I am honored and also grave and solemn as I participate in this ceremony during Days of Remembrance for Victims of the Holocaust.
Just 5 weeks ago, during my trip to Israel, I visited again Yad Vashem—the Memorial to the Six Million. I walked slowly through the Hall of Names. And like literally millions before me, I grieved as I looked at book after book, row after row, each recording the name of a man or woman, a little boy or a little girl, each one a victim of the Holocaust. I vowed then—as people all over the world are doing this week—to reaffirm our unshakable commitment that such an event will never recur on this Earth again.
A philosopher has written that language itself breaks down when one tries to speak about the Holocaust and its meaning. Our words pale before the frightening spectacle of human evil which was unleashed on the world and before the awesomeness of the suffering involved; the sheer weight of its numbers: 11 million innocent victims exterminated, 6 million of them Jews.
Although words do pale, yet we must speak. We must strive to understand. We must teach the lessons of the Holocaust. And most of all, we ourselves must remember. We must learn not only about the vulnerability of life but of the value of human life. We must remember the terrible price paid for bigotry and hatred and also the terrible price paid for indifference and for silence.
It's fitting also that we recall today the persecution, the suffering, and the destruction which has befallen so many other people in this century, in many nations, people whose representatives have joined us for this observance. For the central lesson of the Holocaust must be that, in the words of the poet, "Each man's death diminishes me."
To truly commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, we must harness the outrage of our memories to banish all human oppression from the world. We must recognize that when any fellow human being is stripped of humanity, when any person is turned into an object of repression, tortured or defiled or victimized by terrorism or prejudice or racism, then all human beings are victims, too.
The world's failure to recognize the moral truth 40 years ago permitted the Holocaust to proceed. Our generation-the generation of survivors—will never permit the lesson to be forgotten. Human rights and human dignity are indivisible. America must and always will speak out in the defense of human rights, not only in our own country but around the world.
That commitment imposes special responsibilities on us to uphold the highest possible standards of human justice and human rights here at home. I applaud the Congress in calling for this day of remembrance of the Holocaust. And I renew my call to the Senate to take a long overdue step this year by ratifying the International Treaty on the Prevention and the Punishment of Genocide. Without concrete action, our words are hollow. Let us signify by deed as well as by word that the American people will never forget.
It is, perhaps, ironic that we meet today in a season of rebirth and renewal to recall a time of darkness and destruction that has no parallel in human history. And yet it's also fitting that we do so in this Rotunda, along with actual survivors of the Holocaust itself. For the Holocaust is also a story of renewal and a testament to the power of the human spirit to prevail.
People who saw their homes destroyed helped build a new homeland in the State of Israel. People like Elie Wiesel, the Chairman of my Holocaust Commission, who witnessed the collapse of all vision, created and shared with us a new vision. It's an incredible story of a people who refused to allow despair to triumph, who, after having lost their children, brought new families into the world.
It is our collective task as well to learn from this process of renewal the roots of hope—a hope not based on illusion or ignorance, but hope grounded in the rebirth of the human spirit and a reaffirmation of the sacredness of life.
With that hope, we will strive to build out of our memories of the Holocaust a world joined by a true fellowship of human understanding, a world of tolerance and diversity in which all peoples can live in dignity and in peace.