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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israeli President Says He 'Cannot Forgive'

BONN, Germany -- In an Israeli president's first speech to the German parliament, Ezer Weizman said Tuesday he can never forgive the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.


Weizman, 71, warned Germans to remain vigilant against neo-Nazism and racism but also said, "We have to find common ground'' to improve ties between the two nations.


Weizman's speech in Hebrew was a highlight of a four-day state visit that included a trip to the site of the Nazis' Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside Berlin.


"It is not easy for me to be in this land, listen to the memories and the voices screaming to me from the earth,'' he told a joint session of parliament attended by Chancellor Helmut Kohl and other leading German politicians. "It is not easy for me to stand here and speak to you, my friends in this house.''


The president evoked the Jewish struggle to survive in the face of persecution, culminating in the "terrible century of death in which the Nazis and their helpers murdered a large part of us.''


"As president of the state of Israel, I can grieve for them and commemorate them, but I cannot forgive in their name,'' Weizman said.


He implored lawmakers to "recognize any stirring of racism and to smash any stirring of neo-Nazism'' at its roots.


Germany and Israel have developed close ties since establishing diplomatic relations in 1965, and German politicians habitually stress they feel a special responsibility toward the Jewish state.


Weizman was the first foreign head of state to address united Germany's parliament. Only three presidents -- Fran?ois Mitterrand of France and Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan of the United States -- spoke to the West German parliament before unification.


Weizman roiled Germany's Jews by reportedly urging them to move to Israel. "I cannot understand how 40,000 Jews can live in Germany," Israeli newspapers quoted Weizman as saying at a meeting Sunday night with members of Berlin's Jewish community. The statement, in Hebrew, was also broadcast on Israel Radio, with Weizman's added comment, "After what happened in Germany, I can't understand how they can live in that country."


Weizman pressed the issue at a private reception afterward, asking groups of students and Jewish leaders why they stayed.


One participant, 20-year-old law student Sophie Mahlo, said: "It's hard to explain that to someone who hasn't been here in 50 years, and who still carries the experience of the Holocaust in his head and heart. Germany has changed. There is no more anti-Semitism here than in other countries."