Panetta Honors Victims, Survivors in Holocaust Remembrance Event
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 19, 2012 “Today we pause to remember and honor 6 million souls who were murdered not because of anything they had done, but because of who they were,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said during a Holocaust Remembrance Day program at the Pentagon today.
Holocaust Remembrance Day, a U.S. observance that joins with other worldwide events, honors the 6 million Jewish people who died, in Europe during World War II, many of them in Nazi death camps.
The secretary said he helped to establish Yom Hashoah --Holocaust Remembrance Day –as a U.S. observance while serving in the House of Representatives in 1980. It’s also an occasion to remember survivors of the Holocaust, he noted.
“They bore witness to evil and to tragedy,” he said, “and in their strength we all find inspiration – inspiration to fight against the intolerance and indifference that allowed all of this to happen.”
Charlotte Schiff, guest speaker for today’s program, is the sole member of her family who survived the Holocaust. The secretary said Schiff has dedicated her life to making sure those who perished in the Holocaust are never forgotten.
“It is our honor to affirm to you that we will never stop fighting in the memory of those who perished – fighting for a better future, [and] fighting for a world safe from aggression, from tyranny and from injustice,” he told her at the Pentagon event.
Yom Hashoah also is a day to celebrate the Jewish people, “who overcame this tragedy and built a strong and vibrant Jewish state in Israel,” Panetta said.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who arrived at the Pentagon today for bilateral defense talks with Panetta, also attended the Holocaust Remembrance Day event. Panetta said Barak, a highly decorated soldier, prime minister, and now minister of defense, has lived his life as a tribute to the memory of the Holocaust, and to the memory of his two grandparents who were murdered at the Treblinka death camp in occupied Poland.
“Ehud, I am proud to be your partner, I’m proud to be your friend, and I’m proud to work with you in continuing to strengthen the U.S.-Israel defense relationship,” the secretary said.
Panetta said today’s U.S. military was forged in the fight against Nazi tyranny. “To defeat Hitler,” he said, “we mobilized all of the strength that we could muster, and in that effort we witnessed many of our finest hours as a military and, indeed, as a country.”
Panetta said U.S. soldiers in World War II served as witnesses to the atrocities of the death camps, and helped to nourish and care for Holocaust survivors. He added that one Army captain, Seymour Pomrenze, helped to ensure “enormous caches of looted cultural materials” were returned to their rightful heirs or Jewish successor organizations.
“[Pomrenze] was a hero whose actions embodied the professionalism and dedication of the uniform he wore,” he added.
Panetta said that in spite of the good American and Allied forces did in World War II, “we must always remember that we were unable to save the 6 million Jews who perished under Hitler’s cruel reign.” That burden, he added, must be carried forward as a determination that no horror like the Holocaust ever happens again.
“Today we renew that commitment, and we do so by coming together to bear witness, just as our service members did more than 65 years ago,” Panetta said.