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Washington Holds Ceremony Honoring Holocaust Victims - 2004-04-23

U.S. officials and Holocaust survivors gathered in Washington, D.C. Thursday for a ceremony commemorating the victims of the Jewish genocide in World War II. This year's service, which took place during a week of remembrance that ends on Sunday, made special note of the 60th anniversary of the deportation of Hungary's Jews in 1944, just a year before the war ended.

Luminaries such as former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel gathered in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building to pay respect to the 6.5 million people killed in death camps during World War Two.

Mr. Wiesel described the relatively peaceful existence of the Jewish community in Hungary up until the German occupation of 1944.

Deportations started almost immediately. Mr. Wiesel said it is shameful that little was done to help the Hungarian Jews, since by 1944 people in the United States and other parts of Europe were beginning to learn about the extent of Jewish persecution by the Nazis.

"Clearly it was the largest Jewish community still alive in occupied Europe and more than any others, it could have been saved," he said. "...It alone had the best chances to be spared. It wasn't."

He went on to say that we remember the victims of hatred so that we can fight hatred. But other speakers noted this year is the 10th anniversary of a similar killing campaign in Rwanda, when some 800,000 people were killed by ethnic Hutu extremists while the world stood by.

Others noted that anti-Semitism is on the rise today in Europe, perhaps growing as silently and insidiously as before. Fred Zeidman, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

"Today, a scant sixty years after the Holocaust, when witnesses still walk among us, anti-Semitism is flourishing in Europe once more. Already it began where it always has, in isolated incidents, initially disregarded as insignificant, carried out by people some would prefer to dismiss as extremists," he said.

The ceremony concluded with the lighting of six white candles. Mr. Lieberman lit one, along with Tom Lantos, the only member of the U.S. Congress who is a Holocaust survivor, and the father of Daniel Pearl, the Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan in 2002, apparently by a senior al-Qaida operative.

But no message was more moving than that of Benjamin Meed, who fought during the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. He appealed to the audience in Hebrew, English, and German never to forget.