Days of Remembrance, April 27 - May 4
Fred S. Zeidman, Chairman, United States Holocaust Memorial Council
May 1, 2008, U.S. Capitol Rotunda, Washington, D.C.
This year, on these Days of Remembrance, we remember the sound of glass breaking in the night.
In that sound, there are others that echo across the ages: the sounds of mothers weeping, of mobs shouting, of trains rattling on tracks whose destination is death.
We remember, too, the sounds we will never hear: the sounds of joy and laughter, the sounds of an endless horizon of generations never born to millions who were not allowed to live.
We remember the sound of glass breaking in the night because it was also the sound of illusions shattering.
Adolf Hitler led Germany for nearly six years before Kristallnacht in that dark November of 1938. All that time, as he consolidated power, the signs were evident. Camps were opened. Laws were passed excluding Jews and other minorities. Persecution was rampant. Yet, for many throughout Europe and in our own country, in these very halls of freedom, wishful thinking prevailed.
Once the glass broke, illusions gave way to indifference. This was the moment beyond which the world could not claim it did not know. Look at the front page newspaper reports from 1938. Shortly after Kristallnacht, a headline in the Los Angeles Examiner shouted: “Nazis Warn World: Jews Will Be Wiped Out Unless Evacuated By Democracies.”
Within a year, the Germans would invade Poland and within two, a place called Auschwitz was being built.
The war did not permit complacency but the mass murder of Europe’s Jews did. Some illusions of broken glass remained unshattered.
This is why we remember. Not only to honor the victims, but also to remind ourselves—and we always need reminding—why illusions are so easy. And so dangerous. Why we were so deaf to the sound of broken glass.
This is our eternal regret. But we do not remember for the sake of regret alone.
We remember for our world, and for all time – so that in remembering the sound of breaking glass 70 years ago, we will open our ears and our hearts to the sound of Darfur wailing today, of survivors testifying, of children learning.
Now, we recognize that having failed to prevent the Holocaust, the only way to end it was by fighting and defeating the Germans. Today, we also honor the American soldiers who valiantly fought in World War II. Please join me in recognizing the liberating divisions of the United States Army and the camps they liberated.