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Speeches 2002-2007

395 pages
Simone Veil has spoken on very different stages and subjects, and before extremely diverse audiences. The speeches collected here represent only a fraction of her public dialogues: those given over the last six years in her capacity as president of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah. Having written those last words, I must immediately correct myself: when our president discusses the Shoah, she is firstly and always Madame Veil, the Auschwitz survivor, matured and enriched by her French and international political experience, who speaks from the heart about her own memory and her own thoughts. Alone, the typed pages of these speeches doubtless lack her gaze, her gravitas, and the singular tone of her stories, which always pierce her listeners.
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Simone Veil
President of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah

Preface by Anne-Marie Revcolevschi


Le Manuscrit
Translated by: Yosef Pilch, Natasha Lehrer, Jessica Alexander, Linda
Macrae, John Harrold, Catherine McMillan.
Proofreading & coordination of the English translation: Ellen Booker.

© Éditions Le Manuscrit, 2007
20, rue des Petits-Champs
75002 Paris, France
Telephone: +33 (0)8 90 71 10 18
Fax: +33 (0)1 48 07 50 10
ISBN : 978-2-304-00393-2 (for the digital file)
ISBN 13 : 9782304003932 (for the digital file)
ISBN : 978-2-304-00392-5 (for the printed version of the book)
IS003925 (for the printed version of th)

Introduction to the
Fondation de la Mémoire de la Shoah’s
‘Testimonies of the Shoah’

With the launch of its collection ‘Testimonies of the Shoah’
together with Le Manuscrit, and thanks to new
communication technologies, the Foundation hopes to
conserve the memories of the victims and witnesses to the
black years of anti-Semitic persecution, from 1933 to 1945,
and pass them on to a wider audience.
In addition to the numerous works already in circulation, the
Foundation hopes to here add the stories of those whose
voices have remained, to date, without echo: memories often
buried deep within individuals or families; stories written
down but never made public; testimonies published after
emerging from the inferno of the camps, but too long absent
from library bookshelves...
If one person alone cannot describe the unspeakable, the
multiplicity of stories may at least come close.
Regardless, this is the purpose of the present collection to
which the Foundation, thanks to its Review Board of both
historians and witnesses, lends its historical and moral
Faced with current events where the manipulation of various
conflicts tends to mask, confuse, and trivialise the history of
the Shoah, this collection will allow readers, researchers, and
students alike to assess the distinctive character of the Shoah:
an extreme case of persecution in which some were actors,
others accomplices, and confronted with which some
remained indifferent while others proved themselves heroic.
May these works inspire their readers to reject anti-Semitism
and all forms of marginalisation, and to embrace a spirit of

Review Board for the Collection
President: Serge Klarsfeld
Members: Isabelle Choko, Olivier Coquard, Gérard Gobitz,
Katy Hazan (OSE), Dominique Missika,
Denis Peschanski, Paul Schaffer

Editor: Philippe Weyl

In the same collection:

Murmures d’enfants dans la nuit by Rachel Chetrit-Benaudis.
Auschwitz, le 16 mars 1945 by Alex Mayer.
Dernière Porte suivi de 50 ans après, une journée à Auschwitz
by Claude Zlotzisty.
À la vie ! Les enfants de Buchenwald, du shtetl à l’OSE
by Katy Hazan and Éric Ghozlan.
J’ai eu douze ans à Bergen-Belsen by Albert Bigielman.
Matricule A-16689. Souvenirs de déportation d’un enfant de treize ans
(mai 1944 - mai 1945) by Claude Hirsch.
Jamais je n’aurai quatorze ans by François Lecomte.
Sali by Salomon Malmed.
Journal d’un interné. Compiègne, Drancy, Pithiviers. 12 décembre 1941 –
23 septembre 1942. Journal (volume I), Souvenirs et lettres (volume II)
by Benjamin Schatzman.
Trois mois dura notre bonheur. Mémoires 1943-1944 by Jacques Salon.
Vies interdites by Mireille Boccara.
Retour d’Auschwitz. Souvenirs du déporté 174949 by Guy Kohen.
Le Camp de la mort lente, Compiègne 1941-1942 by Jean-Jacques Bernard.
Mille jours de la vie d’un déporté qui a eu de la chance by Théodore Woda.
Évadée du Vél’ d’Hiv’ by Anna Traube.
Journal de route, 14 mars-9 mai 1945 by Jean Oppenheimer.
Mes vingt ans à l’OSE, 1941-1961 by Jenny Masour-Ratner.
J’avais promis à ma mère de revenir by Moniek Baumzecer.
Aux frontières de l’espoir by Georges Loinger.
De Drancy à Bergen-Belsen 1944-1945. Souvenirs rassemblés d’un enfant déporté
by Jacques Saurel.
Entre les mots by Thérèse Malachy-Krol.
Le Sang et l’Or by Julien Unger.
C’est leur histoire, 1939-1943 by André-Lilian Mossé et Réjane Mossé.
Discours 2002-2007 by Simone Veil.
Sans droit à la vie by Simon Grunwald.
Combats de vies by Éliezer Lewinsohn.
Étoile jaune et croix gammée by Robert Borgel.

