Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec at the Opening Reception of the 6th Edition of the Elie Wiesel Study Tour

Residence of the Ambassador of the German Federal Republic to Romania
August 28, 2023

Ambassador Gebauer,
Dear Participants,

While we are here today to discuss the important issue of Holocaust education, we are all aware of the tragedy in Crevedia over the weekend. I want to take a moment to express my condolences to the families of those affected by the explosion. We salute the dedication of first responders and emergency personnel who commit their careers, safety, and their lives to protecting others and we honor their sacrifices, and those of their families.

What a privilege it is today to meet with all of you as you embark on what is sure to be a very moving and meaningful study tour spanning five countries.

You have the extraordinary opportunity to deepen your understanding of the causes and impacts of one of the major human tragedies of the last century, and in so doing, help try to prevent such a terrible injustice from ever happening again.

As the last survivors of the Holocaust pass away, we cannot allow ourselves to forget its horrific lessons. We must ensure what Elie Wiesel called a “memory transfusion” takes place from one generation to the next. We want to learn from the past without having to live through it all again ourselves.

Romania has taken an important step in this regard recently by introducing, in the current academic year, the study of the Holocaust in the national education system for high school students.

We also welcome Romania’s important effort to establish a Holocaust Museum, with the financial support of the European Union. We support this project and hope it will move forward in the near term.

The fact that this program has so many sponsors, including the governments of Germany, Israel, Poland, the Netherlands, the U.S., as well as Romania’s Elie Wiesel Institute, speaks to our shared commitment to learning from our past and preventing more horrors in the future.

A special thank you to American Councils for organizing this study program, which was first established in 2017, in partnership with the U.S. Embassy. Let me also thank the many other partners who are supporting this program in various ways.

All of us would like to believe that our democratic societies have been inoculated against the recurrence of a Holocaust, but we know that human beings are both fallible and forgetful.

To this day, we see the cynical and irresponsible use of hate speech in our societies, speech which seeks to target and dehumanize groups perceived as different, whether they be Jews, or Roma, or LGBTQi individuals, or other minority or identity groups.

Those who practice this type of hate always make excuses for it and downplay the risks, often pretending they are only “exercising their right to free speech.” But in doing so, they normalize hate and encourage violence, violence that we know can metastasize like a cancer.

To combat this, we must recognize and confront the crimes and injustices of the past. We must step forward to defend our human and democratic values. We must guard against what Elie Wiesel called, “the perils of indifference.”

The fight against anti-Semitism requires enforcement of laws against hate crimes, more training for the police, prosecutors and judges, and public condemnation by leaders and officials of anti-Semitic and racist acts.

This has to start with education, which brings us back to our purpose today.

My hope is that this study tour will give you the basis and the courage to combat hate, drawing on the example of Elie Wiesel, who overcame his suffering as a teenager in the Holocaust to offer moral leadership to try to prevent it from happening again.

As a teenager, I remember the profound impact of reading “Night,” the book Wiesel wrote about his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. I wondered then how the Holocaust could have happened and how I would respond if confronted by such a despicable event.

Before coming to Romania, I served in Sarajevo with the Mission of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, where we helped implement the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995 that ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

During that time, I visited Srebrenica, the site of the 1995 massacre in which Serb forces killed over 8,000 Bosniak men and boys, another terrible event which finally pushed the international community to intervene to end the war.

I spoke to family members of the victims of that massacre. They told me how shocking it was that former neighbors and supposed friends supported the Serb forces who carried out the massacre, and how quickly it all happened.

This is yet another reminder to me how fragile our societies can be and how we cannot afford to take peace and cooperation for granted.

In awarding Wiesel the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee called him a “messenger to mankind” who offered a message “of peace, atonement, and human dignity” to humanity.

In 1986, the year he won the Nobel Prize, I had the great honor to meet Elie Wiesel in Moscow, during my first diplomatic assignment. Wiesel came to Moscow to meet with Soviet refuseniks, Jews who were being persecuted because of their desire to emigrate to Israel.

For several days, I accompanied Mr. Wiesel as he visited refuseniks in their apartments, sipping tea and listening to them discuss their hopes and fears. I went with him to the packed Moscow synagogue, where he was embraced by thousands of Jews who appeared for his visit.

I saw how he brought a message of empathy, hope and caring to people who were suffering, and how he was willing to confront the Soviet regime and challenge it to let the refuseniks go.

Ultimately, as we know, Gorbachev came to power, refuseniks were allowed to emigrate, and finally the Soviet Union itself collapsed, two years after the Romanian Revolution.

Elie Wiesel has been an inspiring moral figure in my life, both through his writings and by his leadership.

I hope that as participants in this program, he will become a source of inspiration for you as well. I hope it will encourage you to speak out against injustice and to carry forward Elie Wiesel’s message of empathy and hope.

Drum bun and safe travels.