WASHINGTON (Apr. 30)
Vice President George Bush led members of Congress, Holocaust survivors and others in a National Civil Commemoration of the Holocaust at the Capitol Rotunda today.
By remembering the Holocaust, “We strengthen our conviction never to stand silent in the face of anti-Semitism,” Bush said before a crowded room of survivors from across the country.
The ceremony today and an evening of music and readings on the Holocaust at the Kennedy Center last night, marked the national observance of the Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust under the auspices of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. Similar programs were held in communities all over the U.S.
President Reagan, who was unable to participate for the first time since taking office, sent a letter to the program last night stressing that it was only his trip to China that prevented him from being there.
LAWS MUST SERVE HUMANITY
At today’s ceremony, Elie Wiesel, author and chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Council, took note that they were at the Capitol where this nation’s laws are made. “Laws must be humane, laws have to serve humanity and not destroy it,” he said.
Benjamin Meed, president of the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization and co-chairman of the Council’s Days of Remembrance Committee, noted that the Nazis used the legal system to destroy the Jewish people and Germany’s legislators did nothing to stop them.
Bush stressed that the Holocaust is a testament to man’s moral imperfection. “In every one of us is interwoven evil with goodness, impulse with restraint, cruelty with gentleness,” he said. He noted that those like Hitler and Lenin who sought earthly perfection ended up with victims, “tragic testimony to their obsessions and cruelty.”
NEED TO TELL AND RE-TELL THE STORY
Sen. Howard Baker (R. Tenn.), the Senate Majority Leader, also stressed the need to remember that there is “a fragile line between the precious rights we take for granted” and the monstrosities of which man is capable.
Rep. Sidney Yates (D. III.), a member of the Council and dean of Jewish Congressmen, noted that the U.S. and Israel are the only countries to officially commemorate the Holocaust.
Mark Talisman, the Council’s vice chairman and Washington director of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF), said that the “story must be told and re-told” to the children of the survivors and all of the next generation. Sigmund Strochlitz, cochairman of the Council’s Days of Remembrance Committee, said that to forget is to kill the victims of the Holocaust again. He said that Congress, by creating the Days of Remembrance every year, has made memory part of U.S. law. “Memory is indespensible to freedom,” he said.
Before today’s ceremony, the members of the Council held a ground-breaking ceremony for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to be built on the Mall. The funds being raised for this project are entirely through private donations.
STRUGGLING FOR ALL OPPRESSED PEOPLE
Wiesel, who received a Congressional Gold Medal last night, stressed that remembering requires struggling for all oppressed people whether they be the Bahais in Iran, the Meskito Indians in Nicaragua or Jewish dissidents in the Soviet Union.
The Rev. John Pawlikowski, a member of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, gave the innvocation today and Rabbi Bernard Raskas, of St. Paul, Minn., gave the benediction. Rabbi Seymour Siegel, the Council’s executive director, recited the Kaddish while Cantor Isaac Goodfriend, of Atlanta, Ga., chanted El Mole Rahamim.
Goodfriend also sang the Yiddish Holocaust song, “Es Brent,” while six survivors lit candles in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
The singing of the same song by the Howard University Choir, as well as the Ani Maamin (I Believe) were considered by many the highlights of last night’s program at the Kennedy Center which featured many name performers.