A moving ceremony at the U.S. Capitol marks the dedication of an important source of information on anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial
The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) jointly hosted the dedication of the Tom Lantos Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial Archives at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. In a moving ceremony, members of Congress and other dignitaries expressed their support for the establishment of the Lantos Archives and praised both MEMRI and the Lantos Foundation for their important work and efforts to combat anti-Semitism and human rights violations worldwide.
The event’s list of distinguished speakers featured a bipartisan mix of members of Congress, including: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator George Voinovich, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Congressman Gary Ackerman, Congressman Eric Cantor, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Congressman Anh “Joseph” Cao, and Congressman Eni Faleomavaega. Additionally, the standing room only crowd heard remarks from the Israeli Ambassador Salai Meridor, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor) Kay Mayfield, and Paul Shapiro, Director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Many of the speakers recalled their former colleague Congressman Tom Lantos, the archives’ namesake, and his dedication to combating anti-Semitism and all forms of injustice. Vice President Joe Biden echoed this theme in a letter expressing his support for the new Lantos Archives, which read, “The Lantos Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial Archives will help future generations understand why we confront injustice, why we defend human rights, and why we honor all that Tom Lantos stood for… I think it is fair to say, Tom would have been proud to be associated with an archive that not only documents past injustices, but acts as a tool to help prevent future intolerance.”
The Lantos Archives, which represent a collaborative effort between the Lantos Foundation and MEMRI, will be the repository of MEMRI’s Anti-Semitism Documentation Project. These remarkable archives document anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in every form of media throughout the Greater Middle East. The project also focuses on those brave individuals in the Arab and Muslim world who courageously speak out against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. MEMRI's Anti-Semitism Documentation Project maintains the largest archives in the world of translated Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, and Urdu - Pashtu material on anti-Semitism from the past decade. It has become the preeminent source of information on the global upsurge in anti-Semitism and is regularly used as a primary source for legislators, policymakers, and researchers around the world.
Mrs. Annette Lantos, wife of the late Congressman Lantos and Chairman of the Lantos Foundation, will travel to Budapest, Hungary next week to participate in a day-long event honoring her husband's service and commitment to Eastern-Central Europe and global human rights issues. The event will include a dedication ceremony for a plaque that will be placed at the Raoul Wallenberg "safe house" where Tom Lantos found refuge after escaping twice from Nazi slave labor camps. Mrs. Lantos will speak at the dedication, which will be followed by an afternoon symposium dealing with human rights and Hungarian/American relations, among other topics.
The participants include a distinguished roster of guests, including NATO Ambassador Kurt Volker, author Kati Marton, Professor Charles Gati, and Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany.
The day will conclude with a dinner at the American Embassy.
Speech by Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett on behalf of her father Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
My father wanted very much to be with you today. He sends his greetings, and looks forward to watching this event online when it is posted to the Web. Today he has asked me to serve as his voice; and these are my father’s words.
Thank you, Kiyo Akasaka, for your generous introduction. I would like to extend my special thanks to my friend Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for arranging this commemoration, a combination of the somber and the sublime that reflects the spirit of remembrance with which the United Nations annual commemoration of the Holocaust was conceived just over two years ago.
We all owe a great debt of gratitude not only to the Secretary-General, but also to his predecessor and my father's friend, Kofi Annan, for his stewardship of the process that brought us to this day. Were it not for their wise and principled leadership, the United Nations still might not have a day set aside each year to reflect on a prolonged nightmare in history that the world vowed never to forget – but some are trying to erase from memory. Annette and I owe our lives to Raoul Wallenberg. During the Nazi occupation, this heroic young diplomat left behind the comfort and safety of Stockholm to rescue his fellow human beings in the hell that was wartime Budapest. He had little in common with them: he was a Lutheran, they were Jewish; he was a Swede, they were Hungarians. And yet with inspired courage and creativity he saved the lives of tens of thousands of men, women and children by placing them under the protection of the Swedish crown.
As a youth in the late 1930s and early ‘40s, I witnessed and experienced the deliberate de-legitimization of millions of Jews, proud and patriotic citizens of countries such as Austria, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Croatia and Slovakia. As momentum gained in the campaign to demonize and de-legitimize these citizens, and later to strip them of their very humanity, the psychological climate of the Holocaust was being prepared – culminating in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, where I lost my mother.
Two generations after the Holocaust, I never thought – I could not even have imagined – that within the structure of the United Nations there would be some who would attempt to de-legitimatize the Jewish State, the State of Israel, founded and built by the remnants of European Jewry and by the hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab lands.
Worse still, just as an earlier dictator pledged to destroy the Jews of Europe, so a new one is threatening to destroy the Jewish State. It is the responsibility of the entire world community, long-joined by Germany and its fellow former members of the Axis in the Second World War, to prevent another Holocaust, wherever it may occur, and to keep the memory of the killing of six million Jewish people alive as the State of Israel faces constant attacks, and must fight each day for its very survival.
