Address at the Commemorative evening on the occasion of 75 years since the Holocaust of the Jews from Macedonia
Sunday, 11 March 2018 23:00   

komemorativna_vecher1Distinguished representatives of the Jewish community,
Distinguished President of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia,
Distinguished Vice President of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia,
Distinguished Ministers, Representatives of the judiciary,
Distinguished Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

Seven years ago, as President of the Republic of Macedonia, I delivered an address at an event and on an occasion similar to this one today. Then, we opened the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia. And if back then I spoke about the historical parallels and relations between Jews and Macedonians, between Israel and Macedonia, today I wish to speak about the ideas, values and virtues that relate us.

What are those contributions of Judaism that, through Christianity as well, were spread around the world even here in Macedonia?

The first contribution is enshrined in every Constitution of every modern state in the world. It is namely the concept of human dignity. As much as it appears modern to us, the genealogy of this idea takes us back to the Jewish narrative on the beginnings of humanity. According to Judaism, every man was created in the image of God, and therefore has inestimable value and inalienable human dignity.

The Mishnah mentions the following wisdom: "For a man strikes many coins from the same die, and all the coins are alike. But the King, the King of Kings, The Holy One [blessed be He] strikes every man from the die of the First Man, and yet no man is quite like his friend. Therefore, every person must say For my sake... for my sake the world was created". Therefore, a man who has destroyed a life, has destroyed the world, and a man who has saved a life, has saved the world.

Today, in the age of extreme individualism, this idea might appear obvious to the point of it becoming trivialized. And yet, that same idea was more than absurd in the Ancient world, in the time when people were divided into slaves and slave owners. Equal dignity of persons is the seed that gave life to the tree of human rights and freedoms.

The second contribution of Judaism is closely linked to the first one. Equal human dignity is expressed through the equality of every man before the law. And again, this Jewish idea for an egalitarian and just law sounded strange to their ancient contemporaries, when laws were changed according to the caprices of pharaohs or the will of kings. In such a world, Judaism established the practice of rule of law, instead of rule of man. But this was only because Judaism recognized that the source of justice is not material, but rather transcendental.

The third important contribution of Judaism is the question of truth. In the age of Ancient pluralism, when Pyrrho the cynic doubted the existence of an objective truth, Jews claimed that not only there is an absolute truth, but that they were chosen to testify of that truth.

This is particularly important in our time of fake news and rumors, of constructed realities and wars of perception. Truth has never had so many enemies as it has today, when new relativism expects us to accept, as absolute truth, the claim that there is no absolute truth. But why is truth so important? Because truth is the basis for trust and responsibility that every free society relies upon.

komemorativna_vecher2Ladies and Gentlemen,

Judaism has integrated itself in our world to the extent that, most of the lasting values that we refer to every day, have been recognized as Judeo-Christian. Human dignity, human rights, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, rule of law, objective truth...these are the foundations and pillars of the modern world.

And this is where we see the great injustice. Jews were robbed of their right to enjoy the very contributions and values that they introduced to our world and on our European continent through their faith.

Instead of being equal citizens with guaranteed rights, they were reduced to second class citizens. Equality before the law was taken away from them through a parody of law in the form of the Nuremberg laws. Jews, who contributed to the appearance of the concept of equality before the law, became less than equal.

By force of unjust laws, the Fascist occupier deprived Macedonian Jews of their right to vote, movement and gathering; their right to work and ownership, their right to education... All of this until March 11, 1943, when it ultimately deprived them of their right to freedom.

On March 11, exactly 75 years ago, the Fascist occupier gathered Macedonian Jews from Bitola, Stip and Skopje in one place – the Skopje tobacco factory – Monopol. Through one of the factory windows, six-year-old Ichak Adizes watched all the members of his family being loaded onto cattle wagons and sent away to their final destination - Treblinka.

In that factory of death, Jews first had to pass the process of recycling whereby they were stripped off the contents of their suitcases, clothes, and honor. Afterwards, they were taken down a lane that led to the gas chambers, cynically named the Himmelstrasse or "the Road to Heaven". The sick and exhausted, elderly and children – those who were slowing down the movement, were directed towards a false infirmary in the form of a paravan covering a giant pit with flames, in which they were immediately thrown. Others were closed in the gas chambers masked as showering cabins. In only 20 minutes, their lifeless bodies were removed and cremated, so as not to leave a trace. That was Treblinka, the factory of death, with a sophisticated production line whose final product were corpses, dust and ashes.

Facts say that the Holocaust of Macedonian Jews was the most effective execution of the "last solution to the Jewish question" in the world, in accordance with the monstrous conclusions of the Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942. The 7.144 deported Jews who ended up in the hell that was Treblinka, represented 98% of the overall Jewish population in occupied Macedonia. Half of them were children. Nazi monsters in Treblinka raised the process of industrialized killing of people to the level of perfection. What is stupefying is the fact that the extermination of almost 900.000 Jews in Treblinka, among whom were the Macedonian Jews, was conducted by only 150 persons.

However, behind these horrifying statistics are real people, our fellow citizens, each and every one of them with a name and a life story. And each and every one of them was deprived not only of their material property, but even worse, of their right to human identity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the psalms says that God determines the number of stars and calls every one of them by their name. In that context, Jonathan Sacks reminds us that the name is a marker of uniqueness. We give names only to the things worthy of being named.

However, instead of individuals, every one of them with a personal name and identity, Jews were stripped of their names and reduced to mere numbers and statistics. Those who ended up in concentration camps, after being marked with a serial number, were told: "from now on, forget about your name and learn your identification number by heart". A number instead of a name.

There is a wisdom that says: Nome nest omen – the name is the substance". This is why names and identities were so often contested – because they capture the uniqueness. I do not wish to compare tragedies, because nothing can ever compare to the tragedy of the Holocaust. But this should be food for thought for all those who easily bid personal and collective names and identities, including the Macedonian name and Macedonian identity.