of Madame Simone Veil

Born in 1927 in Nice, France, Simone Veil undertook
her secondary studies at a local high school and
completed her baccalauréat in March 1944, the day before
her arrest. On April 13, 1944, she was deported to
Auschwitz-Birkenau, then on to Bergen-Belsen with her
sister and her mother who died there in March 1945, a
month before the camp’s liberation.

Upon her return to France, she studied law and
political science in Paris. In 1957 she was assigned to
the Ministry of Justice, and later named Secretary of the
Conseil supérieur de la magistrature (High Judiciary Council).
From 1974 to 1979, she held the position of Minister
of Health and Social Affairs, nominated to the position
by President of the French Republic, Valéry Giscard
In 1979, she headed a list for the elections of the
European Parliament by universal suffrage, to which
she was elected president until 1982. She held a seat as a
Member of the European Parliament until 1993.
Between 1983 and 1986, she was a member of the
International Commission on Human Rights sponsored
by the United Nations.
From 1991 to 1992, she led the independent
commission tasked by the World Health Organisation
to develop a report on ‘health, the environment, and
sustainable development’ in preparation for its
presentation to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro
(Brazil) in June 1992.
She was then a member of the Independent
Commission on the Balkans. (Aspen Institute Berlin–
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).
In 1993, she was named Minister of State for Social
Affairs, Health, and Municipalities of the French

From February 1998 to March 2007, she was a
member of the Constitution Council. She was elected
president of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la
Shoah in 2001, a position she held until February 2007.
Today she is honourary president of the Foundation.

Since 2002 she has also presided over the Trust Fund
for Victims, operating alongside the International
Criminal Court of The Hague.

Madame Simone Veil has received numerous
prestigious honours.



Simone Veil has spoken on very different stages and
subjects, and before extremely diverse audiences. The
speeches collected here represent only a fraction of her
public dialogues: those given over the last six years in
her capacity as president of the Fondation pour la
Mémoire de la Shoah.
Having written those last words, I must immediately
correct myself: when our president discusses the Shoah,
she is firstly and always Madame Veil, the Auschwitz
survivor, matured and enriched by her French and
international political experience, who speaks from the
heart about her own memory and her own thoughts.
Alone, the typed pages of these speeches doubtless
lack her gaze, her gravitas, and the singular tone of her
stories, which always pierce her listeners. And yet, I’m
convinced that these words laid down as text will lose
nothing of their depth or authenticity. I do not doubt
that the reader will hear them, reflect upon them, and, I
hope, be inspired by them.

In all her speeches, what is most striking is her
thematic persistence, alongside variety that explains her
ability to use her knowledge of her audience’s particular
history to adapt herself to them; in short, her diligence
to take into account the general context of France,
Europe, and the world today.

This persistence asserts itself first in the recounting
of facts. A testimony unchanged by memory. Because
the experience of the Shoah left an incurable wound;
because, for Simone Veil, the will to recount the crime
committed has always been an obligation and an
obsession that honours the memory of the murdered
and these ghosts, reduced to a pile of bones and only a breath of
life, who wished for nothing more before death than our loyalty to
their memory. It is not surprising, then, to find in all her
speeches the story of what she endured and never
forgot: the terrifying arrival at Auschwitz after arrest in
Nice, consignment on the Judenrampe and the luck to be
in the right queue with her mother and sister; but also
the camp, the friendships, the unbroken stream of
Hungarian convoys, the Gypsies, the pointless
excavation work, the factory at Bobrek where life was
‘easier’, the terrible death marches, Bergen-Belsen, her
mother’s death just before the arrival of the
English...and the return home.

She retains a painful scar: the incomprehension of the
unscathed world whose nonsensical questions –when any
were asked– finally led her to silence along with most of
the other survivors. When there were words to be said,
they were said to oneself or between those who, like her,
had returned from purgatory. It was an incomprehension
that first revolted her, then silenced her, and which, after
sixty years, she managed to bear: How could they actually
understand? Who could ever understand what we endured? Over
the years, however, she is reassured by the questions
asked, especially those of the younger generations, even
if the abyss remains overwhelming and nothing infuriates
her more than those who, returning from a trip to the
memorials of the Shoah, want to ‘testify’ themselves to
the suffering of the Jews, dead or survived. Here, the
words come up against the atrocity. And yet, even if what
is passed on remains fragmented, it is no less essential.
Simone Veil believes in the power of direct testimony,
and her numerous encounters with students of all ages
has confirmed for her that, in their own way and in their
own language, they can keep her words alive; and it

