Tonight, we are also joined by Pittsburgh survivor Judah Samet. He arrived at the synagogue as the massacre began. But not only did Judah narrowly escape death last fall, more than seven decades ago, he narrowly survived the Nazi concentration camps. Today is Judah’s 81st birthday.
They wouldn’t do that for me, Judah.
Judah says he can still remember the exact moment, nearly 75 years ago, after 10 months in a concentration camp, when he and his family were put on a train, and told they were going to another camp. Suddenly the train screeched to a very strong halt. A soldier appeared. Judah’s family braced for the absolute worst. Then, his father cried out with joy, “It’s the Americans. It’s the Americans.”
A second Holocaust survivor who is here tonight, Joshua Kaufman, was a prisoner at Dachau. He remembers watching through a hole in the wall of a cattle car as American soldiers rolled in with tanks.
“To me,” Joshua recalls, “the American soldiers were proof that God exists, and they came down from the sky. They came down from heaven.”
I began this evening by honoring three soldiers who fought on D-day in the second world war. One of them was Herman Zeitchik. But there is more to Herman’s story.
A year after he stormed the beaches of Normandy, Herman was one of the American soldiers who helped liberate Dachau. He was one of the Americans who helped rescue Joshua from that hell on Earth. Almost 75 years later, Herman and Joshua are both together in the gallery tonight, seated side-by-side, here in the home of American freedom. Herman and Joshua, your presence this evening is very much appreciated. Thank you very much.
When American soldiers set out beneath the dark skies over the English Channel in the early hours of D-Day, 1944, they were just young men of 18 and 19, hurtling on fragile landing craft toward the most momentous battle in the history of war. They did not know if they would survive the hour. They did not know if they would grow old. But they knew that America had to prevail.
Their cause was this nation, and generations yet unborn. Why did they do it? They did it for America — they did it for us. Everything that has come since — our triumph over communism, our giant leaps of science and discovery, our unrivaled progress towards equality and justice — all of it is possible thanks to the blood and tears and courage and vision of the Americans who came before.
Think of this Capitol — think of this very chamber, where lawmakers before you voted to end slavery, to build the railroads and the highways, and defeat fascism, to secure civil rights, and to face down evil empires.
Here tonight, we have legislators from across this magnificent republic. You have come from the rocky shores of Maine and the volcanic peaks of Hawaii, from the snowy woods of Wisconsin and the red deserts of Arizona, from the green farms of Kentucky and the golden beaches of California. Together, we represent the most extraordinary nation in all of history.
What will we do with this moment? How will we be remembered? I ask the men and women of this Congress, look at the opportunities before us.
Our most thrilling achievements are still ahead. Our most exciting journeys still await. Our biggest victories are still to come. We have not yet begun to dream.
We must choose whether we are defined by our differences, or whether we dare to transcend them. We must choose whether we squander our great inheritance, or whether we proudly declare that we are Americans. We do the incredible. We defy the impossible. We conquer the unknown. This is the time to reignite the American imagination. This is the time to search for the tallest summit, and set our sights on the brightest star.
This is the time to rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together as citizens, as neighbors, as patriots. This is our future, our fate and our choice to make. I am asking you to choose greatness.
No matter the trials we face, no matter the challenges to come, we must go forward together. We must keep America first in our hearts. We must keep freedom alive in our souls. And we must always keep faith in America’s destiny, that one nation, under God, must be the hope and the promise and the light and the glory among all the nations of the world.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.
Thank you very much.
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