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At the Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors: 15,000 Survivors and Their Children Are Admonished T

April 15, 1983
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors ended three days of emotional reunions and rememberings last night with the sound of the shofar and the admonition to the some 15,000 survivors and their children who were here that they must insure that “our story is not forgotten.”

“We came here as individuals but we must leave together as determined as never before that our experiences will become volumes in history, not mere footnotes,” declared Roman Kent, chairman of the national executive of the Gathering.

Benjamin Meed, president of the Gathering, stressed again the major theme of the survivors’ meeting: “Each of us has a story to tell and it is important that we tell it soon because our numbers are steadily dwindling. We must ensure that our own children and the Jewish community as a whole with the whole nation should carry on our remembrance.”

Dr., Helen Fagin, professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Miami, in urging her fellow survivors to continue telling about what happened to them during the Nazi period, declared, “Please go out and tell the truth for they do not believe us.”


But Meed also noted that “perhaps the most urgent reason for our Gathering” was the private individual reunions between relatives and friends, many of whom had not seen each other for some 40 years, or had believed each other dead.

The Survival Village at the Washington convention center seemed to be one long search as people wandered through the huge halls with signs seeking lost relatives or fellow concentration camp inmates, or people from their former towns and cities. Many used the computer system set up for this purpose.

The survivors held memorial candles during the closing outdoor ceremony in the shadow of the Washington Monument. The wind carried cherry blossom petals over the participants who were assembled near the site of the future Holocaust Memorial Museum to be built by the United States Holocaust Council.

Miles Lerman, chairman of the Council’s national campaign cabinet, stressed that while the government donated two empty buildings for the museum, it must be renovated and operated entirely by private donations. He estimated that $75 million to $100 million would be needed.

The speech that drew the loudest applause from the survivors last night was made by Mayor Edward Koch of New York City. He denounced the officials of the American and Canadian governments who had refused to admit Jews to their countries after Hitler came to power, “The murderers are not only those who did the killing but also those who stood by and did nothing,” Koch declared.

“The world knew and the world did nothing,” he said. “What we remember, the world will remember whether it wants to or not, because remembering is a personal obligation and an international obligation.”

Koch also delivered a blistering attack on the PLO, declaring that the organization’s “greatest dream is to finish what Hitler started.” He also criticized President Reagan for blaming “radicals’ within the PLO for scuttling Jordan’s King Hussein from entering the peace talks with Israel. By singling out the “radicals” in the PLO, Reagan implied that the majority of the PLO is non-radical, Koch said. The fact is, the Mayor added, that the PLO as a whole “want(s) to destroy Israel, the Jewish people and our entire memory.”

Rep, Tom Lantos (D, Cal.) also urged the survivors to remember those who tried to save Jews, particularly Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis, including Lantos, and was arrested by the Soviet Union in 1945. He is believed by many to still be alive in a Soviet prison or labor camp.

Calling the Gathering a “reaffirmation of life,” Sen. John Danforth (R. Mo.) said the Holocaust Memorial Museum will be of “vital significance to Jews but it also must be of vital significance to all Americans.”


The Gathering was ended by Ernest Michel, who was chairman of the World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem in 1981, and who organized the first Gathering. He said the two events realize “a dream” that he and some other young inmates of Auschwitz had on Passover in 1943. This was the same time as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was occurring, the 40th anniversary of which the three-day Gathering here also marked.

Michel said the dream was that, if they survived, they would meet again “in freedom.” He said that none of them believed, at that time, that any of them would survive.

But Michel noted 6,000 survivors from 23 countries met in Jerusalem and 15,000 from through out the United States and Canada were here this week. “This dream has now come,” he declared.

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