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Jerusalem – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks Thursday evening at a dinner hosted by the European Jewish Congress to commemorate 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. The dinner was part of a bipartisan Congressional delegation visit marking 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. So, Moshe said to relax. Did you hear him say that? He said we’re going to relax this evening. So, let’s all relax. Moshe, thank you so much for those kind words. I also want to thank Avner Shalev. I’ll say more about him.
I do want to thank you for the opportunity to invite all of us to participate with the European Jewish Congress in this tremendous remembrance – tonight being part of it, but the last few days being so remarkable in the lives of any of us who participate.
We appreciate your leadership, your extraordinary leadership, and as the distinguished Speaker said earlier: you had an idea, and you have executed. Thank you, Moshe, for making today, official – official.
Some of the friends here tonight say, ‘Now where do we go from here?’ Well, Moshe gave us our marching orders with the theme that was on the wall and on the screen that we were seeing all day: ‘Remember the Holocaust, fight anti-Semitism.’ That’s our mission.
We’re going to make sure, not only that we remember the Holocaust, but that society knows and remembers all about the Holocaust. So, thank you for giving us an extraordinary opportunity to capture the dream you all had, all the values that go into it and a plan of action. I always say, a dreamer without a plan; that’s just a fantasy. A dreamer with a plan; that’s a success. Congratulations, Moshe on the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful success.
I’m so honored to be here – personally, officially and in every way, with Speaker Edelstein. You’ll hear the full story. For a long time, when he was practically a teenager – but like early twenties – in the Gulag, the rest of us were out in San Francisco, all over the world. But my experience was in my home city of San Francisco and only several years before I was in Congress. We would hold up his picture. He had a little beard, long hair and the rest — so cute — and we would hold up his picture and chant his name to free him – to free Yuli, to free Yuli. It was part of our whole program to free the refuseniks. He was the personification of it, so you just imagine how thrilling it is for Paul and me to be here with Yuli and Irina having – he was this hero, as Moshe said earlier, a hero to all of us. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your leadership.
Again, I know I can speak for my colleagues here, who are here and I am going to introduce in a moment, to say it was an honor to be with — you had scores of heads of state, heads of government, heads of parliaments and all the rest. That was wonderful. It was such a tribute to the purpose of these few days. But the VIPs of it all were the survivors, and so many of them are with us this evening. We had a chance to visit with some of them. Let us applaud our survivors, who are here.
Thank you, Yuri – excuse me – Moshe, for mentioning my role in San Francisco – again, long before I was in Congress. A committee was formed – interdenominational, I was the Catholic on the committee – to plan for a Holocaust memorial in San Francisco. This has to be well over 35 years ago. And the center and most important – Rhoda Goldman, she was the chair of it all. But we met on a regular basis with the survivors, so that we knew where they wanted this monument, how they wanted it to be perceived, what form it would take. And that was – meeting some of those survivors – we thought they were probably older, then, they were probably in their 60s or something. But in any event, they were there to make the point. They seem like babies now, looking back. But that was my first experience in really getting to know the strength, the values, the gift, the blessing that the survivors are to us.
So, thank you all who are here this evening for sharing your stories with us earlier – but for being who you are as we hope to remember the Holocaust and end anti-Semitism.
I mentioned my colleagues, and we have a very distinguished bipartisan group of Members of Congress who came. We first began in Auschwitz – we flew to Auschwitz on Monday – Poland on Monday – Auschwitz all day Tuesday. All day yesterday here, and today. But we thought it would be appropriate if we were coming to the 75th anniversary – 75 year remembrance of the liberation of Auschwitz, that we go to Auschwitz first.
So let me acknowledge Chairwoman Nita Lowey, Chair of the Appropriations Committee. Chairman Eliot Engel, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, a friend of Israel. Well-known to many of you. Chairman Ted Deutch, Chair of the House Subcommittee on Middle East and Ethics Committee. Congressman Joe – it’s a bipartisan delegation – a Republican Member, Congressman Joe Wilson. Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chairwoman of Military Construction Committee of Appropriations. And Congressman Brad Schneider, Ways and Means. Now Brad Schneider and Ted Deutch are also members of the Board – for the House Democrats – members of the Board of the Holocaust Museum. We’re very proud of the representation. They’ve joined John Lewis as a member of that Board.
These Members are here at the invitation of the President of Israel and we’re happy to accept, and I’m awfully glad that they did. This is a powerful committee.
So, Moshe talked about my father and as you’re relaxing and having your dinner – I hope you’re having your dinner, so, see I’m Italian, you have food, you must eat while I speak, and I’ll talk. And Speaker Edelstein talked about his parents, so I’ll talk a little bit more about my father.
