Emotional ceremonies remembering the victims of Nazi atrocities included warnings against modern-day rights abuses and an award to an Idaho town for resisting Nazi-style white supremacists in the 1980s.
Survivors of Nazi arrests 50 years ago wept as they lit candles Thursday with members of Congress in the annual "Days of Remembrance" program of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.The ceremonies at the State Department also featured a hymn honoring Gypsy victims of Nazi atrocities, prayers by protestant and Catholic clergymen, and an appeal from Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead that America not turn its back on human rights abuses around the world.
Whitehead said he was shaken by a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp in February.
"Do not forget, and do not allow the world to forget the inhumanity of which mankind is capable when it denies the sanctity of human life," he said.
Whitehead said the United States should "resist the recurrent American temptation toward isolationism" and continue to work for human rights in other countries.
High standards of education and culture attained by the Germans did not insulate them from "the virus of religious and racial prejudice," he said.
The council, which was set up by Congress in 1980 to build a $50 million memorial in the District of Columbia, awarded an Eisenhower Liberation Medal to retired Gen. James M. Gavin, who commanded forces that helped defeat the Germans and liberate Wobbelin concentration camp.
"We who did our share, we won't forget never will we forget, never," said Gavin after the audience of several hundred officials, diplomats and other guests gave him a standing ovation.
Mayor Raymond Stone of Couer d'Alene, Idaho, also received an Eisenhower medal for being among the first U.S. soldiers into Wobbelin.
In addition, Stone accepted a certificate honoring Couer d'Alene citizens for "standing fast and speaking out in the face of threats and violence perpetrated by the members of a neo-Nazi paramilitary group," the Aryan Nations, which made its headquarters near the town in 1982.
"Constant vigilance is the price of freedom," the town's award read.
Stone, who was a high school and college history teacher before being elected mayor in 1986, said he spent only a few minutes in the concentration camp, but it changed his life.
He said he tried to instill in his students the conviction that "this thing must not happen again."