Visibly anguished and tearful, President Chaim Herzog of Israel unveiled a rock from Jerusalem at the Auschwitz death camp Tuesday which will serve as a permanent memorial to the 1.65 million Jews who perished there.
“In this dread place, I stand here brokenhearted,” he said. “This ground on which we stand was drenched in the blood of the pure and holy.
“In this place, a fearful fire consumed all that was generously supplied by the Nazi annihilation machine,” said Herzog, the first chief of state of Israel to set foot in the most notorious of the Nazi death camps.
“I stand here representing the state that came into being for us, the Jewish people, three years after the conclusion of the ineffable crime,” he declared. Israel was founded in 1948.
The slab of rock from Jerusalem, inlaid with a memorial plaque, was intended for Auschwitz. But it took the Israeli president six months before his visit to convince the Polish authorities to place it at the site.
The Poles agreed only after the personal intervention of President Lech Walesa.
The monument will serve from now on as the spot where wreaths will be placed by visiting Israeli dignitaries and ordinary citizens.
The Irish-born Herzog, accompanied by his wife and daughter, was in Poland on a five-day visit during which he was to visit the towns where his father and grandfather were born. His father later became chief rabbi of Ireland.
Although Poland is facing a serious internal crisis, Walesa met Herzog for 90 minutes Monday. They agreed that relations between their countries should be developed.
But Walesa reportedly complained that Israeli businessmen were not taking advantage of the economic opportunities open to them in democratic Poland.
He told reporters later that anti-Semitism was only marginal in Poland. According to Walesa, the political parties with anti-Semitic planks in their platforms did not win a single seat in Parliament in the last elections.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.