Ruth B. Mandel, Vice-Chair, United States Holocaust Memorial Council
April 30, 2003, The Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC
Honored guests, one and all:
It is April 30, 2003. We gather to remember and to pay our respects. To light a candle in memory.
The memory of a past we wish not to repeat is tantamount to a hope. Hope can be uplifting or comforting, an expectation that something positive might happen—I hope for good luck; I hope for a cure; I hope for happiness. Yet in itself, hope is a passive stance, a rather weak force.
For memory to be a strong force, it must be the fuel for action. An active stance can be inspired by memory, but it cannot linger in memory. It must move beyond memory.
Thus, as we observe this Day of Remembrance, as we recall our personal nightmares and once again revisit our losses, even as we honor those we memorialize—the millions in the human family, our families, annihilated by guns and gas in the unspeakably grotesque collapse of civilized society, let us each consider how to link memory to action.
In these frightening, worrisome times, the understandable question of despair—“But what can I do?”— is a perfectly rational individual response to the magnitude of pain and threat humanity visits on itself regularly. But it is not an adequate response.
Honoring memory as an active stance requires some effort to use it. Even in the smallest ways, use memory.
Honored guests, one and all:
It is April 30, 2003, and we are here to memorialize children...and men...and women—millions annihilated by guns and gas in the grotesque collapse of civilized society.
Today we pay special tribute to some of those who defied evil with heroic action. Their actions offer lessons, warnings, and even inspiration for the issues we face in our own times. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 60 years ago is just such an event. At the beginning of a new and, so far, troubled century, the uprising’s power to inform, enlighten, and challenge our own choices remains strong.
On April 23, 1943, determined to uphold the honor of the Jewish people in the face of odds they knew they could not overcome, the Warsaw Ghetto fighters wrote:
Let it be known that every threshold in the ghetto has been and will continue to be a fortress, that we may all persist in this struggle, but we will not surrender; that, like you, we breathe with desire for revenge for the crimes of our common foe. A battle is being waged for your freedom as well as ours. For your and our human, civic, and national honor and dignity.
That battle was waged not only in Warsaw. Although Warsaw is most well known, throughout occupied Europe there were many brave individuals who took up arms against their oppressors in order to affirm their humanity, and ours.
These brave fighters bequeathed the memory of heroic action to a people. Reflecting on the future of the Jewish people, they realized that the memory of their efforts would be as important as the struggle itself.
The Warsaw revolt began in desperation; ultimately, it was an act of inspiration. They spoke about fighting for their freedom and ours; they taught us a lesson for their time and for ours.
In lighting a candle to remember those who stood against the Nazis, we honor those who perished and are in turn reminded that the moral conscience of the individual can be a great weapon against evil. This was a lesson of the last century; this is a warning for the present one.
Our candle-lighters will be assisted by Marcus Appelbaum, who first came to the museum as a student in our program for the Washington, DC, public schools. His grandmother survived the Holocaust in France.
The First Candle will be lit by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Miles Lerman, who fought the Nazis as a partisan, and is chairman Emeritus of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
The Second Candle will be lit by Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Sonia Weitz, liberated from Mauthausen after surviving Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz. She also is a member of the Holocaust Memorial Council.
The Third Candle will be lit by Senator George Voinovich of Ohio and Rabbi Isaac Neuman, who survived six camps, including Auschwitz and Mauthausen. A former Auxiliary Chaplain in the US Armed Forces, he also served on the Council.
The Fourth Candle will be lit by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and Isaac Nehama, who found refuge with Greek liberation partisans and is one of 64 Holocaust survivors who volunteer at the Museum.
The Fifth Candle will be lit by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and William Luksenburg, who survived Sachsenhausen, Flossenburg, and a death march. He is also a Museum volunteer.
The Final Candle will be lit by Paul Zenon Wos, a Polish Resistance Fighter, sent to Flossenburg and honored by Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations” for rescuing Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, and by the extraordinary Warsaw Ghetto heroine Vladka Meed.