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Holocaust Memorial Council
Senator Dodd, Congressman Yates, Congressman Kemp, Will I ever be able to thank you enough? I would like to add some words of gratitude before expressing some doubt. How can I not thank Norman Gladney for the extraordinary way of organizing this evening; for Miles Lerman for organizing survivors' help for the museum, and of course, for a man who tirelessly, creatively, dynamically mobilized ·'all his, and our, efforts to arrange this evening of remembrance, A man who justifies our faith in friendship-Sigmund Strochlitz. This award is not mine alone, It belongs to all those survivors, men and women, who like me, with me, have devoted their lives to tell a tale that cannot and yet must be told. It also belongs to, all those multitudes who, somehow, for reasons unknown to me, left us behind, It all began forty years ago between Passover and Shavuoth, between the holiday of Passover and the holiday of the giving of the law, When the German armies occupied Hungary swiftly, they engulfed hundreds and hundreds of communities in darkness. Today, forty years later, I still do not understand, I have written books; I have tried to tell tales; I've tried to teach. I think I've tried to do 'what a survivor must do, bear witness. And yet I have doubts. I was listening tonight with intensity to the beautiful moving, heartbreaking songs that were read or sung by great artists and I was wondering: Have we really managed to convey something of the experience to you? Julius Rudel mobilized sound and words. Do you really feel, I hope you do, that something of that night has been communicated to some of us, Or Meg Tilly reading the poems of the children. Have you heard those children through her voice? I think of those children, and I still see them. I will always see them, I would like to hear them, but in my imagina-
tion they are mute, Joe Wiseman, your words have been my words. Do they reach out? Can images be conveyed or shared or tapped? Ted, my friend, when you read my words I was listening too. In other words, unfortunately, we deal with an event that inherently makes us helpless. What they have done to us is beyond words. So I sit here in the Kennedy Center, in this elegant great hall full of music and art, and I see myself forty years earlier. What I tried to say, what we tried to tell forty years ago, I'm afraid, my good friends, will not be told. There are so many questions that are still open to me. I still do not understand how it happened. How could madness invade history? How is it possible that Hungarian Jewry could be wiped out in six weeks? What astonishes me, and will never cease to astonish me, is the fact that in Washington, D.C. people knew what wedid not know, Can you imagine that Hungarian Jewsarrived in Auschwitz in May 1944 and they didn't know what Auschwitz meant? After all, testimony had been given; reports had been published. Open your newspapers, and you will see that Babi Yar was reported shortly after it happened, The Warsaw Ghetto uprising was reported in the Washington Post, the New York Times, People knew, and we did not. I found in some chronicles that in Birkenau when the Hungarian Jewish transport arrived, twice there were strange incidents. When the Jewswere unloaded, realized what was going on, they began running away. The 5,5. soldiers had to shoot and kill them, but it took some time. Can you imagine what would have happened to Hungarian Jewry had we known? We would have run, not in Birkenau but at every railway station, or in the ghettos. My God, we were three weeks away from D-Day. The Russian army was twenty miles away from my town, Had world leaders warned us not to go, we would not have gone-or some of us would not have gone. I don't understand, I don't understand something else, When the nightmare was over, where was our anger? What happened to Jewish anger? Logically
there would have, there should have been such an anger to shake up the world. There was no anger, and there was no hate, and there was no bitterness. I swear to you there was no hate and never will be hate. It would be so simplistic, so cheap to reduce such a tragedy to hate. But the fact that there was no hate is a miracle. Instead, survivors in D.P. camps, and again, can you imagine that after the war hundreds and thousands of Jewswere still in D.P. camps because there was no country to allow them in after the war! And yet in those camps they married, and they had children, and they opened theatres and schools in Bergen-Belsen and Fernwald where Leivick came and wrote his beautiful poem, "In Trebjlnka Bin Ich Nit Gewesen." In Treblinka there were cultural events and cultural evenings, and poets wrote and people read. And I don't understand, where did they take the courage and the faith in word, in language, in art, to go on and to build life on ruins? How come there was no anger at our neighbors who knewanddld not open their doors? Oh yes, we are grateful