On a wet, blustery afternoon in April 1993, the United States dedicated the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington as a national memorial to Holocaust victims. Thousands attended the ceremony, including Holocaust survivors, veterans of the armed forces that defeated Nazi Germany and liberated the concentration camps, 61 heads of state from around the world, a large portion of the diplomatic corps, most members of the U.S. Congress and the recently inaugurated president of the United States, Bill Clinton.
No single person was more closely identified in the public mind with the new museum or the cause of Holocaust remembrance than Elie Wiesel. His searing memoir, Night, his chairmanship of the presidential commission that recommended the Museum's creation, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize-all endowed Wiesel with an exceptional moral authority rooted in the tireless witness he bore to the enormity of the Holocaust.
On that bitter April day, Wiesel told of a young Jewish woman in the Carpathian Mountains of Hungary who 50 years earlier read a brief account of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. "Why," she said, 'are our Jewish brothers doing that? … Couldn't they wait quietly'-the word was quietly-'until the end of the war?'" She didn't know, Wiesel said, of names like Treblinka or Belzec or Birkenau. A year later, she and her family were