Thursday, October 5, 2000
Joan Ringelheim, the Museum's director of oral history, speaks with Ben Ferencz. Since helping to liberate concentration camps as a soldier in General Patton’s army, Ferencz has devoted his life to prosecuting criminals and seeking justice for survivors.
JERRY FOWLER: Welcome to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. My name is Jerry Fowler. I’m the staff director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience. The Committee on Conscience is sponsoring this evening’s program.
When the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Elie Weisel, recommended the creation of a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, they pointed out in their Report to the President that in their deliberations there was no question more urgent or complex than the question of how to prevent the recurrence of the Holocaust or some partial version thereof. They felt very strongly that a memorial unresponsive to the future would also violate the memory of the past. So they recommended as part of the living memorial to the victims of the Holocaust that they envisioned the creation of a Committee on Conscience that would address contemporary genocide and related crimes against humanity. That committee was created, shortly after the Museum opened. It has the mandate to alert the national conscience, influence policy makers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt, acts of genocide and related crimes against humanity.
Tonight’s program is very special for the Committee on Conscience because we will be hearing from a man who, in his life, in some ways, embodies the mission of this institution. Both because he was present at the end of the Holocaust, worked as a chief prosecutor to prosecute those who were responsible for the Holocaust, and in the years since then has devoted his life, as a lawyer, an educator, and an activist, to combating genocide and crimes against humanity.
I think this will be a very important evening to hear about the history of the struggle against genocide and crimes against humanity.
Before I ask Joan and Ben to come up, there is one thing that I wanted to note: Ben donated his papers to the Museum, for which we are very grateful. When he did that, we obtained a grant from Save America’s Treasures to conserve his papers. Save America’s Treasures is a project of the White House Millennium Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It’s a program focusing on protecting America’s threatened cultural treasures including significant documents, works of art, maps, journals, and historic structures, that document and illuminate the history and culture of the United States. It’s a public-private partnership and it’s been at the center of the White House Millennium Council’s efforts to commemorate the year 2000. In addition to the grant that we received to conserve Ben’s papers, grants have been awarded for conservation projects of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Wisconsin, the Thomas Jefferson papers in the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was Martin Luther King’s church in Atlanta, Georgia, and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.
So, that’s how important that Ben’s papers were considered to be – they were included in that company as part of Save America’s Treasures. Just for my purposes, if his papers are America’s treasures, I think, by transference that means that Ben Ferencz is one of America’s treasures. So, we’re very happy to welcome him to the Holocaust Memorial Museum tonight.