Days of Remembrance, April 18 - April 25
Ruth B. Mandel, Vice–Chair, United States Holocaust Memorial Council
April 22, 2004, The Capitol Rotunda, Washington, D.C.
When we say the crimes we remember today were “unspeakable,” that is precisely what we mean: Their monstrosity exceeded not only human imagination, but the boundaries of language itself. Winston Churchill spoke of a “crime without a name.” For what was happening to the Jews of Europe, there were, quite literally, no words.
Yet, sixty years ago, there was a lone individual struggling to create one. He understood the power of language to influence human events. So, in 1944, as the Hungarian Jews were being destroyed, an ocean away, here in the US, a young lawyer was trying to create a word that would define what had happened not only to his own family in the Poland he had fled, but to all the Jews of Europe. His name was Raphael Lemkin. The word he coined was "genocide."
Today the poverty of imagination is no longer an excuse for indifference. Today humanity knows what genocide iswe know what it meanswe know where responsibility lies.
Lemkin hoped that by naming this crime, we could prevent it. But this is also the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, and today we see the horrific events unfolding in the Darfur region of Sudan where the US Government estimates that as many as 100,000 may die in the coming months. We see that humanity's responsibility is still not fully met, the lessons of the Holocaust still not fully learned.
The Museum is devoted to exploring how humanity might have responded to the Holocaust. So it is fitting today to recall those who did respond to evilRaoul Wallenberg, who rescued; this year's Medal of Resistance awardees, who fought back; and our candle lighters, who represent all the victims who struggled to survive. They teach us that even in the face of evil, one can respond.
We remember with the ancient and abiding symbolism of lightcandles that steep our senses in the memory of what happened in that awful timeand that remind us of our responsibility for all time.
We are honored by the presence of those who, today, help us to light the candles of remembranceand bear the torch of responsibility.