Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke about his father’s visit to the camp – Copyright AFP Rizwan TABASSUM
Celine LE PRIOU
Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen on Tuesday, following in the footsteps of his father, who helped vacate the site as a British Army officer in 1945.
Recounting the first minutes of Chaim Herzog’s camp—Isaac’s father and former president of Israel—the leader said he “stood on a wooden box, shouting in Yiddish in front of hundreds of skeletons.”
“Jews, Jews, are Jews still alive? Are there still living Jews on this earth?” The Duke remembered his father’s words.
The camp is one of the most infamous during World War II, where over 50,000 people died, including diarist Anne Frank.
In 1945, the barracks were located here, which the British army quickly burned to stop the spread of disease.
Today there are huge mass graves covered with grass, on which small stones are placed as a tribute for the dead.
Standing next to a stone brought from Jerusalem by Chaim Herzog in 1987, when he became the first Israeli president to visit Germany after World War II, his son Isaac urged the two countries to continue fighting anti-Semitism.
“This is our duty in the name of the past,” he said.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who accompanied Duke on Tuesday’s visit, said it took the Germans a long time to realize they, too, had been liberated at the end of the war.
Paying tribute to Chaim Herzog, he said that Germany “should never forget the Holocaust.”
– ‘Hell on earth’ –
Bergen-Belsen was one of the first concentration camps liberated by the Western Allies, who upon arrival found it riddled with disease and about 10,000 unburied corpses.
Among those held in the camp were Jews, as well as prisoners of war, homosexuals, and political opponents.
In a speech earlier Tuesday at the Bundestag, Herzog said he “will never forget how (his father) described to me the horrors” he witnessed in the camp.
“Smell. Human skeletons in striped pajamas, piles of corpses, devastation, hell on earth.
During the trip of Chaim Herzog back in 1987, he said: “I will not bring with me either forgiveness or forgetfulness. Only the dead can forgive; the living have no right to forget.”
Isaac Herzog said that during his current visit he brought to Germany the same legacy that is “engraved in my heart”.
On the site, now dotted with pines, oaks and birches, five survivors also joined the ceremony – Swedish citizen Jovan Reiss, Israelis Noomi Rinat and Yochevet Ritz-Olevski, American Menahem Rosensaft and German Albrecht Weinberg.
Weinberg, now 97, was 20 when Bergen-Belsen was liberated.
He spent 60 years in the United States before returning to his hometown of Leer in northern Germany, who invited him back and named the school after him.
Weinberg said he goes to the school regularly to talk about his experience to students “who can’t understand how this could have happened.”
“I am one of the last survivors,” he told AFP.
“As long as I can, I will continue to talk about what happened.”