It is my privilege to join you today, as the representative of the people of the United States. I thank the government of Poland, and all those who have organized the commemorations of the liberation of Auschwitz.
On this day in 1945, inside a prison for the innocent, liberators arrived and looked into the faces of thousands near death – while, miles beyond the camp, many thousands more were being led on a death march in the winter cold. Inside barbed wire, and behind high walls, soldiers found “baths” that were not baths … and hospitals meant not to heal but to kill… and the belongings of hundreds of thousands who had vanished.
In the death camps of Europe, men committed some of the greatest wrongs that the human mind can conceive. Yet today these are hallowed places. Auschwitz, said one survivor, is the “largest cemetery in the world, one without gravestones. Only the ashes of countless souls were strewn here.” The camps were also the scene of profound humanity and heroism. From survivors we know some of the stories of brave resistance … of helpless men, women, and children giving comfort to one another in their terrible last moments … of the righteous, being led to their deaths, affirming to the end their faith in Almighty God.
The Holocaust occupies a single period in history, but it is not a single event. It represents millions of individual acts of murder. Each prisoner who arrived had a name, and a home, and dreams for tomorrow. Each, like you and me, was a child of God who wanted to live … who had every right to live … who no man had any right to harm.
Gathered in this place we are reminded that such immense cruelty did not happen in a far-away, uncivilized corner of the world, but rather in the very heart of the civilized world. The death camps were created by men with a high opinion of themselves – some of them well educated, and possessed of refined manners – but without conscience. And where there is no conscience, there is no tolerance toward others … no defense against evil… and no limit to the crimes that follow. The story of the camps reminds us that evil is real, and must be called by its name, and must be confronted. We are reminded that anti-Semitism may begin with words, but rarely stops with words … and the message of intolerance and hatred must be opposed before it turns into acts of horror.
President Bush has said of the Holocaust, “There will come a time when the eyewitnesses are gone. That is why we are bound by conscience to remember what happened, and to whom it happened.” At Auschwitz we bear witness to the cruelty, and the suffering, and tragedy of a time that is still within living memory. On this anniversary of liberation, we give thanks for the liberators, and for all who labored to free this continent from tyranny. We pray that God’s mercies are forever with the souls of the departed. And we look to the future with hope – that He may grant us the wisdom to recognize evil in all its forms … and give us the courage to prevent it from ever rising again.