to the Righteous Gentiles, and we are grateful to all the members of the resistance movements, and we are grateful to the Wallenbergs and the Danish people and people in Poland and Hungary who helped. But there were so few; they were a minority among their own communities. And yet we were not angry; we started allover again. Instead of giving "up hope we advocated hope, in building a jewish state. Tens of thousands of jews went then to Palestine. Struggling, fighting in the name of humanity and jewish history. My good friends, this is what we are trying to do even now. I am not telling you that what we tried to say you can ever know. You won't. What we are trying to do is to give you something. A tear in the ocean. A spark of the fire. A sigh of an old man going to death. A smile of a hungry child looking and looking. Why are we doing this? To make you cry? Believe me, no. When the war was over a
The Honorable EIle Wiesel
Jewish child turned to his mother, he was two or three years old, and said, "Mother, can I cry now?" and we answer, "No, we don't cry." And we don't want you to cry. We want you to remember. Not for our sake-for yours. For we believe that if the tale is told and shared we can help each other. We can then prove to ourselves that we are all children of the same Father, and that when one people is threatened, all people are affected, and that when a million chi Idren are ki lied, creation is blemished. We speak against hate; we speak against anger; we speak as an act of faith. And tonight, for sharing our faith, we do thank you. On behalf of the Holocaust Memorial Council, its staff, its board of advisers, its second generation, I thank you all. You who sang and you who performed and Helen Hayes who broke our hearts and Orson Welles who made ancient words so fitting, and JamesEarl Jonesand Lorne Greene and Michael Moriarty and Michael York and Tom Brokaw who so movingly and effectively told and retold the factual story to all of you. And I can never forget the Howard University Choir or Cantor Isaac Goodfriend, or Sherrill Milnes or Giora Feidman or llana Vered, who with their songs and music brought back memories of sadness and hope. I hope you know what we feel for you now. No one is as capable of gratitude as a survivor is. We believe in gratitude. After the war, we didn't stop saying thank you. Thank you men; thank you women; thank you cloud; thank you wind; thank you tree; thank you. We didn't stop. Every moment is a moment of grace. After all, my good friend Chris Dodd, I , didn't do anything to survive, and those who died didn't do anything to die. It was so simple for someone else to stand here in my place. And when I write, and when I talk, and when I teach, and when I sing, and when I hear a song, I imagine who that other person could have been. Can you? I thank you. I thank you.
The Honorable Elie Wiesel, Chairman, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council
fellow survivors. Ben Meed. Sigmund Strochlitz. Miles Lerman. Congressman Lantos. My good friends. A passerby wi II one day stop here and wonder, how was all that possible? How could human beings commit such atrocities to so many other human beings? How could one people plan the extermlnation of another people? The passerby will try to understand. Will he? Will she? Was it the power of evil alone? Of madness? Perhaps. One million Jewish children, murdered, some of them burned alive. Their parents drowned, starved, shamed, hunted down. Pressed in gas chambers and turned to ashes and smoke. Because of the suffering of the Jewish people, we understand the suffering of other people-although, the suffering should never be compared. Villages were destroyed. Families decimated. Resistance fighters tortured and gunned down. Communities subjected to hunger and oppression. We must remember all this. All this, the passerby will try to know. Will he? It depends on us. Much depends on us. On our sense of justice and integrity. On our dedication to truth. On our willingness to share our innermost memories. And we, survivors, have promised that we shall try. I, like you, believe that no cause
The Honorable [lie Wiesel
is more noble, no endeavor more sacred. We must try, and we hope that perhaps, we will succeed. . And we hope that the passerby will retain from our tale and our testimony, not only the inhumanity of the killer, but also the humanity of his victims. There are voices and there are people nowadays who are ugly, corrupt, perverted. And they want to tell the world that it did not happen. They try to kill the victims for the second time. We shall prevent that from taking place. And therefore, we must do what we are doing. Remember, and Congressman Lantos please tell your colleagues in Congress that we are grateful to the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States-we are grateful to the American people for helping us build the only national monument outside of Israel dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust.
