On November 1, 1978, President Carter established the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and charged it with the responsibility to submit a report “with respect to the establishment and maintenance of an appropriate memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust, to examine the feasibility for the creation and maintenance of the memorial through contributions by the American people, and to 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.’” *
The Commission, chaired by Elie Wiesel, consisted of 34 members. including survivors, lay and religious leaders of all faiths, historians and scholars, five Congressmen and five Senators, and was aided by a 27-person Advisory Board.
The Commission began its operations on January 15, 1979, holding its first meeting one month later on February 15. Subsequent to the first meeting, the Commission divided into a series of working subcommittees: Museum and Monument, Secondary Education and Curricula, Higher Education and Research, Human Rights, Days of Remembrance, Fact-Finding and Travel Mission, and Funding. Each of the subcommittees, co-chaired by a member of the Commission and of the Advisory Board, met to formulate and refine the Commission’s recommendations. All formulations were then presented to a meeting of the Advisory Board on April 10 and to the Commission as a whole on April 24.
In addition, during the first weeks of the Commission’s life, suggestions were solicited from thousands of Americans: survivor organizations and individual survivors; a broad range of civic, labor, and religious leaders; Holocaust scholars and educators; members of the Polish-American community who had been subject to Nazi persecution as well as Armenian, Black, and other Americans whose historic experience make them particularly sensitive to the issues raised by the Holocaust.
In its surveys and dialogues, the Commission sought to formulate collectively what might constitute an appropriate national memorial to all those who had perished in the Holocaust while still honoring the memory and identity of those groups singled out for mass annihilation. In many respects, the recommendations and proposals of the Commission reflect the collective wisdom gleaned from discussion with a broad cross-section of individuals and groups.
During this formative period, several Congressmen held local hearings in their districts on the work of the Commission, with testimony from scores of witnesses, including survivors, teachers, clergymen, representatives of a broad range of community organizations, civic and political leaders, scholars, educators, theologians, artists, and writers. After the Commission had reached its preliminary conclusions, additional public hearings were held.
Within the first three months the Commission planned many of the activities conducted during the Days of Remembrance and developed models for future commemorations of the Holocaust. The Days of Remembrance activities culminated in a National Civic Holocaust Commemoration Service held in the Capitol Rotunda on April 24, the internationally recognized memorial day for the Holocaust (see Proposal 4 for a report of nationwide activities).
The second Commission meeting was actually held on the Day of Remembrance, April 24. It refined the proposals of the various subcommittees, and then charged the staff and committees to develop final recommendations. On June 7, the Commission met a third time to consider the proposals; overwhelming approval was given to the recommendations which make up the body of this report. Furthermore, the Commission decided to undertake a fact-finding mission, at the members’ personal expense, to sites of Holocaust annihilation and memorials in Poland, the Soviet Union, Denmark, and Israel. The purpose of the journey was threefold: to ascertain what other countries have done, to lay the foundation for future cooperation between the Commission and major memorial and scholarly institutions, and to pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust by visiting the places of their death and the shrines erected to their memory. (A report of the fact-finding mission is in Appendix B.)
*Executive Order Number 12093, dated November 1, 1978. See Appendix A. An identical copy of the Report was submitted to the Secretary of the Interior as mandated by the Executive Order.
Download full report (PDF)