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Lawmakers, Holocaust survivors join together for commemoration event on Capitol Hill

More than 20 lawmakers, including the House majority leader, gathered to recognize Yom HaShoah

House Creative Services/ Ike Hayman

Lawmakers and Holocaust survivors attend a Holocaust commemoration event on Capitol Hill to mark Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 18,, 2023.

More than 20 lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), joined together with several Holocaust survivors on Tuesday morning for an event on Capitol Hill in honor of Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Reps. David Kustoff (R-TN) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) hosted their colleagues for an emotional event that included remarks from Holocaust survivor Rachel Mutterperl Goldfarb, a candlelighting, a recitation of names of Jews who died in the Holocaust and remarks by Stuart Eizenstat, chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.

In his remarks, Scalise reflected on his own conversations with Holocaust survivors and visits to the sites of Nazi atrocities and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“It’s overwhelming, sometimes, but to talk to people who were there and experienced it, saw it, saw loved ones die, and then made it through it. It’s important for all of us, because it’s something that we need to continue to share with others,” Scalise said. “It’s important that we continue this remembrance because if we don’t, and we don’t continue to speak out, then further atrocities will happen.”

“We see the rise of antisemitism… and it only goes away if we shout it down, and we stare it down,” Scalise continued. “When we see evil, we speak out against it, we take action. Sometimes [the victims] are voiceless, we need to be their voice. You remind us of why we need to continue to be vocal.”

Schneider emphasized that “if we look around the word and look at current events, we’re reminded that genocide in general and antisemitism specifically remain a very serious threat.”

Kustoff noted that fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remain, while antisemitism continues, explaining, “that’s why we’ve got to educate ourselves and future generations about the horrors and the cruelties that occurred.”

“As members of Congress, we have the responsibility to combat antisemitism and find ways to ensure that the Holocaust commemoration remains relevant and important for tomorrow’s leaders,” he said.

Other attendees included Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Kathy Manning (D-NC), David Cicilline (D-RI), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Tom Kean (R-NJ), Brandon Williams (R-NY), Don Bacon (R-NE), Derrick Van Orden (R-WI), Dan Goldman (D-NY), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Mike Lawler (R-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Jen Kiggans (R-VA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Claudia Tenney (R-NY), Greg Landsman (D-OH), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Carol Miller (R-WV).

Goldfarb, the Holocaust survivor who addressed the group, said, “my story shows that hate must be confronted before it’s allowed to grow,” adding that she was “gratified that our elected officials recognize the importance of taking the essential work of remembrance, and the responsibility of preventing future atrocities.”

Eizenstat emphasized that the Holocaust “was not inevitable,” but rather occurred because extremism and “pervasive antisemitism and apathy” led Germany’s population to “abandon their ethical requirements.” 

He further highlighted the U.S. and its allies’ slow response to the Nazis’ atrocities.

“The allied nations turned a deaf ear,” Eizenstat said. “It’s too late to save them now but it’s not too late to acknowledge our failures and dedicate ourselves to learning the lessons of the past.”

Eizenstat also called out Russian President Vladimir Putin for his “misuse of Holocaust history… to justify his unprovoked attack on Ukraine.”

Later on Tuesday, Reps. Judy Chu (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Kim Schrier (D-WA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Gottheimer introduced legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest honor, to Americans who helped rescue and resettle Holocaust refugees.

The legislation highlights congressional opposition to accepting Holocaust refugees, the U.S.’ decision to turn away the S.S. St Louis — a ship laden with refugees — and American public opinion opposing aiding refugees.

“This historic legislation will for the first time ever give congressional recognition to the Americans who boldly took action to rescue Jews and refugees from almost certain death during the Holocaust,” Chu said in a statement. “As we face rising antisemitism and authoritarianism in the U.S. and across the world, part of our commitment to ‘never again’ must include honoring those who took action, often at great personal risk, to save lives during the Holocaust. Theirs is the example we must memorialize and heed moving forward as we face bigotry and threats to human rights.”

Proposed honorees enumerated in a press release include former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, former Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., Former Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and former Rep. Thomas D’Alesandro Jr. (D-MD), who is the father of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), although no specific honorees are named in the legislation itself.

The legislation is supported by the American Jewish Committee, Pave the Way Foundation and the Institute for the Study of Rescue and Altruism in the Holocaust. Legislation has separately been introduced this year to honor World War II-era diplomats who helped save Jews during the Holocaust with a gold medal.

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