The Pentagon held a ceremony on Thursday in honor of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day. The ceremony was attended by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
“Today we pause to remember and honor 6 million souls who were murdered not because of anything they had done, but because of who they were,” Panetta said during the ceremony, according to a statement released by the U.S. Department of Defense.
He said he helped to establish Yom Hashoah as a U.S. observance while serving in the House of Representatives in 1980. He added that the day is also an occasion to remember survivors of the Holocaust.
“They bore witness to evil and to tragedy, and in their strength we all find inspiration – inspiration to fight against the intolerance and indifference that allowed all of this to happen,” said Panetta.
The program included an appearance by guest speaker Charlotte Schiff, the sole member of her family who survived the Holocaust. Panetta said Schiff has dedicated her life to making sure those who perished in the Holocaust are never forgotten.
“It is our honor to affirm to you that we will never stop fighting in the memory of those who perished – fighting for a better future, [and] fighting for a world safe from aggression, from tyranny and from injustice,” he told Schiff.
Panetta added that Yom Hashoah is also a day to celebrate the Jewish people “who overcame this tragedy and built a strong and vibrant Jewish state in Israel.”
The statement noted that the event was also attended by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who arrived at the Pentagon for bilateral defense talks with Panetta. During the ceremony, Panetta said that Barak has lived his life as a tribute to the memory of the Holocaust, and to the memory of his two grandparents who were murdered at the Treblinka death camp in Poland.
“Ehud, I am proud to be your partner, I’m proud to be your friend, and I’m proud to work with you in continuing to strengthen the U.S.-Israel defense relationship,” said Panetta.
He noted that U.S. soldiers in World War II served as witnesses to the atrocities of the death camps, and helped to nourish and care for Holocaust survivors. He added, however, that in spite of the good American and Allied forces did in World War II, “we must always remember that we were unable to save the 6 million Jews who perished under Hitler’s cruel reign.” That burden, he added, must be carried forward as a determination that no horror like the Holocaust ever happens again.
The Yom Hashoah program was preceded by a meeting between Barak and Panetta. The meeting, which lasted over an hour, was also attended by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey.
The meeting dealt with all the regional issues affecting the Middle East, including Syria, Iran, and the American aid to the Iron Dome anti-missile system. After the meeting, Barak said, “The U.S. and Israel continue to closely monitor the developments in the region and maintain a continuous dialogue.”