Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of General Dwight D. Eisenhower
May 5, 2005, The Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC
First Lady, Laura Bush ... Esteemed Ambassadors ... Survivors ... Veterans ... and honored guests ... Welcome...
Mr. Meed, thank you for your thoughtful words on such an historic day.
Sixty years ago this very day, the American 80th Infantry Division entered the concentration camps at Ebensee and in doing so, unshackled some 16,000 Jewish survivors from the chains of oppression and tyranny. Throughout the course of the war, the 80th Infantry Division, comprised mostly of young men from Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, suffered some 17,000 casualties and 3,500 deaths on the shores of Utah beach, in the fight for Normandy, and in the Battle of the Bulge; however, it was here, at Ebensee, that the liberating soldiers saw first-hand the horrible atrocities committed against the Jewish people. It was here that starvation, disease, and death hung in the air. It was here that the soldiers of the 80th Infantry Division could see what they were truly fighting and dying for.
Today we pay our respects to the memory of each of those victories. We honor the virtue and commitment of those soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom in our world, who so courageously fought to rid the world of this indescribable horror, and who secured the allied victory over fascism.
But we are also here for another reason.
We also come here, today, to honor and remember those whose courage cannot be measured in battles won or territories gained, and yet whose strength is as compelling as those who liberated the camps. We gather here on these Days of Remembrance to honor those who survived...Those whose only weapon was their determination to stand and live another day, and whose strength and conviction was reminiscent of their Allied liberators.
I am proud to be related to a man who played a significant role in this historic saga 60 years ago. As previously mentioned, on April 12, 1945, my Grandfather visited the concentration camps at Ohrdruf-Nord. He would describe what he saw as “beyond the American mind to comprehend.” Even battle-hardened George Patton withdrew but Eisenhower pressed forward, anxious to bear personal witness to what had occurred. When he returned, he ordered every man not at the immediate front to tour the camps. I remember this specifically because my father, General John Eisenhower, had been deployed to Europe around that time. He, too, was ordered to the camps where he would observe first-hand the evil and the cruelty inflicted on those innocent people. Some of my earliest memories about the war were of my father recounting for us the tragic images that he would see that day.
President Eisenhower had also arranged for various other influential Americans and elected officials to see the tragedy for themselves. Eisenhower anticipated a time when some might try to refute the scale of this Holocaust. He wanted to assure that the world would never forget.
Indeed, the liberation of the concentration camps opened the world’s eyes to the indescribable horror that was perpetrated on the Jewish people. These accounts should not be forgotten or lost to indifference.
Today, we do remember. We remember our heroes, both survivors and liberators alike, and you who continue to fight to keep their memories alive. Thank you.