List of appendices
ORDER No. 12093
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESIDENT’S COMMISSION ON THE HOLOCAUST
By virtue of the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution of the United States of America, and in order to create, in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (5 U.S.C. App. 1), an advisory committee on the establishment of a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, it is hereby ordered as follows:
1-1. Establishment and Membership.
1-101. There is established the President’s Commission on the Holocaust.
1-102. The Commission shall consist of not more than thirty-four members as follows:
(a) The President shall appoint twenty-four members of the Commission and shall designate one of these members to chair the Commission.
(b) The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate are each invited to designate five members of their respective Houses to serve as members of the Commission.
1-2. Functions of the Commission.
1-201. The Commission shall submit a report to the President and the Secretary of the Interior containing its recommendations with respect to the establishment and maintenance of an appropriate memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust.
1-202. The Commission’s report shall examine the feasibility of obtaining funds for creation and maintenance of the Memorial through contributions by the American people.
1-203. The Commission shall recommend appropriate ways for the nation to commemorate April 28 and 29, 1979, which the Congress has resolved shall be "Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust."
1-3. Administrative Provisions.
1-301. To the extent permitted by law, the Secretary of the Interior shall provide all necessary administrative services, facilities, support, and funds necessary for the performance of the Commission’s functions.
1-302. Each member of the Commission who is not otherwise employed in the Government may receive compensation for each day such member is engaged in the work of the Commission at a daily rate to be determined by the Secretary of the Interior. Such rate shall not exceed that payable pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
1-303. Members of the Commission shall be entitled to travel expenses, including per diem in lieu of subsistence, as authorized by law (5 U.S.C. 5702 and 5703) for persons in the Government service employed intermittently.
1-304. The functions of the President under the Federal Advisory Committee Act which are applicable to the Commission, except that of reporting to the Congress, shall be performed by the Secretary of the Interior in accordance with guidelines and procedures prescribed by the Administrator of General Services.
1-4. Final Report and Termination.
1-401. The Commission shall submit its final report to the President and the Secretary of the Interior not later than six months from the date of its first meeting.
1-402 The Commission shall terminate not later than thirty days after submitting its final report.
THE WHITE HOUSE,
November 1, 1978.
On July 29, 1979, 57 members of the Commission and Advisory Board, their spouses, and special consultants to the Commission departed on a 14-day working mission to study memorials and museums to the victims of the Holocaust, to visit sites of destruction, and to meet with government leaders and directors of institutions whose commitments and undertakings parallel the work of this Commission. Traveling at their own expense to Poland, the U.S.S.R., Denmark and Israel, the group confronted the past and its commemoration to further inform the Commission’s recommendations.
In Warsaw the Commission began its agenda with a ceremony at the site of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Tribute was also paid to the Polish losses during the war at the Nike Monument for the general Warsaw uprising, followed by a series of meetings with Polish officials. At a session with the Minister of Justice, the painful and critical issues of justice and truth were explored—justice to those who perpetrated the crime, and truth in understanding the roles of criminal, victim, and bystander. An exchange of Polish and American documents was discussed, and a tour conducted of Polish archives which included critical documents and photographs, Nazi manuals and albums. In the evening the Commission attended a performance by a remnant of the Jewish theater of Warsaw. The performance was a lyrical and musical interpretation of Chagall’s paintings, spoken and sung in Yiddish, a language understood by few of the actors. Heavily subsidized by the Polish government, this troupe recalls the great theatrical tradition of the Yiddish stage.
The following morning the Commission traveled to Treblinka, the site of an extermination camp at which some 800,000 Jews were killed. (Unlike Auschwitz Treblinka was restricted to Jews.) The camp was destroyed near the end of the war as the Nazis tried to eradicate all traces of their crime. The Polish government has built an extraordinary monument on the now-wooded site of Treblinka, a total environment of remembrance. Identical slabs of stone, suggesting railroad ties, lead the visitor to the center of the camp where two enormous stone forms stand separated only by a narrow opening. A shattered menorah is engraved near the top of the stone monument, and, on all sides, stretching as far as one can see, are hundreds of rough-hewn, jagged stones of various shapes and sizes, each inscribed with the name of a Jewish community obliterated during the Holocaust. Beyond the central monument, a flat, rectangular representation of charred and disfigured bones is set in a long ditch to symbolize the burned pyres of those who were gassed. The power of this unforgettable sculpture at Treblinka convinced the Commission of the importance of a monument.
