THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Vice President
REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE AT DAYS OF REMEMBRANCE CEREMONY U.S. CAPITOL Eva Heyman kept a diary during those last weeks before the
Nazis rounded up the Jews of Nagyvarad, then inside Hungary, near its Romanian border. It was during the days when Jews could still live in their homes but things were awful. In May, 1944, Eva wrote: "Everytime I think, this is the end: things couldn't possibly get worse, and then I find out that it's always possible for everything to get worse."
Sometimes she couldn't sleep. Lying awake in her bed, she would hear the adults talking. "They said that the people aren't only beaten but also get electric shocks," she wrote. "People are brought to the hospital bleeding at the mouth and ears ...some of them also with teeth missing and the soles of their feet swollen so they can't stand ... in the ghetto pharmacy there is enough poison and Grandpa gives poison to the older people who ask for it. Grandpa also said it would be better if he took cyanide and also gave some to Grandma."
On this Spring day here in Washington, we think of Eva Heyman, listening in her bed, and wish we could somehow go back in time and rescue her.
But she wrote during the last Spring she would ever know. The gendarmes came for her family three weeks later -- and marched her into the gas chamber at Auschwitz on October 17. She was thirteen years old.
To read what happened to the Jews of Hungary is to read of the most unspeakably barbaric acts: of Arrow Cross members, in black boots and green shirts, herding Jewish women, children and old men through the streets of Budapest, prodding them with rifle butts, shooting those who could not keep up the pace.
Or the ritual executions. Arrow Cross guards would line up three Jewish victims, and wire their wrists together. The rifleman would fire into the back of one. The dead person would slump forward and pull others into the Danube where the freezing river and weight of the corpse finished the others. That saved two bullets.
What is the lesson of these acts for us, fifty years later? Certainly on this week after Passover, a commemoration of
freedom from slavery three thousand years old, there is this lesson: tell the story. The purpose of this memorial -- of this day -- is to tell the story to each generation.
We tell the story, in part, to remember those who died. We also tell it to remember the need for vigilance. And for the Jewish people there is a need for vigilance. Is there any people who have been persecuted for so long and in so many places, driven from nation to nation, whether from Babylon or Rome, England or Spain, or by the programs throughout Eastern Europe?
There are those who argue that Jews were victims, going passively to their death. This is a lie. Jews fought back. They fought back in Warsaw. They fought back throughout eastern Europe. They even recorded accounts of their fighting back; a merchant and aspiring writer, Zalman Gradowski, who fell in a revolt at Auschwitz he spearheaded, buried four manuscript accounts of life in death, on which he had inscribed these words, "take heed of this document, for it contains valuable material for the historian." Because of what he and others did, we can refute the liars with a wealth of detail that is unassailable.
To a Christian, reading about the Resistance, it is natural to ask: what did others do? The past twelve months have brought America stories of heroism by Gentiles in some powerful new ways. One was the portrayal by Steven Spielberg of a hero of the Nazi occupation, Oscar Schindler.
And of course, those walking through the Holocaust Museum are reminded of another hero, Raul Wallenberg, who saved hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews.
Their heroism is beyond dispute. The images in Spielberg's film of Schindler and Yitzchak
Stern, together pecking out on the typewriter the names of those who could be saved ... the images of Wallenberg in Hungary, mounting trains bound for Auschwitz and ordering guards to release people with "Swedish" passports -- give the lie to the myth that everyone was indifferent..
But we must be careful not to exaggerate either their numbers or their impact. The fact is, that in most cases, nothing was done. And we must confront that, as well.
Why was so little done? For a Christian, this is an agonizing question as a confront it. For if we believe, as I do, that religion is a powerful force for good, why did so many believers and church-goers remain silent in the face of such analloyed evil?
One lesson learned from such massive failure is expressed by the famous words attributed to Pastor Niemoller: "When Hitler attacked the Jews ... I was not a Jew therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore I was not concerned ...then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church -- and there was nobody left to be concerned."
Powerful words. But for some there is an implication in that paragraph that
makes it seem insufficient. For one way to read it is as a morality play with self interest at its core: we must defend others, so others will defend us.
But we all know self-interest isn't enough. It is essential that those who feel in no danger at all rise in defense of the persecuted. The passion for justice and tolerance must be so ingrained in society that even those feeling most secure will take action to preserve it.
And we must put in place safeguards -- of law, of values -- that make it impossible for the human race to give vent to its most barbaric impulses during those times when the individual conscience -- or even the sum of those consciences -- is too weak, or cowed, or terrorized to resist.
Elie Weisel, talking about how Christians should react to the Holocaust, quotes the Hasidic story about a great person who said, "Look, I know how to bring about a change that would benefit the whole world. But the whole world is a huge place, so I'll begin with my country. I don't know my whole country, though; so I'll begin with my town. My town has so many streets; I'll begin on my own street. There are so many houses on my street; I'll begin in mine. There are so many people in my house; I'll begin with myself."
