Famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, in a moving ceremony today in the East Room of the White House, received from President Carter the special gold medal unanimously voted to him by Congress.
The more than 200 guests invited to the presentation gave Wiesenthal, now 72, three standing ovations. Among the guests were film star Elizabeth Taylor Warner, who together with Orson Welles will narrate the 90-minute television documentary film, “Genocide,” which will be shown in November and in which Wiesenthal appears.
Sen. George McGovern (D.SD) and Rep. Christopher Dodd (D.Conn.), who sponsored the resolutions in the Senate and House awarding Wiesenthal the medal, also were present. Wiesenthal was an architect when he was seized by the Nazis and incarcerated in concentration comps until he was liberated in concentration comps until he was liberated by American forces on May 5, 1945 as one of 34 prisoners out of an original group of 149, 000.
TRACES WIESENTHAL’S CONTRIBUTIONS
Tracing Wiesenthal’s devotion to “build justice,” Carter observed that Wiesenthal set up the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna where for more than three decodes he has led the search for Nazi war criminals. His work is being continued at the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies at Yeshiva University in Los Angeles.
“His goal has been not just to see justice done, not just to see criminals punished,” the President said. “His motive has not been to seek revenge, but to remember and to make certain that never again will such a crime against decency and civility and humanity be committed — never.” Carter noted that “eleven million people were slaughtered, six million of them Jews. Even today, the survivors are not spared the savagery they escaped. They have only to close their eyes to see it.”
Recalling Wiesenthal’s words, “I believe in God and the world to come” and that “when each of us comes before the six million I will say I did not forget you,” Carter concluded to a standing ovation “nor Simon Wiesenthal, will the world forget you.”
In accepting the medal from Carter as “only” the “trustee” of the Nazi victims, Wiesenthal hugged the President and kissed him on both cheeks. He told the audience, which included many leading American Jews, “I am not a hater and the word revenge has no meaning for me. Hitler and Stalin are alive today, but maybe not in the same countries. They are waiting for us forget. They have not disappeared.” Emphasizing the meaning of Israel to world Jewry, Wiesenthal recalled that liberated prisoners paraded in the camps with the flags of the country from which they came — Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland — all but the Jews who had no flag and no country.
From Wiesenthal’s tom white shirt and the faded blue one of another Jew “something like a blue and white flag” was made. “We were much too weak to attempt a parade like the other groups and so we just sat there in the sun, holding up and waving our makeshift flag. Jews from other blocks come over to us and cried; some of them kissed the flag, a symbol of hope amidst the dead and the dying.”
Wiesenthal added, “At that moment I felt instinctively that my future life will be determined by these two flags: the American flag as a symbol of our liberation for which I will always be grateful and of the promise that we would be able to go on living as free men; the Jewish flag as a symbol of a people resurrected from the ashes of destruction. There was never a problem of double loyalty for me. On the contrary, it was a symbiosis: liberty for us and the world through the United States and dignity for the Jews as a nation through Israel. These nations have become the pillars of my own life and my work ever since.”
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.