Throughout the journey in Eastern Europe, members of the delegation shared their impressions and their anguish. A scholar explained the relationship between the geographic location of a camp and its proximity to a population center; a survivor recollected a wartime experience—stories were told of betrayal and torture, anxiety and loss, desperation and agony, and some of hope and rescue.
On the third day the Commission traveled to Auschwitz, the largest and without doubt the most lethal of all extermination camps. Auschwitz contained persons from every country and nationality controlled by the Axis. In addition to Jews, most especially Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, Frenchmen, Serbs, Slavs, and Gypsies were killed at Auschwitz. An enormous railroad complex was located at the entrance to the camp; and the still sturdy brick construction of the barracks attest to its intended function as a continuing institution of subjugation and liquidation. Only with great difficulty could the survivors of Auschwitz in the delegation re-enter the infamous camp, seeing the walls, the electrified barbed wire, the torture chambers, the hospital for medical experiments, and the gas chambers where their loved ones had been put to death. A few kilometers away, at Birkenau, words of prayer were recited, wreaths laid, and spirituals sung, yet all attempts to speak seemed inadequate.
The visit to Poland was concluded by a series of meetings with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Polish Academy of Science, the Janusz Korczak Committee, the Ministry of Monuments, the Combatants Organization, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the curators of the Museum at Auschwitz and the Jewish Museum in Warsaw. Everywhere the need to remember the Holocaust was discussed and the groundwork laid for future cooperation between the American and Polish governments, including the exchange of archival information and scholarship, educational resources for teaching, films, and publications. A number of Polish documentaries on the Holocaust were also viewed. The Commission was pleased by the general interest and encouragement it encountered and by the mutual commitment to remember.
Before leaving Poland, the Commission visited the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, the burial place for over one-half-million Jews who died in Warsaw in the centuries preceding the liquidation of the ghetto. Seven hundred years of Polish Jewish culture are represented by the graves of scholars and rabbis, writers, teachers, political leaders, artists, scientists, and actors. An empty field devoid of any marker is the mass grave of some 150,000 Polish Jews who perished from starvation or disease during the war before the ghetto was destroyed. The general neglect of the cemetery—disrepair and vandalization—disturbed the Commission, and our concerns were expressed to the appropriate authorities.
The Commission traveled from Poland to the Soviet Union, first visiting Kiev in the Ukraine where 100,000 people were massacred by the Nazis at Babi Yar. Beginning on the first day of the Jewish New Year in 1941 and continuing for 10 days until the Day of Atonement, 80,000 Jews were brought to Babi Yar and killed there within earshot of downtown Kiev. The monument is most impressive, set in the center of a ravine where the victims were buried. However, in both content and inscription the memorial is devoid of any reference, direct or oblique, to the fact that Jews were killed at Babi Yar. Shocked by this conspicuous omission, the Commission was alerted to the danger of historical falsification or dilution.
In Moscow the Commission met with the National Archivist, the Writer’s Guild, the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the Institute of the History of World War II, the Deputy Minister of Culture, the War Veterans’ Organization, and the Solicitor General to explore the difficulties of writing about the Holocaust. Of sensitizing people to pain and suffering without feeling a sense of morbidity, encouraging despair, or developing an immunity to pain. Furthermore, discussions were conducted pertaining to archival exchange and scholarly interchange. In a meeting with Solicitor General, Roman Rudenko, the Commission addressed the trials of Nazi war criminals. (Mr. Rudenko was the chief prosecutor of Nuremberg.) Before leaving Moscow, the Commission placed a wreath at the Soviet Union’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
For its last stop in Europe, the Commission traveled to Denmark to present a scroll of tribute to the Danish people and their government. The scroll reads as follows:
In tribute to the Danish people and their government whose actions during the Holocaust served as a moral beacon of light in a world of total darkness. Your noble behavior has illuminated the moral landscape of humanity. May your deeds serve as a reminder of courage and human solidarity to a world still desperately in need of such lessons.
In casual conversation with our American delegation and in formal declarations, our Danish hosts frequently repeated that they had done nothing extraordinary or heroic in saving Jews and protecting their property. One Dane who is an accountant explained that he needs no congratulations for having refused to embezzle funds from his Jewish compatriots. When compared to the total cooperation of the entire Nazi economic ministry in the confiscation of Jewish holdings, the Danish humility toward their responsibility and their integrity was striking. During the Holocaust, ordinary, decent behavior became the extraordinary.