"You begin with yourself," Weisel says. He is certainly right. But of course, while we begin with ourselves, we cannot end
there. Not in a world where there are those who argue the Holocaust never happened; that cyanide was used for fumigation and that the pictures of gas chambers are fabrications.
There are people who organize themselves as the enemy of truth. We must confront their lies.
We must also confront the temptation to acknowledge intellectually -- but only intellectually -- that the Holocaust happened, and accept it numbly, without the outrage that can prevent another one.
It is too easy for Americans, shielded for over 130 years from warfare inside our own borders, to say it can't happen here; that the Holocaust happened fifty years ago and in countries without the safeguards that make it impossible to happen in America.
But remember: the Holocaust originated in the country of Goethe and Beethoven, a country that prided itself on its refinement. We can never give in to complacency. No country is exempt from hatred or from demagogues.
And yet, when we look at America, we are certain in our hearts that if a Holocaust happened here it would not be in the America we know. It would not be in the America that has carefully separated and balanced the powers of the state and protected the freedom of its citizens. It would not be in the America whose Declaration of Independence calling for the "inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is venerated not simply within our National Archives, but lives and breathes in our national character.
It would not be the America whose courts have time and again affirmed the separation of Church and state that has been one of our most sacred traditions. It would not be the America whose liberating forces entered the death camps in 1945, to free the survivors, and provide witness that the worst stories we had heard were true.
And it would not be the America that has placed a Holocaust Museum in its National Capitol.
It was a controversial step. There were those who argued this was not an American experience. Who will want to see it? they asked. Who, surrounded by places like the Air & Space Museum, would subject themselves to images of death?
Those questions have been answered. They have been answered by those who crowd in to the Holocaust Museum every weekend. Who stand patiently in line, people of every national origin, every color and every religion to expose their children to exhibits of the most savage things done to children in history.
The Holocaust is not an event to be remembered just by those who survived -- or just by Jews or by gypsies. Its memorial should continue to be part of the American experience for everyone.
And there is no better place for it than Washington, to remind those who make the agonizing decisions of foreign policy of the consequences of their decisions.
One remembers, of course, not just to ward off dire consequences. We remember also so we can be inspired. And that is the meaning of Raul Wallenberg.
As opposed to Schindler, who seems to have gradually become aware of his responsibility, Wallenberg knew right from the beginning.
In Kati Marton's book about Wallenberg, she tells of the night he got a terrified call from Tibor Vandor, one his office workers. Agnes Vandor was having a baby. They were afraid to go to the hospital.
Wallenberg brought the pregnant woman into his own bedroom, found a Jewish doctor, then paced the corridor outside all night, standing guard, while she gave birth.
The grateful parents insisted Wallenberg help name the baby, and he did: Yvonne.
Years later, this story appeared in the newspapers, and Yvonne recognized the details, came forward, and identified herself.
But, she said, there was one detail that was wrong. She wasn't Jewish.
She had nothing against Jews -- in fact, she had married one herself. But she was sure her parents were Catholic.
It was only then, that she learned how terrified her parents had been -- in postwar Hungary -- to admit that they were Jewish. They didn't even dare tell her.
The effects of the Holocaust did not end when the killing ended. It scarred those who survived. It caused a generation of Jews to feel they could never again trust the countries in which they lived. Some didn't even dare admit their own heritage to their children.
The value of a Raul Wallenberg is to inspire us so we never again fail those who need our trust. Looking back with the perspective of half a century we remember him and others in order to strengthen us when we need strength.
Because the need for heros is not dead. You see it in Sarajevo. You see it in Somalia. You see it in the Middle East where the courageous leaders of Israel and its Arab neighbors are taking bold risks for peace.
For much of the world the ideals of America -- though not always its practices -- have stood as its polar opposite. In the long, upward journey of the human experiment, our ideals -- freedom, equality, tolerance, justice for all -- represent a destiny.
To reach that destiny we must never forget where human beings have failed. So, on this day, we allow -- even force -- ourselves to again remember the Holocaust in all its barbaric detail. We should not shrink from it. We remember Eva Heyman and mourn the barbarism inflicted on her because only then will we know the terrible capabilities that can lie coiled in the human soul.
But we also remember the acts of heroism like those of Raul Wallenberg. Because that teaches us what we are capable of doing. And that means when the need occurs we won't flinch from our moral responsibility. We will meet our obligations, in our daily lives or in the business that takes place under the marble dome of this building, and make ourselves in the words of Isaiah, "as hiding places from the winds and shelters from the tempests; as rivers of water in dry places; as shadows of a great rock in a weary land."