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Ronald Reagan Administration:
Speech at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Awards Presentation Ceremony

(October 30, 1988)


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Mrs. Reagan. I'm greatly honored, and this means a very great deal to me personally. Arnold, your remarks were really so kind, and I appreciate them so much. You were kind enough to mention the thousands of people, young and old, who have a special place in my heart.

You know, for the last 8 years, I've had a unique opportunity to witness the extraordinary compassion of the American people—people like each of you, like each of you have for those who are less fortunate. So, let me just say that, really, this award belongs to the millions of American volunteers—to the parents and children involved in the 15,000 Just Say No programs around the country, and the 24,000 men and women participating in the Foster Grandparent Program, to the doctors and others working with the Gift of Life Program, and to all of those who have worked so long for the Special Olympics, and to so many, many giving and generous people. So, on their behalf, I very gratefully accept this award. Thank you very much.

The President. I'm honored more than you can know to receive this year's Humanitarian Award from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. To receive an award given in honor of one of the true heroes of the 20th century, a man whose name will ever be inscribed in the book of life, is indeed a humbling experience. For what Simon Wiesenthal represents are the animating principles of Western civilization since the day Moses came down from Sinai: the idea of justice, the idea of laws, the idea of the free will. God gave us this instruction in Deuteronomy: "I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death. Therefore choose life, so that you may live, you and your descendants."

Those monsters who made the Holocaust-they chose death, with results almost too awful to grasp. The mind reels from the enormity of the crime. It begs to be set free from so terrible a fact, to wipe it from the memory. But people like Simon Wiesenthal have made us understand that we must not, we cannot, and we will not. His life is testimony to his unwavering commitment to do honor to those who burned in the flames of the Holocaust by bringing their murderers and the accomplices of their murderers to the justice of a civilized world that, two score after, still reels in astonishment and disgust. And I salute him on his 80th birthday, as do we all.

But out of the ashes of the Holocaust there came a good thing, a great thing, called the State of Israel. And like Simon Wiesenthal, the animating principles of the State of Israel are justice and law tempered with compassion—yes, the very principles of Judaism itself. And we Americans, with our Judeo-Christian heritage, have no better friends than the people of Israel.

We acknowledge this truth, and our administration has made the ties that bind us warmer than they have ever been. In the last 5 years, we initiated an unprecedented strategic understanding with the State of Israel. We negotiated a free-trade area between our two countries. Most important, perhaps, we promised that we would not permit Israel to lose its qualitative edge in the Middle East, and we delivered on that promise. This record of friendship and fealty moved the Democratic mayor of New York City to say the other week that our administration was the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House.

Well, America and Israel share an understanding forged in the blood and horror of the Second World War. It is not enough for us to invoke our common traditions, to praise ourselves for our Judeo-Christian morality and our decency. We also must defend our traditions, our morality, and our decency. The West knows all too well what happens when the barbarians believe they can act unchecked. All we need do is look at Simon Wiesenthal's life: a stepfather dead in one of Stalin's prisons, a mother killed by Hitler's gas chambers, himself a survivor of the camps.

We must defend ourselves against the evil of totalitarianism. We must follow his example and never waver in our pursuit of justice, never waver in our pursuit of resolve. We must remain strong, and we must be willing to use force when we're under threat. This is a lesson that binds us still closer to the State of Israel, for the fact is: a strong Israel depends upon a strong America. An America that loses faith in the idea of a strong defense is an America that will lose faith in a nation at arms like Israel.

That same strength and resolve coupled with diplomatic vision and a commitment to political reconciliation are essential if Israel is to help achieve a negotiated settlement among the war-weary peoples of the Middle East. Strength and resolve will likewise be the means of resolving our quest for the freedom of those Soviet Jews who seek to make their lives in the West. And when these become realities—and, ladies and gentlemen, I believe with all my heart they will—then, and only then, will the struggle of Simon Wiesenthal achieve its ultimate aim: peace for the Jewish people.

And as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Kristallnacht, that dreadful night in 1938 when Hitler's plan for the Jews began to take its final shape, we vow to be vigilant in our battle against those who would follow Hitler's example. This is our cause. To further it, I will presently sign the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and so, will affirm America's commitment to the profound biblical admonition: Therefore choose life!

Thank you again, and may God bless you all.


Sources: Public Papers of the President

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