In the din of criticism directed at Ronald Reagan last week, the voice of Elie Wiesel stood out for its passion and simple eloquence. At week's end, in a dramatic coincidence of timing, the author and concentration-camp survivor was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement by Reagan at the White House. Excerpts from Wiesel' s remarks at the ceremony:
A few days ago, on the anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald, all of us Americans watched with dismay and anger as the Soviet Union and East Germany distorted both past and present history. Mr. President, I was there. I was there when American liberators arrived. And they gave us back our lives.
And what I felt for them then nourishes me to the end of my days and will do so. If you only knew what we tried to do with them then. We who were so weak that we couldn't carry our own lives--we tried to carry them in triumph!
But, Mr. President, I wouldn't be the person I am ... if I were not to tell you also of the sadness that is in my heart for what happened during the last week. And I am sure that you, too, are sad for the same reasons. What can I do? I belong to a traumatized generation. And to us, as to you, symbols are important. I am convinced, as you have told us earlier when we spoke, that you were not aware of the presence of SS graves in the Bitburg cemetery. Of course you didn't know. But now we all are aware. May I, Mr. President, if it's possible at all, implore you to do something else ... to find another way, another site. That place, Mr. President, is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS.
Oh, we know there are political and strategic reasons. But this issue, as all issues related to that awesome event, transcends politics and diplomacy. The issue here is not politics, but good and evil. And we must never confuse them, for I have seen the SS at work, and I have seen their victims. They were my friends. They were my parents.
Mr. President, I know and I understand, we all do, that you seek reconciliation. So do I. So do we. And I, too, wish to attain true reconciliation with the German people. I do not believe in collective guilt, nor in collective responsibility. Only the killers were guilty. Their sons and daughters are not.