WASHINGTON (Apr. 24)
President Carter, in a ceremony marking International Holocaust Day, urged Americans today to “remember the terrible price” paid for “bigotry and hatred” as well as for “indifference and silence,” and called upon the Senate to ratify the United Nations Genocide Convention.
The President’s remarks were made at the Rotunda beneath the great dome of the nation’s Capitol, where Americans for generations have eulogized their honored dead. At noon today, the President and the American people remembered with intense solemnity the six million Jews and five million non-Jews who were slaughtered in the Holocaust.
The historic ceremony, which also commemorated the 36th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, was attended by more than 1000 people, including members of the Senate and House which adjourned for the program, distinguished Americans of all religions and races, and the members of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust which Carter named to arrange a permanent memorial for the victims of the Holocaust.
TO SANCTIFY THE WORK OF THE LIVING
Vice President Walter Mondale, in opening the solemn and moving ceremony, declared it commemorated the “tragedy and vibrant resilience of the human spirit.” He said the purpose of the program was “to say kaddish for the fatlen and sanctify the work of the living.”
The invocation was given by Rev. A. Roy Eckhardt, a professor of religious studies at Lehigh University. Rabbi Bernard Raskas of Minneapolis recited the kaddish and many in the audience visibly wept as Cantor Isaac Good friend of Atlanta chanted the EI Mole Rachamim. The 48-member Boys Choir of Atlanta, wearing yarmulkes, sang “Ani Maamin” and partisan songs in Hebrew and Yiddish.
Six candles, in memory of the six million Jewish dead in the Holocaust, were lit by Elle Wiesel, chairman of the President’s Holocaust Commission; former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, and Murray Berkowitz of Miami.
A seventh candle was lit by Alex Monoogion of Detroit, honorary president of the Armenian General Development Union of America. Rev. Vartan Hartunian, minister of the First Armenian Church of Belmont, Mass. pointed out in a prayer that the 1.5 million Armenians who perished in World War I were the victims of what he termed the first genocide. The Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks.
Carter, who was escorted to the Rotunda by leaders of both parties in Congress, noted that “a philosopher has written that language itself breaks down when one tries to speak about the Holocaust. Our words pale before the frightening spectacle of human evil unleashed upon the world, and before the awesomeness of suffering involved, the sheer weight of its numbers — 11 million innocent victims exterminated — six million of them Jews.”
But, the President added, “we must strive to understand. We must teach the lessons of the Holocaust. And most of all, we ourselves must remember.”
Carter stressed that “we must remember the terrible price that was paid for bigotry and hatred and also the terrible price paid for indifference and silence. We must learn anew the age-old lesson that all human life is sacred, and that evil inflicted against one people may engulf all people in the end.”
Saying that “our generation — the generation of the survivors — will never permit that lesson to be forgotten, “Carter declared:” America must and always will speak out in the defense of human rights around the world.”
URGES CONCRETE ACTION
The President pointed out, “without concrete action our words are hollow” and called again on the Senate to “take a long overdue step this year by ratifying the international treaty on the prevention and punishment of genocide.”
Taking note of the spring season, the President spoke of the Holocaust as ” a story of renewal and a testament to the power of the human spirit to prevail.” He declared that “people who saw their homes destroyed, helped build a new homeland in the State of Israel. People like Elie Wiesel, the chairman of my Holocaust Commission, who witnessed the collapse of all vision, created and shared with us new visions. It is an incredible story of a people who refused to allow despair to triumph, who after having lost children brought new families into the world.”
Carter recalled his visit to Yad Vashem on his visit to Israel five weeks ago and said, ” I vowed then — as people all over the world are doing this week — to reaffirm our unshakeable commitment that such on event will never recur on this earth again.”
‘THE WORLD KNEW AND KEPT SILENT’
Wiesel visibly moved the audience by his recollections of his childhood which was spent in the death camps. “After Auschwitz, the human condition is not the same,” he declared. Speaking in the name of “all people” who perished Wiesel stressed that “only the Jewish people’s extermination was an end in itself. They were not condemned for what they said or did, but for what they were.”
Wiesel, the author of many novels about the Holocaust, noted that “a single rescue mission would have let them know they were not forgotten. The truth is they were forgotten, the world knew and kept silent.” Turning to present day events, Wiesel noted that “little did we think that little Jewish children will be murdered by killers in Israel.” He warned that “neutrality always helps the aggressors, not the victims”
Wiesel praised Carter for “summoning our nation, and indeed all nations, to keep the memory alive” of the Holocaust. He said that “no other country or its government, except for Israel” has done so. Rabbilrving Greenberg, executive chairman of the Holocoust Commission, introduced the participants.
The Rotunda has been used only on 25 other occasions since 1852 when Henry Clay was memorialized to honor heroic dead. Today was the first time that non-Americans were so honored.
The ceremony at the Rotunda today was part of a week-long series of programs throughout the United States which began last Sunday and will conclude next Sunday at the National Cathedral. In a community-wide ceremony at Washington’s Adas Israel Congregation last Sunday, Rabbi Israel Miller, a vice president of Yeshiva University and former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told a gathering of 1200 people that “remembrance implies action.”
He stressed the importance of the Genocide Convention and universal human rights. Miller said he is “not bothered” when Israeli Premier Menachem Begin “gives his lecture to Carter or (Egyptian President Anwar) Sadat on Jewish history.” He said to remember is “our commandment. The world must be taught again what if did not do before” (to prevent the Holocaust).