Nevertheless, the consistency of her testimony does
not mean that her relationship with the Shoah is static.
Emotional discussions of the fate of murdered and
orphaned Jewish children will become more frequent.
This relationship is also evolving because society’s
relationship with the Shoah is evolving. The younger
generations are now acquainted with the history of the
Shoah, taught in their schools and their universities.
Yesterday, the witness was rejected by the historian; but
their relationship has gradually transformed, generating
respect for and awareness of the complementary nature
of their roles. Simone Veil now confidently entrusts
historians with the mission of explaining the downward
spiral, educating, and passing on –while insisting upon
the power of art, literature, or cinema to express that
which the historian cannot. This responsibility entrusted
to historians does not mean that ethical considerations
have lost their importance. Rather, Madame Veil
believes that the education of the younger generations
and knowledge of history are fundamental; without this
knowledge, appeals to values and morals are shallow
and ineffectual.

What’s more, the impact of Madame Veil’s speeches
is attributable to the intensity of her thoughts, which are
never sidetracked from their focus: the unique character
of the Shoah, the programmed extermination of an
entire people and erasure of their annihilation. The
Shoah, she reminds us, is a tragedy unique in history
–singular, specific, and without precedent– which explains the
questioning of the metaphysical and moral order that lead us to
consider Auschwitz as a rupture in the history of Humanity.

Also present throughout her speeches is special
tribute paid to teachers who, despite difficulties, set out
to pass on the history of the Shoah to students whose
own history and culture are often far-removed from the
European wasteland where the Jews were exterminated.
A tribute equally paid to her own secondary school
teachers in Nice.

Staunchly refusing the idea of competition of memories or
competition among victims, Simone Veil continuously calls
attention to the danger that is posed by the confusion
of distinct events, and which is espoused by those with
the single-minded objective of trivialising the Shoah.
These comparisons are far from neutral, she reminds us. If
everyone is guilty, why condemn some more than others?
Everyone is a victim; everyone is guilty. Consequently, no one is.
In the end, victory goes to the misconception that all tragedies are
equal. Madame Veil tirelessly combats this trivialisation,
particularly when it leads to the vilification of the State
of Israel and delegitimisation of its existence.

Finally, added to the persistence of her testimony
and reflections are the current events concurrent with
her remarks and which lead her to favour any one point
in particular. References throughout her speeches to
national and international events will come as no
surprise to the reader. Holocaust denial and threats
against Israel made by the Iranian president, such as his
address to the United Nations on Holocaust
Remembrance Day in January 2007 that alluded to the
tragedy in Darfur, illustrate the need to remain vigilant
and steadfast in the face of present-day events.

This same need guides her commitment to Europe.
Unwavering, she fights for Europe, itself built on the
ashes of Auschwitz, to combat all forms of brutality. It is
up to each of us to construct a world where an Auschwitz is never
again possible, she reminds us from Anne Frank’s
birthplace. This is accomplished through education, self-
improvement, and respect for others. When we recognise a part of
ourselves in another, that is called brotherhood. That is called
humanity. It is up to us to make certain that our governments and
our democratic institutions are its guardians. She requests that
we remain attentive and intractable. Racism and
xenophobia must never be tolerated. As for anti-
Semitism, we know where it leads; and it is up to us,
individually and collectively, to prevent it, fight it,
condemn it, and punish those who profess it,
manipulate it and act on it. Thus confronted, we need
only cite the actions of the ‘Righteous’ whose integrity
and courage must remain our shining example.
As I said at the outset, Simone Veil’s speeches are
inspired, above all else, by her personal experience and
reflections. At the same time, with her words –which she
has brought to places as symbolic as the Auschwitz-
Birkenau camp, the German Bundestag, the European
Parliament, the United Nations General Assembly, the
Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, the Collège de
France, the Shoah Memorial, and even Paris’s Pantheon–
the message of the Foundation she has led since its
creation crescendos; for this, we are deeply grateful.

For her fight is the Foundation’s fight: to pass on
this history and build a more just society in which the
morals of Judaism and the history of the Jewish people
have their rightful place, faced with the barbarity of a
century whose lessons we have not yet learned.

Finally, I would like to highlight, from a personal
level as I often accompanied Simone Veil, her
commitment to using the word that was most faithful to
her thoughts and her memory, and which would best
translate her feelings. I will always imagine her with her
pencil and eraser, weighing the meanings of her words
and correcting them right up to the last moment.
This is not an anecdotal observation; she affirms
her relationship with language, her desire to
persuade, and her respect for every member of her
And respect for others is another way of saying
victory over Nazism and our hope for humanity.

