NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, April 15th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: another in our occasional series—Notable Speeches Past and Present.
Today, a sometimes-overlooked speech from Ronald Reagan due to the controversy that surrounded it.
Back in 1985, the White House announced that the President was going to visit Bitburg Cemetery during a trip to Europe. But many Jewish leaders were upset that Reagan planned to lay a wreath at the German memorial.
EICHER: While in Germany, Reagan commemorated the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. More than 35,000 Jews died there, including Anne Frank.
But the firestorm over Bitburg overshadowed the powerful speech at Bergen-Belsen. But Reagan’s comments at the front gate of the camp are some of his most important words concerning the Holocaust.
Features editor Paul Butler edited the speech for time.
RONALD REAGAN: What we have seen makes unforgettably clear that no one of the rest of us can fully understand the enormity of the feelings carried by the victims of these camps.
The survivors carry a memory beyond anything that we can comprehend. The awful evil started by one man—an evil that victimized all the world with its destruction—was uniquely destructive to the millions forced into the grim abyss of these camps.
Here lie people—Jews—whose death was inflicted for no reason other than their very existence. Their pain was borne only because of who they were and because of the God in their prayers. Alongside them lay many Christians—Catholics and Protestants.
For year after year, until that man and his evil were destroyed, hell yawned forth its awful contents. People were brought here for no other purpose but to suffer and die. To go unfed when hungry. Uncared for when sick. Tortured when the whim struck. And left to have misery consume them when all there was around them was misery.
Above all, we are struck by the horror of it all—the monstrous, incomprehensible horror. That is what we have seen—but is what we can never understand as the victims did. What we have felt and are expressing with words cannot convey the suffering that they endured. That is why history will forever brand what happened as the Holocaust.
Here, death ruled. But we have learned something as well. Because of what happened, we found that death cannot rule forever. And that is why we are here today.
We are here because humanity refuses to accept that freedom or the spirit of man can ever be extinguished. We are here to commemorate that life triumphed over the tragedy and the death of the Holocaust—overcame the suffering, the sickness, the testing, and, yes, the gassings.
There must have been a time when the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen and those of every other camp must have felt the Springtime was gone forever from their lives. Surely we can understand that, when we see what is around us—all these children of God, under bleak and lifeless mounds, the plainness of which does not even hint at the unspeakable acts that created them.
Here they lie. Never to hope. Never to pray, never to love. Never to heal. Never to laugh. Never to cry. And too many of them knew that this was their fate. But that was not the end. Through it all was their faith and a spirit that moved their faith.
Nothing illustrates this better than the story of a young girl who died here at Bergen-Belsen. For more than two years, Anne Frank and her family had hidden from the Nazis in a confined annex in Holland, where she kept a remarkably profound diary. Betrayed by an informant, Anne and her family were sent by freight car first to Auschwitz and finally here to Bergen-Belsen.
Just three weeks before her capture, young Anne wrote these words: “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the even approaching thunder, which will destroy us too. I can feel the sufferings of millions, and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right. That this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquillity will return again.” Eight months later, this sparkling young life ended at Bergen-Belsen.
Somewhere here lies Anne Frank.
We are all witnesses. We share the glistening hope that rests in every human soul. Hope leads us—if we are prepared to trust it—toward what our President Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” And then, rising above all this cruelty—out of this tragic and nightmarish time—beyond the anguish, the pain, and the suffering and for all time, we can and must pledge.
EICHER: That’s Ronald Reagan from 1985 speaking at the site of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp—liberated 75 years ago this week.