Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, which memorializes the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis during their campaign of genocide in World War II. We mourn the innocent lives lost and vibrant communities destroyed while the world shamefully stood silent, and honor those heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto who faced certain death when they refused to submit to the Nazi’s planned extermination of their community.
To this day, Mr. Speaker, many European countries have failed to right the past wrongs of the Holocaust by failing to adequately redress the wrongful confiscation of property by the Nazi and communist regimes. These seizures took place over decades; they were part of the modus operandi of repressive, totalitarian regimes; and they affected millions of people. The passage of time, border changes, and population shifts are only a few of the things that make the wrongful property seizures of the past such difficult problems to address today.
While I recognize that many obstacles stand in the way of righting these past wrongs, I do not believe that these challenges make property restitution or compensation impossible. On the contrary, I believe much more should have been done–and can still be done now–while our elderly Holocaust survivors are still living.
Today I also want to sound the alarm about a disturbing trend that Jews face today: a rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout the world.
I serve as the Ranking Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), commonly known as the Helsinki Commission. Last year I traveled as part of the U.S. Delegation, with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, to attend a special conference in Berlin addressing anti-Semitism, held under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE is a 55-nation regional security organization which promotes democracy and human rights in Europe, Central Asia, and North America.
Before traveling to Berlin, I made a point to visit Auschwitz for the first time. I was shocked and stunned to see how efficient the Nazi operation was: they wanted to maximize the number of individuals that could be killed.
Seeing the remains of that factory of intolerance, hate and death, it reaffirmed how we must continually stress the importance of advancing understanding throughout the OSCE region and the entire world. We must tirelessly work to build understanding and respect between different communities to prevent future acts of prejudice and injustice.
At the Berlin Conference, I had the privilege of participating as a member of the U.S. delegation, and I gave the official U.S. statement in the session on tolerance. The meeting ended with the issuance of the Berlin Declaration of Action.
The Berlin Declaration laid out a number of specific steps for states to take to combat the rising tide of anti-Semitism, including: striving to ensure that their legal systems foster a safe environment free from anti-Semitic harassment, violence or discrimination; promoting educational programs; promoting remembrance of the Holocaust, and the importance of respecting all ethnic and religious groups; combating hate crimes, which can be fueled by racist and anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet; encouraging and supporting international organizations and NGO’s; and encouraging the development of best practices between law enforcement and educational institutions.
As we commemorate Yom Hashoah, let us honor the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust by pledging to fight intolerance, hate crimes, and violence in our community and around the world. We shall never be silent again.