1Anne-Marie Revcolevschi

1 General Director of la Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah.


Third International Conference
on Holocaust and Education
Yad Vashem Institute, Jerusalem,
thApril 9 2002 (Yom Hashoah /
Holocaust Remembrance Day)

rdI would like to thank the organisers of the 3
International Conference on Holocaust and Education
for inviting me to speak here, today.

In choosing as its theme for this meeting ‘The
Legacy of the Survivors of the Shoah’, Yad Vashem
accepts to actualise the double mission self-assigned by
its International School for Holocaust Studies:
‘Commemorate the past and construct the future.’
This approach to Holocaust education, consciously
oriented toward the ethical lessons to be derived from
the atrocities of the past, answers in full measure the
continuous concerns of most of the survivors. Yad
Vashem leads the way for us at the Fondation pour la
Mémoire de la Shoah, which was created in France a
little more than a year ago, and which I lead. We hope
a solid partnership will be forged between these two

Contrary to the image long conveyed, the Jews did not
allow themselves to be led to the slaughterhouse like
sheep. Inside the camps, they did not become numbers;
dehumanised beings; nor Stücke, namely things, as the SS
referred to them.
Need I mention, here in Israel, that the first great revolt
against the Nazis was the Warsaw ghetto uprising, in which
several dozen men and women with a few handguns and
flaming bottles stood up to tanks for weeks.
In all occupied countries, many Jews fought in the
Resistance. In France, an incredible number of children
were saved thanks to the bravery and solidarity of many
nameless French citizens, but also thanks to the actions
of the OSE (Œuvre de secours aux enfants), which, from
1941, took children into its care, hiding them or getting
them across borders, often with the help of pastors or
Catholic priests, and even some bishops. Many of these
children were also hidden inside convents.
One must mention as well the uprising of the prisoners
at Sobibór, whose gas chamber death had already been
scheduled, along with the escape of several dozen Jews
from Kaunas who were imprisoned in a fortress
surrounded by ramparts and whose hero still lives here, in
Israel, today. I’ll cite finally the last-ditch revolt by the men
of the Birkenau Sonderkommando who, in October 1944
and with the help of explosive materials obtained by
women working at Auschwitz, took out of operation one
of the camp’s gas chambers: they all paid with their lives.
It was thanks to their strength of character and their
hope to one day be free –if only to recount what they
had seen– that the prisoners outlived hunger, cold,
exhaustion from the long marches, and the unflagging
friendships that bound them together and provided
mutual support. They have helped one another ever
since, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Out of loyalty to all those we watched die, sometimes
even after the Liberation, I would like to voice those
words: ‘Never Again’. Granted, an expression thrown
about too often these days, still one which has remained
a sacred message for us: ‘Speak so that we may know and
so that this can never happen again’.
Thank you to Yad Vashem for striving to make this
wish a reality.

It is true that it was not without difficulty that the
survivors made themselves heard. Not by choice, but
rather because, for years after their return, they were
not allowed to speak.
I can’t help but think that this refusal to listen to us –
with the attention and interest we might have desired–
results from the nearly tangible pain and anguish our
stories evoke and, at the same time, from a vague
sensation of guilt at having survived oneself. So they
talked among themselves, not to dwell on hatred or some
spirit of vengeance, but simply because they needed to
communicate with one another in order to speak of those
who had disappeared and to articulate their joy at being
here; at having started a family; at knowing how to laugh
and cry again; at having succeeded in life, even if they were
often unable to undertake the studies they had hoped; and
at making the most of the freedom one possesses after
living through the worst.
For the survivors, the past is always present. It binds us,
it persecutes us, it moulded our life, it pervades our
thoughts and our dreams –or rather, our nightmares–
provokes our reactions, explains our feelings.

Many got involved, not only so that Auschwitz would
not be forgotten, despite its weight on their hearts, but
also in order to defend the oppressed, justice, respect for
human rights, and respect for the dignity of every human
being. When I speak of the memory we must pass on, I
do not mean our personal fate, our personal sufferings.
What we want to pass on, above all else, is the
‘elsewhere’, this extermination we drew so near: an
‘elsewhere’ from which no one has returned and of
which one can no more fathom the horror than he can
understand how this tragedy, unique in the annals of
history, could have occurred.

This inconceivable, distinct, and monstrous event was
the extermination of nearly six million people, infants and
elders included; it was not mere deportation and
internment. Though we may have survived, we were
witnesses to this event, and even, for some, forced
participants in its implementation. We were confronted
with it at every moment of our life in the camp.
Upon arrival, stepping down from the train, we saw
how our parents and our friends, one after another,
were relegated as too young, too old, too fat, or too
thin, and led to the gas chambers.
We saw the convoys arrive endlessly at the unloading
ramp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and we could watch those
who came out disappear as they were led directly to the
gas chambers.
No one was meant to survive. Everything was done
so no trace would be left behind. The end of the war
arrived, no doubt too fast for the SS to annihilate us all
and erase the evidence of their crimes. Hitler lost this
battle, but he could still win if history were to betray us.

