To my friend and source of inspiration since I was a teenager, to Elie Wiesel, to my other esteemed speakers this morning, Justice Breyer, to distinguished Members of Congress and honorable representatives of the Administration, Holocaust survivors and liberators, and our dear friends from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Sixty-six years ago this month, the war in Europe ended. My father, then serving as a corporal in the combat engineer company that had landed on Normandy beach and fought its way through the Battle of the Bulge, remembers looking up at a squadron of Allied bombers flying overhead and releasing tens of thousands of leaflets over recently liberated territory. “Nazis Quit!” That’s what the leaflets said. And my father still has that leaflet, laminated, hanging on the wall in his home.
The world was celebrating. People were dancing in the street. But the Jewish people could not partake in those festivities. A third of them were dead—six million of them had been shot and gassed and starved. And the few hundred thousand survivors had been rendered homeless, still confined behind barbed wire in displaced persons camps. The great majority of them did not want to remain in the countries that had collaborated, either actively or passively, with the effort to destroy them. Many wanted to return to their ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel. But that route, too, was denied to them, and many who tried to escape were forced back to the scenes of their recent torment.
The world rejoiced and we, the Jews, we lamented. The world looked toward a happier future and we remembered an agonizing past. Today, V-E Day passes almost unnoticed in the United States. But Holocaust Remembrance Day is widely and profoundly marked. The memory of the suffering of millions, it seems, outlasts the fleeting joys of victory.
We remember the GIs, some of whom honor us with their presence today, who liberated the death camps. We salute their valor and pay homage to their humanity, as they nurtured the starving and comforted those who were too sick to survive. We remember the American volunteers who worked in those displacement camps and who, at great risk, enabled some of those refugees to reach Israel. So, too, we remember you, the survivors who found refuge in the United States—who rebuilt their lives and rebuilt their families and who, in turn, immeasurably enriched America. And we remember the American people who, under the leadership of President Harry Truman, made the United States the first nation on earth to recognize the reborn Jewish state.
We remember all that was done, yes, but just as crucially, we must remember what was not done. We must remember the refugee-laden ships turned away from countless shores, including the shores of this country, and consigned to the slaughterhouses of Europe. We must remember those same Allied bombers that bombed targets near Auschwitz but refrained from striking the camp itself or from striking the railways that fed that camp. We must remember the world that remained silent while Jews were imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Europe and the gates of the Land of Israel were locked.
We are obligated to remember, painful though it is, because the hatred that bred the Holocaust still persists. We know that the Nazi plan to destroy us as a people was preceded by a campaign to deny the humanity of the Jewish people, and today we witness efforts to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish state. In Lebanon, Hezbollah glorifies the mass murder of Jews and aims 50,000 rockets at our homes. Hamas, meanwhile, in Gaza, firing on our towns, on school buses, and proclaims its goal of annihilating the Jews not just in Israel, but annihilating the Jews worldwide. And Iran, the backer of Hezbollah and Hamas, denies the Holocaust while swearing to wipe Israel off the map—to perpetrate another Holocaust while developing the nuclear means for doing just that.
We need to remember but we must also learn. We must acknowledge the genuine presence of evil in the world and the persistence of genocidal hatred. We need to realize that evil is not defeated by goodness alone but by goodness galvanized by action. Merely saying, “Never Again,” will not suffice. “Never Again” means shunning all passivity and blindness. Today, thank God, there is a Jewish state capable of defending itself and preserving our people’s future. Today, thank God, that Jewish state is allied with the greatest and most powerful nation on earth. But we must never forget a time when the State of Israel did not exist, when the Jews had neither shelters nor defenders. We must remember the few who were saved and the millions who were not, those who rose heroically and those who turned away. We must remember that hatred remains a scourge in our world today, and that it is our responsibility—it is our duty—to defeat it.