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Obama on Holocaust Remembrance Day: "contemplate the obligations of the living"

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WASHINGTON--President Obama at Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, attended by Eli Wiesel, other survivors, rescuers, members of Congress and members of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council:

"It is the grimmest of ironies that one of the most savage, barbaric acts of evil in history began in one of the most modernized societies of its time, where so many markers of human progress became tools of human depravity: science that can heal, used to kill; education that can enlighten, used to rationalize away basic moral impulses; the bureaucracy that sustains modern life, used as the machinery of mass death, a ruthless, chillingly efficient system where many were responsible for the killing, but few got actual blood on their hands."

Pool report:

By Keith Koffler
Roll Call

Pool Report #1

Limited time before the next gather and the event was open to
credentialed media so I'll keep this brief.

President appeared at the National Commemoration of the Days of
Remembrance, a somber ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in memory of the
Holocaust. President's remarks were preceded by those of a few others,
including Elie Wiesel, as well as a presentation of the flags of the
U.S. Army divisions that had liberated concentration camps - along with
a mention of the camps each had freed.

Wiesel spoke movingly - perhaps a redundancy - about some of his own
experiences and the failure of those in the free world - singling out
Washington as well as the Washington Post and the New York Times - to
warn the remaining European Jews in the early 1940s about what was in
store for them. He said it might have saved his own family, which had an
option to try to avoid the trip that turned out to be a journey to the
death camps. And Wiesel waded into present day politics as well,
condemning Iranian President Ahmadinejad as a Holocaust denier and
thanking President Obama for boycotting the recent Durban II U.N.
conference, where the Iranian leader called Israel racist.

Obama's remarks, which you will soon have, focused more on lessons going
forward and were laced with a greater sense of optimism about learning
from the past.

Keith Koffler
Roll Call


--

Keith Koffler
Roll Call White House Reporter


click below for full remarks.

Transcript courtesy Federal News Service.....

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Please, be seated. Thank you very much.

To Sara Bloomfield, for the wonderful introduction and the outstanding work that she's doing; to Fred Zeidman; Joel Geiderman; Mr. Wiesel -- thank you for your wisdom and your witness -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Senator Dick Durbin; members of Congress; our good friend, the ambassador of Israel; members of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and, most importantly, the survivors and rescuers and their families who are here today: It is a great honor for me to be here, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to address you briefly.

We gather today to mourn the loss of so many lives, and celebrate those who saved them; honor those who survived, and contemplate the obligations of the living.

It is the grimmest of ironies that one of the most savage, barbaric acts of evil in history began in one of the most modernized societies of its time, where so many markers of human progress became tools of human depravity: science that can heal, used to kill; education that can enlighten, used to rationalize away basic moral impulses; the bureaucracy that sustains modern life, used as the machinery of mass death, a ruthless, chillingly efficient system where many were responsible for the killing, but few got actual blood on their hands.

While the uniqueness of the Holocaust in scope and in method is truly astounding, the Holocaust was driven by many of the same forces that have fueled atrocities throughout history: the scapegoating that leads to hatred and blinds us to our common humanity; the justifications that replace conscience and allow cruelty to spread; the willingness of those who are neither perpetrators nor victims to accept the assigned role of bystander, believing the lie that good people are ever powerless or alone, the fiction that we do not have a choice.

While we are here today to bear witness to the human capacity to destroy, we are also here to pay tribute to the human impulse to save. In the moral accounting of the Holocaust, as we reckon with numbers like 6 million, as we recall the horror of numbers etched into arms, we also factor in numbers like these: 7,200, the number of Danish Jews ferried to safety, many of whom later returned home to find the neighbors who rescued them had also faithfully tended their homes and businesses and belongings while they were gone.

We remember the number five, the five righteous men and women who join us today from Poland. We are awed by your acts of courage and conscience. And your presence today compels each of us to ask ourselves whether we would have done what you did. We can only hope that the answer is yes.

We also remember the number 5,000, the number of Jews rescued by the villages of Le Chambon, France, one life saved for each of its 5,000 residents. Not a single Jew who came there was turned away or turned in. But it was not until decades later that the villagers spoke of what they had done, and even then only reluctantly. The author of a book on the rescue found that those he interviewed were baffled by his interest. "How could you call us good?" they said. "We were doing what had to be done."

