Now, a museum is a place, I believe, that should bring people together, a place that should not set people
apart. People who come from different horizons, who belong to different spheres, who speak different languages--they
should feel united in memory. And, if possible at all, with some measure of grace, we should, in a way, be capable
of reconciling ourselves with the dead. To bring the living and the dead together in a spirit of reconciliation
is part of that vision.
Now, may I tell you a story? Fifty years ago, somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains, a young Jewish woman read in a Hungarian newspaper a brief account about the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Astonished, dismayed, she wondered aloud, 'Why,' she said, 'are our Jewish brothers doing that? Why are they fighting? Couldn't they wait quietly'--the word was quietly--until the end of the war?' Treblinka, Ponar, Belzec, Chelmno, Birkenau. She had never heard of these places. One year later, together with her entire family, she was already in a cattle car traveling to the black hole in time, the black hole in history, named Auschwitz.
But Mr. President and distinguished guests, these names and others were known to officials in Washington, and London, and Moscow, and Stockholm, and Geneva, and the Vatican. After all, by April 1943, nearly 4 million Jews from surrounding countries had already vanished, had already perished. The Pentagon knew, the State Department knew, the White House knew, most governments knew. Only the victims did not know. Thus the painful, disturbing question--why weren't Hungarian Jews in 1944--they were then the last remnant of Eastern European Jewry, why were they not even warned of the impending doom? For one year later, in 1944, three weeks before D-Day, that young woman and husband, all of them were already turned into ashes. Jews from everywhere, old and young, beggars and industrialists, sages and madmen, military men, diplomats, professors, students, children--children!--they were all entering the shadow of flames. . .
So as you walk through the museum, so magnificently conceived and built by James Freed, and illustrated,
in a way, artistically by Raye Farr and her colleagues--as you walk through those exhibits, looking into the eyes
of the killers and their victims, ask yourselves how could murderers do what they did and go on living? Why was
Berlin encouraged in its belief that it could decree with impunity the humiliation, persecution, extermination
of an entire people? Why weren't the railways leading to Birkenau bombed by Allied bombers? As long as I live I
will not understand that. And why was there no public outcry of indignation and outrage?
More questions--there were fighters in every ghetto--Jewish fighters, there were resistance members in every city and every camp. Why weren't they helped? Help came to every resistance movement from every single occupied country.The only ones who never received any help, not even an encouragement, were the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw ghetto, the Bialice ghetto, the Vilna ghetto. And for me, a man who grew up in a religion, the Jewish religion, a man who his entire life though that God is everywhere, how is it that man's silence was matched by God's? . . .
What have we learned? We have learned some lessons, minor lessons, perhaps, that we are all responsible,
and indifference is a sin and a punishment. And we have learned that when people suffer we cannot remain indifferent.
And, Mr. President, I cannot not tell you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I cannot sleep since for what I have seen. As a Jew I am saying that we must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country! People fight each other and children die. Why? Something, anything must be done.
This is a lesson. There are many other lessons. You will come, you will learn. We shall learn together.
And in closing, Mr. President and distinguished guests, just one more remark. The woman in the Carpathian Mountain of whom I spoke to you, that woman disappeared. She was my mother.