That there were great acts of courage in those dark times is indisputable. In Denmark, the Commission presented a scroll of honor in absentia to Raoul Wallenberg, a junior diplomat in the Swedish legation in Hungary, who coordinated a large-scale rescue operation during the war in which 30,000 lives were saved. Among many daring and innovative moves, Wallenberg rented buildings and flew the Swedish flag above them to declare them part of the Swedish Embassy, thus granting diplomatic protection to the inhabitants. He also issued Swedish passports to thousands of Jews in Budapest to prevent their deportation. Wallenberg was taken prisoner by the liberating Russian armies immediately after the war, and neither his presence in Russian prisons nor his fate have been satisfactorily clarified. (The Russian government produced a death certificate indicating that Wallenberg died in jail in 1947 but his death remains unconfirmed, and reports of his alleged whereabouts circulate periodically, as recently as last year.) The scroll presented to Wallenberg reads as follows:
In tribute to Raoul Wallenberg, a man of rare daring and imagination, whose deeds saved thirty-thousand Jews in Budapest. His heroism and character have shown the world what could have been done and what should have been done. His compassion and courage will be remembered forever. For his actions, he paid with his freedom, if not with his life. This scroll is presented to his sister in his absence though conscious of his presence.
The Commission also toured the Museum of Danish Rescue and Resistance in Copenhagen.
The final leg of the trip brought the Commission to Israel where it visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli National Remembrance Authority in its capital, Jerusalem, consisting of a museum, memorial and sculpture garden, archives, documentation center, research facilities, and educational resources. The Commission met with the leaders of Yad Vashem and working subcommittees of the Commission met with staff of the institution, and with prominent Israeli scholars who shared the fruits of their vast experience. The Commission was deeply impressed by the achievements of Yad Vashem and felt that close cooperation—a special relationship—with the Commission’s successor body must be established.
The Commission also visited the Museum of the Diaspora, to examine its treatment of the Holocaust and use of modern media and display techniques, computer learning, and engaging presentations. Having visited Warsaw, the Commission included in its itinerary the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters’ Memorial at a kibbutz in the Galilee founded by survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The kibbutz also houses a museum on the Holocaust. The Commission visited Mashuah, an experimental education institution designed to teach the Holocaust to both adolescents and adults through creative curricula, seminars, films, and educational materials. The delegation was also welcomed at Nes Ammim, a moshav founded by Dutch Christians and dedicated to atonement for the Holocaust. The Commission’s work in Israel concluded with a meeting with the President of Israel at his home.
During its mission abroad, the Commission was able to secure or explore access to more archival records and documents for research on the Holocaust, for the memorial/museum envisioned, and for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. The Commission learned from the examples of other Holocaust museums and memorials, and arranged for cooperation between other countries and the American endeavor. Finally, the trip itself, its meetings, and its ceremonies on behalf of the dead served as part of the living memorial which shall continue to bring the memory of the Holocaust and its implications to public consciousness.
Made at the National Civil Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony
April 24, 1979
United States Capitol Rotunda
I am honored and also grave and solemn as I participate in this ceremony during Days of Remembrance for victims of the Holocaust.
Just five weeks ago, during my trip to Israel, I visited again Yad Vashem—the memorial to the six million. I walked slowly through the Hall of Names. And like literally millions before me, I grieved as I looked at book after book, row after row, each recording the name of a man or a woman, a little boy or a little girl, each one a victim of the Holocaust.
I vowed then—as people all over the world are doing this week—to reaffirm our unshakeable commitment that such an event will never recur on this earth again.
A philosopher has written that language itself breaks down when one tries to speak about the Holocaust and its meaning. Our words pale before the frightening spectacle of human evil which was unleashed upon the world, and before the awesomeness of the suffering involved; the sheer weight of its numbers—11 million innocent victims exterminated—6 million of them Jews.
Although words do pale, yet we must speak. We must strive to understand. We must teach the lessons of the Holocaust. And most of all, we ourselves must remember.
We must learn not only about the vulnerability of life, but of the value of human life. We must remember the terrible price paid for bigotry and hatred and also the terrible price paid for indifference and for silence.
It is fitting also that we recall today the persecution, the suffering and the destruction which has befallen so many other people in this century, in many nations, peoples whose representatives have joined us for this observance. For the central lesson of the Holocaust must be that, in the words of the poet, "Each man’s death diminishes me."
To truly commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, we must harness the outrage of our memories to banish all human oppression from the world. We must recognize that when any fellow human being is stripped of humanity; when any person is turned into an object of repression; tortured or defiled or victimized by terrorism or prejudice or racism, then all human beings are victims, too.
