[Congressional Record (Bound Edition), Volume 145 (1999), Part 7]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages 9219-9220]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]

                          DAYS OF REMEMBRANCE


                            HON. TOM LANTOS

                             of california

                    in the house of representatives

                         Tuesday, May 11, 1999

  Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday, April 13, Members of Congress 
joined with representatives of the diplomatic corps, executive and 
judicial branch officials, and Holocaust survivors and their families 
to commemorate the National Days of Remembrance in the Rotunda of the 
United States Capitol.
  The ceremony coincided with the 60th anniversary of the voyage of the 
SS St. Louis, which set sail from Germany in April 1939, carrying more 
than 900 Jews away from Nazi terror. Denied entry to both Cuba and the 
United States, the St. Louis was forced to send its frightened 
passengers back to Europe just months before the onset of World War II. 
Many of them were eventually murdered in Auschwitz, Treblinka, and the 
other death camps of Hitler's Holocaust.
  While we cannot rectify the wrongs of generations ago, we can apply 
the lesson of the St. Louis to the crises of today. In the Europe of 
1999, innocent civilians are once again being deported, abused, raped 
and murdered. While the scale of Serbian atrocities in Kosovo does not 
approach the enormity of the Holocaust, the precedent that would be set 
by ignoring this ethnic cleansing cannot be tolerated.
  Ruth B. Mandel, the Vice Chair of the United States Holocaust 
Memorial Council, thoughtfully communicated the moral meaning of the 
St. Louis voyage at the Days of Remembrance ceremony: ``Today, tens of 
thousands of people in great distress stare at us from the front pages 
of newspapers and from television screens. Victims of humankind's evil 
impulses and behavior cry out at the last moment of the twentieth 
century. Their agonies testify to the continuation of a blind and 
vicious inhumanity we human beings visit on one another. Today, as we 
gather here to honor the dead, let us cherish the living.''
  Ruth B. Mandel fled Nazi Germany with her parents, Mechel and Lea 
Blumenstock, in 1939 on the SS St. Louis. When the ship returned to 
Europe, the Blumenstock family was accepted by England. They arrived in 
the United States in 1947. Professor Mandel is now Director of the 
Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, The State University of New 
Jersey. From 1971 to 1994, she served as Director of the Center for the 
American Woman and Politics at Rutgers, where she remains affiliated as 
a Senior Scholar. Professor Mandel was appointed to the United States 
Holocaust Memorial Council in 1991, was named its Vice Chairperson in 
1993, and was the founding Chairperson of its Committee on Conscience.
  Mr. Speaker, I submit the full text of Professor Mandel's address at 
the Days of Remembrance ceremony to be placed in the Congressional 

                          Days of Remembrance

       The occasion for a new exhibition which opened yesterday 
     here in Washington at the United States Holocaust Memorial 
     Museum is the 60th anniversary of the voyage of the German 
     ship, the St. Louis, into the pages of a shameful history. 
     Many people have heard about this ship carrying over 900 
     human beings whom no one wanted, or have seen newspaper 
     photographs of the refugees crowding the ship's railings, 
     peering across the short distance between exile on the high 
     seas and rescue on the land. The land, within easy view, was 
     entirely outside of reach. Denied entry by Cuba and shunned 
     by the United States, the ship turned back toward Europe. In 
     a humane and merciful moment, four countries agreed to open 
     their doors. Unfortunately, those passengers who were taken 
     in by Belgium, the Netherlands and France soon found 
     themselves once more trapped under Nazi control. The luckier 
     passengers who were sent to England managed to escape the 
     Nazis and, in some instances, help to wage the war against 
       Several weeks ago, I was taken to a work room behind the 
     scenes at the Museum for an early glimpse of a few of the 
     displays and artifacts being prepared for the new exhibition 
     about this chapter from the Holocaust. I walked around the 
     room looking at photographs of passengers and reading 
     descriptive panels about the plight of over 900 Jewish men, 
     women and children reviled by Germany, repulsed by Cuba, 
     rejected by the United States. I came upon a piece of paper 
     covered with signatures. Apparently this was a ``thank you'' 
     page to Morris Troper, European director for the Joint 
     Distribution Committee, who had devoted himself to saving the 
     passengers and had negotiated their entry into Great Britain, 
     France, Belgium and the Netherlands. As a gesture of 
     gratitude for his great efforts and his leadership on behalf 
     of their plight, passengers had

