Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Ceremony Commemorating the Day of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust

April 20, 1982

Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. And I just said outside-before I make the remarks that I have intended to make, it might be appropriate to mention I received yesterday an Easter greeting—small, obviously handmade, and artistically done—and particularly when you consider that it probably had to be done in secret, and then smuggled out of where it was done. It was from internees in one of the prison camps in Poland today. And it contained a message of thanks to us for what we're trying to do in their behalf. And I thought it was a pretty good reminder at this particular season that the things that bring us together here are still possible in the world.

I understand many of you just arrived in here from the [Capitol] Rotunda. Our gatherings today—at the Rotunda, here in the White House, and in meetings across the land—reflect the magnitude of what has brought us together. Thirty-seven years ago, as the conflagration in Europe drew to a close, our eyes were opened to a new tragedy of such proportion that even now we can't grasp the horror of it. There were millions of victims of the Holocaust. Such vast figures have a way of blinding us to the humanity behind the numbers.

Today, perhaps for a moment, we should think of those who are not with us. We miss these people, though we were never permitted to know them. God understands how different, I'm sure—and only God—our lives would be had they been permitted to live.

There was Isaac Rudashevski, a young Lithuanian trapped in a ghetto at 15 years of age. Instead of giving up hope, he concentrated on reading and learning. His diary described his appetite for books. "The book unites us with the future," he wrote. "The book unites us with the world." Isaac did not survive. And one can only speculate what he might have become—an author, possibly—and the world might have been drawn a little closer because of his contributions.

Charlotte Salomon, a talented painter. She left a selection of artwork, but her life was cut short. We can only wonder what she might have created for us.

Marrisha Eisenstadt was the daughter of a director of the Warsaw Synagogue. We're told her voice was so beautiful that she was called the "Nightingale of the Ghetto." And she was killed during the liquidations, and we'll never know the comfort of her song.

And Hana Senesh, originally from Hungary, made it safely to Israel. And she courageously parachuted back into Hungary in hopes of saving others, and instead she, herself, was a victim. She left behind some of her poetry. But not enough—not nearly enough.

And then there was Moses Flinker, a 16-year-old Dutch boy. His diary tells us that while he was in hiding he decided he would become a statesman in Israel when the war was over. He wrote that after making the decision to go into politics he decided to study Arabic. Why? Well, he knew that Israel would have to live in peace with its neighbors, and he wanted to possess the skills necessary to help in that task.

In a few days, Israel will return the final portion of the Sinai. We could only wonder what kind of contribution Moses Flinker would make if he were here with us.

We fervently pray that the return of the Sinai will be accepted for what it is—a magnificent act of faith by Israel for the sake of peace. It's a noble expression by a people who've suffered so much.

The United States is grateful for this step which reinforces our firm commitment to Israel's security. Today we're reminded that we must be sensitive to the history of a people whose country was reborn from the ashes of the Holocaust—a country that rightfully never takes its security or its survival for granted. With this in mind, all peace-loving people should applaud Israel and Egypt for what they have done.

Those who died cannot be with us, but they have a contribution to make. Their voices from the past cry out for us never to tolerate hatred or bigotry. Their voices can be heard even now.

Those who survived also remind us of heroism and dignity in the face of adversity, of truths discovered in the midst of pain and suffering.

Viktor Frankl, a prisoner of Auschwitz, later became a well-known professor of psychiatry and an author. He discussed some of his observations in his book "Man's Search for Meaning." "We who lived in concentrations camps," he wrote, "can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

We of today must choose how we will respond to the Holocaust. Let us tell the world that we will struggle against the darker side of human nature; that with God's help, goodness will prevail and those who lost their lives will not be forgotten.

If you'll permit me, I'd like to mention one last victim of the Holocaust. He is a victim, yet he may also be a survivor.

During the dark years when the world began to realize what was happening, there were those among us—heroes who risked their lives trying to save people, often total strangers from the camps. In Assisi, Italy, for example, almost the entire population risked their lives hiding Jews throughout the town.

And some years ago when I was in Denmark to celebrate the Raybill's Society Fourth of July celebration, the largest celebration of the Fourth of July, our American holiday, outside the United States, and I learned there how in the Nazi occupation of Denmark, when the order came out for the Danes to turn in their Jewish neighbors, the next day every Dane appeared on the street wearing a Star of David.

But the one man who I think must be remembered above all was Raoul Wallenberg. One such man, at incredible risk, saved tens of thousands. And on this day of remembrance let us especially recall this man, and if he's alive, as some suggest, let his captors know they'll be forgotten long before Raoul Wallenberg is forgotten.

Let us also bear in mind on this special day that the entire human family now faces the threat of a different kind of holocaust-a nuclear holocaust. May the remembrance of past victims of man's inhumanity to man strengthen our resolve to seek a just and peaceful world for ourselves and our posterity.

And again, thank you all for being here today.

Note: The President spoke at 1:39 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Ceremony Commemorating the Day of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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