The world’s failure to recognize the moral truth 40 years ago permitted the Holocaust to proceed. Our generation—the generation of survivors—will never permit the lesson to be forgotten. Human rights and human dignity are indivisible. America must, and always will, speak out in the defense of human rights not only in our own country, but around the world.
That commitment imposes special responsibilities on us to uphold the highest possible standards of human justice and human rights here at home. I applaud the Congress in calling for this day of remembrance of the Holocaust. And I renew my call to the Senate to take a long overdue step this year by ratifying the International Treaty on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. With out concrete action, our words are hollow. Let us signify by deed as well as by word that the American people will never forget.
It is, perhaps, ironic that we meet today in a season of rebirth and renewal to recall a time of darkness and destruction that has no parallel in human history. And yet it is also fitting that we do so in this Rotunda, along with actual survivors of the Holocaust itself. For the Holocaust is also a story of renewal and a testament to the power of the human spirit to prevail.
People who saw their homes destroyed helped build a new homeland in the State of Israel. People like Elie Wiesel, the Chairman of my Holocaust Commission, who witnessed the collapse of all vision, created and shared with us a new vision. It is an incredible story of a people who refused to allow despair to triumph, who after having lost their children, brought new families into the world.
It is our collective task as well to learn from this process of renewal, the roots of hope—a hope not based on illusion or ignorance, but hope grounded in the rebirth of the human spirit and a reaffirmation of the sacredness of life.
With that hope, we will strive to build out of our memories of the Holocaust a world joined by a true fellowship of human understanding, a world of tolerance and diversity in which all peoples can live in dignity and in peace.
Made at the National Civil Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony
April 24, 1979
United States Capitol Rotunda
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Majority Leader, Members of Congress, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am profoundly honored to join you, and all Americans, as we commemorate both the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the vibrant resilience of the human spirit.
Human nature casts a complex shadow on the history of civilization. The triumph of the human heart has its memorials—in our miracles of art, in the genius of our democracies, in the lesson of compassion at the soul of all religions.
But the history of humanity is also scarred by ignominy. Hatred, injustice, oppression, bloodshed: these, too, have their monuments that litter our nobler history like trash in a garden.
We meet today to recall both sides of human history—triumph as well as tragedy. We meet both to renew our grief, and to recommit our courage—to say Kaddish for the fallen, and to sanctify as well the work of the living.
The Holocaust beggars the human imagination. To recall it is to think the unthinkable. To describe it is to say the unsayable. To be its heir is to inherit a nightmare.
But the horror we commemorate today must not blind us to the life whose roots lie in its ashes. For today we also affirm that genocide has no part in human history. Today we declare that decency and dignity and life itself are inalienable, and must forever remain so. Today we bear witness not only to the unanswered cries of the eleven million, but also to the duty they confer on us: the duty to banish bloodshed from the annals of our children’s future.
Today we bear witness. Elie Wiesel, the distinguished Chairman of President Carter’s Holocaust Commission, put it this way in his moving novel, The Oath:
"We must tell, awaken, alert, and repeat over and over again without respite or pause, repeat to the very end those stories that have no end..."
We will repeat those stories without end. One of them is the tragedy of the Holocaust. But another—and just as important—is the story of the human heart in its relentless service of high ideals.
Remarks Made by Elie Wiesel
President’s Commission on the Holocaust
Made at the National Civic Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony
April 24, 1979
United States Capitol Rotunda
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Leaders and Members of the House and the Senate, Distinguished Guests:
Allow me to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, far away, somewhere in the Carpathian mountains, there lived a small boy, a Jewish boy, whose dreams were filled with God, prayer, and song.
Then one day, he and his family, and all the Jews of his town, were rounded up and exiled to a dark and evil kingdom. They arrived there at midnight. Then came the first separation, the first selection.
As the boy stood with his father, wondering whether his mother and sisters would come back, an inmate came to tell them the truth; this road led to the final destination of the Jewish people; the truth was there: in the fire, the ashes, the truth was in death. And the young boy refused to believe him; it had to be a lie, a nightmare perhaps, this could not be happening, not here, not now, not in the heart of civilized Europe, not in the middle of the twentieth-century. "Father," said the boy: "if this were true, the world would not be silent. . . ." "Perhaps the world does not know," said the father. And father and son walked on, part of an eerie nocturnal procession, toward mysterious flames of darkness.
Thirty-five years later—almost to the day—the same Jewish boy stands before you with a deep sense of privilege, to remind our contemporaries that in those times of anguish and destruction, only one people—the Jewish people—were totally, inexplicably abandoned—only one people were simply, cynically handed over to their executioners.
