Menu JTA Search

Survivors and Liberators Bear Witness to Holocaust at Conference Opening

Holocaust survivors and representatives of 14 countries whose armies liberated the Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II are gathered here today and tomorrow to, as one survivor said, “share the most vivid, most personal, anguishing memories.”

At the opening ceremony at the State Department last night of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council’s first International Liberators Conference, Elie Wiesel, the writer and chairman of the Council, noted that there was a vicious phenomena” existing which denied the Holocaust. He said that the survivors are not believed about what happened to them, “perhaps you (the liberators) will be heard.”

Noting “explosions in Paris, bombs in Antwerp, murderous attacks in Vienna,” Wiesel asked: “Is it conceivable that Nazism can dare come back into the open so soon — while we are still alive, while we are still here to denounce its poisonous nature, as illustrated in Treblinka?”

Wiesel declared that those who were murdered in the Holocaust “must not be killed again” by forgetting them. He called on survivors and liberators to “dedicate ourselves not only to the memory of those who suffered but to the future of those who are suffering today.”

WHY GENOCIDE SUCCEEDED

The theme of the conference is a quotation from Wiesel: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” That theme of remembrance was also sounded by Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who welcomed the conference to the State Department. “We can bear the memory of the Holocaust only if we strive to prevent its reoccurrence,” he said.

But Haig also issued a more pointed warning for today. “Genocide succeeded because the defenders of individual rights allowed themselves to be divided,” he said, “because they sought refuge in an illusion, in weakness. They failed to fight for their own principles.”

Haig noted his visit to Yad Vashem in Israel, “The Jewish people have not lost their hope in God, in themselves, in mankind,” he said.

The ceremony opened last night, under the flags of the 14 nations participating in the conference. Israel was represented by veterans of the World War II Jewish Brigade. Three concentration camp survivors carried in a Nazi flag that flew over Dachau when it was liberated. Miles Lerman, coordinator of the conference, called it a “flag of evil” and ordered it folded and placed on the floor, “symbolically at the feet of the assembly.”

Wiesel in his talk, stressed that the conference must demonstrate that war, the ultimate injustice, cannot “be considered as a solution to any problem — for war is the problem.” Also stressed by Wiesel and others was the fact that the Nazis were defeated by a”unique alliance of nations, gigantic armies, transcending geopolitical and ideological borders.” Wiesel noted that, by participating in the conference, the victims and their liberators, “rising above politics, above the usual recriminations between East and West,” may get the world “to pay more attention to what hangs as threats to its very future.”

NATIONS REPRESENTED

In addition to the United States and Israel, the countries represented are: Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Soviet Union, Britain and Yugoslavia.

Representatives of Britain, France and the USSR, who, with the United States, were the Big Four Allies of World War II, also spoke briefly last night. Both Brig. Michael Gray, military attache at the British Embassy here, and French Minister of Veterans Jean Laurain emphasized the need to educate youth about the Holocaust. Lt. Gen. Pavel Danilovich Gudz, deputy head of the Soviet Union’s Academy of Armed Forces, said the USSR has always been dedicated to peace and that disputes can be solved only through negotiations.

Today and tomorrow, the conference features workshops with descriptions by victims, historians, military and medical personnel, war correspondents, chaplains, and resistance fighters. There is also an exhibit of pictures of the Holocaust and a continuous showing of films.

NEXT STORY