Your Majesties, your Excellencies, Rabbis, Clergy, honored guests and, most importantly, the survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, who are with us today.
This is about you, the survivors and I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am that you are here and in some cases, here with your children and grandchildren. Five years ago, when I stood here, in front of these painful gates, I admitted that I am not a survivor: But I am so grateful for the survivors who are here today. I am not a liberator, although I salute the courage of the veterans who saved us all.
I am here, simply, as a Jew. And, like all Jews everywhere, this place, this terrible place called Auschwitz has sadly become an inseparable part of us.
Auschwitz is like a scar from a terrible trauma. It never goes away and the pain never stops. I have always wondered, if I had been born in Hungary, where my grandparents were from, instead of New York in February, 1944, would I have lived?
The answer is: no.
I would have been one of the 438,000 Hungarian Jews gassed by the Nazis in 1944 right here in Auschwitz. I can assure you, almost all Jews have pondered this question.
75 years ago today, when Soviet troops entered these gates, they had no idea what lay behind them. And since that day the entire world has struggled with what they found inside.
We have all wondered how an advanced country that gave the world great literature and art and scientific advancement, could sink to an anger, a meanness, a depravity like Auschwitz.
I’m afraid Auschwitz offers more questions than answers.
But let me be clear: While Germany and Austria caused, created and carried out this shattering evil practically every other European country helped the Nazis gather up their Jewish citizens. Too many people in too many countries made Auschwitz happen.
And when European Jews begged the world for a safe harbor, someplace to go, the entire world turned its back on them.
Even my own country - the beacon of freedom - turned out its light on the jewish people when they needed it the most.
The U.S. organized a conference in Evian, France, in July of 1938, to discuss the Jewish refugee crisis. There were a lot of lovely speeches but, the United States did not let any additional Jewish refugees in and every other country in attendance followed their lead.
There were 32 countries and none of them, except for the tiny Dominican Republic wanted anymore Jews. Hitler saw this. Four months later, came Kristallnacht.
And again, there was no world reaction.
Hitler tested the world. And at every step he saw the truth: the world did not care. That’s when he knew that he could build this factory of death.
Evian led to Auschwitz. Kristallnacht led to Auschwitz. World Anti-Semitism led to Auschwitz.
Thankfully, there were some people throughout Europe who had a moral decency and who acted differently. Ordinary people who risked their lives and their family’s lives, to save other human beings sometimes people they didn’t even know.
At Yad Vashem in Jerusalem you will see 27,362 names of what we call: The Righteous Among Nations. Those gentiles, who risked everything to save Jewish lives. We have not forgotten these honorable men and women and we never will.
Five years ago, at the 70th anniversary, I was very concerned about the shocking rise of Anti-Semitism here in Europe. Today, you all know the attacks on Jews, the killings, the vicious slanders have only grown worse, and they have even spread to my country.
75 years ago, when the world finally saw the pictures of the gas chambers here and the piles of bodies, nobody in their right mind wanted to be associated with Nazis. But now, I see something I never thought I would see in my lifetime: The open and brazen spread of Anti-Jewish hatred throughout the world, once again.