Excellent speech by Del. Debra Rodman (D-Henrico), with the obvious subtext that racism and anti-Semitism have been on the rise here, in America, during the 2016 campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. Scary times; thanks to Del. Rodman and everyone who speaks up in support of oppressed people and “the stranger” everywhere.
Mr. Speaker, fellow members of the House of Delegates, guests joining us in the gallery, I rise today to recognize Holocaust Remembrance Day. This past Saturday January 27th was commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On January 27, 1945, the Russian army liberated Auschwitz, the
notorious death camp where the Nazis systematically murdered over 1 million people. In 2005, the United Nations designated this day to honor the memory of the six million Jews as well as millions of others who perished in the Holocaust. We pledged this day to never forget. We remember the victims, we listen to the testimony of the survivors and recall the heroism of those who resisted Nazi terror.
But the promise to never forget is not about passive memory, but about active engagement. It’s about ensuring our children and our grandchildren learn about the Holocaust and it’s about countering dangerous persecution both now and forever, here and everywhere.
This work begins with refusing to tolerate hateful speech. Recall that the Holocaust didn’t start with the gas chambers, but with hateful rhetoric. When denial, historical revisionism, malicious stereotypes become commonplace; when xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic vitriol entered the public conversation, bigotry became tolerated and ultimately normalized. Words created conditions for tyranny – produced by democratic means. The results were catastrophic.
Today, anti-Semitism, racism and the hatred of others is again on the rise. The growing prominence of nationalism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism is disturbing. We must overpower the rhetoric of hate with the rhetoric of love and kindness. Those of us who stand on the side of justice and democratic civic life must harness
the power of words and use this power for the public good, which is always defined by love and kindness towards others.
Opposing hate is not enough. We must work diligently to build a society founded upon the principles of human dignity, justice and inclusion; a society that cherishes diversity — welcoming the stranger, befriending the persecuted. To me, our country’s historical commitment to welcoming immigrants and refugees epitomizes the work of such a society. My Jewish great-grandparents fled horrors of the anti-Semitic Eastern Europe and searched for a better life here in America.
I see my own story echoed in the stories of other families who’ve made their home here in the in the Commonwealth — Guatemalans, Cambodians, Bosnians, Sudanese, many who live on my street even from Burma and Rwanda. These brave and beautiful souls fled oppression and genocide and they came here to Virginia to make their homes. They enrich our communities just as millions of immigrants throughout our country’s history have been a great source of our strength.
So as we extend to them our welcome, our love and our
kindness, in return our communities flourish, our civic life together thrives, and we form a human wall of resistance a hatred. To me, the pledge to never forget also means to never retreat from our long-standing tradition of offering safe haven for those who are fleeing oppression and violence.
Holocaust Remembrance Day beckons us to recall the events that led to the Holocaust. In this way, we remain mindful of the results of exclusion and racism and commit to resisting hate and embracing love. In Richmond, we have one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries and we are so benefited by the presence of the Virginia Holocaust Museum which is just a couple blocks away; I encourage you to visit it. We honor these sites as sites of remembrance. But memory commands us to not only reflect,
but to act. Memory commands us to orient our moral compass to love and kindness as we forge our civic life together here in the Commonwealth. Thank you Mr. Speaker.