In a speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC on Monday, US President Barack Obama said that the legacy of the Holocaust challenged America to do everything it could to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. “‘Never again’ is a challenge to defend the fundamental right of free people and free nations to exist in peace and security – and that includes the State of Israel,” Obama said at the annual commemoration of the Shoah. “I will always be there for Israel,” he pledged.
“When faced with a regime that threatens global security and denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel, the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” the US president pointed out.
Before taking the podium, Obama toured the museum with Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. Introducing Obama, Wiesel also connected the Holocaust to Iran and spoke forcefully of the need for the world to take action. “How is it that the number one Holocaust denier Ahmadinejad is still the president? He who threatens to use nuclear weapons, to use nuclear weapons, to destroy the Jewish state. Have we not learned?” Wiesel asked the audience, which included other survivors. “We must, must know that when evil has power, it is almost too late,” he added. Obama told Wiesel: "You show us the way. If you cannot give up, if you can believe, then we can believe."
Obama announced that he had signed an executive order targeting people and entities who use technology to help authoritarian regimes in Iran and Syria suppress their people. "Technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to oppress them," he said in his speech. The president said the aim of the White House's new Atrocities Prevention Board was to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities and war crimes. The "seeds of hate" had too often been allowed to flourish, said the president: "Too often the world has failed to stop the massacre of innocents on a massive scale.”
Late Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom
Obama also announced that he will posthumously award the late Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski (pictured below) with America's highest civilian honor for his role in exposing the Holocaust. Karski, who died in Washington aged 86, provided some of the first eye witness accounts of the purge against Jews to the outside world from the Warsaw ghetto and a Nazi transit camp. "We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen: because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, because so many others stood silent," Obama said in his speech.
Karski will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a ceremony at the White House later this year. As a young man, Karski, who was a clandestine officer of the Polish government-in-exile in London, witnessed scenes of starvation and death after infiltrating the Warsaw Ghetto. Dressed as a Ukrainian guard, he also went to a Nazi transit camp near Warsaw where he saw Jews beaten and stabbed and loaded onto train cars treated with quicklime for transit to the gas chambers. He later transmitted warnings about the extent of the Holocaust to British and American leaders including US President Franklin Roosevelt.
After the war, Karski did not return to Poland, but studied at Georgetown University in Washington, where he later became a professor of history.
Read the speech of President Obama here.