How Jewish History and the Holocaust Fueled Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Quest for JusticeBreaking News
tags: Holocaust, Jewish history, Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of eight Jewish justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court. Ginsburg, who died Friday as Jews around the world began celebrating Rosh Hashanah, spoke about her Jewish identity and the horrifying history of anti-Semitism in a 2004 speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Here are her full remarks.
I had the good fortune to be a Jew born and raised in the U.S.A. My father left Odessa bound for the New World in 1909, at age 13; my mother was first in her large family to be born here, in 1903, just a few months after her parents and older siblings landed in New York. What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s garment district and a Supreme Court Justice? Just one generation, my mother’s life and mine bear witness. Where else but America could that happen?
My heritage as a Jew and my occupation as a judge fit together symmetrically. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I take pride in and draw strength from my heritage, as signs in my chambers attest: a large silver mezuzah on my door post, [a] gift from the Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn; on three walls, in artists’ renditions of Hebrew letters, the command from Deuteronomy: “Zedek, zedek, tirdof” — “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Those words are ever-present reminders of what judges must do that they “may thrive.”
But today, here in the Capitol, the lawmaking heart of our nation, in close proximity to the Supreme Court, we remember in sorrow that Hitler’s Europe, his Holocaust kingdom, was not lawless. Indeed, it was a kingdom full of laws, laws deployed by highly educated people — teachers, lawyers, and judges — to facilitate oppression, slavery and mass murder. We convene to say “Never again,” not only to Western history’s most unjust regime, but also to a world in which good men and women, abroad and even in the U.S.A., witnessed or knew of the Holocaust kingdom’s crimes against humanity, and let them happen.
The world’s failure to stop the atrocities of the Third Reich was perhaps nowhere more apparent than in Hungary, where the Holocaust descended late in the war. But when it came, it advanced with brutal speed. Hungary was the first country in Europe to adopt an anti-Jewish law after World War I, a short-lived measure that restricted the admission of Jews to institutions of higher learning. In the main, however, that nation’s 800,000 Jews lived free from terror until 1944. Although 63,000 Hungarian Jews lost their lives before the German occupation — most of them during forced service, under dreadful conditions, in labor battalions — Hungary’s leaders staved off German demands to carry out the Final Solution until March 19, 1944, when Hitler’s troops occupied the country.
Then, overnight, everything changed. Within three and a half months of the occupation, 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported. Four trains a day, each transporting up to 3,000 people packed together like freight, left Hungary for Auschwitz, where most of the passengers were methodically murdered. This horrendous time is chronicled unforgettably by Hungarian Holocaust survivors and Nobel Prize winners Elie Wiesel, today’s lead speaker, and Imre Kertész, in their captivating works, “Night” and “Fateless.”
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