It is not just what we will know and say in ten,
twenty, or even a hundred years –what matters is what
part of it will remain forever in the history of Humanity.
Let us be aware that the long history of the peoples of
the world is made by those who live it and pass it on,
orally or in writing, even before historians can lay their
hands on it.
Of course, which parts history retains will be
somewhat different to what truly was, and even to what
we remember today. The events may be abridged,
possibly elaborated, and certainly distorted, but what
matters is to preserve the essential.
What is essential is the facts themselves, as horrible
and unimaginable as they may be: the organisation, the
methods of murder, the ambition to humiliate and
dehumanise. But the facts alone will carry little
significance if one does not grasp the racist ideology
that led to the genocide of Jews and Gypsies, its roots,
and the support it found at all levels. Historians must
still explore many paths before we may understand
how, in the twentieth century, a nation among the most
civilised on Earth could not only conceive of the ‘final
solution’, but implement it with such efficiency.

Several decades later, however, this absolute evil,
the ambition to exterminate the Jews based solely on
their ethnic affiliation, is now considered a tragedy
among many others. In this trivialisation, to which
many well-intentioned Jews have occasionally
contributed, is there not something not only
intolerable with respect to the six million victims, but
also something awash with confusion and danger?

Numerous stories and fictional accounts have been
published. Films have been directed. And yet the need to
inform persists because all the books, images,
conferences, and demonstrations have only touched a
relatively small number of people, always the same: those
impacted most directly. Speaking has become an
obsession for the last remaining survivors, if only to
counter Holocaust denial and its network, which, thanks
to the Internet, has the potential for mass dissemination.
Although it is dangerous to gamble with history, I
nevertheless do not imagine, and hope I am not thus
being too optimistic, that these nauseating theories,
despite clever manipulation, can flourish.

This is why, with regard to the future and the place
history has reserved for the Shoah, I am all the more
troubled by a far more sinister shift: that of confusion
or trivialisation.
It wasn’t long after the Second World War that the
name of Auschwitz, having become a symbol of the
extermination of the Jews, was placed side by side with
the bombings of Hiroshima and/or Dresden in an
attempt to prove that the Allies had behaved in a more-
or-less similar fashion.
Then it was the Sabra and Shatila Massacre by the
Lebanese militia, qualified at the time by Brezhnev as
‘genocide’ for which Israeli soldiers were held
responsible, thus masking the role played by the
Lebanese militia.
These comparisons were far from neutral. If
everyone is guilty, then no one is any longer. Why
then condemn some more than others? As for the
Jews, they are nothing more than one group of
victims among many others, and one who would
exploit their status as victims, if only to legitimise the
existence of the state of Israel.
Wishing to expose and oppose in equal measure
every brutality perpetrated throughout the numerous
conflicts that the world has, alas, experienced during the
past few decades and is still dealing with today, we have
entered an era of the most destructive kind of
misunderstanding: blurring of the reality of exposed acts
and complete absence of analysis of the political and
historical context of the situations at issue, which
greatly modifies the meaning and scope of the acts.

Beyond the murder of each of its victims, the Shoah
is distinguished by its ideology of hatred and death and
the process that was implemented in order to achieve
the stated objective of the ‘final solution’.
Not only by its magnitude, but also by its
methodology, the extermination of the Jews,
identified by their region or that of their distant
ancestors, remains an unprecedented catastrophe;
which explains the questioning of the metaphysical
and moral order these deeds have provoked and the
fact that some consider Auschwitz to be a rupture in
the history of Humanity.

One can neither fathom nor admit that the
extermination of the Jews should be compared to the
crimes and brutalities committed across the globe, for
example those in the Balkans. Whatever we may think
of him, Miloševic is not Hitler, as the conspicuous
and inflammatory poster of a NGO wanted us to
believe in 1992.
‘Ethnic cleaning’, domestic conflict for territory
appropriation and creation of a ‘Greater Serbia’, is
not the Shoah. A comparison of this nature, masked
by terms that confuse distinct and unrelated
situations, leads to a relativisation of history, or even
its falsification.
The genocides committed in Cambodia and Rwanda,
toward which the international community was
indifferent and silent for the former and helpless, even
impassive, for the latter, convey the diversity of
international situations and the need to weigh them
each independently.
The daily horrors and the consequences are none
lessened for the victims; however, all situations of
crisis and violence call for an analysis of the facts and
of their historical, political, and even ideological
contexts, if, unable to prevent them, we wish to help
resolve them in a way that will ensure future peace
and democracy as well as the respect for human rights
and the dignity of every human being.

