Back in Israel, people smiled at me a little when I told them I was going to the other side of the globe, to talk about the Holocaust. “Why would they even care?” they asked me.
Such kind of tragedy could occur even today, and the lessons learned from the Holocaust are universal. The massacre the swept through Europe like a tidal wave shocked the world, and its echoes reached even here.
Dozens of millions lost their lives, including 60 of my family members, among them my father Israel Gottdiener, my brother Shendor Gottdiener who was 22, Perl Gottdiener and her 4 children and my grandmother Malka and her grandchildren. The survivors lost their home and their identity, unable to return to their countries of origin, crippled by the deep scars they carry – both physically and psychologically.
And yet, here – 70 years later – in a place so far away from that where those atrocities took place, people from very different places realized the necessity of bringing the outcry of a little girl – who has been through all the levels of hell – all this way, even to the mountains of the Himalaya.
In a joint project between the different embassies, a bridge was formed over the abyss of hatred. They show us that there is another way of living with that who is different from you, a way of respect and mutual assistance.
And indeed I am here, Sara Atzmon (Gottdiener) – born in Hungary as the 14th child among 16 children. At the age of 12 I experienced a miracle, I was saved from hell itself. 3 months after my release from the death camps, I arrived to Israel, and 3 years later, I – as a girl – took part in the establishment of the State of Israel, and after that I proudly served in the Israeli Defense Forces.
And so, I underwent a true training course to an unspoiled life in that small, crazy country. My husband Uri and I have 6 children, 22 grandchildren and 4 and three-quarters great grandchildren. Uri was born in Israel, his parents arrived there from Germany, years before the Holocaust.
I began painting 25 years ago, though I have never been in academia. I have shown in over 200 exhibition and workshop around the world, all of which I accompany with lectures in schools. Every year I meet hundreds of students, to whom I say – you are my hope, my hope of telling my story other generations.
4 years ago I accompanied an unusual delegation to the death camps in Poland. Even though I was wearing a warm coat and gloves, the cold was unbearable, and I am telling you now – I do not believe I survived all the levels of hell in that inferno. With my thoughts I caressed the ashes of my family, and those of all the dear, innocent people that were led to their deaths.
A heavy burden lies on the shoulders of the survivors. Our duty is to act as ambassadors of those who are no longer with us. In death, they commended us life. They – who so desperately yearned to live, put it upon us to portrait what a single human being, or a group of human beings, are able to do if not stopped in time.
We were all made in god’s image, and it is our duty to learn to live together, even if the religion or the skin color of the other person is different from our own.
H.E Minister of Education, you have bestowed a great honor upon me by allowing me to showcase here in your home. There is no place and occasion more important or honorable. A combination of cooperation and good will of ambassadors from Germany, The United States, France, Russia and Israel, as well the UN – the peacekeeping forces of the world (and they still have a lot of work ahead).
I thank you for allowing me to come here on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, when all the nations of the world bow their heads down. This place is important to me, and my work should cry out, for until this day, a part of the world that wants to harm and eliminate the Jewish people still exists.
Some of our young ones come here to travel and to be impressed by your beautiful country and generous people. You are all invited to visit the miracle that is Israel, a vibrant country that has received more immigrants than its own population, and is extending immediate help to every troubled part of the world. All this while fighting for its survival.
I bid you Shalom and welcome to Israel.