Remarks at the North Carolina Holocaust Commemoration
"Take care and watch yourselves closely, " the writer of Deuteronomy admonishes, " so as neither to forget the things that our eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to our children and your children's children..."(4:9)
Once again we are indebted to the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust for bringing us together to " make known" the awful truths of history; to remember, speak, teach, and learn; to search our minds and hearts to discern ways large and small that we may act on our resolve, "Never again."
This year's observance comes amid reports from the Holocaust Museum's thirteen-year study that the network of ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps, and killing factories set up by the Nazis throughout Europe far exceeded earlier estimations—some 42,500 sites, where an estimated 15-20 million people died or were imprisoned.
As one of the researchers noted, the findings leave little doubt that most German citizens had to know about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps: "You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps. They were everywhere," he said.
The findings also underscore the importance of the Holocaust Museum's theme for this year's observance: "Never again: Heeding the warning signs." If few could imagine the full dimensions of what would become one of the history's darkest hours, the warning signs were ominous for those willing to see them and heed them: the stripping from Jews of their rights as citizens and their opportunities for employment; the instigation and toleration of mass violence, exemplified in Kristallnacht; the early confining and imprisoning of political opponents, Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, Poles, Russians, and others –all of which turned within a few years into an unprecedented network of torture, slavery, and death.
Too few people and too few countries – our own included -- heeded the warning signs that might have averted or mitigated the calamity that ensued. And today, while we might hope that such dark days are totally behind us, we know that they are not. Our country still faces agonizing dilemmas as to when and how to intervene in the face of atrocities and human devastation. And as communities and individuals, memories of the Holocaust prompt us to "heed the warning signs" of hatred and intolerance and de-humanization wherever we find them -- and of the temptation we all experience to deny responsibility, to avert our eyes. May today's observance prompt that kind of vigilance and soul-searching and resolve for each of us today.