As prepared for delivery
It is an honor to join the JCC on this solemn occasion. It is important that we gather to remember, and it is important that we speak out loud about the Holocaust.
It is important that we say out loud that the Holocaust stands as one of the most horrific atrocities in world history – a brutal testament to the consequences of hatred, intolerance, and indifference. The genocidal Nazi regime murdered six million Jews – including one and a half million children – and millions of other people, motivated by its twisted ideology, and ethnic hatred centered around antisemitism.
Each survivor’s narrative is a living testament to the triumph of the human spirit against unimaginable adversity. As the numbers of living survivors dwindle, we must find new ways to remember and educate the next generations about the Holocaust. It is our responsibility, and our duty, and our privilege, as the generations who knew the survivors and the liberators, to be the custodians of their narratives, to honor their memory, to pass on their stories of resilience and courage.
Sharing the testimonies of survivors and their descendants requires us to be vigilant about the rising tide of antisemitism that is threatening the values we hold dear — pluralism, diversity, democracy, and respect for human rights.
Home to the second-largest population of Holocaust survivors in the world and to many descendants of Holocaust victims, the United States remains committed to pursuing a measure of justice for Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
Our effort to seek a measure of justice, in the form of restitution or compensation for individuals whose assets were stolen during the Holocaust, began as WWII drew to a close, and is a commitment that continues to this day, alongside dozens of other countries. This is just one way in which we keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and present in our current context.
Only recently I came to find that our founding father, George Washington, spoke to the issue of antisemitism directly. And I believe it’s a story worth recalling. 230 years ago, President Washington reassured the Jews of Newport that our new nation would give bigotry no sanction and persecution no assistance. His meaning and message were quite specific: in the United States of America, the bigotry of antisemitism must have no place, no quarter, no haven, no home.
All those years ago, he knew antisemitism as one the world’s longest and oldest forms of prejudice. Yet still, today, we see that antisemitism has pierced and permeated too many countries, too many cultures, too many faiths, and too many communities.
When Holocaust memorials are vandalized in Canada, France, Greece, Denmark, or the United States; when Molotov cocktails are thrown at synagogues in Berlin and Montreal – when Jews peacefully protesting are physically or verbally intimidated – when Jewish children are harassed – when Jewish stars are painted on buildings where Jews live – that is not expressing support for Palestinian rights. That is antisemitism, pure and simple. And we must say that out loud.
So on this solemn occasion, I would like to recall President Biden’s words: “We cannot redeem the past. But, as we mourn humanity’s capacity to inflict inhuman cruelty, let us commit to making a better future and to always upholding the fundamental values of justice, equality, and diversity that strengthen free societies.”