Weekly Democratic Address
January 24, 2020
Hi, I’m Congressman Brad Schneider from Illinois.
This Monday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, memorializing the genocide of more than 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children. This year’s observance holds special meaning as it is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi death camp, where more than 1.1 million people – men, women and children – were brutally murdered. The Nazis sent many people, including political dissidents, intellectuals, Roma and LGBTQ people to Auschwitz. But the vast majority of victims, 90 percent, were Jews.
This past week, I had the solemn and profound honor to visit Auschwitz with a bipartisan Congressional delegation led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
We walked through the gas chambers. We stood before the furnaces built to burn up to 1,800 bodies a day. We visited the barracks where people slept five to a rack, stacked three racks high. We saw what seemed like infinite piles of suitcases, shoes, eyeglasses and even human hair collected from the victims by the Nazi killers.
Notably, in a place representing humanity’s greatest crime, where people were denied the ability to even pray to their God, we joined with our Polish hosts to honor the memory of the martyrs by reciting the Kaddish, the Jewish mourners’ prayer.
At Auschwitz and in the days that followed, we all asked ourselves questions. How could the Holocaust happen? Could it happen in today’s world? And how do we ensure that such evil never happens again?
A key lesson of the Holocaust is that we cannot remain silent in the face of rising anti-Semitism. Right now, that lesson is more important than ever, in the face of a dramatic increase in antisemitism around the world, and specifically here in the United States.
In 2018, a gunman walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed eleven people. It was the worst antisemitic attack in our nation’s history. But it was not the last.
A synagogue in Poway, California. A kosher grocery in New Jersey. A Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New York. Across the country, a staggering increase in verbal and physical assaults, vandalism and other acts of anti-Jewish hate. The numbers are horrifying.
Globally, Jews are being told to not publicly wear a yarmulke or other outward symbols of their Jewish identity. Throughout Europe, and increasingly here at home, armed guards are posted outside synagogues, Jewish schools and community centers. Entire communities are living in fear.
We cannot remain silent. All of us – no matter who we are, where we live or how we worship – all of us must speak out and condemn both antisemitic words and actions, whenever and wherever hate raises its ugly head.
In the House of Representatives, we have, and will continue to take action to confront anti-Semitism.
Last year, the House passed the strongest resolution in our history to clearly state we reject antisemitic stereotypes and consider antisemitic acts and statements to be hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to our American values.
We passed a bill to secure $90 million of funding to defend vulnerable houses of worship.
Congress continues to help fund the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to preserve the memory, teach the lessons and lead the work to stop future genocides.
And next week, the House will pass legislation to increase our commitment to teaching the next generation about the Shoah.
But we aren’t just focused on anti-Semitism here at home. In 2016 and 2017, the House pressured the Administration to fill the long-vacant position of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Finally, last year, President Trump at last appointed Elan Carr to this role to coordinate America’s response to anti-Semitism around the world.
As for our trip, after visiting Auschwitz on Tuesday, our group flew to Israel to join delegations from 49 nations, including 41 heads of state, at a historic commemoration ceremony at Yad Vashem on Thursday. In the largest diplomatic gathering in Israel’s history, flanked by kings, prime ministers and presidents, we spoke with one common voice to honor the memories of the 6 million people lost. We celebrated the survivors and the righteous gentiles who defied the Nazis to save thousands of lives. And we renewed our commitment to fight anti-Semitism, now and forever.
Finally, before returning home, the group had the chance to meet with several Holocaust survivors and hear their stories. It is said that by hearing the testimony of a living witness to the Holocaust, we are made witnesses as well. As the remaining survivors age, we must work to preserve their stories for future generations.
Only by remembering the lives lost and speaking out against intolerance in our own time, can we live up to our sacred promise: Never Again.