Today marks the 72nd anniversary of an act of heroism of the Soviet Army — the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
In remembering this historic day, we are called to reflect on the horrors of the Holocaust and honor the six million Jews and millions of Slavs, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, persons with disabilities, and other minorities who were murdered by the Nazis.
This is a time to reaffirm our commitment to make real the words, “Never forget. Never again.”
We will forever be grateful to the Holocaust survivors who continue to educate us by sharing their experiences, their strength, their wisdom, and their generosity of spirit to advance respect for human rights and to fuel our resolve to combat hatred in all its ugly forms.
This is a day when we of later generations commit ourselves to carry on this legacy by documenting their stories, studying their history, and – most importantly – remembering and learning from the horrors they experienced.
I was honored to take part in the commemorative events hosted today by the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. I cannot imagine a more appropriate setting in which to mark such a solemn anniversary than an institution dedicated not only to documenting and describing the history and consequences of anti-Semitism, but also to promoting tolerance and continuing to confront discrimination in all its forms.
This is a mission that the American people are proud to share with our Russian friends and colleagues. This past year, a delegation from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington came to Russia, where they met with scholars dedicated to preserving both the memory of the Holocaust, and the rich history of the Jewish community in Russia.
One of the most important aspects of that Museum’s work is the curation of the stories of Holocaust survivors and their protectors — personal histories that remind us to confront persecution wherever it arises.
In that spirit, I’d encourage you to look through the Museum’s website, which shares a library of survivors’ histories, many of them translated into Russian.
You’ll find heart-wrenching stories like that of Leo Schneiderman, who describes the horror of his arrival at the camp that the Soviet Army would later come to liberate:
It was late at night that we arrived at Auschwitz. When we came in, the minute the gates opened up, we heard screams, barking of dogs, blows from…from those Kapos, those officials working for them, over the head. And then we got out of the train. And everything went so fast: left, right, right, left. Men separated from women. Children torn from the arms of mothers. The elderly chased like cattle. The sick, the disabled were handled like packs of garbage. They were thrown in a side together with broken suitcases, with boxes. My mother ran over to me and grabbed me by the shoulders, and she told me “Leibele, I’m not going to see you no more. Take care of your brother.”
Such stories are difficult to contemplate. But keeping these stories alive is a solemn duty – part of our shared duty to confront discrimination; to unite against anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry; to insist on the rule of law and the prosecution of hate crimes; and to reaffirm our fundamental commitment to protect the rights and dignity of every human being – strong or weak, rich or poor, black or white, straight or gay.
Even as we confront the most unsettling chapters of human history, it gives me great hope for the future that so many Russians and Americans have taken up that duty together.
Russia has made significant strides in combating the anti-Semitism that resulted in so much suffering over the centuries. These are important developments that I have been happy to share with my colleagues in Washington, who follow this issue closely.
But even at a time when Russian Jews enjoy a safer climate than ever before, expressions of bigotry have not died out. As recent events have shown, anti-Semitic myths and conspiracy theories persist. I am thankful that leaders in the Russian Jewish community are ready to respond quickly and firmly when the need arises.