Days of Remembrance, April 15 - April 22
Joseph I. Lieberman, United States Senator
April 19, 2007, The Capitol Rotunda, Washington, D.C.
We gather today under this magnificent dome, in a place that symbolizes the soaring ideals that animate our democracythe rights to life and liberty that our founders declared are the endowment of our Creator and the purpose of our government to secure.
We come together in this rotundasurrounded by scenes from American history that affirm these humanitarian, national idealsto commemorate an event that represents their absolute violation.
We come to this place that is normally full of the noise of human life to respectfully contemplate the silence of the dead.
It is precisely because of these sharp contrasts that this great hall is so appropriate a place for this memorial service.
They remind us that the awful, incomprehensible barbarity of the Holocaust happened under the same beautiful sky that we live under every day.
They remind us that the hands that built the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Treblinka were made of the same flesh and blood as the hands that wrote our Declaration of Independence and built the great monument to freedom in which we have gathered.
They remind us in other words that good and evil coexist in this world. Both are acts of man. Both are acts of choice.
Of course all of us would like to live in a peaceful world, a world of justice, a world governed according to a moral architecture as rational and inspiring as the architecture of this building.
But there are forces that constantly seek to cut through the marble of our moral universe. They are hatreds and pathologies so strong that they cannot be negotiated, or reasoned, or loved away. They must be fought and stopped.
That conclusion, I know, is difficult for many people to accept, but history and the Holocaust sadly tell us it is true.
Part of the perversity of evil is that, the greater its cruelty, the greater the temptation to avert our eyes, to harden our hearts, to convince ourselves that we are not seeing what is in fact happening.
As Elie Wiesel warned us, "It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair."
Evil not only threatens us. It tempts us to protect ourselves by going down false and self-deceptive paths, by making someone else's suffering into something foreign, something distant, something that belongs to a world that is separate from our own, something we therefore have no obligation or capacity to do anything about.
That is how innocent bystanders become evil's accomplice. That is how so many in the world claimed they did not know that the Nazis were involved not just in conquest but in genocide.
That is why we owe it to the millions they murdered, who cannot speak today, to remember this, to learn from it, and to do everything we can to make sure it never happens again.
But have we?
Thirteen years ago this month, we turned our backs on a genocide in Rwanda, in which 800,000 people were killed. Rather than hearing and reacting to the screams of innocent men, women, and childrensingled out and murdered for no reason other than their ethnicitywe said their deaths were caused by a civil war fueled by ancient hatreds, and thus convinced ourselves either that it was not our place to save them or that it was not even possible to save them.
Today, again, we see people around the world being singled out and murdered on the basis of their religious, sectarian, or ethnic identity, in places as diverse as Darfur and Iraq. In Iran we hear a presidentan Islamist extremistdenying that the Nazi Holocaust happened, and then threatening the annihilation of Israel and death to America.
And what is our response?
Each of us has a responsibility to answer that question. Each of us has a responsibility to make that choice.
It is a choice that I feel very personally, because I am the husband of Hadassah Freilich Lieberman, child of Holocaust survivors. Her parents of blessed memory were imprisoned in Auschwitz and Dachau, and in slave labor camps in Hungary.
Sixty-two years ago, Hadassah's mother was liberated from Dachau, liberated by the Rainbow Division of the United States Army.
My familymy children and grandchildrentherefore exists today because a courageous generation of American soldiers fought under the flags that fly here today, to confront and defeat the evil of the Third Reich.
The historian of the Rainbow Division had this to say of the liberation of Dachau.
"Dachau was a nightmare to all the men of the Division who saw it… but it was also a lesson. ‘Now I know why we are fighting,' man after man said. ‘The Nazis who conceived such a place as that were madmen and those people who operated it were insane. We cannot live in the same world as them.'"
That was the choice that the American soldiers of the Rainbow Division made, and that is the choice each succeeding generation of Americansincluding our ownis called on to make.
That is why our purpose here today cannot be just to remember an evil that overtook millions of innocent lives. It must also be to honor the human beings who chose to risk their lives to overcome that evil.
And finally, it must be to accept our moral responsibilityeach in our own wayto choose life over death, good over evil.
That responsibility surely does not fall only on Americans or Jews. It is the responsibility of men and women of all nations, and of all faiths. It is the responsibility of the entire human family.
But we Americans and we Jews are called by our founding principles and purpose and by our history to be leaders in this cause.
It is a difficult cause, but one we should take up with confidence. History fortunately provides us also with events that encourage the confidence that evil can be overcome, because it has been overcome.
In the Second World War, the Allied Powers did defeat Nazism. In the 1990s, ethnic slaughter was stopped in the Balkans. We together are fully capable of turning back the evils of our time, if we choose to do so.
Just this week, amidst the terror in Blacksburg, Virginia, we witnessed an act of extraordinary heroism by a manProfessor Liviu Librescuwho had defied the twin totalitarian evils of the twentieth century and survived Nazism and Communism. Professor Librescu chose to risk and ultimately give his life so that others could live. We are humbled by his courage and inspired by his choice.
So I pray with you today, in the names of the six million who were slaughtered in the Holocaust, that God who endowed us with our rights to life and liberty will give us now the wisdom to confront those who would take those rights away from us, the courage to fight them, and the confidence that together we can and will defeat them.
So that when we say Never Again, it can and will truly mean Never Again.