U.S. Holocaust memorial is dedicated amid somber memories, words of hope 'Learn lessons,' Clinton urges 'WE MUST BEAR WITNESS'

April 23, 1993|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- On a day of biting cold and burning memories, President Clinton led foreign leaders and thousands of Americans in an outdoor dedication yesterday of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, a national monument to one of the darkest episodes in human history.

Assisted by Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel and Harvey M. Meyerhoff of Baltimore, chairman of the memorial council, Mr. Clinton lighted the eternal flame of remembrance for the millions of Jews and others who died in Nazi-occupied Europe.

It was fitting, the president said, to dedicate the memorial near those to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, and near the place where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. enunciated his dream of racial harmony, "and so bind one of the darkest lessons of history to the hopeful soul of America."

Mr. Clinton, who was born in 1946, a year after World War II ended, said that the museum should not represent the dead or the Holocaust survivors alone.

"It is perhaps most of all for those of us who were not there at all, to learn the lessons, to deepen our morals and our humanity and to transmit these lessons from generation to generation," he said.

An estimated 10,000 people, many of them Holocaust survivors or World War II veterans, braved the cold, wet weather to attend the two-hour ceremony. Some were moved to tears at times by the emotional speeches and accounts of bravery and survival.

The U.S. Army Band played in muted strains and, on the speakers' podium, the red-bordered flags of U.S. military units that helped liberate the prisoners of the concentration camps stood out starkly against the gray limestone walls of the memorial building, adding to the somber nature of the ceremony.

Speaker after speaker -- at a dais on which was written the museum's motto: "For the dead and the living, we must bear witness" -- vowed that the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten and that the annihilation of millions must never be repeated.

Mr. Wiesel, a Romanian Jew and death camp survivor whose mother perished in the camps, drew a comparison to the "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia and pleaded with Mr. Clinton for U.S. intervention there.

"I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall," Mr. Wiesel said. "I cannot sleep since what I have seen. As a Jew I am saying that. We must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country."

Mr. Clinton also drew parallels between the Holocaust and ethnic or racial conflicts in several parts of the world, including the former Yugoslavia, which is attracting increasing pressure for U.S. intervention.

"Ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia is but the most brutal and blatant and ever-present manifestation of what we see also with the oppression of the Kurds in Iraq, the abusive treatment of the Bahai in Iran, the endless race-based violence in South Africa," the president said.

Mr. Meyerhoff said the museum will teach Americans about a chapter of history many know little about and some refuse to believe.

"This is an American museum for the American people; it may prove to be more, but it must never be anything less," said Mr. Meyerhoff, a major contributor to the museum's construction fund who was told abruptly this month to relinquish chairmanship of the museum council to make way for a Clinton administration appointment.

In an apparent effort to make amends for the timing of the ouster, Mr. Clinton paid special thanks to Mr. Meyerhoff yesterday.

It was a day of placation, too, for Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev, who threatened to boycott the dedication because he felt his country had been snubbed at an earlier ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery when it was not mentioned among the nations that helped Jewish refugees escape the Holocaust.

Quick behind-the-scenes diplomacy brought a compromise: Mr. Zhelev attended the dedication, and Vice President Al Gore, in brief remarks, mentioned Bulgaria along with Denmark as being among the rescuer nations.

Simmering on, however, was the controversy over the attendance at the ceremony of Croatian President Franjo

Tudjman, who has angered Jewish leaders by writing that fewer than a million Jews, instead of 6 million, died in the Holocaust, and by calling Israelis "Judeo-Nazis" for their policies toward Palestinians. Hisses and boos greeted the announcement of Mr. Tudjman's arrival yesterday.

A few dozen demonstrators, protesting that the Holocaust is a lie, denouncing the use of U.S. tax dollars for the museum and condemning Israel's treatment of Palestinians, gathered across a street from the ceremony and behind police lines. After shouting slogans and waving banners for about 30 minutes, they dispersed.

The museum and its permanent exhibition cost $168 million, which was raised from private donations. The museum was built on federal land ceded for the purpose.

The project was conceived by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and unanimously approved by Congress in 1980.

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