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Benjamin C.
Democrat MD

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  • 70Th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau

    by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

    Posted on 2015-01-29

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    CARDIN. Mr. President, I take this time to bring to my colleagues' attention that January 27 represented the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau--Auschwitz, the concentration camp that became a death camp; and Birkenau, a death camp, located in Poland, that was liberated by the Allied Forces on January 27, 1945.

    There were 1.3 million Jews, Poles, and other minorities who were deported to Auschwitz and Birkenau between 1940 and 1945. Of that 1.3 million, 1.1 million died in these camps.

    I had a chance in 2004 to visit both Auschwitz and Birkenau, and it was emotionally draining. It was a site that is hard to imagine, to see the cruelty and the barbaric activities of humans against other humans. From looking at the rooms in which medical experiments were done on human beings, who ultimately died, to seeing the gas chambers, it very much affected my perspective on humanity and life.

    In the United States we are blessed. I can practice my religion and don't have to fear losing my head. I can disagree with my government and know I am not going to be locked up for doing it. We should never take those liberties for granted. I think our freedoms give us a special responsibility to make sure that when we say never again, that it becomes a reality, that it becomes real.

    We also have a responsibility to remember the victims of the Holocaust. In the Jewish religion, we have Yom Hashoah, a separate day set aside to recognize that. We need to learn from the survivors. I will always remember the times I had a chance to talk to Leo Bretholz. He was a constituent of mine who escaped the trains taking him to Auschwitz. He was an inspiration to all of us who learned more about the circumstances surrounding the Holocaust. Unfortunately, he passed away last year. Leo advocated for the repatriation of victims, particularly from the French railway SNCF, and we were ultimately successful in getting those funds.

    This all underscores the importance of Holocaust education. When we say never again, let's always remember what happened over 70 years ago under Nazi rule. Let's have Holocaust education so young people understand the consequences of the cruelty and the consequences of not getting engaged.

    Let's also help the survivors. I very much want to acknowledge that in the United States we have many survivors from the Holocaust, and over half of them live under the Federal poverty line. They are so fearful of being institutionalized, and we can understand that. I thank Senator Mikulski and the appropriators for putting money in the omnibus appropriations bill last year to help provide assistance so these survivors can get the services they are entitled to under our law. Sometimes they can't work their way through it. I was proud to help in those efforts.

    I also thank Vice President Biden for his leadership in the Obama administration.

    I thank those on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the Older Americans Act reauthorization that was acted on this week because they include services for Holocaust survivors so that they will have easier access to government services.

    Lastly, let me thank Senators Mikulski and Kirk. I joined both of them in a Senate resolution to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee that I serve on unanimously approved that resolution for consideration on [[Page S616]] the Senate floor, and I thank Senators Corker and Menendez for their help.

    As I think most Members of this body know, I have been an active participant in the Helsinki Commission. I am the democratic leader, working with Senator Wicker. The Helsinki Commission is known for its participation in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, but I think it is best known because we put a spotlight on human rights issues. We try to live up to that motto ``never again.'' We try to say we will not let violations of basic human rights go unchallenged.

    So on this 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau, which are the iconic symbols today of the Holocaust, let's rededicate ourselves to making sure that ``never again'' becomes a reality.

    With that, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Maryland.

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