Thank you, Mayor Truskolaski. Thank you, City of Białystok, for hosting such a poignant and important celebration. I’m so honored to join members of the diplomatic and religious communities, survivors, and their families. This is a very special moment of remembrance. And may I say it is also a very important moment of triumph.
Because as we stand today with Judith Pisar, Leah Pisar, Alexandra Pisar, and members of the Pisar family to share in this day, one can see clearly a full circle. It was here in Bialystok where Samuel Pisar experienced the hope and innocence of early childhood. It was here also, as Samuel Pisar put it in “Of Blood and Hope” that he experienced “a collapse of a world” and was victimized in the world’s worst crime, the Holocaust.
And it is here in 2023, when the Pisar family returns to pay homage, that we see triumph. A beautiful family that has not only survived, but thrived, defying the very intentions of the architects and executioners of the Holocaust.
As we heard moments ago from Secretary Blinken and his mother, Judith Pisar. Samuel Pisar’s story is one of survival and resilience, of tragedy to triumph. But there are many others – including within Pisar’s own family – whose story didn’t have the same ending. The systemic annihilation of millions of Jews, the use of sophisticated engineering to execute mass murder. The number of people who took part in that mass murder in different ways. And that as it occurred there was so much indifference.
And from that I want to draw an observation of something very special. One of the central legacies of the Holocaust is recognition of the importance of not being indifferent and the need–the imperative–to rise to a higher moral calling. All of us on this day stand on ground where the Holocaust was perpetrated. History looms large in today’s Poland. And that history helped inform action in Poland in 2022 and 2023.
In 2022 and 2023, Poland has not been indifferent. Millions of refugees fleeing Russia’s horrific attack have come to Poland, welcomed by signs at border crossings “Tutaj jestescie Bezpieczni” (Here you are safe). Running into the open arms of people willing to take them into their homes and into their hearts.
In 2022 and 2023 the Polish people have risen to a higher moral calling. Poland has acted like a humanitarian superpower.
In that way, Samual Pisar has triumphed. His narrative, and the narratives of so many other survivors, triumphed, and has produced a better world.
Poland, the United States, and like-minded countries around the globe are standing united – not just by words but by actions – that we will not remain indifferent. That we will help the brave people of Ukraine and provide hope for a better future for the next generation. This is one way to honor the legacy of Samual Pisar and what he stood for.
As Pisar wrote in his book, “As long as hope pulsates within us like blood, redemption is possible. Like survival itself, for society, for a people, for a nation. The lessons I have culled from the crucible of real life, whatever I know about the undoing of nations and the triumph of hope pulsates within us like blood, redemption is possible, like survival itself, for a society, for a people, for an individual…. even in conditions that stagger the mind.”