And we, the few survivors, were left behind to bear witness and tell the tale.
But before doing so, allow me, on behalf of your Commission on the Holocaust and its Advisory Board, to thank you, Mr. President, for summoning our Nation—and all nations—to keep their memory alive.
We also wish to express our profound gratitude to all the distinguished guests and national leaders for being here today at this unprecedented assembly, responding to this call for remembrance. No other country, and its government, besides Israel, has issued or heeded such a call, but then Israel is a case apart. Israel’s commitment to memory is as old as its history itself.
On my first night in the camp, which was the last for most of my friends, my family, my relatives, my teachers, I wrote:
Never shall I forget that night, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the little faces of the children whom I saw being thrown into the flames alive beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget that sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which murdered my hopes forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my soul and turned my dreams into dust, into smoke.
Never shall I forget these words even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself.
But Mr. President and friends—what does one do with such memories of fire—with so many fragments of despair? How does one live in a world which witnessed the murder of one million children and remained world?
Those of us who were there are haunted by those whose lives were turned into ashes, by those whose cemetery was the sky.
Terror-stricken families hiding in ghetto-cellars. Children running with priceless treasures: a potato or two, a crumb of bread. Endless lines of quiet men and women on their way to mass graves, reciting the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, over themselves. Teachers and their pupils, mothers and their infants, rabbis and their followers, rich and poor, learned and illiterate, princes and beggars—all pushed inexorably toward death. "Father," says a young boy, "is it painful to die? Must I die? " "Think of something else," answers the father. "Think of tomorrow."
Treblinka and Ponar, Auschwitz and Babi Yar, Majdanek and Blezec: What happened? Did creation go mad? Did God cover his face? Did the Creator turn against his creation? Did the God of Israel turn against the people of Israel? The question everyone asked upon arrival inside the gates was: What does it all mean? Was there a design, a secret pattern?
We didn’t know. We still don’t. How can anyone explain evil of such magnitude? How can anyone comprehend so much pain and anguish? One cannot conceive of Auschwitz with or without God. But what about man? Who can understand the calculated deprivation of the killers? The indifference of the onlookers? When Jews did have a possibility of leaving Europe, how many countries were there ready to accept them?
What was the Holocaust: an end or a beginning'? Prefiguration or culmination? Was it the final convulsion of demonic forces in history? A paroxysm of centuries-old bigotry and hatred? Or, on the contrary, a momentous warning of things to come?
Turning-point or watershed, it produced a mutation on a cosmic scale, affecting all possible areas of human endeavor. After Auschwitz, the human condition is no longer the same. After Treblinka, nothing will ever be the same. The Event has altered man’s perception and changed his relationship to God, to his fellow man and to himself. The unthinkable has become real. After Belsen, everything seems possible.
Admittedly, I belong to a traumatized generation, hence I speak of my people the Jewish people. But when I, as a Jew, evoke the tragic destiny of Jewish victims, I honor the memory of all the victims. When one group is persecuted, mankind is affected. Still, for the sake of truth, we must remember that only the Jewish people’s extermination was an end in itself. Jewish victims, stripped of their identity and of their death, were disowned by the whole world. They were condemned not for what they did or said, but for who they were: sons and daughters of a people whose suffering is the most ancient in recorded history.
Every occupied nation, every underground movement received help from London, Washington or Moscow. Not the Jews: they were the loneliest victims of the most inhuman of wars. A single airdrop, a single rescue mission would have proved to them, and to the enemy, that they were not forgotten. But, Mr. President and friends, the truth is that they were forgotten.
The evidence is before us: The world knew and kept silent. The documents that you, Mr. President, handed to the Chairman of your Commission on the Holocaust, testify to that effect. Actually, pictures of Auschwitz and Birkenau had reached the free world much earlier. Still, when the Hungarian Jews began arriving there, feeding the flames with ten to twelve thousands persons a day, nothing was done to stop or delay the process. Not one bomb was dropped on the railway tracks to the death factories. Had there been a similar Joint Session of Congress then, things would have been different for many Jews.
And yet, and yet, when the nightmare lifted, there was no hate in the hearts of those who survived. Only sadness. And, paradoxically, hope, hope as well. For some reason they were convinced that out of grief and so much suffering a powerful message of compassion and justice would be heard and received. They were convinced that the Messiah would come and redeem the world. They were convinced that, after Auschwitz, people would no longer yield to fanaticism, nations would no longer wage war, and racism, anti-Semitism and class humiliation would be banned forever, shamed forever.
