Days of Remembrance, April 11 – April 18
Joel M. Geiderman, Vice Chairman, United States Holocaust Memorial Council
General Petraeus, members of Congress and the Diplomatic Corps, liberators, survivors and fellow citizens. I humbly thank you on behalf of my family and the families of all who perished in the Holocaust.
I stand here in this grand hall of democracy as the son of both a soldier and a survivor. Their legacy lives in me. In fact, it burns in me. It must live and burn in all of us. Beyond all of this, I stand here most proudly as an American. G-d bless this great land. May we always have the strength and determination to stand on the side freedom.
In my blood are the memories of a woman, Helen Schneider, who saw the worst of humanity and survived without a trace of bitterness—and a World War II veteran, my father Albert, who affirmed humanity’s best, but like many of the greatest generation, never asked for any credit.
In my past, there is the testimony of a survivor who knows what happened when the world looked away—and a soldier who sacrificed his own life’s ambition and dropped out of college in order to confront evil.
In my soul, there is the knowledge that humanity is capable of enormous crimes —but also of enormous courage and commitment.
Several years ago, I found myself seated at a table with General Eisenhower’s granddaughter and the Hungarian Ambassador. I remarked that I felt like I was sitting at the intersection of history, my father having fought in her grandfather’s army to liberate my mother, a Hungarian Jew, from the camps. Today we sit at another intersection of history: a great American General, liberators, survivors, ambassadors and supporters of a Museum dedicated to the victims and the lessons of the Holocaust. I am not sure whether we will sit at this intersection again. So to all of you, permit me to utter the familiar refrain in a context meant to convey conviction rather than regret: Never again!
But it’s not the past alone that brings us together today. It is the future all of us must shape—a future that must be equal parts remembrance and vigilance, education and responsibility, testimony and action.
So once more, we light candles of memory. We do so with survivors who call our attention to the past, and with leaders who are shaping our future. Today, in tribute to our liberators, we are adding an additional candle-lighter, each a Museum volunteer who was liberated by Americans.
As I have noted before, it is better to add candle lighters to light the six candles we use to commemorate six million needless deaths than it is to add candles to represent millions of more people killed through senseless hatred and aggression. So the task of those in this room—our elected leaders, our generals, our citizens, and the rest of the world is to assure this will never be the case. Never again.
Before we light the candles I wish to express our profound sorrow on the death of Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, a great friend of ours. As we know, he died in a plane crash along with other colleagues and friends of the Museum. Unfortunately the tragedy that was World War II continues to claim victims. And last June, we lost a beloved member of our Museum family to the hands of a man whose mind was still twisted by the same ideology that led to the Holocaust.
Stephen Tyrone Johns Sr. was a devoted father, a sweet soul, and a man who confronted hatred with heroism. I remember his kind face welcoming me courteously every time I visited the Museum, just as he greeted his murderer, unknowingly, on that fateful day.
Assisting us in our candle lighting will be Stephen Johns Jr. We are deeply honored that the Johns family is with us today.
Stephen, as we light these candles in remembrance of Holocaust victims, we feel your dad’s memory in the warmth of these flames. Most of all, we see his memory in your eyes. It’s not just his name you bear. It’s his example—the same example of humanity and decency that we honor in the liberators—the humanity and decency for whose sake we now kindle flames in remembrance of those who perished and in hope of a better future for all mankind.
Stephen will you please join me.
THE FIRST CANDLE WILL BE LIT BY SENATOR JON KYL OF ARIZONA, GEORGE SCHWAB, A SURVIVOR FROM LATVIA, AND YONA DICKMANN, A SURVIVOR FROM POLAND WHO WAS LIBERATED AT MAUTHAUSEN BY THE 11TH ARMORED DIVISION.
THE SECOND CANDLE WILL BE LIT BY SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET OF COLORADO, RINA FRANKEL, A SURVIVOR FROM POLAND, AND MARTIN WEISS, A SURVIVOR FROM CZECHOSLOVAKIA WHO WAS LIBERATED FROM GUNSKIRCHEN BY THE 71ST INFANTRY DIVISION.
THE THIRD CANDLE WILL BE LIT BY SENATOR FRANK LAUTENBERG OF NEW JERSEY, BELLA SOLNIK, A SURVIVOR FROM POLAND, AND HENRY GREENBAUM, A SURVIVOR FROM POLAND WHO WAS LIBERATED AT NEUNBURG VORM WALD BY THE 11TH ARMORED DIVISION.
THE FOURTH CANDLE WILL BE LIT BY REPRESENTATIVE ERIC CANTOR OF VIRGINIA, ENRICO MANDEL-MANTELLO, A SURVIVOR FROM HUNGARY, AND AGI GEVA, A SURVIVOR FROM HUNGARY WHO WAS LIBERATED ON A DEATH MARCH BY AMERICAN TROOPS.
THE FIFTH CANDLE WILL BE LIT BY REPRESENTATIVE MIKE SIMPSON OF IDAHO, MARGOT WALTON, A SURVIVOR FROM GERMANY, AND LEON MERRICK, A SURVIVOR FROM POLAND WHO WAS LIBERATED NEAR CHAM, GERMANY, BY THE 90TH INFANTRY DIVISION.
THE SIXTH CANDLE WILL BE LIT BY REPRESENTATIVE STEVE ISRAEL OF NEW YORK, STEVEN FENVES, A SURVIVOR FROM YUGOSLAVIA WHO WAS LIBERATED FROM BUCHENWALD BY THE 6TH ARMORED DIVISION AND WILLIAM LUKSENBURG, A SURVIVOR FROM POLAND WHO WAS LIBERATED ON A DEATH MARCH BY AMERICAN TROOPS.