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Clinton dedicates Holocaust memorial

By
STEVEN HEILBRONNER

WASHINGTON -- In a somber, rain-swept ceremony, President Clinton dedicated the nation's Holocaust Memorial Museum Thursday, calling on the world to learn the lessons of Nazi Germany and stand tall against bigotry and racism.

The systematic destruction of Bosnia's Muslims and Iraqi Kurds was not far from the president's mind or the thoughts of other guests featured at the dedication of the $168 million memorial a decade in the making.

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The outdoor event, subject to a fierce wind and chilly temperatures, was attended by the heads of state of 12 nations, including Israel, and by top U.S. diplomats, lawmakers and Holocaust survivers.

Some 10,000 people sat or stood at the foot of the museum, a short walk from the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument, and a handful of neo-Nazi protestors, about 100 of them, could be heard in the distance calling the Holocaust a hoax.

Speaking at the end of the lengthy ceremony Clinton said, 'The evil represented in this museum is incontestable, but as we are its witness, so must we remain its adversary in the world in which we live, so we must stop the fabricators of history and the bullies as well.'

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The bullies he cited reside in the familiar lands of Serbia and Iraq, South Africa and Iran and the United States.

'Look at the liars and the propagandists among us, the skinheads and the liberty lobby here at home, the Afrikaners Resistance Movement in South Africa, the radical party of Serbia, the Russian Black Shirts,' he said.

Not far from him, protesters held signs that read '6 million lies' and 'Move to Europe,' as they tried to interrupt the ceremomy several times with their chants.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel laureate, directly challenged Clinton on the Bosnian war, turning to him at the end of his speech and saying, 'I can't not say this. We must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country.'

Clinton later met briefly with Wiesel at the museum and told reporters after the session, 'I think it's a challenge to the United States and one to the West to take further initiatives.'

He did not specify what those would be, but administration officials have hinted at seeking support for air strikes against Serb targets.

But while questions over how to affect change in the Balkans and Cambodia was a natural topic of discussion, most of the two-hour ceremony focused on the the Holocaust, the gruesome deaths of 6 million Jews that seemed to happen with little public anguish.

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Bishop Krister Stendahl, former dean of the Harvard Divinity School, accepted some of the blame on behalf of Christian churches for their response to the murders.

'I for one as a Christian pray that we in the churches be rudely and finally awakened to our age-old complicity in the ultimate crimes of the Holocaust,' he said in his invocation.

Clinton, too, acknowledged the West's failure to respond.

'We must live forever with this knowledge, even as our fragmentary awareness of crimes grew into indisputable facts, far too little was done,' he said.

One person among the thousands who risked her life to help the Jews did speak at the ceremony.

Stephania Podgorska, who was 16 in 1942, was left alone with her young sister after their father and mother and brothers had been taken to a labor camp. A Polish Catholic, she successfully hid 13 Jews and later married one of them, Josef Burzminski.

As the two stood on the riser at the ceremony, she recounted the terror of the times.

'When I saw the SS (Hitler's storm troopers) and the Gestapo taking Jewish people into the ghetto behind the barbed wire, in my heart and in my mind I felt that what they were doing to these people was terribly wrong and inhuman,' she said in broken English. 'It was then that I decided to help the victims of this terror.'

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Clinton dedicated the museum several days after he touring the cavernous, dimly lit edifice constructed in brick and steel and iron that is meant to evoke images of death.

The museum offers a glimpse of the Jews and millions of others put to death systematically throughout Europe over 12 years, 1933-1945. There are pictures and passports, books and boots, a replica of a railroad car used to transport the victims to their deaths.

Like Thursday's ceremony, the the museum offers many questions about the ugly period but few answers.

'Where was God' to stop the carnage, asked master of ceremonies and journalist Ted Koppel, himself the son of World War II refugees. Finding no answer, he said. 'We must accept responsibility for one another.'

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