Senator Menendez Speaks on the Senate Floor on the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

Senator Menendez Speaks on the Senate Floor on the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) today spoke on the Senate Floor in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz.

Below are as his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Seventy years ago today – a Soviet soldier, Ivan Martynushkin, arrived with his unit at the death camp at Auschwitz, and he said in an interview that he was instantly struck by the silence, the smell of ashes, and the emptiness. But, as they entered the gates, Ivan and his unit were unaware of the atrocities – the war crimes – that were to come to light over time.

“Today, M. President, I rise in memory of the 1.1 million who perished there – 90 percent of them Jews. I rise in recognition of 1.1 million lost dreams, lost hopes, the lost wisdom of 1.1 million that will never be shared, never be known, and the lost potential of a generation that perished in that camp between 1940 and 1945.

“Ivan Martynushkin and his unit entered the camp thinking there would be a Nazi ambush and then they noticed people behind barbed wire. “It was hard to watch them,” he said. “I remember their faces, especially their eyes which betrayed their ordeal.”

“Ivan didn’t know that the Nazis had evacuated another 58,000 prisoners ten days earlier or the 6 million who were killed in camps across Europe. He stood witness that day to the ultimate manifestation of man’s inhumanity to man – 7,000 prisoners left behind. 600 corpses borne of hatred, intolerance, prejudice, bigotry and a seething anti-Semitism that is again rearing its ugly head in Europe, the Middle East, and around the world.

“There has been an alarming increase in anti-Semitic attacks and incidents in Europe that remain a challenge not only to stability and security, but to our shared morality, our mutually ethical core as human beings.

“Just two weeks ago, on January 9, 2015, four members of France’s Jewish community were murdered during a hostage crisis at Hyper Cacher, a kosher supermarket, following the deadly terrorist attack on the Paris offices of the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.

“The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights issued a 2013 report on anti-Semitism in France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Belgium, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, where ninety percent of Europe’s Jews reside, in which three quarters of respondents said that anti-Semitism had worsened over the past five years where they lived. In France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish population, it’s been reported that the number of French Jews immigrating to Israel in 2014 had doubled compared to 2013; and for the first time ever, more Jews moved to Israel from France than from any other country in the world.

“Anti-Semitic acts in European countries in 2014 included violent attacks, death threats, and the desecration of Jewish homes, commercial property, cemeteries, and places of worship. On May 24, 2014, a gunman opened fire at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, Belgium and killed four people. On July 29th, Molotov cocktails were thrown at the synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany, which had been burned to the ground by the Nazis during the 1938 Kristallnacht, and had only been rebuilt in 2002.

“And we have all been shocked by the recent disturbingly stereotypical, anti-Semitic utterances of President Erdogan of Turkey and those around him.

“President Erdogan said, in February, 2013, “Today the image of the Jews is no different from that of the Nazis.”

“Speaking at a campaign rally in the Black Sea province of Ordu, he said the "terrorist state Israel has attacked Gaza once again, hitting innocent children who were playing on a beach" and the crowd chanted "Down with Israel."

“Erdogan said, “The world’s media is under the influence of Israel.” He has said, “Wherever Jews settle, they make money.” And claimed – during the 2013 Gezi Park protests – that the Europeans and what he stereotypically referred to as the “interest-rate lobby” – were backing the anti-government campaign, with the ultimate goal of dividing Turkey from within.

“And a Turkish writer aligned with President Erdogan called for Turkish Jews to be taxed to pay for Gaza reconstruction... He said, “The reconstruction of Gaza will be paid for by Jewish businessmen,” and “The penalty for failing to pay the tax should be the revocation of the Jew’s business license and the seizure of his property.” This is the kind of anti-Semitism that we hear in Turkey today.

“Around the world, the numbers are shocking: Based on the global survey, the ADL concluded that 1.09 billion people harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.

“And 35 percent never heard of the Holocaust. If the world does not stand together in never forgetting, and our schools, teachers, parents, and communities do not join together in the fundamental principle of never forgetting – how can we prevent this from never happening again, how can we work together to confront the anti-Semitism that enables hatred, violence, murder, and genocide around world?

“We can only ask what tomorrow might bring. We cannot know what the future will hold, but we have learned from the past.

“What we remember today – 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz – is that the United States, and the American people, will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the Israeli people and Jewish communities across the world in ensuring “never again.” And this means confronting modern day anti-Semitism, whether from the worlds’ leaders, from Ivory Tower academics, or from economic belligerents pushing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

“We must fight back against any and all efforts to delegitimize the Israeli state, the Jewish people, and the Jewish religion.

“As I have said many times – on many occasions – the Holocaust was the most sinister possible reminder that the Jewish population in exile has lived under constant threat. It is the definitive reminder that anti-Semitism can appear anywhere, and its horrors galvanized international support for the State of Israel.

“But let's be very clear: while the Shoah has a central role in Israel's identity, it is not – and never has been – the reason behind Israel’s founding; and it is not the main justification for its existence.

“The extreme characterization of this mistaken view is that Western powers established Israel in 1948 based on their own guilt, at the expense of the peoples who already lived there. And therefore, the current state is illegitimate, and – according to religious clerics like Supreme Leader Khamanei who retains his own aspirations for regional hegemony - should be wiped off the face of the map.

“This flawed argument is not only in defiance of basic human dignity but in plain defiance of history – in defiance of what we remember today. It is in defiance of ancient history, as told in Biblical texts and through archeological evidence. It ignores the history of the last several centuries and it stands in stark contrast to what we remember today.

“Several thousand years of history lead to an undeniable conclusion: the reestablishment of the state of Israel in modern times is a political reality with roots going back to the time of Abraham and Sarah.

“At the end of the day, the argument for Israel's legitimacy does not depend on what we say in speeches. What we say on occasions like this. It has been made by the hard reality of history.

“It has been made by the men and women who have made the desert green, by Nobel Prizes earned, by groundbreaking innovations and enviable institutions, by lives saved, democracy defended, peace made, battles won.

“There can be no denying the Jewish people’s legitimate right to live in peace and security in a homeland to which they have had a connection for thousands of years.

“And there can be no denying the suffering, the senseless slaughter of a generation and all that the world realized we had lost when Ivan Martynushkin and his unit walked through those gates and liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, a reminder for all times of the racism and hatred from the most devastating genocide in human history.

“As we commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, let us never forget. But let us be very clear as we look around the world today – the struggle is not over.

“Combating anti-Semitism is not only a Jewish issue of the past – it’s a matter of basic civil and human rights today, now, in the present.

“Like those Russian soldiers 70 years ago, I have stood at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I felt the impact, the horror, the silence, the emptiness. I felt the lives lost.

“It is a moving experience that should compel all of us to collectively reflect on how we must transform the lessons we should have learned into concrete acts to prevent history from repeating itself.

“Now is the time to renew the vow: ‘never again’ with even greater resolve.

“With that, M. President, I yield the floor.”