With its commitment to fight anti-semitism, the United States of America today unveiled the lessons learned of the M.S. Saint Louis and made a commitment that the next time the world confronts it with another M.S. Saint Louis, it is ready to rise to the occasion
In his remarks on the legacy legacy of the M.S. Saint Louis at Washington DC, Deputy Secretary William J. Burns says the United States did not live up to its ideals when it did not welcome the tired, poor and huddled passengers of M.S. Saint Louis in the spring of 1939.
“And to the survivors of the M.S. Saint Louis, on behalf of the President and Secretary of State, I am honored to say what we should have said so long ago: welcome.” -Mr. Burns
Mr. Gordon says those who did not live it can never understand the experience of those 937 Jews who boarded the M.S. Saint Louis in the spring of 1939.
“Behind them, shattered windows and lives, loved ones in danger, crimes already underway and those crimes to come. Ahead, the hope of a new life in this country.” -Mr. Burns
He cites that in the spring of 1939, the dangers were visible to those clear-eyed enough to see them. He adds that the warnings were already clear for those who cared to listen to the voices of Steven Wise and many others.
“And yet the United States did not welcome these tired, poor and huddled passengers as we had so many before and would so many since. Our government did not live up to its ideals. We were wrong.” -Mr. Burns
With this, Mr. Burns underlines that the United States has made a commitment that the next time the world confronts them with another M.S. Saint Louis, whether the warning signs are refugees in flight or ancient hatreds resurfacing, it will have learned the lessons of the M.S. Saint Louis and be ready to rise to the occasion.
What does that mean in practice?
According to Mr. Burns, the United States is now vigilant in the face of anti-Semitism.
He says Jews once struggled to have their voices heard within government.
“Today we have the voice of State Department Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal who brings passion and purpose to her work.” -Mr. Burns
She has invited Muslim religious leaders who denied the Holocaust to Auschwitz and Dachau, and they have returned home prepared to speak out against not just Holocaust denial, but all forms of anti-Semitism, Mr. Burns noted.
The United States calls out and fight twenty-first century anti-Semitism from Eastern Europe to Durban to the classrooms of the Middle East.
He stresses that under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, as under their predecessors, the fight against anti-Semitism remains a moral commitment and a constant effort.
“Second, around the world, we work to prevent mass atrocities like those the passengers of the M.S. Saint Louis were fleeing.” -Mr. Burns
The US looks forward to the day when “never again” need never be invoked.
“We are a long way from there. To bring us closer, President Obama launched the Atrocities Prevention Board, acknowledging in a Presidential directive that: “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.” -Mr. Burns
According to Mr. Burns, the United States is putting a new emphasis on detecting the warning signs of genocide, enhancing our surge capacity to send civilians into at-risk areas, sharpening its sanctions toolkit, making clear that those who perpetrate these crimes are held accountable and expanding the circle of people and leaders and groups who share these commitments.
He notes that Preventing atrocities is hard and humbling work.
“Its successes are often invisible, its failures all too visible and the right answers can be elusive.” -Mr. Burns
Mr. Burns says the third and final lesson is that refugees and migrants deserve better.
He says it was tragedies like that of the M.S. Saint Louis that prompted the international community to create the 1951 Refugee Convention, defining the rights of refugees and the duty to protect them.
Americans have welcomed almost three million refugees from every region of the world into their communities since 1980, he stressed.
He announces that more than half of all refugees resettled to third countries now come to America, more than all other resettlement countries combined.
He says a photo of the M.S. Saint Louis hangs in the front office of the State Department’s refugee bureau as a powerful reminder and source of motivation.
“Our actions since the Saint Louis, we hope, speak more eloquently than any words could to our dedication and commitment to shelter and to protect.” -Mr. Burns
Mr. Burns notes that the hard lessons of the M.S. Saint Louis are with the United States always.
They are with the US in the heavy and humbling knowledge that we are the most powerful nation in a still dangerous world.
“That our role comes with special responsibilities. That anti-Semitism, genocide and mass displacement are sadly all-too-alive in 2012. That there are other M.S. Saint Louises setting sail right now. That there is always more we can and must do.” -Mr. Burns
The United States is working with all of those who are committed to a world free of anti-Semitism and all other forms of ethnic or religious intolerance.
Of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe before the Holocaust, approximately two-thirds perished. In particular, over one million Jewish children were killed in the Holocaust, as were approximately two million Jewish women and three million Jewish men.
Jews and others frequently use the term Shoah, Hebrew for “catastrophe,” to refer to the Holocaust. After the start of World War II, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler created forced-labor and death camps throughout Europe to execute the “final solution of the Jewish question.” The Nazis persecuted other groups they deemed racially ‘inferior,’ including Gypsies, the physically and mentally disabled, gays and lesbians, Soviet prisoners of war, Poles, communists and numerous minority groups. The Nazi regime initially constructed forced-labor camps to imprison Jews, but as early as 1941 built extermination camps designed solely for the quick and efficient mass murder of Jews and others