An official website of the United States government

Remarks for Lunch in honor of Holocaust survivors

I want to start by welcoming all of you today.  It is a tremendous honor for me to host so many Holocaust survivors, their children, and their grandchildren in my home.  I would also like to recognize Rabbi Ute Steyer, Cardinal Anders Arborelius, and Imam Mahmoud Khalfi, who graciously agreed to join us today.  President Trump has rightly called the Holocaust a “dark stain on human history” — the greatest evil ever perpetuated by man against man in the long catalogue of human crime.  The repercussions and lessons of the Holocaust touch all of us, regardless of nationality or faith, and I think it is fitting that we have with us today representatives from three of the largest religious groups in the world.

This year we mark 75 years since the Shoah.  I am not a descendant of survivors myself, but like so many Americans I feel a very personal connection to the events of World War II as both of my grandfathers served in the U.S. military during this period.  I think there are very few – if any – other conflicts in history that were as black and white as the Second World War, where the purposes and intentions of one side were so wholly unjust and despicable.  And, whether we realize it or not, all of our lives, and the reality in which we currently live, have been greatly influenced by the events of the war and, in particular, the Holocaust.

We are privileged to have among us today some of the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.  Tragically, for each one of them who are here, there are hundreds of thousands, even millions, more who could have been and should have been with us on this earth had it not been for the evil and horror unleashed during that great catastrophe, the scale and magnitude of which are unsurpassed by anything else in the history of the world.  We will never fully know what the world lost when those lives were lost, but that loss is immeasurable.

Yet the memory of the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust cannot be allowed to fade with time.  We all have a duty, not only to remember, but also to pass on to the next generation the lessons of the Holocaust.

Soon we will hear from some of the grandchildren who have taken on this task and who have dedicated their lives to ensure their grandparents and families and neighbors and friends stories are not forgotten.  Thank you to Nadine and the others from Zikaron for your important commitment and for coming here today to share with us.

As Vice President Pence said recently at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, we must remember “what happens when the powerless cry for help and the powerful refuse to answer.  We [must] mourn with those who mourn and grieve with those who grieve.  We [must] remember the names and the faces and the promise of…the 6 million Jews who were murdered.”

The recent rise in anti-Semitism that we have seen in the United States and Europe makes the need to remember all the more urgent.  In order to help carry out this important responsibility, Secretary of State Pompeo announced on January 27 a new $2 million-donation to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation from the U.S. Government.  This contribution is in addition to the $15 million the United States provided over a five-year period that ended in 2018.  This funding demonstrates our commitment to Holocaust education, remembrance, dialogue, and research.

In that same announcement, Secretary Pompeo encouraged other nations to join the United States in supporting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, calling it humanity’s duty to honor Holocaust survivors, guard the memory of Holocaust victims and all other victims of Nazi persecution, and fight back against anti-Semitism and attempts to ignore and revise history.  The United States will continue to urge all to ensure the horrors of the Holocaust are not repeated and future crimes against humanity are prevented.

We must all commit ourselves to preserving and passing on the memories of the victims and the survivors.  That is one of the reasons I have been so pleased to learn about the important work the Swedish government is doing through the Living History Forum, which promotes tolerance, human rights, and democracy through education about the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity.  It is also one of the reasons I am so pleased that you could join me today.  One of the first things I did after arriving in Stockholm was to see the “Fading Stories” exhibit at the Fotografiska Museum.  The exhibit was about to end, and I wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to see it firsthand.  It was an important example to me of the way we can use diverse media to help preserve and learn from these important memories.

I know many of you are already actively engaged in combatting the growing tide of anti-Semitism.  As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles with time, many of their children and grandchildren will play a critical role in ensuring their memories are preserved long after they are gone.  I am grateful for your willingness to be here and share your stories with us.  I also look forward to hearing your suggestions on how the U.S. Embassy might be able to support these efforts in Sweden.  Thank you all again, for what you represent, for the work you do, and for joining us today.