At a ceremony yesterday to remember the Holocaust, concentration camp survivor and author Elie Wiesel decried the continuing "abuses of man" and singled out as an example Kurt Waldheim's explanation of his past.
"The former highest official of the U.N., who is now running for president of Austria, finds refuge in oblivion," Wiesel said. "What is this, if not political cynicism on the highest level? Has the world learned nothing from its recent past?"
Waldheim, now facing a runoff election for the Austrian presidency, is alleged to have been involved in Nazi war crimes while serving in a German military unit that carried out reprisals against Yugoslav partisans and deported Greek Jews to death camps.
The Waldheim controversy was part of the continuous call that was sounded, speaker after speaker, throughout the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol to remember the Holocaust -- never to forget. Wiesel is chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which sponsors the annual Days of Remembrance observances.
"We do not advocate remembrance simply as a form of self-indulgence or as a submission to melancholy," said Wiesel, "but as a means of redemption of the future . . . To remember the Holocaust is to express our profound belief that, though creation has been destroyed, or at least disfigured, in Belzec and Birkenau, it can be saved."
There also appeared to be an effort to remember not only the 6 million Jews but others who perished in the Holocaust. Most prominently mentioned by several speakers were gypsies and homosexuals. Gypsies in recent years have lobbied the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council for representation.
Holocaust survivors, Vice President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) were among the speakers at the noon ceremony attended by 800, which included the lighting of memorial candles by members of the House and Senate and saying the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead.
"Our challenge today," said Bush, "is to insist that time will not become the Nazis' friend . . . that time will not fade our sense of the specificity, of the uniqueness of the Holocaust . . . that time will not lead us to make the Holocaust into an abstraction."
Even one discordant voice -- a bystander on the periphery of the Rotunda who began shouting and waving a placard, disrupting Wiesel's speech -- recalled the Nazi past. When asked to put her sign down, she threw herself to the floor and was dragged, screaming, out of the room by two U.S. Capitol Police officers, her screams echoing down the hallway.
"I do not know what it is," Wiesel said at the podium after she was escorted out, "but I am pained whenever I hear anyone cry. I am pained whenever I hear anyone shout."
The woman, later identified as Eva Kor, 52, of Terre Haute, Ind., was initially arrested for disorderly conduct, then released without charges, according to U.S. Capitol Police Inspector Bob Howe. Kor's placard, according to police, read: "Memorial ceremonies are not enough. We want open hearings on Mengele-gate. I am on a hunger strike."
Kor, a survivor of the Birkenau concentration camp, is one of a pair of twin sisters who became the subjects of barbaric experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele. Kor was liberated three days before her 11th birthday. She attended a conference of some 10,000 Holocaust survivors here three years ago where she searched for other survivors of twins experiments and shared her typewritten memoirs, "Nothing but the Will to Live."
In addition to the calls for remembrance, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council presented the first Eisenhower Liberation Medal to three U.S. military men on behalf of all U.S. soldiers and officers involved in the liberation of the camps. Retired general J. Lawton (Lightning Joe) Collins, 90, and retired lieutenant general William W. Quinn, 78, accepted awards for their parts as liberators as did U.S. Army Chief of Staff John Wickham.
Dole, a decorated World War II veteran who has been supportive of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, also received the medal. At the groundbreaking of the planned U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last October, Dole pledged to the council that the Senate would ratify the longstanding treaty deploring genocide. The treaty was ratified in February.
"The memory of the Holocaust is filled with sadness, fear and unhappiness," said Wiesel in presenting the medals. "It also contains gratitude." He praised the military men "for your bravery, for your gallantry, for your humanity."