May 9, 2005
Address by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the Ceremony Marking
60 Years Since the Victory over Nazi Germany
Today, when all over the world the defeat of Nazi Germany is celebrated, and the great victory in the campaign against evil, hatred and racism is marked, we commemorate the heroism of the Jewish fighters in World War II. It is also the day which marks the victory of the courage of the Jewish fighter.
1.5 million Jewish soldiers fought in all ranks of command – from privates to commanders of armies – in the allied armies. Thousands more fought in the Partisan units in Eastern Europe and in the anti-fascist underground movements in Western Europe and North Africa. Approximately a quarter of a million Jewish warriors fell in battle, 200,000 of them served in the Red Army, and over 200,000 medals for bravery and citations were awarded to Jewish fighters – living or dead. I doubt if there is another nation who mobilized such a high percentage of its sons and daughters for the military efforts against Nazism.
The contribution by Jewish fighters was first and foremost in battle, facing the enemy – in the air, sea and land.
In the air, the pilot Captain Paulina Vladimirovna Gelman, the Soviet heroine, noticed a convoy of German tanks and military equipment during a bombardment on enemy territory. At her own initiative, in an acrobatic dive, she repeatedly bombed the convoy until it was completely destroyed. Paulina carried out a total of 869 combat flights, sometimes six to eight per night.
At sea, Major Tommy Gold served as deputy captain in a British submarine. Near Crete, two 50 kg bombs penetrated the submarine, but did not explode. The submarine surfaced above water, while Tommy and another diver crawled to the bombs in order to remove them. They did so even though they knew that the bombs could explode at any moment and if a German aircraft were to approach, the submarine would be forced to submerge and they would drown with it. Tommy and his friend succeeded in their mission and won the highest medal awarded for bravery by the British Army.
On land, Lieutenant Raymond Zussman served as commander of the tank division of the U.S. army on Belgian soil. During battle, Raymond jumped out of his burning tank onto another tank while directing the tank fire, standing on the deck and using his own weapon. In that battle, he killed 19 Germans, captured 93 hostages as well as two antitank cannons, an antiaircraft cannon and two enemy trucks. Raymond was later killed in the war and was one of three fighters who won the greatest number of the highest medals awarded for bravery in the U.S. army.
These three stories of valor serve as examples for the thousands of stories of heroism and courage under fire demonstrated by Jewish fighters.
However, the contribution of Jewish servicemen to the victory was not only limited to the battlefield. General Semyon Alekseevich Lavochkin of the Red Army was the chief planner of the combat planes which were the first to defeat the German Messerschmitt.
Admiral Ben Moril won the highest U.S army medals for rehabilitating the naval bases in the Pacific Ocean following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and for his contribution to the victory in the Pacific.
Thus, not only Jewish courage, but also Jewish genius contributed to the victory.
Jewish fighters – soldiers in the Red Army as well as the U.S. army – were among those who liberated extermination camps and rescued the survivors. Together with the fighters of the Jewish Brigade of the Land of Israel, they were the first to embrace their brothers, the Holocaust-survivors, and facilitated their transition from days of horror to a return to life.
Only three years after that victory, Jewish fighters who were among those who defeated the Nazis, came to assist the nascent Jewish State. Here they contributed, as either commanders or fighters, to the achievement of the second historic victory, that of the War of Independence.
Many of the veterans, the Jewish heroes of World War II, immigrated to Israel and built their homes here. Some arrived immediately following the establishment of the State, and many more came with the great immigration wave from the former Soviet Union – an immigration wave of one million immigrants who made a significant contribution to the development of the society, culture and economy in Israel over the past 15 years. Several of these veterans are here today and I salute them.
The Veterans Law which grants recognition and honor to the Jewish fighters of World War II, does not only address the material benefits which they deserve, but also the need to commemorate their actions and heroism. This heroism must be taught to future generations. This is why the Jewish Fighter Museum should be established, here in Latrun. This museum must be established as soon as possible, in accordance with the Government Resolution.
My fellow fighters,
On my own behalf, on behalf of the Government of Israel and indeed on behalf of the entire Jewish people, I thank you for your heroism and valor. Let us hope that in the coming years we will live to see the days in which our fields of trial will no longer be battle fields, but rather the fields of science and culture, medicine and art, education and sport, and that we will have to demonstrate our strength and capabilities only in these.
Thank you all. Your courage strengthens us.
Happy Independence Day.