That is the question of the righteous, those who would do extraordinary good at extraordinary risk not for affirmation or acclaim or to advance their own interests, but because it is what must be done. They remind us that no one is born a savior or a murderer. These are choices we each have the power to make.

They teach us that no one can make us into bystanders without our consent, and that we are never truly alone. That if we have the courage to heed that still, small voice within us, we can form a minyan for righteousness that can span a village, even a nation.

Their legacy is our inheritance. And the question is, how do we honor and preserve it? How do we ensure that "never again" isn't an empty slogan or merely an aspiration, but also a call to action? I believe we start by doing what we are doing today -- by bearing witness, by fighting the silence that is evil's greatest co- conspirator.

In the face of horrors that defy comprehension, the impulse to silence is understandable. My own great uncle returned from his service in World War II in a state of shock, saying little, alone with painful memories that would not leave his head. He went up into the attic, according to the stories that I've heard, and wouldn't come down for six months. He was one of the liberators, someone who at a very tender age had seen the unimaginable.

And so some of the liberators who are here today honor us with their presence, all of whom we honor for their extraordinary service. My great uncle was part of the 89th Infantry Division, the first Americans to reach a Nazi concentration camp. And they liberated Ordruf, part of Buchenwald, where tens of thousands had perished.

The story goes that when the Americans marched in, they discovered the starving survivors and the piles of dead bodies, and General Eisenhower made a decision. He ordered Germans from the nearby town to tour the camp so they could see what had been done in their name. And he ordered American troops to tour the camp so they could see the evil they were fighting against.

Then he invited congressmen and journalists to bear witness, and he ordered that photographs and films be made. Some of us have seen those same images, whether in the Holocaust Museum, or when I visited Yad Vashem. They never leave you.

Eisenhower said that he wanted to be in a position to give first- hand evidence of these things if ever in the future there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to propaganda. Eisenhower understood the danger of silence. He understood that if no one knew what had happened, that would be yet another atrocity and it would be the perpetrators' ultimate triumph.

What Eisenhower did to record these crimes for history is what we are doing here today. That's what Elie Wiesel and the survivors we honor here do by fighting to make their memories part of our collective memory. That's what the Holocaust Museum does every day on our National Mall, the place where we display for the world our triumphs and failures and the lessons we've learned from our history. It's the very opposite of silence.

But we must also remember that bearing witness is not the end of our obligation, it's just the beginning. We know that evil has yet to run its course on Earth. We've seen it in this century, in the mass graves, in the ashes of villages burned to the ground, and children used as soldiers, of rape used as a weapon of war.

To this day, there are those who insist the Holocaust never happened, who perpetrate every form of intolerance -- racism and anti- Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism and more -- hatred that degrades its victim and diminishes us all.

Today and every day, we have an opportunity as well as an obligation to confront these scourges, to fight the impulse to turn the channel when we see images that disturb us or wrap ourselves in the false comfort that others' sufferings are not our own. Instead, we have the opportunity to make a habit of empathy, to recognize ourselves in each other, to commit ourselves to resisting injustice and intolerance and indifference, in whatever forms they may take, whether confronting those who tell lies about history, or doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities like those that took place in Rwanda, those taking place in Darfur.

That is my commitment as president. I hope that is yours as well.

It will not be easy. At times, fulfilling these obligations require self-reflection. But in the final analysis, I believe history gives us cause for hope rather than despair: the hope of a chosen people who have overcome oppression since the days of Exodus, of the nation of Israel rising from the destruction of the Holocaust, of the strong and enduring bonds between our nations. It is the hope, too, of those who not only survived but chose to live, teaching us the meaning of courage and resilience and dignity.

I'm thinking today of a study conducted after the war that found that Holocaust survivors living in America actually had a higher birth rate than American Jews. What a stunning act of faith, to bring a child in a world that has shown you so much cruelty, to believe that no matter what you have endured or how much you have lost, in the end, you have a duty to life.

We find cause for hope as well in Protestant and Catholic children attending school together in Northern Ireland; in Hutus and Tutsis living side-by-side, forgiving neighbors who have done the unforgivable; in a movement to save Darfur that has thousands of high school and college chapters in 25 countries and brought 70,000 people to the Washington Mall, people of every age and faith and background and race united in common cause with suffering brothers and sisters halfway around the world.

Those numbers can be our future, our fellow citizens of the world showing us how to make the journey from oppression to survival, from witness to resistance and ultimately to reconciliation. That is what we mean when we say "never again."

