Days of Remembrance, April 15 - April 22
Sara J. Bloomfield, Director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
April 19, 2007, The Capitol Rotunda, Washington, D.C.
Introduction of Keynote Speaker – Senator Joseph Lieberman
This is the 25th year we have gathered in this majestic hall to remember the victims of the Holocaust. Some of you here have attended every single ceremony. Many experiences in life diminish with repetition, but not this commemoration in this Rotunda. Why do we remember the Holocaust under the dome of American democracy? Why is there a Holocaust Museum on our National Mall? Because this country was founded not by a people but on an idea.
The formal articulation of that idea is depicted in this painting and also at an entrance to our Museum, where visitors immediately encounter some of the most important sentences in history. They begin "We hold these truths to be self evident..."
The Declaration of Independence was perhaps the very first human rights proclamation, and universal freedom is at the heart of our democracy. This house of democracy is situated at one end of the National Mall, and most fittingly faces the Supreme Court on one side and at the other end of the Mall, the Lincoln Memorial. Midway between is our Museum, whose lessons lend an exquisite intensity to the meaning of our entire civic landscape. For the Holocaust teaches that freedom is fragile; that what is legal is not always moral; and that freedom without justice is inadequate. The Holocaust reminds us that it is not enough to cherish our national ideals, we must be ever wary of human nature and work to protect those ideals. Germany's educational, technological, cultural and religious advancement did not prevent it from murdering six million people solely because they were Jews.
Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the most eminent Christian theologians of the 20th century, understood the problem of human nature when he wrote "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." That is precisely why our Museum is on the Mall and why we are here today.
From our Museum, you can see the Lincoln Memorial, another reminder of why the lessons of the Holocaust will always be necessary. It too says that democracy is an ongoing project, an unfinished masterpiece, and each generation must continue the hard work.
Forty-four years ago, at that very memorial, a young Joseph Lieberman listened as Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. That moment transformed this son of immigrants into an activist for both civil and human rights. Thus began a lifetime of exceptional public service. Inspired by people like Martin Luther King, like those rare individuals who rescued Jews, Senator Lieberman, whose wife Hadassah's family was caught in the Holocaust, is known for his deep convictions, independent thinking, and willingness to take risks of great consequence in order to uphold his principles.