[[Page 9220]]

     signed their names on a sheet of paper for him to keep. And 
     there, right there on that page of signatures hanging on a 
     wall in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, there was my 
     mother's unmistakable handwriting. There was her name, Lea 
     Blumenstock, written in exactly the way she had signed 
     letters and checks, exactly as she signed my report cards 
     from school, our medical insurance forms, her citizenship 
     papers. I stood electrified in front of that name I had seen 
     written hundreds of other times in my life. It was as 
     familiar as her voice or her smile. All the stories about the 
     past transformed themselves in that instant into the living 
     reality of my mother's distinctive signature there among the 
     rest. She was there on that ship, she signed that piece of 
     paper. What was she thinking? What was she feeling? Was I, an 
     infant, nearby in someone's arms while she signed, or being 
     held by my father, or in the little stroller they had with 
     them in the photograph of the three of us on the ship's deck? 
     She signed that paper. My God, we really were there!
       Over the years, the St. Louis and its journey to nowhere 
     have taken on qualities of a mythic tale. But for me and bout 
     100 others still able to bear witness (many here in this 
     awesome room today), this story is especially poignant. Its 
     characters and plot line are no fabled product of someone's 
     heated imagination. WE are the characters, and the plot is 
     the story of what happened to us. The voyage of the St Louis 
     is my family's personal life experience. Its outcome 
     determined our fate, shaping my parents' adult lives and my 
       A recognition that the Holocaust itself in all its 
     grotesque horror is about real people in real time--about 
     victims and killers, bystanders and heroes, craven and 
     indifferent observers, self deluded participants, every kind 
     of human being we have encountered in life--this realization 
     that the Holocaust is about real human beings in a civilized 
     world is the reality to which the U.S. Holocaust Memorial 
     Museum bears witness every day. The reality of the event 
     is the Museum's central educational message: what you see 
     here can happen. And it did happen. It is this reality to 
     which the Museum has already, in six short years, exposed 
     twelve million visitors here in Washington and many more 
     in places where exhibits have traveled or educational 
     materials have been distributed.
       Like the disrupted, shattered life histories of millions of 
     Europe's Jews, my own large family's experience involved 
     every kind of loss, humiliation and anguish survivors know as 
     well from their Holocaust histories. But our immediate, small 
     family--that is, my father, my mother and myself--we were 
     ultimately much luckier than so many of our relatives.
       My childhood was supposed to have played out differently. I 
     was supposed to have grown up as the daughter of a prosperous 
     Viennese family. I was supposed to have had sisters and 
     brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins, grandparents on both 
     sides. It didn't work out that way.
       In the aftermath of Kristallnacht in 1938, my father was 
     sent to Dachau, and his 24 year old wife was left with their 
     infant daughter and a mission--to get him out however she 
     could. First, she obtained his release with a single ticket 
     to Shanghai, not wanting to leave for China without us, he 
     attempted crossing into Belgium only to be caught at the 
     border, finally, she found a way out--tickets to Havana, Cuba 
     for all of us on a ship called the St. Louis.
       ``I am not a traveler'' is how my mother always described 
     herself. No matter what the circumstances, motion disagreed 
     with her. It was a family joke that she became ill on their 
     honeymoon in Venice when she and my father took a romantic 
     gondola ride. It is no surprise, therefore, that my mother 
     spent most of the St. Louis voyage seasick in the cabin. 
     Photographs on deck show my father on babysitting duty with 
     me. Gaunt and strained from his months in Dachau, he manages 
     a smile for the camera, holding me in his arms or on his lap, 
     in one instance with my mother looking on, her sad, small, 
     wan face also attempting a smile.
       After Cuba's betrayal and America's rejection, my parents 
     and I were among those passengers blessed with the good 
     fortune of being taken in by England as political refugees. 
     After a brief stay in London, my parents were evacuated to 
     the countryside, to a little town called Spalding, away from 
     the bombing, although I remember well the sounds of sirens 
     warning us of trouble coming, and I remember nights in air 
     raid shelters. Later we moved to Leicester. At first my 
     father worked in the fields--picking potatoes and tulips, I 
     think--but then he was drafted into the British military, and 
     he served throughout the war. He and my mother liked the 
     British and were forever grateful to England for taking them 
     in. Nonetheless, after the war, when my father's quota number 
     came up (he had a longer wait than my mother because he had 
     been born in Poland), we left England for the United States 
     because family was always the central force in my mother's 
     life and she wanted to be reunited with her parents and one 
