President Barack Obama named thirteen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Medal of Freedom is the Nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at the White House in late spring. President Obama said,
These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our Nation. They've challenged us, they've inspired us, and they've made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award.
The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
President Obama was led on a tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Museum Director Sara Bloomfield.
At the end of the tour, the President walked slowly and wordlessly into the Hall of Remembrance, a somber look on his face and Elie Wiesel keeping pace on his right side.
The two men, both in dark suits, walked up to the dais holding the eternal flame, and paused there in a moment of silent reflection. The President and Mr. Wiesel lit a candle and observed a moment of silence in the Hall of Remembrance. The President placed a candle in front of the Buchenwald section of the wall in memory of the concentration camp his great-uncle helped liberate at the end of World War II.
The President was introduced by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate & Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel. During his address, the President eloquently noted "'never again' is a challenge to reject hatred in all its forms, including anti-Semitism," and that "'never again' is a challenge to defend the fundamental right of free people and free nations to exist in peace and security" — including Israel. Indeed, the heart of the President's message is his pledge that "never again" must truly mean never again — and the American people and our government both have a role in translating this aspiration into reality. President Obama called for all of us to stand against indifference and ignorance, and to work together to prevent and end genocide in our time.
Obama's plan would allow the United State to impose sanctions against foreign entities, specifically in Iran and Syria, for using technology to carry out human rights abuses.
President Barack Obama also announced that he will award a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a former officer in the Polish Underground during World War II who was among the first to provide eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust to the world. The Medal of Freedom is the Nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
President Obama said,
"We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen-because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts; because so many others stood silent. But let us also tell our children about the Righteous Among the Nations. Among them was Jan Karski-a young Polish Catholic-who witnessed Jews being put on cattle cars, who saw the killings, and who told the truth, all the way to President Roosevelt himself. Jan Karski passed away more than a decade ago. But today, I'm proud to announce that this spring I will honor him with America's highest civilian honor-the Presidential Medal of Freedom."
Last Thursday, Pres. Obama released a statement honoring the Jewish day of remembrance Yom HaShoah.
"On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, I join people of all faiths across the United States, in Israel and around the world in paying tribute to all who suffered in the Shoah - a horrific crime without parallel in human history,"
Karski served as an officer in the Polish Underground during World War II and carried among the first eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust to the world. He worked as a courier, entering the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi Izbica transit camp, where he saw first-hand the atrocities occurring under Nazi occupation. Karski later traveled to London to meet with the Polish government-in-exile and with British government officials. He subsequently traveled to the United States and met with President Roosevelt. Karski published Story of a Secret State, earned a Ph.D at Georgetown University, and became a professor at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service. Born in 1914, Karski became a U.S. citizen in 1954 and died in 2000.
President Obama's words this morning exemplified his commitment to tikkun olam (repairing the world) by ensuring that the pledge of "Never Again" is fully realized.
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