The United States joined worldwide commemorations on 19 April of the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust. President George W. Bush told a somber ceremony at the U.S. Capitol that mankind must seek the courage and wisdom to avert future tragedies and evils.
Washington, 20 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Concentration camp survivor Eli Wiesel posed some haunting questions about bereavement at a ceremony in Washington marking the Holocaust Memorial Remembrance Day.
Wiesel, a Nobel Prize winner, was among hundreds of guests attending the somber event at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday that coincided with ceremonies in several other countries remembering the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust during World War II.
"How does one mourn for six million people who died? How many candles does one light? How many prayers does one recite?"
Wiesel noted that the Jewish people were not the only victims of the Nazis. There were others, he said, including Poles, Russians, French, Dutch, Belgians, those who came from anti-Nazi movements, and the Roma.
The Holocaust Remembrance Day was picked because on this day in 1944 Warsaw's Jewish ghetto rose up against the German army, holding it back for six weeks.
In Israel, a two-minute silence Thursday brought the whole nation to a standstill, as sirens wailed across the country.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his government, together with legislators from rival parties, gathered in parliament to read the names of relatives killed in the Holocaust. Earlier, they laid wreaths at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem.
In Poland, more than 1,000 Jewish youths from around the world gathered at the former Auschwitz death camp for a silent march.
At the Washington commemorations, President George W. Bush said that mankind must seek the wisdom and courage to prevent future tragedies and evils.
"The events we recall today have the safe distance of history. And there will come a time when the eyewitnesses are gone. And that is why we are bound by conscience to remember what happened and to whom it happened."
Bush said it is fitting to remember the Holocaust under the dome of the U.S. Capitol with members of U.S. Congress in attendance. Some of the lawmakers, Bush said, played a part in the liberation of Europe more than a half century ago. And he singled out Congressman Tom Lantos of California, who survived the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Hungary.
"We remember at the Capitol because the United States has accepted a special role; we strive to be a refuge for the persecuted. We are called by history and by conscience to defend the oppressed. Our country stands on watch for the rise of tyranny, and history's worst tyrants have always reserved a special hatred for the Jewish people."
Bush said tyrants and dictators seek absolute control and are threatened by faith in God. They fear only the power they cannot possess -- the power of truth, the president said.
Bush noted that the evils of the Holocaust took place in Europe and was masterminded by Nazi Germany.
"When we remember the Holocaust and to whom it happened, we also must remember where it happened. It didn't happen in some remote or unfamiliar place, it happened right in the middle of the Western world."
Bush added: "Trains carrying men, women, and children in cattle cars departed from Paris and Vienna, Frankfurt and Warsaw. And the orders came not from crude and uneducated men, but from men who regarded themselves as cultured and well-schooled, modern, and even forward-looking."
Bush observed that man invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz but that he is also the being who entered these chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer -- the Hebrew's "Shema Yisrael" -- on his lips.
As for their executioners, Bush said: "They had all the outward traits of cultured men, except for conscience. Their crimes show the world that evil can slip in and blend in amid the most civilized of surroundings. In the end, only conscience can stop it, and moral discernment, and decency, and tolerance. These can never be assured in any time or in any -- or in any society; they must always be taught."
Bush said the Holocaust Remembrance Day marks more than just a single historic tragedy. He said it also marks the end of six million important lives -- all the possibilities, all the dreams, and all the innocence that died with them.