The confusion that tends to designate Auschwitz as
reference for every war crime or crime against
humanity, beyond the fact that it constitutes the most
sinister form of Holocaust denial, further risks
advancing the movements that run counter to finding
the solution best able to guarantee peace and human
rights in each situation. I say this even though, like
most survivors, I have never hesitated to battle for
human rights, regardless of the country where they
were brushed aside or the regime implicated. I believe
I can say that, thanks to the various posts I have held,
I have been moderately successful in this arena.
This confusion results, in part, from the fact that
Auschwitz, already the symbol of the Shoah, has also
become the standard reference for war crimes and
even human rights violations. Whenever one wishes to
condemn such acts and mobilise public opinion, this
reference comes to mind naturally and finds its way
into the censure.

Paradoxically, meanwhile, a more subtle kind of
clear conscience has arisen and persists; one which
seems to use the current climate and its own respect
for tolerance as an excuse to discuss racism as an
opinion among others, having the same rights to
existence and expression.

The only referents from the past at our disposal to
assess the situation of the twenty-first century are
inadequate; they do not allow us to protect ourselves
against the new dangers that are emerging in a far more
complex world. To my mind, they risk missing the point
in modern reality. It would be dangerous and even
irresponsible to fail to take into account other factors
that, from my perspective, seem much more disquieting
for the future; factors like terrorism and indulgence, not
to mention the complicity from which terrorism too
often profits.
My fears are, in fact, elsewhere; they rest in anti-
Zionism, which readily becomes confused with anti-
Semitism. The tragic incidents in Israel and the reactions
they provoke throughout most of Europe are, in all
respects, revealing and disquieting.
For the younger generations, who know nothing of
history, the roles are reversed: the Palestinians look very
much like the persecuted, whose brutalities and
terrorism would be legitimate ever since they declared
themselves an independent State, without needing to
consider the existence of the State of Israel nor the
guarantees necessary for her security.

How then do we find our way back onto the path to
peace? Yad Vashem has reminded us that the legacy of
the Shoah is also hope –the hope of brotherhood that
leads to peace.


1of the Place des Justes
Nancy, France,
thSeptember 20 2002

Mayor Rossinot
Madame Sorke, Deputy Mission Chief for the Israeli
Mr. President of Yad Vashem France
Madame Lhotte,

Mayor Rossinot,
It is with great emotion that I address you, as well as all
those brought together by your initiative to pay tribute
to the Righteous. Thank you for the honour to support
this exceptional ceremony.

We will be attending the ceremony that will bestow
upon Marcel Courtot the diploma and the medal of the

1 Place of the Righteous.
Righteous Among the Nations, awarded posthumously
by Yad Vashem.
To his step-daughter, Madame Lhotte, who will
accept them on his behalf, I would like to express firstly
my admiration and my gratitude for the courage and
generosity your step-father demonstrated.

For the first time in France, with its name, a public
place will pay tribute to the Righteous, to ‘all the
Righteous’ who, wherever the Jews were in mortal
danger, risked death and deportation to come to their
aid and help them escape their scheduled, fatal destiny.

Here in Nancy, seven members of the Nancy police
for service to foreigners received the medal of the
Righteous on June 23, 1991 for having saved several
hundred Jews. In July 1942, though the Gestapo had
drafted a list of 350 Jews to arrest, they only found 32
people in the houses in question; the others had been
alerted or warned directly by the members of the police
for service to foreigners, who, in turn, had been alerted
by an order from the Prefecture to mobilise the forces
necessary to arrest 400 Jews of foreign origin.
Nearly all those who were not arrested that day
would have been exterminated upon their arrival at
Auschwitz-Birkenau and, among others, only a few
would have survived. From the Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv
(The Great Round-up of Vel’d’Hiv) three months prior
in Paris, only a few dozen survived out of the 13,000
men, women, and children arrested. (20,000 to 25,000
should have been arrested; there, too, many were
directly warned, or at least alerted by the rumour of a
possible round-up).
Today’s ceremony is another occasion to say –for we
have not heard it enough– that whoever helped a Jew
escape arrest saved his life. Of the 75,000 deported to
the camps from France, less than 3,000 returned. As for
the young children, none returned. Deported from
August 1942 on, with their parents or alone, they didn’t
even enter the camps; they were led directly to the gas
chambers from the trains.

