Last week, I had the honor of leading America’s delegation to Israel for the dedication of the new Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. It was the fourth time that I have traveled to Israel since being elected mayor. Some trips have been for happy occasions, like the dedication of a new wing honoring my mother at Jerusalem’s world-famous Hadassah Hospital. Some have been to show New York City’s solidarity with Israel, such as a visit to Jerusalem that followed a deadly bus bombing there in August 2003.
This visit, however, went to the very heart of why the State of Israel exists and why it must always endure. This spring marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. We must never forget the enormous atrocities that were committed then. These crimes against humanity are carefully and movingly portrayed at the new museum, which communicates a powerful warning of what can result from the most extreme acts of hatred.
And as the Holocaust recedes into history, and the number of those who experienced its horrors directly dwindles, it becomes imperative to collect and preserve the stories—stamp them into our own hearts—and then sear them permanently into the consciousness of the world. That’s essential both to stop the anti-Semitism that is once again on the rise in parts of the world, and also to promote an understanding that hatred directed at any group ultimately threatens the safety and freedom of all of us.
Dignitaries from around the world were in Israel for the dedication ceremonies. The group that traveled to Jerusalem from America included three Holocaust survivors: Hanna Hirshaut of Elmhurst, who lived through the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto; Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, who survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp; and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, who endured imprisonment at Auschwitz.
We were also joined by Daniel Kurtzer, our nation’s ambassador to Israel, former Mayor Ed Koch, City Councilman Simcha Felder, radio show host Nachum Segal and Michael Miller, the CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
While in Israel, I met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who I’ve also had the privilege of receiving at City Hall. I expressed to them the admiration that the people of our city feel for the courage with which Israelis live their lives despite the constant threat of terrorism that they face. Since 9-11, that example has been an inspiration to New Yorkers.
The new Holocaust History Museum is part of a Holocaust remembrance center established in Jerusalem more than 50 years ago. It’s called “Yad VaShem”—a Hebrew phrase that literally means “Monument and Hand,” and that translates most powerfully into English as “Eternal Memorial.” Yad VaShem truly is an eternal memorial. It is an enduring reminder that the most important lesson that all New Yorkers, and all human beings, can learn is: tolerance.