935. Full of hatred, cynicism and anti-Semitism, these documents actually unmask the racism, inhumanity and intolerance of the occupation regime.
But, unfortunately, this was just an introduction to the tragedy that followed.
On March 11, 1943, pursuant to the Agreement between Nazi Germany and Fascist Bulgaria, signed by Theodore Daneker and Alexander Belev on February 22 1943, the Bulgarian army and police have gathered almost all Jews of occupied Macedonia. They were not as lucky as the Bulgarian Jews, who, under the pressure of the public, were spared of the tragic destiny. The occupier deprived the Macedonian Jews of their citizenships, of their properties, of all their possession. Above all, they deprived them of hope. And, they sent them to meet their irreversible destiny.
Cart by cart, train by train, the three railway compositions took away the Macedonian Jews. They were taken from their homes, their neighborhoods and towns. Thus, part of Macedonia was taken away. From 22 to 29 March 1943, the fascist occupier deported the Macedonian Jews into the gas chambers and furnaces of Treblinka. There, the Nazis suffocated them, killed them and turned them into ashes. Thus, part of Macedonia was killed.
After Treblinka, there is only silence. Silence, because there are no words strong enough to describe and mourn this tragedy.
After Treblinka, Jewish homes remained empty. Jewish neighborhoods deserted, without children’s noise. Skopje, Bitola and Stip were deeply wounded because they lost part of themselves, their soul. And Macedonia lost a vital part of its national, economic and cultural texture.
These are wounds that can never be healed. Wounds that will forever remain open, and painful. Endlessly painful. Because, wounds of the soul can never be healed.
Ladies and Gentlemen. The facts tell us that the Holocaust of the Macedonian Jews is the most effective execution of the “final solution to the Jewish question" in the world, in accord with Eichmann’s list and the monstrous conclusions of the Wannsee Conference, held on January 20, 1942.
The 7148 deported Jews who ended up behind the barbed wire of the hell called Treblinka, represent 98 percent of the total Jewish population of the occupied Macedonia. 50 percent of them were children.
After the Second World War, the German philosopher Theodor Adorno posed the following question: "Is it possible at all to write poetry, to create art and literature after Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen?"
And I add Treblinka to that list as well.
I would like you to know that we all consider the Holocaust to be a tragedy of the humankind. Each and every one, who in itself cherishes the humane given by God, experiences the Holocaust as a tragedy. Since the Holocaust is not an act of man and people. The Holocaust is an act of those who have given up on God and humane.
Ladies and Genlemen. The tragedy of the Holocaust is even greater for Macedonia because of the mutual dedication and friendship between Macedonians and Jews, between the Republic of Macedonia and the State of Israel. A friendship based on a strong recognition, understanding and mutual support.
Few people know that this year we round off a century of Macedonian – Israeli relations, established at a time when neither Macedonia nor Israel existed as independent states.
I believe that two episodes and two individuals from our shared history are especially important in this regard.
In 1896, a Congress was held in Thessaloniki of the Secret Macedonian-Odrin Revolutionary Organization – TMORO, the activities of which culminated on Ilinden, August 2nd 1903, when Macedonia uprised for liberation from the Ottoman yoke. One of the congress participants was a prominent revolutionary, Rafael Kamhi, a Macedonian Jew from Bitola, who fought for the freedom of Macedonia.
Exactly a century ago, in June 1911, Dimitar Vlahov, a Macedonian revolutionary, freedom fighter and deputy in the Ottoman Parliament, delivered a speech in which he categorically opposed the efforts to ban the Jews from returning to their ancient homeland. Later on, Dimitar Vlahov, along with the Macedonian revolutionary Gjorche Petrov, at the meetings with Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion spoke of deepening the cooperation between Macedonians and Jews in their efforts to establish independent and sovereign states.
Therefore, we must never forget that, as Raphael Kamhi was one of the promoters of the idea of a free and independent Macedonia, it was Dimitar Vlahov who contributed in keeping the road open for the future establishment of the State of Israel. Thus, Macedonia has repaid the Jews for their centuries-long contribution.
Ladies and Gentlemen. In-between the two world wars, many Macedonian Jews were promoters of the idea of restoring the Jewish homeland on the territory of their ancient roots. Those who remained in Macedonia and survived the monstrous Holocaust took part in the Macedonian National Liberation Struggle. The names of the General Beno Ruso, of the national hero Estreja Ovadija - Mara, the fighters Zhamila Kolomonos - Cveta, Roza Kamhi Ruso, of the fighters Shami Moritz, Victor Pardo, Abraham Anaf, Eli Fradzhi, Josef Pessoa, Mordo Todolano, Nisim Alba, Aaron Aroesti, Estreja Levy, Samuel Sadikario, Albert Kasorla, Albert Ruso and of many other Macedonian Jews, shall forever be engraved in our memory.
Ladies and Gentlement. With grief I find that, in the world today, there are demagogues who deny the Holocaust. By denying the Holocaust and sinking it into oblivion, they make room for the evil to be repeated. There are some who deny the State of Israel its right to exist. These denialists have their kin who deny other peoples and nations the right to exist. Who can deny or approve the right to existence of others? Where does this power stem from? Is it a power at all, or rather an expression of fear and feeling of deep intolerance towards the others and the different?
Therefore, I want to send a clear message – the world must not forget that the creation of the State of Israel was, also, an expression of the readiness and decisiveness not to let the Holocaust happen again.
Israel exists, has the right to exist, and will exist.
The unthinkable remains possible. The unthinkable happened before and after the Holocaust as well. And, every time, with the same premeditation. And, every time, the victims were surprised, shocked and unaware of what what happening to them. Every time, the same infernal circle repeated in which the victims were first accused, then dehumanized and, finally, destroyed. The methods variated, from death marches, bullets and machetes, but, the aim of these crimes was always the same. Regardless if they were starved to death, gassed or butchered, the aim of such crime of crimes was always the same – exterminating ethnic, racial and religious groups, entire peoples and populations.
For many people, the Jewish Holocaust is the most crule, and, at the same time, the most real metaphor of the 20th century. Metaphor of human madness leading to mass murders, a crime that, until Raphael Lemkin, did not even had a name. It remained nameless because no one believed it was possible. However, it was shown many times that genocide follows humankind as an evil shadow. Even, today.
Therefore, at the very end, allow me to recollect a great truth once told by the respected Elie Wiesel: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”. This is why, when considering human dignity, human rights and liberties, humankind must never again stand by, watching its children being tormented.
Ladies and Gentlement. Humankind must not let the horrors from the past dim our future. Therefore, it must not be forgotten, so it never happens again. Our fellow countrymen who are not with us any longer oblige this. The memory of the millions that disappeared in the flame of the concentration camps obliges this. Humanity obliges this!
Never forget! Never again!
There is no future without memory. This is the message which, in Ladino, the Sephardic Jews brought in Macedonia:
SIN MEMORIA, NO AY AVENIR