President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday morning paid a visit to the Theresienstadt death camp, accompanied by Czech President Miloš Zeman.
While at the Nazi death camp, the two took part in an official military memorial ceremony and laid a wreath, before the national anthems of both Israel and the Czech Republic were played, and the El Maleh Rachamim memorial prayer was recited. Rivlin then said the Kaddish prayer in memory of the victims.
A moving ceremony then was held at the Maple Wood Memorial for the children of Terezin.
During the Tu B'Shvat holiday celebrating the birthday of the trees, back in 1943, a tree was planted in secret by the children at the death camp, after which they held a covert ceremony in the yard near their hut. The maple tree planted by them was unfortunately damaged in a 2002 flood, but cuttings taken from it remained as well as the tree trunk which was placed as a memorial near the Jewish cemetery and crematorium.
Helga Ošková-Weissová, aged 86, one of the children who planted the tree in 1943, was invited to take part in planting a new tree with Rivlin, who embraced her warmly and told her he was moved from by the occasion, and was very proud, as Israel's President, to plant the new tree with seedling cuttings from the original tree.
After replanting the tree with Ošková-Weissová, Rivlin said, "there is nothing more symbolic than a tree that has survived and has continued to commemorate the life that went on and emerged from the dust.
"I am moved, but moreover tremendously proud to stand here beside you, as a Jew first and foremost, and as the President of the State of Israel, at the spot where the greatest human tragedy for the Jews took place. The growth that has emerged here is the growth of a nation, its victory against all odds, and also the promise that we will continue, and continue to grow, that we will continue to stand up to anyone who would seek to disrupt our ability to live in peace and security."
Following the ceremony, Rivlin added, "we are in the most pastoral environment in nature where horrendous crimes were committed. When we say 'never again,' we know what we need to do today to never allow another Holocaust from taking place. It was from here in Theresienstadt that the worst propaganda of the Nazi beast emanated. From here came an attempt to create terrible lies, as if the Nazis were as beneficiaries to the Jewish people, as if they took care of all of humanity, as if they put their hearts into educating children and enable culture.
"It was from here in this place of horror that terrible lies fostered and we will not allow the world to give in to such a reality once again. We learned the lesson; we learnt it and continue learning it."
Rivlin's comments are particularly poignant given the surging wave of Palestinian Arab incitement calling for the murder of Jews.
"Our biggest victory as a people lies in such visits as these, the third visit of President of Israel, a sovereign and democratic state, in this land. We are here once again and the Nazis are not," he concluded.
Helga Ošková-Weissová was born in 1929 and was sent to Theresienstadt in December 1941 with her family. She was then deported with her mother to Auschwitz in October 1944. Helga survived the Holocaust and established her home in the Czech Republic.