Remarks by U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Dean Thompson at Elie Wiesel Institute 10th Anniversary

Bună dimineaţa Daţi-mi voie să le mulţumesc foarte mult lui Alexandru Florian şi Institutului „Elie Wiesel” pentru că mi-au oferit ocazia de a vă vorbi astăzi. I would also like to say hello to my friend, Radu Ioanid, who is joining us from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. And I want to say a big hello and acknowledge all the teachers that are here today, working on an important issue, bringing knowledge, background and historical accuracy to a very important period of Romania’s history. I really applaud your excellent work and your dedication to the issue that we’re talking about today.

As many of you know, the U.S. Embassy and the Wiesel Institute have enjoyed a long, fruitful relationship since the Institute was founded ten years ago. And I just can’t say enough about all the good work the Institute does. That’s ten years of research. That’s ten years of taking a stance against anti-Semitism, discrimination, racism, and xenophobia. It’s ten years of cultivating civic values such as tolerance, intercultural sensitivity, and solidarity.

As many of you know, the Romanian government established the Wiesel Institute following the publication of the Wiesel Commission report documenting Romania’s role in the Holocaust. I continue to commend the government for taking the bold step of acknowledging the dark parts of its past and working to remedy them. Over the years, the U.S. Embassy has partnered with the Institute on many occasions, including teacher training and a film festival, and many other activities.

And while the Institute’s work has been successful, unfortunately, it is, far, far from over. In 2007, the Institute conducted a survey to identify how Romanians perceive minorities here, and their general knowledge of the Holocaust in Romania. Just this year, the Institute conducted a similar survey. Sadly, this most recent survey showed an increase in the level of intolerance toward minorities. This is unfortunate – as Romania’s true strength can be found in its diversity. Romania has been a crossroads for different peoples for centuries. This history allows Romania to bridge divides and play an important role around the region and the world. Embracing, rather than rejecting, diversity is a key to Romania’s prosperity in the future.

Fortunately, the survey showed an improvement in general knowledge about the Holocaust — a 12% point increase in people having some knowledge of the Holocaust itself, and a 6% increase in those realizing that part of the Holocaust took place here in Romania.

This is where education comes in. Hate fuels ignorance. This is where your roles as teachers are so very important. While education is important at any age, it is the young people we need to get to. Shaping young minds, teaching them the truth of what happened in history – both the good and the bad, to appreciate their neighbor’s culture, religion, attitude or belief – this is the foundation that will allow Romania to embrace opportunity to the fullest. Hence the crucial role of teachers like you in promoting civic values such as tolerance, intercultural communication, and collaboration.

And in this arena, yet again, the Wiesel Institute is making progress. Just this week, it is hosting the “After Ten Years! Keeping the Memory Alive” campaign – which the U.S. Embassy proudly helped support – in order to examine the impact of its educational programs over the past decade. The roundtable on Monday involved teachers from the education project that has been in place in 2003, with the help of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Institute. You took the time to gather and discuss how this educational process has evolved during the past decade. You debated the impact of these programs. You thought ahead to what you can do next.

This was followed Tuesday by a workshop in Iasi, where these young people got to engage on tolerance and extremist attitudes through writing and debate, and where they got to learn how these attitudes can be tempered with civic values. And that’s not the end by any means. Even today, you’re working to identify ways to further improve your education programs. You’re discussing other ways to reach younger audiences about the Holocaust, discrimination, racism, anti-Semitism, and the like.

This is how you combat the scourge of intolerance: You keep fighting it and you keep adjusting how you fight it. This introspection and self-critique, this pursuit of truth and justice are what makes the Wiesel Institute such a wonderful organization. We at the U.S. Embassy have benefitted so much from the past decade of your existence. And we cannot wait to see how we can collaborate in the decades to come. Thank you.