Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians and head of the second largest Christian Church in the world visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Tuesday, May 27.
Yad Vashem is Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. In addition to an extensive registry of victims and a museum, there is a garden with trees planted in memory and honor of non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust, called the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.
He toured the Holocaust History Museum, participated in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, visited the Children’s Memorial, and signed the Yad Vashem Guest Book. He and his delegation were guided by Dr. Robert Rozett, Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries. The following is his speech, which he delivered at the conclusion of his visit.
The Patriarch gave the following address during his tour:
Dear brothers and sisters,
We are very grateful to God for the opportunity once again to visit this remarkable monument today, and to honor the souls and memories commemorated here. Just a few days ago we walked through the gates of Dachau. In that place of such incomprehensible pain our heart was grieved and we mourned deeply at the realization of the human potential for destruction. These emotions returned as we took the walkway down into the Children’s Memorial. It seemed as if we had entered the abode of the dead. The location of the memorial under the Earth vividly represents the inexplicable loss that was the Shoah, the Holocaust. All who descent into the inner chamber of the Museum are free to walk away when they choose and return to the sunlight. Such was not the case for these 1.5 million children whose lives were taken from them through hatred and unspeakable violence. As difficult as it was to look into the faces of these precious children, who represent all of the slaughtered innocents, we must do so and we must remember.
On this day we realize that if we turn away from the pain and sadness of the remembrance of what may have been humanity’s greatest tragedy, generations to come may deny the reality which is memorialized in this place. Already 70 years have come and gone and for some the Holocaust seems to be a story from the distant past. Yet we still have not completely healed. What is more tragic is that we have not fully comprehended the lessons of this singular event in world history. The hatred, suspicion and desire to dominate or even extinguish another culture are still lurking within the hearts of men. With every symbolic rekindling of the flame of this place, in this place another flame of war or kidnapping or oppression is rekindled somewhere in the world. We condemn any acts of terrorism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. We must publicly profess that the crime against the believers of any faith is an abomination of the face of God.
Dear friends, we have read in the prophet Jeremiah’s writings that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” This museum is a testimony to the reality of humanity’s capacity to be deceived by the enemy of God and to act in unthinkable ways and to commit unspeakable atrocities. The future can be no better than the past if people from all cultures, religions and political thought do not learn well the lessons of the Shoah. Great tyranny and oppression were stopped in some small way by ordinary people, many of whom are commemorated in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. Each person here in Israel and throughout the world has the power to make choices that lead to life, health and peace. May we all have the wisdom to recognize the deception of oppression and find the courage to stand in solidarity to oppose those who would someday repeat the horror of the Shoah.
In closing, we must mention the hope that this memorial brings to the world. We have never been in a place which more clearly illustrates the truth that even in the depths of the earth, in the darkest room, there is light. The millions of little lives, here, bear witness to the reality that God has not forsaken the world. He is all powerful and governs the affairs of humanity. In the midst of tragedy he stands ready to rekindle every heart that is broken and to restore those who have suffered great harm. What the Psalmist wrote is still true. “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” May those memorialized in this place rest in peace and may their memory be eternal.
Thank you, may God bless you all.