Days of Remembrance, April 15 - April 22
Joel M. Geiderman, Vice Chairman, United States Holocaust Memorial Council
April 19, 2007, The Capitol Rotunda, Washington, D.C.
Introduction of Candlelighters
As we prepare to light the candles in memory of the six million lives that were destroyed just because of who they were, we recommit ourselves to fight for life, for freedom, for liberty and for dignity of every human being on this planet. Not just here, or in the familiar or easy places, but in every unilluminated corner of God's good earth. And what better place is there to commit ourselves to these values than this sanctuary of freedom.
Indeed, how awe inspiring is it to stand in this place, where Lincoln, Eisenhower, Kennedy as well as other Presidents and leaders have lain in state and remember the six million. Sixty two years ago, as the gates of Auschwitz and other camps were first thrown open by the liberators, the world first saw the faces of the starving survivors of the camps and evidence of the atrocities the Nazis had wreaked on European Jews and other persecuted groups. The images that come to mind are of carnage and destruction.
Now, with some of these same survivors and liberators in our midst, surrounded by so many of our elected leaders, patriots all, we look around and see magnificent statues of Lincoln and Jefferson and grand portraits of our founding fathers. Together, we comprise the mosaic of the American democracy. For all of this, we must close our eyes and give thanks.
Six months ago, I had the privilege of traveling with a delegation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for my first time, to the grounds of Auschwitz. In a windswept field, in front of a destroyed crematorium, as we prepared to say the mourner's kaddish, I made a simple declaration to my grandparents, whom I never met and who perished there:
I did not forget you. I did not forsake you. I came back here for you.
And as we prepare to say light these candles and say Kaddish for the six million, I say the same: We did not forget you. We built a museum here for you in Washington. And we will never forget, nor will our children, nor will our children's children. This is our solemn pledge.
Accordingly, assisting the candlelighters is Mark Hanis, a grandson of four Holocaust survivors. By dedicating his life to genocide prevention, Mark embodies the meaning of that hope for the future of humanity.
The first candle will be lit by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi of California and Vadka Meed, a survivor from Poland, and the widow of Benjamin Meed.
The second candle will be lit by chief deputy minority whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and Asa Shapiro who was born in Poland, and lost his family in the Holocaust.
The third candle will be lit by House majority leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Manya Friedman, a survivor from Poland who is a volunteer at the Museum.
The fourth candle will be lit by senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Steven Schwarz, a survivor from Poland.
The fifth candle will be lit by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Eva Cooper, a survivor from Hungary.
The sixth candle will be lit by Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Murray Pantirer, a survivor from Poland and former member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.