Video available at Nobelprize.com
10 December 1986, Stoickholm, Sweden
According to Jewish tradition, there are moments where one must make a blessing and give a benediction, and this is such a moment. With your permission, your majesty, this is such a moment. [gives blessing - Hebrew]
Thank you oh lord for giving us this day ...
It is with a profound sense of humility that I accept the honor, the highest there is, that you have chosen to bestow upon me. 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? ... I do not. That would be presumptuous. No one may speak for the dead, no one may interpret their mutilated dreams and visions. Yet at moments such as this I sense their presence, I always do. I sense my parents. I sense my little sister. How can I not sense, how can I not sense the presence of those who were part of you. Friends, teachers, companions.
But this honour belongs to those who remember them. This honour belongs to all the survivors, to 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. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The decrees. The persecution. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of my people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.
I remember that young boy asked his father: "Tell me" he said, "Can this be true?" This is the twentieth century after all. This is not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?"
And now that very boy is turning to me: "Tell me," he says. "What have you done with my years? What have you done with your life which is mine?"
And then 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. We could not prevent their deaths the first time. But if we forget them they will be killed a second time and this time it will be our responsibility.
So I also explained to that boy how naive he wsa, how naive we all were -- the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must speak. We must take sides. For neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
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 my people. It would be unnatural for me not to make Jewish priorities my own. It would be unnatural for me not to love Isreael with all my heart, as I do.
Please remember what I remember. Isreal if god forbid defeated, it would be the end of Israel. The only country in the world which is so endangered totally in its existence. How can people such as myself not think in these terms.
But I am also of course committed to Soveit Jews who need freedom. And Jews in Arab lands who need solidarity. But I said that Jewish priorities are my first priorities, but they are not exclusive. Others as important to me. Other people, other ideas, other situations, other tragedies matter to me.
Apartheid is, in my view, as abhorrent as anti-Semitism. To me, Andrei Sakharov's isolation is as much of a disgrace as Josef Biegun's imprisonment, and Ivan Nudl's exile. As is the denial of Solidarity and its leader Lech Walesa's right to dissent. And Nelson Mandela's interminable imprisonment.
There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention: victims of hunger, of racism, and political persecution. Certain fascist regimes, like in Chile, or Marxist regimes like in Ethiopia and other places of the world, where writers and poets are prisoners, and there are so many prisoners in so many lands -- by the Left and the extreme left and by the Right and the extreme right.
Now you know as I do that 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, conerns men and women everywhere. And in spite of what some extreme critics have said about me, that principle applies in my life also to the Palestinians, to whose plight I am sensitive but whose methods I deplore when they lead to violence.
Violence is not the answer. Terrorism is the most dangerous of answers. I know they are frustrated, and that is understandable, and something must be done about it. The refugees in the refugee camps and their misery, the children and their fear, the uprooted and their hopelessness, I know. Something must be done about their situation, I know that too.
Both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people have lost too many sons, and shed too much blood. This must stop. And all attempts to stop it must be encoruaged, peacefully. Israqel will cooperate, I am sure of that. I trust Israel, for I have faith in the Jewish people. Let Israel be given a chance, let hatred and danger be removed from her horizons, and there will be peace in and around the Holy Land.
Yes, I have faith. I have faith in the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. I even have faith in His creation. Without faith no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference. Indifference, the most insidious danger of all. Isn't this the meaning of Alfred Nobel's legacy? Wasn't his fear of war a shield against war?
There is so much to be done, and there is much that can be done. I have learned it in my life, one person – a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, a Martin Luther King -- one person of integrity, of courage, can make a difference, a difference of life and death. And therefore I know that as long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom cannot be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. For I have seen children hungry. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.
This is what I say to the young Jewish boy wondering what I have done with his years. It is in his name that I speak to you and that I express to you my deepest gratitude. No one iscapable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night. We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour is an offering; and not to share them would mean to betray them and mean not to be worthy of them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.
Thank you, Chairman Aarvik. Thank you, members of the Nobel Committee. Thank you, people of Norway, for declaring on this singular occasion that our survival has meaning for mankind.