     of her brothers who had made it here.
       For most of my life, I could not have stood at a podium and 
     spoken about the St. Louis. It was a subject for the privacy 
     of our family, not material for exposure to public view. For 
     many years, I would have refused an invitation to make a 
     public statement about my family's personal history. It would 
     have felt like a violation of the most sensitive, most 
     private areas of our lives. My family had enough to do 
     dealing with terrifying memories, with the murder of their 
     relatives, the loss of their homes, and their businesses, 
     their way of life, with the wandering to new lands, the 
     relocation and the humiliation that came with boarding in the 
     homes of strangers, the indignities they experienced in 
     depending on the kindness of distant relatives, their 
     struggles to speak, read and write in a new language, earn a 
     living and begin everything all over, reconstruct their lives 
     in foreign places. All of that was the essence of daily life 
     inside my family. It was our struggle, our history, our 
     wounds and adjustments, our lives behind the door of our 
       Yet now I do speak in public. I talk to students who call 
     with questions for their class essays and term papers. I 
     answer journalists' queries. I do so because I have come to 
     respect the power and cherish the value of memory, both 
     individual and collective memory. I have come to believe in 
     the importance of preserving memory, bearing witness, 
     educating new generations about the events of history, and 
     trying in whatever ways one can to bring the lessons of the 
     past to enlighten present behavior. I do not know for sure 
     that we learn from the past. I have my doubts that recalling 
     evil can make people good. But at least we have to try. As an 
     act of faith, we have to try.
       My own memory of the St. Louis is mediated memory, mediated 
     through my parents as they talked for the rest of their lives 
     about those days. The messages and themes I heard repeatedly 
     became my St. Louis voyage. The hotel in Hamburg where we 
     stayed before boarding the ship requested that Jewish guests 
     refrain from entering the dining room, stay out of the lobby 
     and hallways, remain in their rooms. The ship's captain 
     treated us with dignity and respect; my parents always said 
     he was a fine, decent man, an example of a good German. 
     People on board were distraught, suicidal. Roosevelt would 
     not let us in; it was incomprehensible, and a ``disgrace.'' 
     England was good to us. And over and over again, etched in my 
     brain was the message that others had not been so lucky, that 
     we had survived and benefitted because chance was on our 
       These days I often think about my mother and father in 
     Vienna in the early years. I strain to imagine what it must 
     have been like for them then, at that moment in their young 
     lives. They had it all--love, strong families, health, 
     economic success, and high hopes for the future. Life seemed 
     to be promising them the best one could imagine, until 
     history's nightmare overwhelmed and blotted out their private 
     dreams. They spent the rest of their lives recovering from 
     that nightmare and coping with its effects. And yet they were 
     the lucky ones. They never forgot that.
       My mother had the strong, enduring belief that sheer good 
     luck had saved us. Of course, many people with great power 
     over us had much to do with determining our fate; but we had 
     virtually no ability to influence them. We were a ship of 
     homeless souls wandering the seas at the mercy of forces and 
     powers that had no knowledge of us as individuals and whose 
     interest in us was shaped by their own power dynamics, 
     parochial pressures and prejudices.
       The voyage of the St. Louis took place after Kristallnacht 
     (the Night of Broken Glass, when thousands of Jewish 
     businesses, homes and synagogues were vandalized as people 
     were terrorized), but before the onset of World War II. Nine 
     hundred and thirty-seven people who thought they had escaped 
     were sent back to encounter the War. Those who went to 
     continental Europe experienced the Holocaust the way the rest 
     of its victims did. For one brief moment they had seen the 
     shores of America and glimpsed freedom. The clarity of 
     hindsight tells us that at that moment people could have been 
     saved, action could have made a difference.
       As a human community, how can we develop reliable 
     foresight, the will to act, and the skill to move in the 
     right direction, in the right way, at the right time? Today, 
     tens of thousands of people in great distress stare at us 
     from the front pages of newspapers and from television 
     screens. Victims of humankind's evil impulses and behavior 
     cry out at the last moment of this twentieth century. Their 
     agonies testify to the continuation of a blind and vicious 
     inhumanity we human beings visit on one another. Today, as we 
     gather here to honor the dead, let us cherish the living. As 
     we memorialize the victims of the Holocaust, let us call on 
     the dictates of conscience and morality to find a better way 
     to end this brutal millennium. The great challenge to the 
     civilized world is to remember the past, to learn from it, 
     and above all--above all else--to do better.