Macon, Ga. — This afternoon, U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff joined with the Macon-Bibb County community for a unity rally following last weekend’s anti-Semitic demonstrations.
Sen. Ossoff, who is Georgia’s first Jewish U.S. Senator, spoke about his experiences learning from his own family members who survived the Holocaust about anti-Semitism and the importance of speaking out against all symbols of hate and murder.
“As we react in this beautiful, united, and determined way to what happened last weekend, it’s painful, but important, to remember that the swastika is not merely a symbol of hate — hate is an idea or a feeling — the swastika is a symbol of massacre, slavery, medical experimentation, extermination, and genocide,” Sen. Ossoff said in his remarks.
“America still is, and still represents to the world, the values of universality, of human rights, of tolerance, of love, of kindness — that are the only antidote to the forces of hatred and genocide, which have and will, throughout human history, risen and continue to rise and rise again,” Sen. Ossoff later said.“There is nothing inevitable about the defeat of these ideas or these forces. It requires work. It requires commitment. It requires argument. It requires political action. It requires faith. It requires exactly what we’re doing here in this space right now. In fact, what draws so many to America, is this.”
“This is the community in Macon-Bibb County and Middle Georgia saying that we understand, and we believe in, and we will fight for, and we are committed to the values that all are created equal, that we are out of many one, and that we are one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” Sen. Ossoff said concluding his remarks.
Sen. Ossoff was sworn into the United States Senate on a Tanakh belonging to Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, the Atlanta Rabbi who served at The Temple when it was bombed by white supremacists for the Rabbi’s support of civil rights.
Since taking office, Sen. Ossoff has engaged intensively with key leaders in the Middle East to build the relationships necessary for effective work toward peace, security, and stability in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and the surrounding region.
Please find a transcript of Sen. Ossoff’s keynote remarks below:
SEN. OSSOFF: “Good afternoon. This is such a beautiful sight. Reverend Goshorn and the whole family at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church, we thank you for your hospitality. Please join me in sharing our gratitude to the Reverend and the Church for having us.
“Rabbi Bahar and the whole Temple Beth Israel family, clearly the people of Macon-Bibb County and Middle Georgia are with you, the people of the state of Georgia are with you, the American people are with you, the whole world rallies behind you after what happened last week.
“Mayor Miller, Congressman Bishop, State Representatives Panitch, Beverly, Walker, Dickey; Dov Wilker, Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee; Sheriff David Davis, and your deputies; please join me in thanking the Sheriff and his deputies for taking care of us today.
“Special agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Attorney Peter Leary, Consul General of Israel to Georgia and the Southeastern United States, my friend, Anat Sultan-Dadon, thank you as well for joining us.
“In 1941, in Vilnius, present day Lithuania, a man named Nathan Krugman was on his way home from a dance. He was 18 years old. Like any young man, experiencing life, enjoying life, imagining possibilities, when Vilnius came under bombardment from the German war machine.
“And at the panicked urging of his mother, he and his brother got on their bicycles and tried to follow the retreating Soviet army as the German Wehrmacht bore down on the city. They made it just about to the outskirts of Minsk, before they realized the situation was far too dangerous to proceed, and after having their bikes stolen from them, they walked and snuck back to Vilnius — their city now under Nazi rule.
“Reunited with his family, Nathan and his brother joined them in one of two ghettos established in Vilnius for the Jews. There was a big ghetto and there was a small ghetto. It was him, and his mother, and father, and brother, his aunt and uncle, and their son, and four other families packed into two rooms; the men and the boys going out on daily work details, during which they learned what was happening to their fellow Jews in the small ghetto, who were being taken by death squads to the edge of a ravine on the outside of the city, forced to kneel together as families, shot in the head, and kicked into a ditch where their fellow Jews were made to bury them.
