Mr. Speaker, as I begin to speak I am reminded of the words of the cantor during the Yom Kippur service, hineni heani mimaas , “I am inadequate in word and in deed”, for I have neither the wisdom of the scholar nor the experience of the Holocaust survivor. I only know what my parents taught me as a young boy, the profundity and pain of which I only realized years later: that there are things in Jewish history, in human history, that are too terrible to be believed but not too terrible to have happened.
Indeed, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau, the horror of the Holocaust, these are beyond vocabulary. Words may ease the pain, but they can also dwarf the tragedy. The Holocaust was uniquely unique in the singularity of its genocidal intent, where biology was inexplicably and inextricably destiny, a war against the Jews where, as Elie Wiesel reminds us, not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims. And so we must ask ourselves on this Holocaust Memorial Day, what have we learned? What must we do?
The first lesson is the importance of zachor, remembrance itself, for as we remember the six million, degraded, demonized, dehumanized, murdered in the Holocaust, we have to understand that this is not a matter of abstract statistics. Unto each person there is a name. Unto each person there is an identity. Each person is a universe. As our sages tell us, whoever saves a single life, it is as if he or she saved an entire universe, but whoever kills a single person, it is as if he or she has killed an entire universe.
Lesson number two is the enduring lesson of the Holocaust, that these genocidal murderers succeeded not only because of the industry of death and the technology of terror, but because of the ideology of hate. It was this state sanctioned teaching of contempt, this demonizing of the other; this is where it all began. As our Supreme Court has affirmed, the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers; it began with words. These are the chilling facts of history. These are the catastrophic effects of racism.
Lesson number three is the danger of silence, the consequences of indifference. For the genocide of European Jewry succeeded not only because of the culture of hate and the industry of death, but because of crimes of indifference, because of conspiracies of silence, and we have witnessed an appalling indifference in our own day, which took us down the road to the unthinkable, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and to the unspeakable, the genocide in Rwanda, made even more unspeakable because this genocide was preventable. No one can say that we did not know, but we did not act, and we have an international responsibility to act to protect the victims in the genocide by attrition in Darfur.
And so, it is our responsibility to break down these walls of indifference, to shatter these conspiracies of silence, to stand up and be counted, and not look around to see whoever else is standing before we make a judgment to do so because, in the world in which we live, there are few people prepared to stand, let alone be counted. Let there be no mistake about it: indifference in the face of evil is acquiescence with evil itself; it is complicity with evil.
Lesson number four is combating mass atrocity and the culture of impunity.
If the 20th century, symbolized by the Holocaust, was the age of atrocity, it was also the age of impunity. Few of the perpetrators were brought to justice; and so, just as there must be no sanctuary for hate, no refuge for bigotry, so must there be no base or sanctuary for these enemies of humankind.
May I close with a word to the survivors of the Holocaust, for they are the true heroes of humanity. They witnessed and endured the worst of inhumanity but somehow they found in the depths of their humanity the courage to go on and to rebuild their lives as they have built their communities. It is with them and because of them and because of the righteousness of people like Raoul Wallenberg we remember that each person has a name and an identity, and that each person is a universe.
We remember and we pray that this is not just a matter of rhetoric but must be a commitment to action, that never again will we be indifferent to racism and hate, that never again will we be silent in the face of evil, that never again will we indulge anti-Semitism old and new, that never again will we be indifferent in the face of mass atrocity and impunity. We will speak and we will act against racism, against hate, against anti-Semitism, against atrocity and against injustice. This is part of the larger struggle for human rights and human dignity in our time.
May this day be not only an act of remembrance, which it is, but let it be a remembrance to act, which it must be, because in these times qui s'excuse s'accuse. Whoever remains indifferent indicts himself or herself.