The dignitaries gathered at the Yad Vashem Remembrance Center Thursday for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin opened proceedings by calling anti-Semitism and racism a “malignant disease” that attacks people, their states and countries. “No democracy is immune to that,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Prince Charles, US Vice President Mike Pence and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed Rivlin in denouncing hatred, as well as making some political points of their own.
“Today we remember what happens when the powerless cry for help and the powerful refuse to answer,” Pence told the audience.
Addressing attendees Prince Charles said, “we must recommit ourselves to tolerance and respect.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier then took to the stage and spoke about the guilt and responsibility of his nation.
“The terrible war, which cost far more than 50 million lives, it originated from my country,” he said. “I stand before you all as the President of Germany, I stand here laden with the heavy, historical burden of guilt.”
Steinmeier opened and closed his speech in Hebrew, reciting the Shehecheyanu blessing, which is used to express gratitude.
Despite the solemn atmosphere of the event, some of the leaders also addressed current political issues.
Netanyahu, who is facing a difficult political situation at home, told the world leaders he was yet to see a collective “resolute stance” against Iran. He paid tribute to the United States for “confronting the tyrants of Tehran [who] subjugate their own people and threaten peace and security of the entire world.”
Netanyahu then called on all governments to join “the vital efforts to confront Iran.”
Both Netanyahu and Rivlin placed Israel at the heart of their speeches. “The state of Israel will always defend itself,” Rivlin said, adding that Israel was responsible for Jewish communities abroad, for their safety and security.
A spat between Poland and Russia
Putin dedicated part of his address to talk about those who collaborated with the Nazi regime.
“This crime had accomplices, whose cruelty often surpassed that of their masters,” Putin said, adding that “concentration camps were operated not just by the Nazis, but by their henchmen and accomplices in many European countries.”
The remarks appeared to be a dig at the Polish President Andrzej Duda.
Duda and other Polish leaders have been locked in a bitter war of words with Putin over the role of Polish citizens and the Soviet Union in the war.
Duda has accused Putin of rewriting history by downplaying the full significance of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact, which included an agreement over the division of Poland. Putin has said anti-Semitism in Poland has been overlooked as a cause of the war, and has accused Poland of collaborating with the Nazi regime.
Given that Auschwitz was located in Nazi-occupied Poland, and that more Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust than Jews from any other nation, Duda felt he should be speaking.