My father was a Member of Congress from Baltimore, Maryland in the New Deal era. He worshipped at the shrine of Franklin Roosevelt. He was a progressive Democratic Member of Congress – one of the earliest Italian-Americans to serve in the Congress of the United States. However, he split with President Roosevelt on two things and he opposed him publicly. And one was that he did not think the Administration was paying enough attention to the plight and the danger for Jews in Europe, and the second part was that he did not think that the Administration was taking the responsibility and moving quickly enough, or paying attention to establishing a Jewish State in Palestine.
So, he would get up – and he spoke Yiddish and he was a great orator – and he’d go around part of the group to have parades, rallies and all the rest to talk about what was happening in Europe, so that he would raise awareness of it and the need for the Jewish State in Palestine. He was standing, he stood on the Floor of the House – and this is March 2nd, election day here, but March 2nd, 1943 – and he said, Mr. Speaker, I seek recognition as a Member of the Committee for Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews. That’s how he identified himself on the Floor of the House, and then he went on to say calling for ‘action not pity’ to address the plight of European Jews, stating, ‘too much has been said, too little has been done.’
He went on to say – my colleagues have heard me said this, so forgive me for saying it again – he went on to say this, ‘Daily, hourly, the greatest crime of all time is being committed. A defenseless and innocent people is being slaughtered in a wholesale massacre of millions… We will spare no effort and have no rest until the American public will be fully informed of the facts and aroused to its responsibility. We believe in an overwhelming power of public opinion as the greatest, if not the only, power in a democracy.’
He went on to say that two million people had already been murdered – that was his word – murdered in Europe, and he said these facts are well known to the State Department of the United States. Well, that was provocative, as you can imagine, at the time. Similar to today, in the face of rising anti-Semitism, our responsibility is the same.
I say that, that was March 2nd, 1943, but a year before then he rose on the Floor of the House again as a Member of the Committee of a Jewish Army and he spoke about this. He spoke about the fact that – he spoke ‘on behalf of 200,000 fighting men, who by divine destiny or accident of birth happen to be Jews, and 100,000 of them live near the Middle East and another 100,000 amongst the stateless Jews who were exiled from Europe’ because our enemies considered – to be considered enemies of the democracy, describing that. But anyway, his point was he wanted them – the Jews of Palestine are chained even as the British chained David Raziel, the new Jewish national hero. He was in prison and then he was killed, but his point was that, ‘Let these people fight.’ Let these people fight — the Nazis.’ And, of course, the whole point was to get a Jewish state in Palestine. So I am very proud of his actions, that’s just some of it, but it was about those two subjects.
And, when I was young, I think it’s our Avraham, I don’t know if Avraham joined us, but he told me he was in class with Anne Frank, he was in school with Anne Frank in the Netherlands, and I was a teenager and read the diary of Anne Frank. I said to my parents, ‘Did you know this was happening? What did you all do about it?’ And they said, ‘Well, we tried, we tried to do our best, but that just simply wasn’t enough.’
Imagine. I can’t get over the fact that some people would think it’s okay for them to take the lives of a whole population, A, and, B, to this day, discriminate against them.
So, here we are. On the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel, in 2008, I led a delegation and we laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, which we had the honor to do today again, where we saw from the ashes of the Holocaust, this great phoenix that rose from all of that.
But as some have said in the course of these last two days, Israel would have existed without the Holocaust because of the destiny and history, and I am honored to return for the 75th anniversary for this International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In preparation for our visit, in Washington, our delegation met, and I said – oh, Mark was here earlier, he arranged for us to meet Irene – to meet with a survivor Irene, who was just thirteen when her family was sent to Auschwitz. This was preparation for our visit, we wanted to meet with some of the survivors at home.
She spoke of their arrival in Auschwitz and having her mother, brothers and little sister taken away from her to be murdered – a horror beyond imagination. And her message to us was: Never Forget.
With Irene’s story, the stories we heard – we’ve been hearing for a long time, and the stories we heard freshly this evening before we came into dinner, again, it is – we must be determined to remember the Holocaust and to stop discrimination.
Today, as we returned to Yad Vashem where we saw the faces of the fallen heroes in the Hall of Names or heard the names of the little lost children, imagine a million and a half children. It was only on one of these recent trips and in preparation for them, that I realized that one of the goals of the Nazis was to kill the children, to cut off the future of Judaism. Just stunning. Just stunning. And it was an honor to lay a wreath there.
Some of us were there the day the Holocaust Memorial in Washington was dedicated. Most of our Members are newer, but I think, I think, Eliot, you were there, and Nita Lowey was there, the day of the dedication of the Holocaust, and we heard Elie Wiesel – one of the noblest souls and most important voices of conscience that has ever lived. He spoke about our responsibility for the future. But that day he said, ‘For the dead and the living, we must bear witness. For not only are we responsible for the memories of the dead, we are also responsible for what we are doing with those memories.”