What is less well-known, because this phenomenon
was long swept under the rug and still remains there, is
that France has the honour of being, after Denmark,
the country under Nazi occupation in which the
greatest percentage of Jews escaped deportation, and
thus death. It is not that the Nazis were any less
determined to hunt them down anywhere they may
have sought refuge. Every country under German
domination was subjected to the same ambition to
exterminate the Jews. I’d like to emphasise that the
realisation of this objective often took precedence over
the war effort. On occasion, the trains transporting
deportees took priority over those of the Wehrmacht.
When we look at certain parts of the ex-USSR
(Ukraine), Poland, the Baltic countries, Greece, or the
Netherlands, we find that more than 90% of the Jewish
population was exterminated –dead of hunger and
exhaustion in the ghettos; gassed in Auschwitz, Sobibór,
Treblinka; or executed where they stood.
Few Vichy bureaucrats refused to assist the Gestapo
and the SS in the categorisation of Jews that led to
arrests; in contrast, many French citizens assisted the
Jews, particularly by hiding children.
Who are these French of whom we have said so
little? I’d say: average citizens. From every birthplace
and background, some who were politically engaged,
others without decided convictions, some who were
even tempted to believe that Pétain was a minor evil;
but who all acted simply out of humanity, kindness, or
They usually knew what they were risking –not just
themselves, but their families. And yet, without
hesitation, they agreed to hide children; to smuggle
them to Switzerland or Spain; or to take them
somewhere by train or car, even on foot or on bicycle,
with the constant fear of an identity check or a careless
remark from a child with shaky French.

Daily life during this period was difficult; there was a
shortage of everything and taking in someone without a
food card meant automatic rationing for everyone else.

When we remember the families who, over months
and years, shared everything they had with children they
were hiding, how can we not applaud their generosity
and their courage, renewed each day? I ask you to
imagine what that meant, in that police state, to hide the
true identity of a child who still had to be sent to school
and made to participate in normal local activities. Still
more difficult must have been explaining to those
children the absence of their parents, with the pain and
anguish that then results.
Many of these families have remained nameless; many
never came forward out of sheer modesty. Some have
lost contact with the children they lodged for a time,
children who were too young to remember. Others,
sadly, were arrested. These families never knew what
became of the children, pampered as their own for a
short while, whose true identity they often did not know.

For Yad Vashem, this mission is as sacred as the
Memory of the Shoah. The names of the Righteous
Among the Nations must not be forgotten, just as we
must not forget the Shoah itself. They saved
Humanity’s honour –so severely injured by the barbarity
of the Shoah and the indifference of the nations that
were faced with these atrocious events.

I would also like to applaud those Jews and non-Jews
who, better informed and conscious of the dangers
involved, progressively organised themselves to save the
greatest possible number of Jewish children. I am
speaking in particular of the Christian networks that,
thanks to the support of certain bishops and priests, hid
children in their convents. I am also speaking of the
Cimade, at Camp Gurs from 1940 on; and of the
Protestant pastors of Chambon-sur-Lignon who, in
collusion with the entire population, hid children
throughout the war; as well as the OSE (Œuvre de
secours aux enfants), a Jewish organisation that worked
actively in different networks to save the children.
To all these French citizens, often anonymous and
whether celebrated as ‘Righteous’ or not, we must
express our gratitude while there is still time, we who
lived through those cruel times.
We owe it to ourselves to tell their descendants, to tell
all the young people of France that it is not true, as some
have wanted us to believe, that their predecessors were
mostly indifferent, bastards even.
I have wanted to mention all of these men and
women who would have remained more or less
anonymous had the state of Israel not entrusted Yad
Vashem, nearly fifty years ago, with the mission of
preserving the memory of the non-Jews who, at the risk
of their own lives, rescued Jews in a time of need.

By naming this plaza ‘Place of the Righteous’, the city
of Nancy testifies to its willingness to remember the
courage of these policemen who disobeyed orders in
order to save human lives, as well as its desire that this
attitude serve as an example for the generations to come.

That this message be a bearer of hope rests on our
As president of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la
Shoah, I thank you, dear André Rossinot, as well as all
those in this city who have made certain that we will not


Ministerial Seminar entitled
stTeaching the Shoah in the 21
held by the
National Ministries of Education
of the Council of Europe’s
European Cultural Convention
Member States
Strasbourg, France,
thOctober 18 2002

Mr. Secretary General of the Council of Europe,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s ministerial seminar here in Strasbourg, whose
invitation I am honoured to have received, arouses my
interest, but also awakens in me a fierce emotion. In this
auditorium where I have led so many discussions and
debated so many questions on our future, it is the first
time that I speak to you of the subject that obsesses me,
as it obsesses all those like myself who returned alive
from Auschwitz vowing to bear witness.
How can one not be affected by the symbols with
which this conference overflows? I am moved that
today we discuss the memory of the Shoah in a city
symbolising Franco-German reconciliation, with my
voice, and in the auditorium of the Council of Europe
where, alongside the nations of Western Europe, also sit
those of Central and Eastern Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen, you bear the burden of the
education of Europe’s youth. Your mission is one of the
most thrilling, but also one of the most demanding. You
consented to come together today to reflect upon how to
teach not history in general, but a specific moment in our
common past; a time of lead, ash, and tears that has
haunted us relentlessly for sixty years: the destruction of
Europe’s Jews and Gypsies by Nazi Germany.

