WASHINGTON (Oct. 17)
As ground was broken for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R. Kans.) pledged that the Senate would ratify the United Nations treaty against genocide this fall.
“We’ll do it this year,” Dole told some 700 people attending the groundbreaking ceremony in a huge tent on the site of the planned 300,000-square-foot museum, just some 150 yards south of the Washington Monument.
Dole told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency later that he expected to bring up the treaty on the Senate floor sometime in November and expected it to be approved since President Reagan has urged its adoption and the majority of the Senate favors it.
He said he doubted that conservatives who have opposed ratification since President Truman first sent the Genocide Convention to the Senate in June 1949 would conduct a filibuster since Sen. Jesse Helms (R. NC) has approved several reservations in the bill that would limit World Court jurisdiction.
ABSENCE OF SUCH TREATIES SEND WRONG SIGNAL
At the ceremony, Elie Wiesel, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, thanked Dole for his pledge. “I am not naive to believe that treaties will prevent mass murder, but the absence of such treaties may give the enemy of humankind the wrong signal,” Wiesel said. “Would a genocide treaty have prevented the murder of the Jews by the Nazis? I doubt it. But its absence gave the enemy of humankind the wrong signal.”
The most moving point of the ceremony came when Wiesel and other Holocaust survivors mixed American soil with soil from the former concentration camps of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Theresienstadt and Treblinka and the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery, to be used in building the foundation of the museum.
The U.S. Army Band played “Ani Ma’amin” during this poignant moment. There was also a processional of divisional colors of the U.S. Army units that liberated the death camps.
Although the U.S. government donated the land on which the museum is being built for a scheduled opening in 1989, the $100 million needed for its construction, equipment and endowment is being raised through a nationwide campaign headed by two Holocaust survivors, Miles Lerman, of Vineland, N.J., and Sigmund Strochlitz, of New London, Conn.
President Reagan is honorary chairman of the campaign, and Interior Secretary Donald Hodel said yesterday that this is a “signal to the entire nation” that the museum is an “important objective of the American people.”
Reagan, in a message read at the ceremony by Hodel, stressed the importance of the museum’s being built among so many major American monuments. “With our children and our children’s children in mind, we are creating on this spot a place of remembrance and warning,” Reagan said. He said that “when in the years to come our children emerge from this museum with the lessons of totalitarianism fresh in their minds” they will have greater appreciation of “democracy, justice under God,” symbolized by the other monuments.
All the speakers stressed the necessity of remembering the Holocaust in order to prevent it from ever happening again. Dole noted that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower visited one of the liberated death camps so in the future he could bear witness if there was a claim that the Nazi atrocities were not true.
But Dole noted that 40 years later, memories were fading and many survivors had died. He said if it is hard to remember the inhumanity of the Holocaust “think about the fate of Leon Klinghoffer …. Lest we forget for one moment, think about what happened yesterday or the day before or last week as well as 40 years ago.”
Wiesel also said that the murder of Klinghoffer by terrorists “is today as abhorrent as state terror was when from Hitler’s Berlin, it dominated part of Europe from 1933 to 1945.”
A REMINDER OF ATROCITIES AND SILENCE
Mark Talisman, vice chairman of the Holocaust Council, said the museum will be a reminder not only of the Nazi atrocities against Jews and others but of the silence of governments and people while it happened. “Had they done otherwise, there would be no need at all to be here today,” he noted. He said there is no “better place than here at the seat of our government” for the museum “so as to remind us forever of our precious responsibility never to allow the darkness of the Holocaust to be repeated against any people.”
Wiesel said that only Israel with its Yad Vashem and the U.S. have national museums dedicated to the memory of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust.