WASHINGTON (AP) _ A group organized to keep the world from forgetting Nazi German atrocities gave awards Thursday to a retired general as well as an Idaho mayor and the citizens of his town who resisted neo-Nazis four decades after the war.
In ceremonies at the State Department, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council gave its Eisenhower Liberation Medal to retired Gen. James M. Gavin, who commanded forces that helped beat the Germans and liberated Wobbelin concentration camp.
″We who did our share, we won’t forget - never will we forget, never,″ said Gavin after the audience at the annual ″Days of Remembrance″ ceremonies gave him a standing ovation.
Mayor Raymond Stone of Couer d’Alene, Idaho, also received an Eisenhower medal for being among the first U.S. soldiers into Wobbelin. In addition, Stone accepted a certificate honoring Couer d’Alene citizens for ″standing fast and speaking out in the face of threats and violence perpetrated by the members of a neo-Nazi paramilitary group,″ the Aryan Nation, which in 1982 made its headquarters near the town.
Sect leader Richard G. Butler, 70, and 12 others were acquitted earlier this month in Arkansas of charges that they conspired to overthrow the federal government and to kill a federal judge and an FBI agent.
Stone said in an interview that he expected Butler to return to Couer d’Alene, but he said the town of 25,000 people has nothing to fear. He said the Aryan Nation had dwindled from about 220 members at its peak to no more than a handful in the area.
Stone said his experience in Germany, witnessing stacked rows of beds with starving and dead concentration camp victims, changed his life. Before being elected mayor of the northern Idaho town in 1986, he had been a high school and college teacher. He said he tried to instill in his students the conviction that ″this thing must not happen again.″
Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead told several hundred people attending the ceremonies that he was shaken by a visit to Auschwitz concentration camp in February.
″Do not forget, and do not allow the world to forget the inhumanity of which mankind is capable when it denies the sanctity of human life,″ he said.
Whitehead warned that the United States should ″resist the recurrent American temptation toward isolationism″ and continue to work for human rights throughout the world.
He noted that the high standards of education and culture attained by the Germans did not insulate them from ″the virus of religous and racial prejudice.″
The program included an emotional cermony, with six members of Congress and six people who survived the wave of arrests of Jews in November 1938 lighting candles.
Helga Lesser Franks, now an Evanston, Ill., travel agent, wept as she participated in the candle-lighting with Rep. John E. Porter, R-Ill.
She said later she was 11 when soldiers stormed through Berlin, burning her Jewish school and the synagogue next to her home. ″I can’t help reliving it and being amazed that I am here now,″ said Ms. Franks. She said she had never participated as part of a Holocaust observance program before.
Other members of congress joining in the candle-lighting in addition to Porter were Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J.; Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md.; Richard G. Lugar, R-Ill., and Reps. Jack Buechner, R-Mo., and William Lehman, D-Fla.
The 55-member Holocaust Memorial Council was established by Congress in 1980 to plan construction of a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The site for the $50 million building next door to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving has been cleared, with construction expected to take about 2 1/2 years.