So today, during this season when we celebrate liberation, resurrection and the possibility of redemption, may each of us renew our resolve to do what must be done, and may we strive each day, both individually and as a nation, to be among the righteous.

Thank you. God bless you and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

END.

11 Comments

He's right! We must never forget the Holocaust!

I agree, we must never forget the Holocaust.

We must also not forget or ignore the silent holocaust that continues on mass scales in abortion clinics all around the world. It's quite ironic that he should give such a speech and not see how much it applies to the holocaust that he strongly supports: the slaughter of the innocent unborn.

Today also there are those who insist a Holocaust is not happening. The HOLOCAUST OF ABORTION!

A holocaust of a different variety continues, and this radically pro-abortion President apparently does not see the contradiction in his positions.

President Obama,
How can you say the things you have said about the holocaust, the victims, the survivors and
in your heart of hearts not see the abortion
holocaust connection. It's hard for me not to be
alarmed at your compassion for jews,christians,
and those who helped harbor these people from the
evil taking place in Germany,and yet more than
50,000,000 million innocent helpless unborn babies have been slaughtered in the U.S. and you
want to continue this horror.Racism at it's pillar and the party of death hangs their hats
on this atrocity of killing.

How IRONIC... someone needs to read those words back to him regarding abortion. That man is such a devil. Lord have mercy on him.

We can all agree (Pro Life and Pro Choice) ABORTION is a lousy method of birth control. As Hillary Clinton commented: Abortion should be legal, safe, and RARE. Pro Choice is not to be interpreted as PRO ABORTION !

There is no connection between Holocaust and abortion.

Sex education is the answer to teenage pregnancy and, by the way, to curbing sexually transmitted disease as well.

So many unwanted pregnancies end in do it yourself, unsanitary and dangerous abortions. Keep it legal and keep it rare ! As far as carrying an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy, what is the fate of an unwanted, resented child?

Yes adoption is also a good option. No Pro Choice advocate would deny that either.

It sickens me that you would compare the Jewish Holocaust with rants about abortion. I lost the entire European portion of my family in that atrocity of war. You cannot begin to know how wrong-headed and unwelcome your political diatribes are for those of us who lost entire families to the concentration camps. Shame on you.

Dr. Moses, I can not imagine the deep pain you have at the loss of your family during the Jewish Holocaust. My daughter died in a car accident at the age of 23. She had just married six weeks earlier. I was looking forward to grandchildren and many happy years of generational living including the knowledge that my own aging years would be accompanied by a loving daughter and grandchildren. I have had to re-order and dig deep to let go and let be. I know this is not the same as the violence that was perpetrated on your family. Please, understand I mean no offense when I also say we are in a great 'holocaust' with abortionists. All that you feel and say and all that I said and feel pertains to these unborn too. We are a nation that 'kills our young'. How can we hope to find peace, answers to our most complex and growing problems, or expect to have solace in our aging future when we have destroyed God's provision for human life now and in the future.
We can only pray for God's mercy and forgiveness.

Carl Sandburg once said: "A Baby is God's opinion that the world should go on". It is a sad thing to see how dehumanized we have become to life and the future of our children. It is a small step away when you dismiss the child 'living' in the womb and move on to those that are the weakest of us like the elderly, the special needs people, even the unwanted children who have been disregarded.

Once it becomes 'easy' to pretend the child in the womb is not human, anything can be accepted. Obama rightfully says: "markers of human progress became tools of human depravity: science that can heal, used to kill". How can you hear that and not see the link to the weakest among us, those that were up to this point in history considered precious and worthy of protection?

There is NOTHING that can explain that away and Obama needs to actually read the speeches he reads on the teleprompter and consider what it says and what it means to the future of this country.

I can't imagine the pain felt by anyone who suffered the loss of family and friends in the holocaust. Yet it is short-sighted to neglect consideration of the effects of abortion on todays society.

At least fifteen million of my peers never had a chance at breath. That's in the United States, and counting my generation alone. Surely there are emotional pains that come with the loss of those we know closely, but my heart weeps for those who never had their chance at life to begin with.

I mean no disrespect to anyone who suffered in the Holocaust. My late grandfather served in the War. Neither would I desire to disrespect our President whom I honor with my words and prayers. But the real irony is to ignore the lessons of the holocaust as they relate to the issues of our day. And this oversight grieves me deeply.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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