January 27, 2023
Thank you, Under-Secretary-General, thank you, Ms. Fleming, for bringing us together today. But most of all, thank you to all the survivors and family members present today to share their story of how the Holocaust impacted their lives and the lives of their families.
For survivors of the Holocaust, as we know, returning to home, returning to life as it had been before the War was tragically challenging. Some returned to find homes that had been destroyed, looted, or taken over by others. Others returned with the unease of knowing that many of their neighbors and friends had colluded with the Nazis or were silent as they witnessed the genocide. For many, finding a home, much less belonging, was not easy.
In late 1945, facing U.S. Congressional inaction, President Truman issued a directive reallocating immigration quotas to displaced persons. Later, the 1948 Displaced Persons Act pushed the door open a bit further and eventually 140,000 survivors were able to settle and find home in the United States. But the United States was not always so welcoming.
In May 1939, Hans Fisher, a 94-year-old survivor who now lives in the United States, fled persecution on the MS St. Louis. That ship, famously known, carried 937 German Jews seeking refuge, but it was turned away from Cuba and my country the United States.
Mr. Fisher recalls the experience of reaching Cuba, where his father waited for him. His father and other family members rowed out in little boats to shout to their loved ones while Hans waited for days in expectation of disembarking. It is beyond my conceiving how demoralizing it must have been for 11-year-old Hans to see Cuba, and his father, receding in the distance after negotiations to accept these refugees broke down. After the United States also refused to let passengers disembark in Florida, the ship returned to Europe, where many of the passengers lost their lives in the Holocaust.
Hans Fisher and his family were blessed and fortunate – they eventually did reunite in Cuba and settle in the United States.
In the United States, during the war, officials at the Department of State, that I serve today, prevented the entry of many fleeing persecution into this country, the United States. As the Nazis began to systematically round up and execute Jews, the State Department, which oversaw immigration and refugee policy, made it harder and harder for Jews to be granted refuge in the United States. The Department did this by establishing onerous security checks supposedly necessary to prevent enemy spies from infiltrating the United States. There was no evidence to substantiate these claims, and it is a stain on U.S. diplomacy that haunts me and my colleagues still.
Today, many American descendants of Holocaust survivors inspired by their family’s struggle and courage, dedicate themselves to public service, fighting to advance human rights globally. Our Secretary of State and our Ambassador to the Human Rights Council in Geneva both have relatives who were Holocaust survivors.
Today, as the speakers before me have said, Holocaust denial and distortion are on the rise, along with anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and nationalistic rhetoric. History shows as hatred directed at Jews rises, violence and attacks on the foundations of democracy are not far behind.
Unfortunately, the impact of these lies is magnified, as we have heard from others, via the Internet and via social media. This is why our commitments under the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues to promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research are so important.
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed – committed to securing a measure of justice for Holocaust survivors in the United States and around the world and honoring the six million Jews, as well as the Roma, the Sinti, the Slavs, the persons with disabilities, the LGBTQI+ individuals, and others persecuted and murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.
We must confront rising antisemitism and stand united against tyranny, against lies, against hatred in all their forms. We must ensure that current and future generations learn the history and lessons of and from the Holocaust.
It is vital that we confront this problem at this moment. Two thousand and twenty-one was the highest year on record for documented reports of harassment, vandalism, and violence directed at Jews. In New York City, where this is taking place, anti-Semitic hate crimes were up 125% in November of 2022.
Every day, we have a moral obligation to honor the victims, to learn from the survivors, and carry forth the lessons of last century’s most heinous crime. From the December attack against two men with a BB gun in New York, to online anti-Semitic rants by celebrities, to dozens of swastikas painted in schools across this country, we are continually and painfully reminded that hate doesn’t go away – it only hides. And it falls to each of us to speak out against the resurgence of anti-Semitism and ensure that bigotry and hate receive no safe harbor. At home and around the world, we must create a sense of belonging so that everyone feels safe at home.