It is as the president of the Fondation pour la
Mémoire de la Shoah that I address you today; but it is
also as a witness that I permit myself to convey to you,
in all simplicity and modesty, my thoughts on teaching
the Shoah in the twenty-first century.

Testimony, memory, teaching, history: at times in
public debate, the lines between these words fade. This
situation reflects the weight the survivors of the camps
now carry in historiography.
The memory and teaching of the Shoah were first
tackled by the survivors. The Shoah was meant to have
neither witness nor record. The Nazi’s aim was to erase a
people from history and from the planet’s memory.
Everything was devised, planned, and organised to leave
behind no trace. We should not have survived. The Nazi
death machine was meant to erase not only the Jews and
Gypsies, but also the evidence of their deaths. The
existence of gas chambers was a state secret.
The anguish of complete annihilation and the
enormity of the crime committed engendered, from the
very beginning, an irrepressible need to bear witness.
Assassinated in Riga in 1941, Simon Doubnov intensely
sensed this urgency to recount, to speak, to
communicate; this pressing need to ‘write and record’.
The underground creation of the Center for
Contemporary Jewish Documentation in 1943, the
drawings of the children at Terezín, accounts from the
ghettos, and personal journals all answer this visceral
need to say, before our time is up, that it happened.

The end of the war arrived, doubtless too soon for
the SS to exterminate every last one of us and erase
their crimes. But our homecoming was painful. We
had lost our family, our friends, our relations. Our
welcome was not as we had imagined it. We suffered
indifference, at times even contempt. No one
understood what we had lived through. Maybe we
were interrupting: the experience we were trying to
pass on had no common thread with the experience of
the average person.
It was years before we were heard in our respective
countries. The Eichmann trial in the early 1960s caused
witnesses to speak up and began a push for testimony in
Israel, Western Europe, and the United States. It was
only recently that Communist suppression was lifted in
the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. The
awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002 to
Imre Kertész, the author of Fatelessness, does a great deal
to promote this change. The survivor figure has finally
established itself in the public arena. Telling one’s story
seems to have become a social obligation, especially in
our schools. Today, memoirs, recordings, video archives,
spontaneous testimonies, and interviews all represent the
different facets of our collective memory.

The history of the Shoah has thus been assembled
with the memories of the survivors. But just as the
twentieth century saw the annihilation of our parents
and our friends, the beginning of the twenty-first will
bring the loss of the last eyewitnesses. Our ghosts,
reduced to a pile of bones and only a breath of life,
wished for nothing more before death than our loyalty
to their memory; these ghosts will soon lose the support
of our love and our remembrance.
We have become grandparents and great-
grandparents. Most of us are gone. Soon, this entire
generation that should not have survived will have
passed away. The time will also come when those who
questioned us directly will disappear in turn. Then
books will be the last reserve of our memories. It is not
that we will be short on information, but rather that we
will lack the matchless, irreplaceable, heartrending
contact with he who says: ‘I was there and it happened.’
As irreparable as this loss will be for the teaching of the
Shoah, we must prepare ourselves.
The era of witnesses is drawing to a close. How will
this affect the remembrance of the Shoah and its
transmission to the younger generations?
This question brings me to the pitfalls of and the
stakes in teaching the Shoah. This question is close to
my heart and I lament that it has so rarely been
addressed: while some have crusaded for the memory of
the family and the community –I’m thinking of Serge
Klarsfeld, the survivors themselves, and the children
who were hidden during the war– the school has
remained wary, even reticent or cowardly in this regard.
And yet the school plays a fundamental role in shaping
the younger generations. As necessary as they are,
memorial ceremonies alone are not enough to fight
against oblivion, denial, and trivialisation of the Shoah.
For us, the survivors, our mission is accomplished:
we have testified. Now it is our duty to decide how the
Shoah will be taught tomorrow; it is our duty to
consider how to pass on this phenomenon without its
witnesses, how to teach history in all its diversity, as well
as the form and content of the research to come.

We must ask ourselves several questions, beginning
with the most basic: should the Shoah be taught? If so,
by what methods and by what means? And finally,
what parts of the Shoah should be taught; what parts
of this evil, of this absurd and monstrous universe
from which all of humanity was a priori banished,
should be learned?
With my contribution to this seminar, I would like to
help define a curriculum the Shoah.
How can we be certain that the need to teach future
generations about the Shoah will persist? Is this need
universally obvious?
Some assert that it must be designed, first and
foremost, to draw lessons from the Shoah and to be