Therefore, every time we speak about the Holocaust of the Jews of Macedonia, we never generalize the number of victims. We never say that they were over 7.000 or around 7.000, but we always say that there were 7.144 victims. This because every one of those souls was able to say, even before the gates of gas chambers: For my sake... for my sake the world was created".

Instead of being people with inalienable human dignity, Jews were stripped of their humanity and, just like laboratory animals, they were abused in the monstrous experiments carried out by sick minds.

However, all of that was made possible because the first and last thing that the Jews were deprived of was the truth about them.

Dear Friends,

Jews were never fully accepted in Europe. Antisemitism and xenophobia that persisted on our continent for centuries, uncovered the weaknesses of the Western concept of tolerance. In conditions of deep crises, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes were looking for a sacrificial lamb and they found it in the Jews. With the help of anti-Jewish propaganda, fake news, constructed cases, they created a mass psychosis through which the rage of dissatisfied masses was directed towards the Jews.

Such a thing never occurred in Macedonia.

Unlike the Western European tradition of tolerance, we have a philosophy of respect and acceptance of diversity that is fundamentally different than tolerance. One tolerates what one must, but respects what one loves. This tradition of the Ottoman Millet system enabled us to build a model of integration without assimilation founded on the respect for diversity.

Macedonians did not tolerate, but rather respected and accepted Jews as true fellow citizens, as an inalienable part of Macedonia, in the spirit of the Macedonian model of coexistence.

Moric Romano once wrote that Macedonians do not see Jews as foreigners, but as natives. Jews did not live next to Christians – they lived with Christians. To Jews, Macedonia was not a foreign - it was a holy land. Displaced and persecuted, Jews found their second home right here, in Macedonia. Antisemitism never existed in Macedonia.

Therefore, we should not at all be surprised that Jews were included in every sphere of life.

The oldest synagogue in the world outside of Israel, is here in Stobi, in Macedonia.
Jewish artisans and traders were the etalon for professional ethics in the bazaars.
The first books printed here in the Balkans, were printed in the Jewish printing house, on the first printing press in the Ottoman Empire.
Some of the most beautiful Macedonian and Balkan folk melodies which do not have a typical Balkan rhythm are in fact Sephardic elegies, such as "El Amor Kon Un Estranyo", or known here as "Oj Devojce, ti tetovsko jabolce".
The first recipes for many of the most delicious Balkan dishes were written in Ladino.
Jewish homes were decorated with multicolored carpets. And those carpets capture the essence of Macedonian society, with different religions and peoples, cultures and mentalities.

And all of this was taken away in one night.

If you go through the school diaries of that fateful year, you will see that next to the name of each Jewish student, a comment was added by ink: "moved away on 11.3.1943'. Nothing else.

In just one night, the children's laughter in Jewish neighborhoods was gone.
The old bazaar lost its greatest craftsmen.
Synagogues were abandoned, and the Torah scrolls taken away.
Jewish societies, an example of solidarity, ceased to exist.
Even Jewish cemeteries were left abandoned.

Macedonia suffered through the suffering of Jews in Treblinka.
Part of Macedonia was burned in Treblinka.

Few are those who managed to save themselves.

Some of them moved to Israel, America, Chile before the Holocaust. Among them was one of the last surviving Ilinden fighters, Raphael Kamhi.

Among the lucky ones was two and a half year-old Shaul Gatenjo, whose nanny managed to get him out of the tobacco factory. Young Albert Mushn Aroesti, Albert Sarfati and Jozef Kamhi also managed to escape the Skopje camp at the last moment.

Gita Kalderon from the Bitola family of Shami narrowly avoided deportation to Treblinka, only to later go through the hell of Auschwitz - Birkenau, Bergen - Belsen and Venusberg.

Among the very few who survived are also the ones who joined the National Liberation and Antifascist fight of the Macedonian people. General Beno Ruso, national hero Estreja Ovidija – Mara, first rank fighters Zamila Kolomonos – Cveta and Roza Kamhi Ruso, fighters Shami Moric and Viktor Pardo, Avram Anaf and Eli Fradzi, Viktor Meshluam and Avram Sadikario, Jozef Peso and Mordo Todolano, Nisim Alba and Aron Aroesti, Estreja Levi and Samuel Sadikario, Albert Kasorla and Albert Ruso, Isak Sion and other surviving Macedonian Jews who fought for our freedom and are enshrined in the Macedonian state. At the same time, they became the root of the new Jewish tree, the new Jewish Community of Macedonia.

As an inseparable part of Macedonian society, the Jewish Community is also the guarantor of friendly relations between the Republic of Macedonia and the State of Israel. But also, the Jewish Community is the living witness that evil does not have the last say. And that testimony is important in order to preserve the truth about the deported Jews.

Therefore, as a country, in the year 2000 we adopted a Law on Denationalization of Jewish properties without legal heirs and established the Jews of Macedonia Holocaust Fund. With those funds, in 2011 the state built the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia, for which I repeatedly state that it is more than a museum. It is a school for this, and for future generations, teaching us what a man is capable of doing to another man.

Dear Friends,

The vicious circle of lies that started with anti-Jewish propaganda and culminated with the Shoah, is closed with the modern attempts to deny the truth about the Holocaust. As a state, we need to find the right balance between guaranteeing freedom of speech and fighting against hate speech.

Therefore, it is our sacred duty to preserve the truth about the Holocaust. To preserve the memory for each and every one of those 7.144 Jews, with their own human dignity and identity. And thus to satisfy justice to the best of our abilities. It is only in that way that we shall have peace. It is only in that way that we shall have shalom.

Thank you.