IAC :: Remember the past, be responsible for the future

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July 10th, 2012

Remarks by Roman Kent at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Washington, DC

IAK-Präsident Roman Kent (© Boris Buchholz)
IAK-Präsident Roman Kent 

State Secretary Gatzer, Drs. Bley & Langner, Honored Guests, Ladies & Gentlemen, and of course, My Fellow Survivors ….

As we commemorate today the 60th anniversary of the signing of the historic Luxembourg Agreement in the unique inspirational surroundings of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, an outstanding educational center, what thoughts, memories and impressions resonate in my mind?  To me, a survivor, ghettos and concentration camps will always have terrifying, unspeakable meanings of their own.  

For in these places killing and murder, sanctioned by the government, was at its worst.  And it was in these places where the fate of future doctors, scientists, Nobel Prize winners, and teachers was sealed, designated for extinction.  How many people did we lose?  How much was lost to mankind?  All in the name of Nazism and purity of race!

In a way, these crimes committed against Jews were de facto crimes against all mankind, against our morality, ethics, civilization, and culture.  Sadly, the 20th century Nazis and their collaborators were proud of their deeds.  Thus, the 20th century Germans not only became proud heirs to Goethe, Schiller, and Heine, but also the heirs to Hitler and all atrocities committed in his name.

Sixty years ago, Chancellor Adenauer acknowledged the crimes committed against Jews and he initiated a measure of moral justice by instituting some monetary payments to the victims of Nazism.  Fifty years later while I was standing by his side, President Rau, representing a new generation of Germans, repeated the acknowledgment of guilt and asked us survivors for forgiveness.

Yet how can we, the survivors, the few percent of Jews who miraculously survived the ghettos and concentration camps, forgive and forget?  No, we survivors can neither forgive nor forget.  Forgive we cannot, for forgiveness can only be granted by the six million individuals who were murdered, and they are dead and their voices can no longer be heard.

But if we, the living survivors, were to forget what happened to six million of our brethren, then the conscience of mankind would be buried alongside the six million victims.  Therefore, we dare not to forget.  Thus, it is the destiny of survivors and the German nation to carry the burden of this horrendous crime from now to eternity.

But what can I say to the new generation of Germans born after the Holocaust?  I, a survivor of the Lodz Ghetto, deported from Lodz to Auschwitz, can tell you that I do not hold you responsible for the sins of your fathers and grandfathers.  You are not guilty for the terrible crimes committed by your forefathers.  But what I, what survivors collectively, and what history will hold you accountable for, is what you do or will not do now.  Now you still have the opportunity of redeeming yourself while some of us are still alive.

As we stand here and recall the past tragedy, we should ask ourselves what is the responsibility for the new generation of Germans?  What should your role be, even your duty, and how will you be remembered?  How will you be remembered not only in the annals of history, not only in the eyes of the survivors, but also in the minds and eyes of your children when you will be asked by them …. “what did you do, or did not do, for the remnants of the victims so vividly depicted and preserved in this magnificent museum?”

Yes, we survivors and the German nation together must keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.  It is our mutual obligation to instill in children the understanding of what happens when prejudice and hatred are allowed to flourish.  It is my conviction that only through education can another Holocaust be prevented from happening again to us or any other people.  So together we must teach our children tolerance and understanding at home and in school.  For tolerance cannot be assumed …. it has to be taught.  And we must teach our children that hate is never right and love is never wrong!

In addition to education, let me express at least one thought as to what your plausible answer should be.  Just as your fathers devised methods of how to annihilate our Jewish nation, you can, or should, be in the forefront of seeing how to prolong the lives of survivors, the innocent individuals condemned to death for no other reason than being Jewish.

Today all survivors are old, many are sick, and most are scarred more than ever by the tragic memories from their youth which they now vividly re-live time and again.  Among other necessities, they need medical and homecare help …. they require such immediate assistance so that they can live the remaining years of their lives in relative comfort with the proper medical care.

I am here today to acknowledge and give thanks to those who have shown compassion and attempted to help us over these past sixty plus years and continue to do so.  Just a few years ago I introduced to the negotiating team the tremendous need among survivors for homecare.

State Secretary Gatzer I want to personally and publicly acknowledge your heartfelt understanding of this situation, for your personal intervention and involvement in handling this problem, and for narrowing the bridge between the needs and actual costs for such homecare.  I have nothing but the highest praise for your compassion in acting so promptly and expeditiously to make homecare available to tens of thousands of survivors.   I also wish to acknowledge Drs. Bley and Langner who worked with the State Secretary to accomplish this goal.

Obviously, it is impossible for us survivors to be fully compensated and receive “total justice” for the tremendous hardships we suffered during the Holocaust, but at least we are entitled to receive what I refer to as “imperfect justice”.  This being the case I pay tribute to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, better known as The Claims Conference, an organization that was founded in 1952, and still exists today, formed to address the material claims of Holocaust survivors. 

I wish to express thanks to the Claims Conference for their efforts on our behalf over these many years.  Imperfect as it might be, the hard work and support they exhibited have produced scores of positive results which helped survivors in need throughout the world.

Much of the work of the Claims Conference, especially in recent years, would not have been possible without the close involvement of the United States government, particularly that of Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  The unshakeable support of the U.S. throughout the negotiation process has been invaluable.  The United States has been a true friend to our cause for obtaining the overall help for Holocaust survivors at large.  I would like to thank our government and this country for all that was done on our behalf.

Once again, I convey appreciation to the governments of both Germany and the United States for everything they have done to help needy survivors.  Unquestionably, we survivors deserve the right to spend our remaining years in dignity and in the comfort of our own homes.

Although much has been accomplished, we cannot be complacent because there is still a great deal to do.  To bring forth some measure of justice, we must continue to work together in harmony to provide necessary comfort for the remnants of those still alive who survived the Holocaust.  Based on the results of what has already been achieved, I am optimistic that without delay together we will continue to do our utmost to care for these unfortunate individuals who are now in the twilight of their lives.