Moshe, thank you for giving us this guidance, for us to do with these memories. I have carried Elie Wiesel’s words in my heart –
– and again, I had the privilege – many honors are bestowed upon a Member of Congress, especially if you become Speaker, one of them is to be with all of you today and yesterday. Another was to be able to speak at the [memorial] service of Ellie Wiesel [at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum], so I could quote him then as well as here.
Today and everyday, let us ensure that the Shoah is alive in all of us, that we make sure that we take the moral action that is necessary. We can honor the memory of those who were murdered in this incomprehensible horror by maintaining constant vigilance against hatred and persecution today.
Yet today, it is a profoundly disconcerting and disturbing reality that the horror of anti-Semitism is growing, with appalling acts of hatred poisoning communities around the world, including in our own country, my own country of America.
The Hebrew year 5779 brought horrors for the Jewish community, with anti-Semitic attacks perpetrated everywhere from supermarkets to synagogues to delis. Holy sites were, were defaced, innocents were attacked and lives were brutally taken from us, lives taken from us.
Sadly, the year 5780 has been marked by similar tragedy. In America, around Chanukah, the New York metro area suffered one of the worst series of violent hate crimes in recent memory. How dare they? How dare they do this?
We must sadly conclude that the anti-Semitism that led to the Shoah is alive and – a dangerous discrimination against the Roma, the LGBTQ, others, political activists and other vulnerable communities.
As Elie Wiesel said, human suffering everywhere concerns men and women everywhere: ‘Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.’ Let us therefore declare anti-Semitism is a global crisis requiring a global response. We all have a responsibility to not only condemn but also to confront anti-Semitism and bigotry in all forms.
As Speaker of the House, I am proud of the action that our institution has taken to stand with the Jewish people, led by our guests who are here. For the past 40 years, Congress has observed congressionally-mandated Days of Remembrance, around Yom HaShoah, to commemorate the liberation of Dachau by the American troops and renew our commitment to fighting anti-Semitism. I hope that some of you can join us there this year.
And last spring, following a surge in attacks, the House passed a resolution which condemns anti-Semitism ‘as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.’
That’s an applause line.
But in the face of rising hate, words are not enough. As my father said, ‘action, not pity.’
That is why we are taking action to ensure the security of Jewish communities: last year, passing a bill under Chairman Bennie Thompson – who is not with us here – to secure $90 million in funding to defend vulnerable houses of worship. And we are working to expand that funding, and the leaders in that effort are our appropriators, who are here: Nita Lowey and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as well as our others.
By the way, Nita Lowey – she’s the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, she’s very powerful, she controls the purse strings. She announced her retirement, which is very sad for us because she’s a great leader in the Congress and a great friend of Israel. However, when she leaves, I will once again presume the title of grandmother of the most Jewish grandchildren in the Congress of the United States. Paul and I are very proud of that. We’re very proud of that.
So, as we go forward, as we are educating the next generation about the Shoah and the dangers of intolerance today – when – next week, we will pass legislation under the leadership of Carolyn Maloney to fund education efforts, again, purse strings – so that we can fulfill the promise of ‘Never Again.’
It is why we are ensuring justice, by passing the JUST Act in 2018, now law, which requires the State Department to report to Congress on progress of the 47 signatories of the Terezin Declaration to compensate survivors and families for assets seized by Nazi Germany – that was a subject that was brought up by our survivors, as well. And thank you, Ted Deutch – thank you, all of you – but, thank you to Nita Lowey and Chairman Deutch for their leadership and original co-sponsors of this important legislation. So, we’re trying to do something about it.
When that report is issued in the coming weeks, Congress is committed to working with our counterparts in legislatures in Europe to ensure that real action is taken to ensure justice.
When I visited Yad Vashem in 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, we saw, we said Kaddish for Congressman Tom Lantos, the first Holocaust survivor to serve in the U.S. Congress.
Tom once said – and I’m sure Tom Lantos is well known to many of you here – Tom once said, ‘We must remember that the veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest.’
With the memory of all that we have seen, our delegation will return to America with a renewed commitment to be guardians of human rights and human dignity. We will never rest.
Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you about my background, about my regard for all of you, for the great Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, here with Irina – thank you both for your leadership and your service to this great country.
And I think that we all owe a debt of gratitude to Moshe Kantor, for doing something so spectacular –
That he will make a tremendous difference. God bless you, Moshe. God bless the people of Israel. God bless Israel. God bless the America – the United States of America. And God bless the strong relationship, the strong relations, the strong bond between the United States and the great state of Israel.
Thank you for the opportunity. I am so proud to be here today.
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