World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust

Berlin, August 24, 2014
Ambassador John B. Emerson

It is an honor to join Mayor Wowereit, Dr. Felix Klein from the German Foreign Ministry, and Israeli Ambassador Hadas-Handelsman in welcoming the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust to Berlin.

This is the first meeting of the Federation in Germany.  Stefanie Seltzer, the decision to meet here was certainly not an easy one.  But your presence here is important.

My wife Kimberly and I have a number of friends who have visited us here in Berlin.  Several, like many of you, were the first members of their families to visit Germany after the Holocaust; and they came with some trepidation.  As with our friends, I know that for many of you, traveling to Germany was a difficult, but a necessary, and I hope, an ultimately gratifying journey.  And I believe it will be encouraging for you to see how well and how directly Germany has faced its history.

As child survivors of the Holocaust, each one of you overcame enormous challenges – and that process continues.  Even after the passing of decades, the horrible events of the Holocaust are carried with you; and, as the book “Bending Toward the Sun” teaches us, their impact is felt by your children and grandchildren as well.  These memories will never dissolve; and we honor you for your courage and your resolve.

President Obama speaks often about his visit with another child survivor, Elie Wiesel, to Buchenwald.  Reflecting on all that he had endured, Mr. Wiesel told the President, “We had the right to give up – on humanity, on culture, on education, on the possibility of living one’s life with dignity, in a world that has no place for dignity.”  But, he said, “We rejected that possibility, and we said, no, we must continue believing in a future.”

I am certain that the members of the Jewish community in Germany who are with us this evening and my friend, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, would agree that the fact that we all can meet here, bears testimony to Mr. Wiesel’s vision of a common humanity.

Without a doubt, there are not only lessons of history to be learned here in Germany, but also lessons for the future – about making a new beginning, about finding common ground, and about taking steps to make certain that the horrors of that time are not repeated during this time.

But despite all of our efforts, even with everything that hopefully we have learned, we know that our work will never be done.  There will be conflicts that are not easily resolved.  There will be senseless deaths that are not prevented.  There will be stories of pain and hardship and violence that test our hopes, try our conscience, and compel us to action.

That is why the steps we are taking in Iraq, in the face of yet another unfolding horror, are so important. That is why, when ugly anti-Semitic slogans are uttered in Europe and elsewhere they need to be met by a full throated condemnation, from all leaders of government and civil society, as they have been here in Germany.  And that is why, in light of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, Americans must solemnly consider the continuing reality of our original sin, racism.

The message is clear: tolerance cannot be taken for granted.  It has to be constantly secured and shaped anew.  Or as President Obama says, “Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture.  Awareness without action changes nothing.”

This is why your visit to Berlin is so important and symbolic.  It gives shape and form to the challenge “Never again” and affords all of us an opportunity to pause, and to look within.

Again, you have my heartfelt welcome and deepest thanks.