There are many engaged on the other side of that fight, and not only in the Middle East. The very chamber where this evening we commemorate humanity’s recovery from the horrors of the Holocaust is too often the setting for shameless invective against Israel. I am deeply grateful for the numerous principled statesmen of many lands who regularly stand up against this outrage. Their vigilance, like all of ours, must be unceasing.
This point was driven home to me in the bizarre setting of Durban, South Africa, the weekend before the September 11th attacks. The United Nations was holding a conference meant to put an end to racism, a noble goal if ever there was one, but the occasion was hijacked by hate-filled and venomous leaders who perverted the noble idea of ending racism, and turned the conference into a lynch mob against Israel.
As the situation galloped toward the surreal and the gathering veered away from its intended topics of ethnic violence, racism or slavery in many countries and toward condemnation of the one democratic state in the Middle East, it was sadly evident to me that this potentially history-making conference was becoming a travesty. Having experienced the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand, this was the most sickening and unabashed display of hate for Jews I had seen since the Nazi period.
I called our then-Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and related what we had seen at this debacle in Durban. The Secretary asked me and Annette to lead a walkout. Hundreds of media from around the globe told the story. It was a powerful moment in U.S. diplomacy, a righteous defense of our principles and priorities on what turned out to be the eve of a vile attack against all that we stand for.
Over that weekend, I returned to Washington where, on Tuesday morning, I was briefing a group of distinguished Americans about Durban when halfway through my talk the Twin Towers were hit. The news sickened me and others in that room, first and foremost because of the tragic loss of innocent lives, and also because we knew this attack was meant to cut our country to the core, to make us question ourselves and our values, and to shake our very foundation as a united and free people.
As an American by choice, I deeply value the fundamental values of the United States – among them, protecting basic freedoms, democracy and the rule of law. That is why in 1983 I co-founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, to encourage my congressional colleagues to fight for fundamental human rights across the globe. The people of the Soviet Union were under tyrannical rule. So we began holding briefings and other public events to call attention to Soviet oppression, and to engender action that could help hasten its end. Since then, the Caucus, in a totally bi-partisan way, has involved itself in a great variety of issues concerning people all over the globe. We struggle for the rights of Christians to practice their faith in Saudi Arabia and Sudan; we fight for Tibetans to be able to retain their culture and religion in Tibet; we advocate for the rootless, often-despised Roma of Europe. We try daily to implement Raoul Wallenberg’s message that human rights are indivisible and sacred.
Apart from the Caucus, my work often gives rise to legislation on behalf of human rights. I have spearheaded efforts in Congress to impose economic sanctions on governments that do not respect the human rights of their people, such as the ruling thugs in Burma and some of Iran’s leaders.
When I was elected to Congress 27 years ago, my first piece of legislation as a freshman member made Raoul Wallenberg an honorary U.S. citizen. Just after the war Wallenberg had been arrested by the Soviet troops who liberated Budapest and accused of being a spy for the United States. Nearly four decades later it was widely believed that he was still alive and in Soviet custody. Until then, honorary U.S. citizenship had been conferred only on Winston Churchill, so this unusual distinction had the desired effect: It put Wallenberg’s case in the international spotlight, and fueled the efforts to free him.
Sadly, the work to free him has been in vain. Raoul Wallenberg may have paid for his bravery with his life. But he provides an inspiring model of selfless courage that will always endure. His example will teach future generations the most important lesson of human history: In order to survive, in order to create more livable conditions in this world, we must accept the responsibility of becoming our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers – every one of them, and every one of us.
The people gathered in this vast hall where so much good has been done on humanity’s behalf know that already. On this day dedicated to one of the worst episodes in human history, let us rededicate ourselves to stopping current tragedies such as the genocide in Darfur – and there is no other proper word for this atrocity -- and to preventing such inhuman cruelty in the future. We must remember that the veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest.
I want to thank you for inviting me here today to speak on this vital topic before such an august gathering, and I want to say that my wife, Annette, and I are living proof that the past can be overcome, but must never be forgotten.
I want to close my remarks tonight by sharing a story told about a wise Rabbi and his students. The rabbi asked his young followers this question – “How can one know the moment when the night has ended and the dawn has come?” One student responded, “Is it when a man walking through the woods can tell whether the approaching animal is a wolf or a dog?” The Rabbi shook his head no. Another student volunteered, “Isn’t it when a man walking through the village can distinguish the roof of his house from that of his neighbors?” Once again the Rabbi shook his head.
Then the Rabbi spoke: “The moment when you know that the night has turned to day is when you see the face of a stranger and recognize him as your brother.”
Let us pray for the dawn of that day.