The Honorable Elie Wiesel Chairman, U.S. Holocaust Memorial .Councll
Mr. Vice President, Congressman Yates,
Distinguished Members of the House and Senate, Fellow Survivors, Friends: For some of us, this is the most solemn and awesome day of the year. We delve into the darkest recesses of our memory only to confront and evoke a vanished universe surrounded by flames and penetrated by silence. The living and the dead locked together as they are during Kol Nidre services, young and old, pious and secular, princes and madmen, sages and wanderers, beggars and dreamers. On this day, Mr. Vice President and friends, we close our eyes and we see them-an eerie procession which slowly, meditatingly, walks towards angels of death carried on wings of night into night. We see them as you see us. We are the link between you and them. And, therefore, we thank you, Members of the House and Senate, and Mr. Vice President, for allowing us to be that link. We thank you, people of the United States, for creating
a framework in which' "';e could share visions and memories that intrude, defy language and comprehension. On behalf of the U.S; Holocaust Memoria! Council, its members, its Board of Advisers, its Second Generation Advisers, its staff, its friends and allies, we thank all of you for joining us today. It is symbolic that our commemoration takes place in this august hall of legislation and commitment to law, and commitment to truth, and commitment to humanity. What we are teaching the world from this room, thanks to you, Members of the House and the Senate is that laws must be human. Laws are to serve humanity and not destroy it. Laws are given to human beings to perfect life and not to profane it. Laws, too, became corrupt once upon a time. And here with your deed and our words, we shall shield laws in the future. And so once more, as we have done since 1979, on this Day of Remembrance we gather from all the corners of exile to tell tales-tales of fire and tales of despair and tales of defiance-tales that we must tell lest we are crushed by our memories. In remembering them, remembering the victims in the ghettos and camps and the prisons, we become aware of man's singular vulnerability but also of his stunning ability to transcend it.
We remember the killers and we loose our faith in humanity. But then we remember the victims and, though scarred, our faith is restored-it must be. The fact that the Jewish victims never became executioners, that they never victimized others, that they remained Jewish to the end-human to the end-that inside ghettos and death camps, my God, inside gas chambers, they could speak of God, to God. They could say: S'hma Yisroael Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad-God is God and God is One and God is the Lord of Creation. To say those words there on the threshold of death and oblivion must restore our faith in them and therefore in humankind. We think of the victims and we [earn that despair is not the solution. Despair is the question. And that is why we gather year after year-to fight despair: not only mine-ours. As a son of the Jewish people, as a citizen who is proud to be a member of the American people, I live with a memory of Jewishchildren and their parents. It has been our task, it witl remain our task, to maintain that memory alive. But then we remember not because we see,kvengence; we don't believe in it. We only seek justice. We do not aim to hurt, only to sensitize: We believe that by retelling our tales we might help our contemporaries by making them aware of what could happen to human beings when they Jive in an 'inhuman society surrounded and penetrated by indifference on one hand, evil on the other, with so few opposing evil and indifference. That is why I allow myself at times to see in the Holocaust an analogy only to itself. meaning that nothing should be compared to it but that everything must be related to it. It is because of what we endured that we must try to help victims everywhere today: the Bahais in Iran who are being murdered by the dictatorship in Iran; the Miskitos on the border of Nicaragua; we must help the Boat People who are still seeking refuge; the Cambodian refugees; and the prisoners, so many of them, in Communist jails. It is because we remember what has been done to our people that we must plead at every opportunity, in this House and in all other houses, for Anatoly Scharansky, losif Begun, Vladmir Slepack, and all the
dissidents and prisoners who are in jail waiting for someone to shake off humankind's indifference. If they were to loose faith in us, we should be damned. It is because we remember the solitude of Jews in those times that we feel so linked to and proud of the State of Israel today. We Survivors, our friends and allies, are grateful to Israel, grateful to a people simply for existing, for inspiring us to keep faith in a certain form of humanity and tradition. While we remember the victims we also remember those who tried to help us-the Raoul Wallenbergs and the Oskar Shindlers as Congressman Yates said. They were so few and they were so alone. It breaks our heart to think of their solitude, of their sacrifice. Memory is not exclusive. Memory is inclusive. It is because we remember the singular aspect of the tragedy that we remember its universality. We must also think of tomorrow as though it would be part of our memory. [ think the world unleashed madness 40 years ago and that madness is still dominating spirits and minds of too many countries. There are too many signals of danger-racism, antiSemitism, bigotry, fanaticism. We are scared of what humankind could do to itself. Therefore we tell the story. In conclusion, Mr. Vice President, may I quote to you a legend of the great master work of human civilization and culture, The Talmud. The Talmud tells us that when God gave the law to the people of Israel he lifted up Mount Sinai over the heads of the Jewish people and said: "If you accept the law, you shall live. If not, you shall die." And so, we accepted the law. I have the feeling today, Mr. Vice President and friends, that God has lifted above our heads a mountain of fire, and it is as though God were to say to us: If you obey the law-if you remember that we are all children of one father, if you remember that whatever happens to one people must affect atl other people, if you remember that stupid cruelty is absurd and grotesque, and it is not in hurting people that one can redeem oneself-if you remember, you shall live and if not-But, we must remember. 67
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