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The first nobel prize

This is what the Jewish tradition commands us to do. Blessed be Thou for having sustained us until this day. Chairman Aarvik, for the depth of your eloquence. And for the generosity of your gesture. Thank you for building bridges between people and generations. Thank you, above all, for helping humankind make peace its most urgent and noble aspiration. I am moved, deeply moved by your words, Chairman Aarvik. I know your choice transcends my person. Do I have the right to represent the multitudes who have perished? Do I have the right to accept this great honor on their behalf? No one may speak for the dead, no one may interpret their mutilated dreams and visions.

And yet, I sense their presence. The presence of my parents, that of my little sister. This honor belongs to all the survivors and their children and, through us to the Jewish people with whose destiny I have always identified. I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of Night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed. I remember he asked his father: “Can this be true?

This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent? And now the boy is turning to me. Tell me,” he asks, “what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life? And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.

Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Of course, since I am a Jew profoundly rooted in my people’s memory and tradition, my first response is to Jewish fears, Jewish needs, Jewish crises. For I belong to a traumatized generation, one that experienced the abandonment and solitude of our people. But others are important to me. Apartheid is, in my view, as abhorrent as anti-Semitism. Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people are oppressed than free. How can one not be sensitive to their plight?

Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere. That applies also to Palestinians to whose plight I am sensitive but whose methods I deplore when they lead to violence. They are frustrated, that is understandable, something must be done. There is so much to be done, there is so much that can be done. Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, Jr. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. This is what I say to the young Jewish boy wondering what I have done with his years.

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