For Immediate Release
April 10, 2002
Remarks by Condoleezza Rice, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
Remarks by Dr. Rice at the 2002 National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance
U.S. Capitol Rotunda
Survivors, liberators, Members of Congress, Members of the Cabinet, Ambassador Ivry, other members of the diplomatic corps, Benjamin Meed, Fred Zeidman, Elie Wiesel, Ruth Mandel, other honored guests, ladies and gentlemen: Thank you for inviting me to join you for Yom ha-Shoah.
We gather today to remember that evil is real and present in our world. We gather to remember that hatred and bigotry are always and everywhere wrong. We gather to remember that the commission of monstrous sin requires not our consent, but only our indifference, our neutrality, or our silence. We gather to light six candles, so that we may never forget six million acts of murder.
With each passing year, the number of living Holocaust survivors and liberators grows smaller. When all the eyewitnesses are gone, the Holocaust's history will be taught not from the searing pain of memory but from the pressing call of conscience.
Last year, when the President spoke here, the Holocaust seemed somewhat removed from our era -- part of a bloody century now behind us. Sadly, this year we need no prompting to appreciate the Holocaust's importance and its relevance. Fanatical, unreasoning hatred has intruded upon our lives in ways that no one could have imagined months ago.
From the Holy Land, we see daily images of carnage, and from Europe, come images of synagogues and Torah scrolls burned. Our own land has seen the mass destruction of innocents, guilty of nothing more than going to work in a country called America on a beautiful, but terrible autumn morning. And the world was sent obscene videotapes where evil leaders celebrate the slaughter, and yet another tape where a man is killed after being made to say the words, "I am a Jew."
This year, evil has spoken to all of us, and on this day we need no reminder to answer back, quietly but firmly: "never again."
As our world prevails through these difficult days, and as we pray for peace for all the children of Abraham, it is important to recall not just the Holocaust's horrors, but also its heroes: bearers of witness like Jan Karski; rescuers like Wallenberg and Schindler; writers like Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel; and resistors like the Danes and the righteous of many nations who hid and saved many thousands of their Jewish neighbors.
And, of course, we recall those who fought from inside the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1943, and who, as Elie Wiesel wrote, lit a flame that "continues to burn in our memory" even through the distance of six decades.
We draw strength from these names -- all familiar to our lips -- and we gain inspiration from their stories. Less often, we think of the other heroes, the countless ordinary Jews, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, gay people, and disabled men and women who defied the machinery of murder with quiet acts of courage and piety. Their names are mostly unknown to all but Him, yet their lives too instruct.
I remember visiting Yad Vashem and seeing a photograph of a handsomely dressed Jewish couple in the Warsaw Ghetto. The guide at the museum said that people often express consternation at the photograph, wondering how odd it was that against the ghetto's backdrop of danger and desperation this couple had obviously gone to great lengths to ensure that their clothing and grooming were impeccable.
I had a different reaction. I said immediately, "I understand that photograph. These people are saying, 'I?m still in control, I still have my dignity.' They are saying, 'You can take everything from us, including life itself. But you cannot take away our pride."
I've often wondered what became of that couple. I imagine that long after they were no longer able to control their appearance they still found subtle ways to say, "You cannot control me, you cannot take away my pride and dignity." I've wondered whether they were part of the uprising; whether they perished in a camp; whether they were among the few who survived; whether they may even have had children like Marek Edelman or Bronislaw Geremek who survived and went on to become members of Solidarity and leaders in a free and democratic Poland.
And I have thought about that couple from the ghetto even more in the days since September 11. Because right now, all of us are enduring a time of testing, loss, and fear; a time when our vulnerability to evil and the certainty of our mortality are all too clear; a time when once again our intellect is insufficient to answer the question, "Why?" And at these times more than ever, we are reminded that it is a privilege to struggle for good against evil.
We do not choose our circumstances or trials, but we do choose how we respond to them. Too often when all is well, we slip into the false joy and satisfaction of the material and a complacent pride and faith in ourselves. Yet it is through struggle that we find redemption and self-knowledge. This is what the slaves of Exodus learned. And it is what slaves in America meant when they sang: "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen "Glory Hallelujah!"
None of our current travails approach those of the Holocaust. The evil of the Holocaust is singular. Yet its lessons are universal.
So today, we remember that ignorance and cruelty are never far away, and that their atrocities demand action and justice.
We remember that every life has value and all lives are ennobled by opposing hate and bigotry.
We remember that not even mankind's worst depravities can be allowed to dissuade us from our search for worldly and spiritual peace.
In this nation of immigrants, surrounded here by the symbols and totems of tolerance and freedom, we remember our very great responsibility to protect freedom and to welcome all of God's creatures into its loving embrace.
And we remember the words of the Kaddish, "Oseh shalom beem'roh'mahv, hoo ya'aseh shalom, aleynu v'al kohl yisrae'el v'eemru: Amein."
# # #