July 16, 2015
The following remarks were delivered on July 15, 2015 by Margit Meissner at the United States Capitol as part of an event highlighting the atrocities and crimes against humanity Syrian civilians continue to suffer at the hands of the Assad regime. The event was held in cooperation with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Additional speakers included Syrian survivor Qutaiba Idlbi, as well as a number of members of Congress.
My name is Margit Meissner, and as you heard, I am a Holocaust survivor and a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I am proud to be affiliated with the Museum, a co-sponsor of today’s event event calling attention to the tragic refugee crisis in Syria.
When I was asked to speak about the impact on a Holocaust survivor of the Syrian refugee crisis, my instinctive reaction was to see, in my mind’s, eye, the tragic media photographs of thousands of Syrians struggling to survive, trying to cross the border into Lebanon or Turkey, or the tent camps where people have the same hopeless look that I have seen on Holocaust victims in Nazi concentration camps.
I find it most disheartening that again, 80 years after the end of World War II, the world is faced with a regime that targets its own people for discrimination or destruction. It is a regime that engages in widespread atrocities and commits crimes against humanity. One of the major differences is that the destruction of the Jews in Europe was secret, that the world did not know about it and that the few authentic reports, smuggled out to the West while it was happening, were discounted because the gassing of millions sounded too improbable to believe. Furthermore, it was strict Allied policy to ignore the victims. The first priority was to win the war and afterwards bring the perpetrators to justice.
The humanitarian crisis in Syria is certainly NOT a secret. It was been well known and documented for the last four years of civil war. We know that nearly half the Syrian population have fled their homes, have sought refuge in neighboring countries or are displaced within Syria itself. It is by all accounts the greatest refugee crisis since then end of World War II. And yet, this knowledge has not moved either Europe or the United States, or the United Nations to respond in a meaningful way to alleviate the enormous pain of innocent civilians.
At the end of World War II, when the facts of the Holocaust became known, I believed that such an atrocity could never happen again. I believed that, if the world had seen the Nazi actions on television, they would have stopped Hitler. What a naïve belief! Since then, we have witnessed the genocide in Bosnia, the genocide in Rwanda, and in the Sudan and we stood by. We did nothing. And the worst of it is, that we did not learn anything in the twenty years since THESE catastrophes happened—as our inaction in Syria proves.
I am aware that the Syrian problem is daunting for our leaders. Making the right decisions and creating an effective response requires real statesmanship of which there seems to be very little. Fortunately, there are some private organizations and many individuals who have stepped up to the plate. When one sees the faces of the refugee children and their emaciated bodies, one must find a way to transcend politics and nurture compassion and hope that continues to exist in a world immersed in war without end.