President Obama on the 65th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau


The President:
Good morning. And thank you to everyone who
worked to bring us to this day, especially the International
Auschwitz Council and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. To President Kacynski,
Prime Minister Tusk, and to the people of Poland — thank you for preserving a place of such great pain
for the Polish people, but a place of remembrance
and learning for the world. Although I can’t be
with you in person, I am proud that the United States is represented there today by a delegation of
distinguished Americans, including Ambassador Feinstein;
my wife Michelle’s chief of staff, Susan Sher;
and my good friend, and the son of Holocaust
survivors, Julius Genachowski. And let me commend you for
recognizing a woman who has devoted her life to preserving
the lessons of the shoah for future generations — Sara Bloomfield of the United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington. But most of all, I want to
thank those of you who found the strength to come back
again, so many years later, despite the horror you saw here,
the suffering you endured here, and the loved ones
you lost here. Those of us who did not live
through those dark days will never truly understand what it
means to have hate literally etched into your arms. But we understand the message
that you carry in your hearts. For you know the truth that Elie
Wiesel spoke when I stood with him at Buchenwald last spring. There, where his father and so
many innocent souls left this earth, Elie said, “memory has become the sacred duty of all people of goodwill.” We have a sacred duty to
remember the twisted thinking that led here — how a great society of culture and science succumbed to the worst instincts of man and rationalized mass murder and one of the most barbaric acts in history. We have a sacred duty to
remember the cruelty that occurred here, as told in the
simple objects that speak to us even now. The suitcases that
still bear their names. The wooden clogs they wore. The round bowls
from which they ate. Those brick buildings from
which there was no escape — where so many Jews died with
Sh’ma Israel on their lips. And the very earth at Auschwitz,
which is still hallowed by their ashes — Jews and those
who tried to save them, Polish and Hungarian, French
and Dutch, Roma and Russian, straight and gay,
and so many others. But even as we recall
man’s capacity for evil, Auschwitz also tells
another story — of man’s capacity for good. The small acts of compassion — the sharing of some bread that kept a child alive. The great acts of resistance
that blew up the crematorium and tried to stop the slaughter. The Polish Rescuers and those
who earned their place forever in the Righteous
Among the Nations. And you — the survivors. The perpetrators of that crime
tried to annihilate the entire Jewish people. But they failed. Because 65 years ago today,
when the gates flew open, you were still standing. And every day that
you have lived, every child and grandchild that
your families have brought into the world with love, every day
the sun rises on the Jewish state of Israel — that is the ultimate rebuke to the ignorance and hatred of this place. So to those of you who have
come back today, I say, no, you are not “former prisoners.” You are living memorials. Living memorials to the
loved ones you left here. And to the spirit we must
strive to uphold in our time — not simply to bear witness,
but to bear a burden. The burden of seeing
our common humanity; of resisting anti-Semitism and
ignorance in all its forms; of refusing to become
bystanders to evil, whenever and wherever
it rears its ugly face. Let that be the true
meaning of Auschwitz. Let that be the liberation
we celebrate today — a liberation of the spirit that,
if embraced, can lead us all — individuals and as nations
— to be among the righteous. May God bless you all, and may
God bless the memory of all those who rest here.

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