“In March of 1943, Nathan was separated from his family. The Nazis took him and his father away from his mother, his brother, his aunt, his uncle, and his cousin, and put them on a train with about 2,000 Jews headed to what is now Estonia, near the Vaivara concentration camp, where he was put to work, guarded by SS, with little food, frequent beatings, one layer of striped prison clothing; he would later recount how he’d wake up with his hair frozen to the barracks’ wall in the brutal Baltic winter.
“Many died, of course, under these conditions. Many were killed. Those not deemed fit for work, including children, had been killed upon arrival. And Nathan’s father was dying of dysentery. Nathan had done what he could to forage and care for his father, for the others who were in the most acute distress in the camp. But one day his father took him aside and explained to him that he was sure to die, and that young Nathan needed to do what was necessary to survive, and that his father would understand.
“And so, as the Soviet Army now borne down to the west, and the Germans were poised to be expelled from the Baltic states, Nathan and 18 others ran. They dug a bunker deep in the woods. They foraged at night, collecting potatoes, collecting fruit, setting traps, surviving for six months before surrendering to Russian troops in late 1944.
“Nathan then spent two years in a displaced persons camp in Germany before he realized that perhaps his only move wants to reach out to his family in America.
“Now, I should note that upon returning to Vilnius, Nathan learned that just two weeks after he’d been sent to that work camp, the Nazis had liquidated the big ghetto too. And his mother, and his brother, and his aunt, and his uncle, and his cousin had all been slaughtered or sent to death camps. And out of his family of 70 in Vilnius, only two had survived — him and a cousin who had wound up in the Red Army and been wounded.
“So, he put an advertisement in The Forward, looking for his family in Peabody, Massachusetts, looking for his aunt named Annie. A year and a half later, having established correspondence with his American family, Nathan got his immigration documents and boarded a ship for the United States.
“I tell you the story for a few reasons.
“The first is that as we react in this beautiful, united and determined way to what happened last weekend, it’s painful, but important, to remember that the swastika is not merely a symbol of hate — hate is an idea or a feeling — the swastika is a symbol of massacre, slavery, medical experimentation, extermination, and genocide.
“I also tell you that story because I mentioned that Nathan made contact with his aunt Annie, and it just so happened that’s Annie Ossoff.
“And she had arrived at Ellis Island, along with my great grandfather, Israel, in 1911 and 1913, and I was sworn into the Senate with, in my jacket pocket, a copy of the ships’ manifests, documenting their arrival, fleeing pogroms and anti-Semitism, here in the United States.
“And so, I know for middle Georgia’s Jewish community, these aren’t abstractions or ancient stories; these are the experiences of beloved family members with whom we were raised and grew up.
“I also tell you that story because Nathan’s only choice was to come to America. And just as Israel and Annie, my great grandfather, my great grandmother, came to America seeking a place that promised tolerance and opportunity, regardless of faith, or race, or national origin; just as my own mother, who is with us here today, came to America as an immigrant at 23 years old, seeking the same.
“America still is and still represents to the world the values of universality, of human rights, of tolerance, of love, of kindness, that are the only antidote to the forces of hatred and genocide, which have and will, throughout human history, risen and continue to rise and rise again. There is nothing inevitable about the defeat of these ideas or these forces. It requires work. It requires commitment. It requires argument. It requires political action. It requires faith. It requires exactly what we’re doing here in this space right now. In fact, what draws so many to America, is this.
“What draws so many to America is the fact that when something happens, like what happened last weekend, Christians, Protestant, Catholic, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, folk of all belief, or no belief, people of every race, every age, every class, every background, will come to a church to stand behind a rabbi and a synagogue and affirm that we love each other, that we have her back, that we have her congregation’s back, that we are willing not just to put into word our belief in what America is, but to put it into deed.
“So, I’m mostly just here to say thank you. This, right here, right now is what makes America great.
“This is the community in Macon-Bibb County and Middle Georgia saying that we understand, and we believe in, and we will fight for, and we are committed to the values that all are created equal, that we are out of many one, and that we are one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
“Thank you so much.”
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