The International School for Holocaust Studies
Echoes & Reflections
Speech by Elie Wiesel at the Opening Ceremony of the New Holocaust History Museum
Yad Vashem, March 15, 2005
…You read and you read and you say to yourself: where did they [Holocaust Survivors] have the strength to write – to use words – destined to whom? My good friends, all of us know more or less that there was a tragedy – and we also know that we must be honest about it – there are no words. Only those who were there know what it meant being there. And yet – we are duty bound to try and not to bury our memories into silence – we try. I know what people say – it is so easy. Those that were there won’t agree with that statement. The statement is: it was man’s inhumanity to man. NO! It was man’s inhumanity to Jews! Jews were not killed because they were human beings. In the eyes of the killers they were not human beings! They were Jews! It is because they were Jews that it was so easy for the killers to kill!
And you see the pictures – My God, you see the pictures! Jews were ordered to dig their own graves. Have we ever had that in history, that has always been filled with cruelty but not such cruelty? Have mothers ever been forced to give up their children in order to live? And few mothers chose that, no? Mothers went with their children with their babies – there are no words! At that time we had a feeling that history had entered into madness, and madness had its own logic, its own destiny, almost its own archeology. And within that madness it was perfectly plausible to kill children.
And so we go through the museum and we do not understand. All we know is that it happened. And now the question is: what does one do with memories. Any psychiatrist will tell you: if you suppress memories they will come back with fury. You must face them. Even if you cannot articulate them, we must face them. And memories are many and varied.
Memories of those who died with weapons in their hands – and those who died with prayers on their lips. And let no one say that some were heroes and others martyrs. In those times the heroes were martyrs and the martyrs were heroes. It was heroic for a friend to give his piece of bread to his friend; it was heroic to go around on Shabat and wimply say to his or her friends: it is Shabat today. It was heroic to have faith; it was heroic to be human.
And so we go through the museum and what should we do? Weep? No!
My good friends – we never try to tell the tale to make people weep. It is too easy. We did not want pity. If we decided to tell the tale - it is because we wanted the world to be a better world – just a better world and learn and remember...
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