Rita Bornstein’s Acceptance Speech
Rita Bornstein’s remarks on being honored with the Tess Wise White Rose Award by the Holocaust Center. April, 2022
Thanks to all of you for joining with us to celebrate progress in designing, planning, and raising funds for the Holocaust Museum for Hope & Humanity. The White Rose Award is a high honor for me. I have a few remarks.
Immigration in America has always been influenced by instability elsewhere. It will take years for the millions of dispossessed Ukrainians to resettle in safe places. My parents and grandparents emigrated from Russia and Poland because of fierce anti-Semitism and growing fascism.
In Germany, long the intellectual epicenter of Europe with great universities and businesses, the people elected a fascist anti-Semite, Adolph Hitler, to the presidency. They elected him!
As Hitler consolidated his power, the Gestapo systematically implemented his goal of eliminating the entire Jewish population. The Holocaust was a horror unknown to the civilized world. Courageous individuals and groups were active in saving, hiding, and transporting as many Jews as they could.
The White Rose group arose in Munich, Germany. Members were mainly pacifist medical students who were so revolted by Hitler that they began to flood the universities with leaflets and graffiti denouncing the Nazis, the war, and extermination of the Jews. The group’s slogan was “long live freedom.”
The student leaders of White Rose were caught, given a mock trial, and beheaded. Yes, beheaded. It did not take long for the Nazis to eliminate the rest of the group. Today, White Rose is celebrated for the heroism and sacrifice of its members.
When Holocaust survivors tell their stories, the pain is almost unendurable. One survivor recalls a time when she was a child standing in line with her neighbors waiting with their suitcases to board a train, unsure about their destination.
Many townspeople had come out to watch them. She remembers searching among the bystanders for a glimpse of her school friends – the friends who had often come to her house after school to sing and to play.
She saw them, but they looked away.
Multiply this pain by the millions who couldn’t understand why their friends and neighbors had abandoned them and looked away.
When Tess Wise established the Holocaust Center, she was adamant that we not look away from people who are marginalized or vilified or mistreated. Tess has urged us to stand against hate and bigotry.
I thought of Tess recently when a gunman took over a synagogue in Texas. According to a congregant, the courageous Rabbi was known for his “devotion to the Jewish values of compassion and justice.”
Today, Jews and other groups are being viciously attacked. In his book, Semitism, Jonathan Weisman says, “Rising anti-Semitism cannot be fought in isolation from so many other forms of bigotry.”
In the 1960s, we marched together with diverse Americans in the successful struggle for civil rights. Now, 60 years later, we see people from around the world gathering to demand democracy and independence for Ukrainians.
We are building The Holocaust Museum for Hope and Humanity to honor and to remember the 6-million, and to keep alive the memory of the Righteous and our gratitude for their courage.
We recognize that we are ALL MORE POWERFUL when we partner with others in the struggle for justice and freedom.