Little did we know that, in our lifetime, we would witness more wars, new racial hostilities, and an awakening of Nazism on all five continents. Little did we know that, in our lifetime, books would appear in many languages offering so-called "proof" that the Holocaust never occurred, that our parents, our friends did not die there. Little did we know that Jewish children would again be murdered, in cold blood by killers in Israel.
The survivors advocated hope, not despair. Their testimony contains neither rancor nor bitterness. They knew too well that hate is self-debasing and vengeance self-defeating. Instead of choosing nihilism and anarchy, they chose to opt for man. Instead of setting cities on fire, they enriched them. Many went to rebuild an ancient dream of Israel in Israel; they all chose to remain human in an inhuman society, to fight for human rights everywhere, against poverty every where and discrimination, for humankind, always.
For we have learned certain lessons. We have learned not to be neutral in times of crisis, for neutrality always helps the aggressor, never the victim. We have learned that silence is never the answer. We have learned that the opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference. What is memory if not a response to, and against indifference?
So let us remember, let us remember for their sake, and ours: memory may perhaps be our only answer, our only hope to save the world from the ultimate punishment, a nuclear holocaust.
Let us remember, let us remember the heroes of Warsaw, the martyrs of Treblinka, the children of Auschwitz. They fought alone, they suffered alone, they lived alone, but they did not die alone, for something in all of us died with them.
PRESENTATION OF THE REPORT OF THE PRESIDENT’S COMMISSION ON THE HOLOCAUST TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
by Elie Wiesel
The Rose Garden
The White House
Mr. President, Ambassador Evron, Distinguished Members of the Senate and House, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thirty-eight years ago on September 27th, 1941, during the aseret yemei teshuva, what we call in our tradition the Days of Repentence, thousands of Jewish men women and children were led through the sunny and peaceful streets of Kiev to be slaughtered at a place called: Babi Yar. For ten days—from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement—the massacre continued. The procession seemed endless. The killers killed, the victims tumbled into ditches, and creation somehow remained unchanged and undisturbed.
What took place in Kiev, Mr. President, was repeated elsewhere in hundreds and hundreds of towns and villages in the Ukraine, Lithuania, Byelorussia, Poland. All over Eastern Europe the process of destruction went on and on and on. Entire communities perished overnight. Families disappeared. Ancient dynasties whose lineage could be traced back to King David and Moses were swept away with the winds of ashes. And God Himself must have covered His face in pain and anguish. Were they but a spasm of history? A tear in the ocean? An experiment of eternity in death?
In the course of our study, Mr. President, we tried to capture some of their silent outcries. We asked them for guidance. We returned to some of the sites where they perished. And all those who were there came away changed.
Mr. President, we were struck first by the beauty of the surroundings; the hills around Treblinka, the skys over Birkenau, the silence in Auschwitz. The killers had chosen the most beautiful sites and the most poetic words for their most hideous crimes.
We were struck by the proximity to cities and villages. Treblinka, Mr. President, is a 2-hour bus or train ride from Warsaw. Babi Yar is part of Kiev. Buchenwald is near Weimar. Auschwitz is close to Cracow. Ten thousand human beings were being murdered and burned every day, and nearby, life went on as usual.
How was all this possible? We do not have the answer, Mr. President. Perhaps there is none. Any given answer must be the wrong answer. But the members of your Commission believe, Mr. President, that we must seek an answer and this will not be easy. Unprecedented and unparalleled in magnitude, the Event of Auschwitz and Belsen is still surmounted by a wall of fire which no outsider can penetrate. All one can do is come close to the gate.
Some are living gates, the survivors. They alone know what happened. And they are ready and willing to share their knowledge; they know that they survived only to tell the tale, only to bear witness.
The words of the dead, too, are gates. Documents, poems, messages, diaries, letters, prayers, meditations; through them one can feel something of what they felt as they were waiting for the angel of death, for the Messiah.
I confess, Mr. President, that I belong to a traumatized generation and a traumatized people.
As a Jew, I was—and am—distressed by the tragic fate of the Jewish people; after all, they alone were destined to be totally annihilated; they alone were totally alone.
However, as a Jew I also came to realize that although all Jews were victims, not all victims were Jews.
But this is perhaps the first lesson we may draw from the Event, Mr. President, that although Jews were the first to be killed, they were not the only ones; others followed. The murder of one group inevitably provokes more murder.
