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The work of remembering

Remarks by President Lawrence S. Bacow at the Dedication of a Memorial to the Jews of Londorf Recognizing Their Transportation to the Concentration Camps on September 14, 1942. Remarks delivered on September 14, 2022.

Thank you for welcoming me—for welcoming my loved ones—today. We are honored to be here representing our family.

Thank you, Mr. Hausner—thank you, Jens—for reaching out to me earlier this year and for organizing this event.  My gratitude for your efforts cannot be put into words.

Thank you, citizens and residents, for acknowledging the Jews of Londorf, for recognizing the injustice and inhumanity to which they were subjected in life.

It is never too late to do right, and I appreciate the kindness that this effort represents. Thank you for this mitzvah—Hebrew for “good deed.”

I stand before you—together with my sister—together with my children—as the descendants of the only survivor among those taken from this town—taken from their homes 80 years ago today.

My mother, Ruth Wertheim, was transported to Theresienstadt along with her parents, Leopold and Emma, and her grandfather, David. Her sister, Inge, had already been arrested. My mother was 15.

My mother’s family all perished in Auschwitz. They were among six million Jews murdered.

Six million is a number beyond understanding.

So, here I am, one man. My sister, one woman. My sister’s children and my children have children of their own.

The sweetness of life cannot be put into words.

The bitterness of life can.

As a grandfather watching my grandchildren grow and change, I find myself imagining what it might have been like to spend some of my childhood in the loving embrace of my mother’s parents.

As an uncle and a great uncle, I find myself imagining what it might have been like to have known my mother’s sister, what it might have been like to have visited my aunt, to have played with my cousins.

The grief of descendants is the grief of imagination.

The work of remembering must be the work of imagining, of trading contemplation of six million lives for confrontation with one life, with another life and then another, throughout our lives.

Imagine the people who are not here today. The children, the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren of my mother’s neighbors, of my mother’s friends. Imagine the lives they might have led, the joys and sorrows they might have experienced, the good deeds they might have done.

It is one thing to recognize the dead, one thing to place a plaque in their memory. It is another thing—more important and more difficult—to speak up for the living.

May each of us pledge—here, today—to do the mitzvah – the good deed – of raising a moral voice in response to bigotry, hatred, and injustice, not just where we live but everywhere. May we give voice to those to those whose voices have been silenced; to those who may appear different from the majority.

If we are successful, we will spare future generations the sad task of holding ceremonies like this one. We will create more opportunities for more people to do mitzvot – good deeds. And we will remember the power that lies within each and every one of us to do right.

This day is for many, many people. But, for me, this day is for Ruth Wertheim, one of some six million. This day is for Ruth Bacow, my mother, one of one.

Thank you.