Fred Friendly, former president of CBS News, expressed the hope Tuesday that the decision by the United States government to bar Austrian President Kurt Waldheim from the U.S. for his participation in the persecution of Jews and others during World War II will end the claim by many Austrians and Germans that they did not know of the Nazi atrocities at the time they were going on.
“I pray that the people of Austria and Germany will finally remember, ” he said at the seventh annual National Civic Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance at the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. “We in the United States knew and 42 years later we know even better and we ask them to remember what we can never erase.”
Friendly said that as a 29-year-old master sergeant assigned as a reporter with the Third Army, he covered the liberation of Mauthausen death camp in Austria. After leaving the camp he asked Austrians near the camp about the horrors he had witnessed and they said “we didn’t know.” He said he received the same response from an Austrian woman when he visited Austria 25 years later.
Friendly spoke after he and the late Edward Murrow were awarded the 1987 Eisenhower Medal, named for former President Dwight Eisenhower, the leader of the World War II Allied forces, by Harvey Meyerhoff, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, for their reporting of the liberation of Nazi death camps in April 1945. Murrow’s widow, Janet, accepted the medal for the CBS correspondent.
Dan Rather, anchorman and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, introduced the honorees who after the war had been a team at CBS, noting that they had been reporters “trying to do the job” of presenting to the American public what had happened at the camps.
MURROW’S HISTORIC BROADCAST
The audience, in the packed Rotunda, heard Murrow’s historic broadcast on the liberation of Buchenwald. Rather read a letter that Friendly wrote his parents on the liberation of Mauthausen.
Friendly, a Jew, ended his letter noting that if “if there had been no America” his family might also have been in the death camps. His family reads the letter each Yom Kippur and last Passover it was read at their seder so that his six-year-old grandchild, Noah, could also hear it.
The theme of remembering echoed throughout the more than hour-long ceremony with William Lowenberg, vice chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Council and a Holocaust survivor, calling it a “sacred obligation” to remember. “Let us challenge the world to remember the past for the sake of the future,” he declared.
Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D. W. Va.) stressed that “we and all who follow after us have a duty to remember the Holocaust.” He added that “an event that mankind forgets, mankind can repeat.”
House Speaker James Wright Jr. (D. Texas) reminded the audience of the individual responsibility. “It was not numbers that perished after all, it was people who perished in the fiery flames” and it was people who carried out atrocities, he said.
Wright said the U.S. had no direct responsibility for the Holocaust, but “there was uncomfortable evidence on which we turned our backs….We chose not to think about it, may God forgive us.”
He urged that “may we never again give comfort or breathing space to the deadly virus of racial and religious bigotry.”
Sen. John Danforth (R. Mo.), an Episcopalian minister, said the “Holocaust reminds us that some who committed those awful crimes were Christians, and many who stood by the wayside and let it happen were Christians.” He said the lesson of the Holocaust is that “some of the worst acts of hatred and persecution in history have been done in the name of religion or with the condonation of religious people.”
Meyerhoff said the Holocaust Council, which is planning a Holocaust Memorial Museum for Washington, is “pledged to tell the story of those who died, to translate the horror of their deaths, the valor of their struggle, into terms that the American people will understand.”
A MOVING CEREMONY
The moving ceremony included the participation of the U.S. Army Band and a color guard carrying the flags of the U.S. Army divisions that liberated the death camps.
Also participating were the Rumanian Jewish Federation Choir. Rumanian Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen was in the audience as well as retired Soviet Gen. Vassily Patrenko, who led the Red Army troops that liberated Auschwitz in January 1945.
Candles memorializing the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust were lit by members of Congress — Sens. Edward Kennedy (D. Mass.), Daniel Inouye (D. Hawaii), Lowell Weicker (R. Conn.), Dennis DeConcini (D, Ariz.) , Howard Metzenbaum (D. Ohio) and Arlen Specter (R. Pa.) and Reps. Thomas Foley (D. Wash.), Henry Waxman (D. Cal.), Dan Glickman (D. Kans,), Martin Frost (D. Tex.), John Porter (R. III.) and Helen Bentley (R. Md.).
They were assisted by Sigmund Strochliz and Benjamin Meed, Holocaust survivors and cochairmen of the Holocaust Council’s Days of Remembrance Committee.
Meed recited the Kaddish while Cantor Isaac Goodfriend, also a Holocaust survivor, sang “EI Mole Rachamim.” The invocation was given by Rev. Richard Halverson, the Senate chaplain, and the benediction by Rabbi Arnold Resnikoff, a U.S. Navy chaplain.
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.