We must also learn from what happened that words must be taken seriously. The time lapse between the antisemitic slogans in Berlin and the death industry in Treblinka was only 10 years.
We must take seriously all those who threaten other people today and all those who threaten the Jewish people today. From words to deed, the distance is not great.
We must also learn the dangers of indifference and neutrality. In times of evil, indifference to evil is evil. Neutrality always helps the killer, not the victim.
And we must learn the importance of stressing the moral dimension of all human endeavors. We have seen that scientists, scholars. physicians, politicians, and artists murder children, and still enjoy the cadence of a poem, the beauty of the painting. Culture without morality can easily push mankind to darkness, not redemption.
Yes, Mr. President, there are urgent lessons to be learned from this awesome event. And yet, and yet. We, the members of your Commission and their advisors are aware of our limitations. We have acquired some knowledge, but what are we to do with that knowledge? What are we to do with the whispers of men and women going to their graves? With the wisdom of ghetto children who knew more about life and death than the oldest of my teachers? What are we to do with the sounds of the dead; the mute dreams of the living? What are we to do with them?
We must share them, and we understood this most intensely when we visited Poland, Soviet Russia, and Israel. Birkenau arouses man’s most secret anguish. Jerusalem symbolizes our most fervent hope, and, therefore, we are attached to Jerusalem in such love and admiration. We must share whatever we receive with conviction and dedication if mankind is to survive.
Thus, Mr. President, it is with a profound sense of privilege and hope that on behalf of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and its Advisory Board I present to you its report. And for your own historic initiative, Mr. President, it is submitted to you with infinite gratitude.
REMARKS OF THE PRESIDENT AT THE PRESENTATION OF THE FINAL REPORT OF THE PRESIDENT’S COMMISSION ON THE HOLOCAUST
The Rose Garden
The White House
Mr. Chairman, the beauty of your words and the solemnity of your thoughts and the importance of the work of this Commission are all very impressive.
Eight months ago, I asked Elie Wiesel, and a distinguished group of Americans, some from the Congress, to take on an awesome responsibility. Jim Blanchard of Michigan and others said they couldn’t be here because there is a vote pending in the House, but they have served well, along with a broad cross-section of Americans who have gone into this effort with a great deal of dedication and who have produced a report that will solve problems and picture for us proper actions in the future.
This is an awesome responsibility that you have performed. I asked this group to recommend a fitting memorial in the United States to the victims of the most unspeakable crime in all of human history—the Holocaust. Rarely has a Presidential Commission faced a more sobering or a more totally important challenge. This event of the Holocaust, the crime against humanity itself, has no parallel in human history. A philosopher wrote that human language itself breaks down when confronted with the monstrous challenge of describing this evil.
So I want to pay a special tribute, on behalf of our Nation, to all those who have contributed to this effort and for the tremendous service that you have performed.
Your very work as a Commission is part of a living memory to the victims of the Holocaust. Your grappling with the meaning of this event has helped bring new understanding and moral vision to all who must confront this question. Your historic trip to the concentration camps in Eastern Europe, at the Babi Yar in the Soviet Union, has helped to arouse the conscience of the world and helped remind us once again we must never forget. And I know our country appreciates the fact that many of you went on those trips, not at Government expense, but at your own expense.
Out of our memory and understanding of the Holocaust we must forge an unshakeable oath with all civilized people that never again will the world stand silent, never again will the world look the other way or fail to act in time to prevent this terrible crime of genocide.
In addition to the Jewish people who were engulfed by the Holocaust simply because they were Jews, 5 million other human beings were destroyed. About 3 million Poles, many Hungarians, Gypsies, also need to be remembered. To memorialize the victims of the Holocaust, we must harness the outrage of our own memories to stamp out oppression wherever it exists. We must understand that human rights and human dignity are indivisible. Wherever our fellow human beings are stripped of their humanity, defiled or tortured or victimized by repression or terrorism or racism or prejudice, then all of us are victims. As Americans, we must, and we also will speak out in defense of human rights at home and everywhere in the world.
And I might add that as Americans we must share the responsibility for 40 years ago not being willing to acknowledge that this horrible event was in prospect.
And I think that the action of this Holocaust Commission is long overdue, because we have not had a constant center which could be visited by Americans of all faiths and all races to be reminded of our omission in the past, to have the memory of this horrible event kept vivid in our minds, to prevent a recurrence of such an action anywhere on earth in the future.
In view of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, it is particularly appropriate that we receive this report during the High Holy Days, just prior to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is a day and time for looking back. It is a time for reflection. It is a time for remembrance. But it is also a time for the reaffirmation of life, a time for looking ahead.
