Mr. President, His Excellency, the President of the State of Israel, Mr. Vice President, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
“Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart. And you shall make them known to your children, and to your childrens’ children.”
These words, from the Book of Deuteronomy, are engraved on a wall in the Hall of Remembrance. Thousands of years old, they poignantly set out the mission of the unique institution we dedicate today, the United States Holocause Memorial Museum. It is a mission of remembrance and education.
“Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully lest you forget the things you saw, and lest these things depart your heart.”
Two hundred thousand Americans from all 50 states provided the funds to build the Museum. Their generosity, and the unstinting support of the Federal Government, which donated the land for the Museum, now enables this institution to begin its eternal journey of remembrance.
This building tells the story of events that human eyes should never have seen even once; but having been seen, must never be forgotten. Through this Museum, our eyes will always see; our hearts will always feel.
But it is not sufficient to remember the past, we must learn from it.
The story of the Holocaust is not simply a story about the evil people did to people: the unspeakable acts perpetrated by the Nazis upon six million Jews, and millions of others -- Poles, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, the handicapped and political and religious dissidents.
It is also a story about hope, decency and what people did for people: the saintliness of the rescuers who risked their lives -- and in some cases, lost them -- to help strangers avoid the inhumanity of the Nazi regime.
Importantly, it is also about the things people did not do at all -- the indifference of the bystanders who watched as their neighbors and friends were first denied their rights, then brutalized and ultimately annihilated.
By compelling us to regard all those individuals -- victims, perpetrators, heroes, and bystanders -- as individuals, this remarkable Museum teaches us not merely about human events, but about human nature, and thereby fulfills its mission of education. “And you shall make them known to your children, and to your childrens’ children.”
By its very existence at the heart of our great democracy, this Museum will teach generations to come not only about the awful events of the past, but about the awful consequences of bigotry, oppresssion, hatred and intolerance. And about the responsibilities that each of us has as citizens of a democratic society.
In so doing, this Museum calls forth the words from the pledge of allegiance to our flag and country, and summons us anew to the pursuit of “liberty and justice for all.” This is an American Museum -- for the American people. It may prove to be something more, but it must never be anything less.
Many have worked so hard that this day might come. However, a handful of individuals were at the core of the effort. They share this dais and deserve special thanks.