Elie Wiesel, the writer and chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, declared today that if the world avoids “a nuclear catastrophe” it is because it has “heard” what the survivors of the Holocaust have to tell it.
But Wiesel, who noted that on April 11, 1945, he was one of the survivors liberated at Dachau by the U.S. Army, said that for many years after 1945, “the survivors were like outcasts” and “our story was not being heard.”
“The uniquely Jewish event (in which six million Jews were murdered) has universal application Wiesel said in a luncheon address at the National Press Club. “It is because the world didn’t care that Jews were killed that now other people are being massacred and the world doesn’t care.” He said he went to Cambodia after he learned about the massacres there to see the victims at first hand because “when I needed people nobody came.”
Wiesel’s remarks were made as some 15,000 survivors and their children arrived in Washington for the first American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. The four-day gathering, which also commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, officially opens tonight with a ceremony at the Capitol Centre in Landover, Maryland, which will be addressed by President Reagan; Benjamin Meed, president of the gathering; Wiesel, its honorary chairman; and others.
Earlier today, a “Survivors Village” was opened at the Washington Convention Center with the affixing of a mezuzah. Thousands of persons, from elderly survivors to babes in arms, walked through the Center meeting people they had not seen in years, searching for relatives and friends through a computer system especially set up for the Gathering.
THE GREATEST SHOCK FOR THE SURVIVORS
In his press club address, Wiesel noted that the greatest shock for the survivors after their liberation, was when they learned that the world had known what was happening. He told the reporters present that their predecessors had done their job in reporting the various atrocities committed during World War 11 but the leaders of the free world had failed to act.
“I think of this country with pride, ” Wiesel said. But he said that during the Holocaust period the actions of the U.S. and particularly of that of its President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, were not moments worthy of praise. He especially pointed to the episode of the St. Louis, the ship filled with Jews fleeing Germany which was turned away from the U.S.
Wiesel criticized the U.S. and British for not bombing the death camps. He said that when he was in Auschwitz, he and others could see the nearby munitions factories being bombed and prayed the planes would also hit the camps, but they didn’t. He added that the Soviet Union also has to be criticized because its troops were even closer to the camps and they too did nothing.
A LIVING MEMORIAL TO THE HOLOCAUST
Wiesel said the museum which the Holocaust Council will build near the Washington Monument, will be a living memorial to the Holocaust, He said it is needed to educate future generations. Vice President George Bush will officially turn over the keys to the land at a ceremony at the Capitol Wednesday. Wiesel stressed that the museum will be built partially with U.S. funds.
He said the U.S. is the only country outside of Israel to have a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust because the U.S. government and people recognize that “whatever happens to one people, affects all people.”
When asked why the memorial is only to Jewish victims, Wiesel replied: “Only the Jewish people were destined for total destruction by their killers.” He said that only the Jews were singled out “to die” just for being Jewish. “If we remember the Jewish victims, we remember the others,” he said.
Wiesel noted that he popularized the term “Holocaust” to be used for the tragedy that befell the Jewish people in World War II. He said he was now “sorry” he had done so because the word was being “trivialized.” He pledged to see to it that a “memorial/museum that is to be built in Washington will not be trivialized or politicized.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.