So I will consider this report most carefully and will respond personally to this Commission and to the people of our Nation, with my personal prayer that the memory of the Holocaust shall be transformed into a reaffirmation of life. And as President, I can pledge to you that I will do everything in my power to carry out the recommendations of this report.
The Members of the Congress will be intensely interested in arousing support in the Legislature. And I am sure the people of this country will be looking with anticipation to this reminder of the victims and also a warning that this horrible event will never again occur on earth.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and all the members of the Commission.
COMMISSIONERS, ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS, STAFF
MEMBERS, PRESIDENT’S COMMISSION ON THE HOLOCAUST
Mr. Elie Wiesel, Chairman
Congressman James J. Blanchard
Mr. Hyman Bookbinder
Senator Rudy Boschwitz
Professor Robert McAfee Brown
Professor Gerson D. Cohen
Senator John C. Danforth
Professor Lucy S. Dawidowicz
Ms. Kitty Dukakis
Mr. Benjamin R. Epstein
Rabbi Juda Glasner
Justice Arthur J. Goldberg
Professor Alfred Gottschalk
Congressman S. William Green
Father Theodore Hesburgh
Professor Raul Hilberg
Senator Henry M. Jackson
Professor Norman Lamm
Mr. Frank R. Lautenberg
Congressman William Lehman
Senator Claiborne Pell
Mr. Arnold Picker
Rabbi Bernard Raskas
Mrs. Hadassah Rosensaft
Mr. Bayard Rustin
Ms. Marilyn Shubin
Mr. Isaac Bashevis Singer
Congressman Stephen J. Solarz
Senator Richard B. Stone
Mr. Sigmund Strochlitz
Mr. Mark Talisman
Professor Telford Taylor
Mr. Glenn E. Watts
Congressman Sidney R. Yates
MEMBERS, ADVISORY BOARD, PRESIDENT’S COMMISSION ON THE HOLOCAUST
Ms. Sylvia Becker
Dr. Michael Berenbaum
Mr. Irving Bernstein
Judge Thomas Buergenthal
Professor Yaffa Eliach
Mr. Max C. Gettinger
Ms. Helen-Joy Ginsburg
Mr. Aaron Goldman
Cantor Isaac Goodfriend
Ms. Grace Cohen Grossman
Rabbi Marvin Hier
Mr. Richard Krieger
Mr. Miles Lerman
Mr. Paul Lewis
Professor Franklin Littell
Mayor Frank Logue
Mr. Steven A. Ludsin
Mr. Benjamin Meed
Mr. Jay Martin Schechter
Mr. Richard Schifter
Mr. Nathan Shapell
Mr. Wilton S. Sogg
Mr. Abraham Spiegel
Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum
Mr. Siggi B. Wilzig
Mr. Irwin R. Ziff
Mr. Solomon Zynstein
STAFF, PRESIDENT’S COMMISSION ON THE HOLOCAUST
Dr. Irving Greenberg
Dr. Michael Berenbaum
Ms. Marian Craig
The Commission wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the services of many people who have given tirelessly of themselves for the work of the Commission. In particular, appreciation is expressed to Mr. James C. Gross of the National Capital Region, National Park Service, who served as the Commission’s liaison with the Department of the Interior, and Ms. Charlita Lindsay who served as the Commission’s secretary. Ms. Ginger Harris, Ms. Joy Hessler, Mr. Steven Ellman, Ms. Anne Kirk Smith, Mr. David Solomon, Ms. Jane Marks and Mr. Sam Totten gave substantive help to the Commission in a variety of activities necessary to fulfill our mandate.
To the Secretary of the Interior, the Honorable Cecil Andrus, to Mr. William Whalen, Director of National Park Service, and to Mr. Manus J. Fish, Director of the National Capital Region, National Park Service, as well as their entire staffs go the Commission’s deepest thanks for the many ways in which they have been of assistance and for the graciousness with which they offered their help and expertise.
The Commission is indebted to Ms. Mildred Lehman who served as Public Information Officer and to Dr. Linda Berenbaum who helped in the preparation of this report not only for their assistance but for the manner in which it was offered.
Above all, the Commission wishes to express its appreciation to the members of the White House staff, especially Mr. Edward Sanders, Senior Advisor to the President, Ms. Sara Seanor, his Staff Assistant, and Mr. Seymour Bolten of the Domestic Policy Staff for their unceasing efforts on behalf of the Commission.
Download full report (PDF)