April 20, 2006
‘We Will Remember Your Story’
Following is an excerpt from remarks Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered last year as part of a benefit dinner for March of the Living at the Beverly Hilton. Organizers at the event presented the governor with an award for his support.
I am so honored to receive this award, an award for hope from friends who know the meaning of despair.
Let me tell you why this honor means so much to me. I did not learn about the Holocaust in school. I did not really understand what happened until I came to America. And even today, I am still learning. Just when I think I have heard a story so horrible that it cannot be surpassed in barbarity, I hear or read something even more inhumane and incomprehensible.
But, as I say, I did not know these things for many years. My father fought on various fronts, but he never mentioned the war to me. My mother, however, once told me something that happened when she was 17 or 18 years old.
She was a young secretary in the town of Muzzuschlag. After the Anschluss, when Austria was absorbed into Germany, she was going to work one morning, and she was stunned by what she saw. Along the side of the road, she saw the bodies of people who had been shot to death. When she got into work, she rushed straight to her superior. She told him of this awful sight she had seen. She was horrified and outraged and very upset. And the man who was her superior said to her, "If you make one more complaint, I cannot guarantee your safety."
What she saw that morning was only a tiny sliver of a much larger, darker truth. Some people in this room experienced that darker truth firsthand. People like Sigi Hart, who was in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and other camps. Michelle Kleinert, who works with me, met Sigi on the March of the Living back in 1996. She loves him for his compassion. She reveres him for his witness to history.
He was taken to his first camp at the age of 17. Until he was on the train to Auschwitz, he had always been with his mom and dad. He says he grew up overnight alone on that train. What unspeakable things Sigi witnessed, and yet he is still able to say, "We are all children of God and made of the same material."
What grace. When Sigi's grandchildren were young and vulnerable, they would ask him what those numbers were on his arm. And he would gently say they were to help him remember his telephone number.
What kindness. We can ask how the inhumanity of Auschwitz could happen. But we can also ask, how is it that all the evil of Auschwitz could not destroy the goodness of a man like Sigi Hart? How is it that he was able to fall in love with another survivor and together build a close, happy family of their own with a son, a daughter and grandchildren. It is like after a terrible fire, when a seedling sprouts up and in defiance and hope begins to renew the forest. That is what the survivors have done.
So, if you would permit me, I would like to accept this award for hope in honor of those who truly know the meaning of that word. And I want to say something directly to the survivors here tonight. I want you to know this in your heart. When you are gone, we will still go back.
We will go back to Auschwitz.
We will go back to Dachau.
We will go back to Treblinka and to all the other places.
We will go back, and we will remember you.
Never again will you be alone on a cold night in a boxcar on a train to Auschwitz.
We will be with you.
Your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren and grandchildren of generations to come will have their arms around you holding you.
We will go back, and we will remember.
We will remember what you suffered.
We will remember what you lost.
We will remember what you hoped and what you dreamed.
We will remember what you gave us and what you taught us.
We will remember your story.
We will not forget.