Yom HaShoah – Germany must do more to honor its obligations

“I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.” These words from Elie Wiesel remain every bit as true today as when they were first uttered nearly 30 years ago. We recently observed Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day. It has been 71 years since the end of World War II; 71 years since the last concentration camp prisons were liberated; 71 years since the end of humanity’s darkest period. 

As we commemorate those lost in the Holocaust, we reaffirm our commitment to never forget. We haven’t forgotten the atrocities of the Nazis. We haven’t forgotten the over 6 million Jews who were murdered, nor have we forgotten the countless others murdered by the intolerably brutal Nazis. 

{mosads}We all have a moral obligation — a duty — to honor the memories of those who were murdered during the Holocaust. But we also have a moral obligation and duty to those who survived. Thankfully we are not in danger of ever forgetting the atrocities committed against the Jewish people, yet sadly, so many have forgotten about those who somehow managed to survive the unimaginable.

They are called survivors because they have lived through hardships no person was meant to endure. But we also call them survivors because they manage to continue on every single day in spite of their unthinkable experiences. The terrible things that they have witnessed cannot be unseen and some scars can never heal. The starvation, the physical abuse and the torture takes its toll on their bodies. The mental anguish of losing loved ones, and even entire families, never escapes. It is something no one should have to live with, and yet, they live with the pain and suffering day after day. That is why their needs are unique to their peers, and it is why the medical and mental needs are more complex than those of their peers. 

Nearly half of all Holocaust survivors worldwide live at or below the poverty level, and are now struggling to make ends meet. In the United States alone, there are almost 50,000 survivors that are unable to afford their medical and home care costs. This is a disgrace; humanity is once again failing Holocaust survivors, yet few are speaking out on their behalf. That is why, alongside my South Florida colleague Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), I have introduced H.Con.Res. 129 — a resolution urging Germany to honor its commitments and its moral obligations to Holocaust survivors and to provide for the needs of all Holocaust survivors.

We are not saying that it is our determination as the Congress of the United States that because of what the Nazis did to these survivors, Germany is responsible for their care. We are simply urging Germany to reaffirm and honor its own commitments made to Holocaust survivors. Since Chancellor Konrad Adenauer pledged in 1951 Germany’s obligation to make moral and material amends to survivors, successive German governments have reaffirmed this obligation. And while the German government has taken steps to provide care for survivors, these steps have been woefully inadequate even by Germany’s own admission.

But Congress is in a unique position to work on behalf of our constituents to ensure that justice is won and that they receive the proper care and support they need to live out their days in dignity. The time for action is now. 

In his Nobel acceptance speech, Elie Wiesel said that “action is the only remedy to indifference,” and that indifference is “the most insidious danger of all.” We should not be indifferent to the needs of the survivors who continue to struggle 71 years later. Time is of the absolute essence, and the German government can no longer remain indifferent to that.

As we commemorate those lost in the Holocaust and reaffirm our commitment to never forget, we must also dedicate ourselves to never ceasing to fight for justice for all survivors — to let survivors know that we are not forgetting them, that, as Wiesel stated, “When their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours.” 

“There is so much to be done, there is so much that can be done;” Germany can do so much more and we can help lend a voice to the voiceless.


Ros-Lehtinen represents Florida’s 27th congressional district. She is chairwoman emeritus of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and current chairwoman of its Middle East and North Africa subcommittee.

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