Department of Justice Seal

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - 10:00 A.M. EST

Good morning.  Thank you, Fred, for that introduction.  It's an honor to be here in such distinguished company and to be at this extraordinarily important museum. 

It is gratifying as well because of the reason we are here: to mark the Justice Department’s donation of more than 50,000 pages of records of World War II-related denaturalization, extradition, and removal cases.  

With the exception of records from the immediate postwar Allied prosecutions in Europe, this collection is the largest body of English-language primary source materials relating to the prosecution of Nazi criminals publicly available anywhere in the world.  It includes transcripts of more than 40 trials and hearings, and the decisions rendered in all of the cases brought by the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, including many that have never been published.  A second set of these decisions will be donated to Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem.

This donation is the result of tremendous effort by many people – not just the people whose labors are recorded in these documents, but also the people who worked to bring about the donation itself.  There are too many to name, but I want to single out a few: Eli Rosenbaum, Director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations; Fred Zeidman, Chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; Dr. Joel Geiderman, Vice Chair of the Council; and Sara Bloomfield, the Holocaust Museum’s Director.    

It is our hope that this donation will help both to advance our understanding of those who perpetrated the horror of the Holocaust, which will strengthen our ability to resist such people, and to deepen our knowledge of the Holocaust’s victims, which will help preserve their memory.  As an institution founded to study and to memorialize the Holocaust and its victims, this Museum is a fitting destination for these records. 

This is a Memorial Museum — a physical and educational monument that perpetuates the memory of the six million who perished, by ensuring that the truth of their fate persists.  The truth about the evil — there is no other word for it — of the Nazis and their collaborators.  The truth about those people who watched and did nothing as their neighbors were taken away to the camps.  And the truth about countries, including our own, that could have done more, sooner, to stop the atrocities.

It serves as a daily reminder to the leaders of the free world, and to the many visitors to our nation’s capital, that law without conscience is no guarantee of freedom; that even the seemingly most advanced of nations can be led down the path of evil; and that we must confront horror with action and vigilance, not lethargy and cowardice.  It reminds us, as President Bush said here several years ago, that “the words ‘never again’ do not refer to the past — they refer to the future.”

So, too, the documents we donate today perpetuate the memory of those men, women and children who perished, by ensuring that the truth of their fate – that their stories – survive in paper and ink for future generations.  The documents are a permanent record of what happened, and a safeguard against those who might forget or, even worse, deny.

In this way, these documents serve the dual need of this Museum: to assure that the world does not forget the particularity of the Holocaust – the attempt to eradicate Jews because they were Jews – while at the same time enabling the world to draw general lessons from what is displayed and documented here.

On a superficial level, these documents resemble those that lawyers use every day.  They are transcripts; they are judicial decisions; they tell detailed stories of legal wrangling.  But at a deeper level, these documents are much more than that: Just like this Museum, they tell the stories of whole communities and they give voice to people who are no longer able to speak for themselves. 

Take Fruma Kaplan, one of the almost 50,000 Jewish victims of Aleksandras Lileikis, the wartime chief of the Nazi-sponsored Lithuanian Security Police in Vilnius, a renowned center of Jewish religious, cultural and political life before the War.  In the early 1980s, we found Lileikis living in Massachusetts, but he denied having had anything to do with the fate of the Jews.  It was only when communist rule collapsed in the Soviet Union that an investigator from the Office of Special Investigations was able to access documents signed by Lileikis and dispatching named Jews to the killing pits in the forest near the hamlet of Paneriai, in Yiddish “Ponar.”

Among those records were several that told the fate of a woman named Gitta Kaplan and her daughter Fruma, who was just six years old.  No prewar photos or other documents about this mother and daughter have ever been found; nor have any family members been identified.  All that we know about them is in the court documents – how they had escaped from the ghetto in Vilnius, how they were hidden in the countryside by two brave Lithuanians, how they were discovered and ultimately sent to their deaths by Lileikis.  We found the bureaucratic documentation reporting that they had been, quote, “handled according to orders,” unquote – a Nazi euphemism for murder – on December 22, 1941. 

Based on these documents, we filed suit to strip Lileikis of his falsely obtained U.S. citizenship.  A half century after the deaths of Gitta and Fruma Kaplan, a federal judge did just that, finding that Lileikis was responsible for murder.  That decision, which is among those that we are donating today, is Fruma Kaplan’s memorial.  And though she no longer lives, her story does – in these documents, and through them now in this Museum. 

Fruma Kaplan’s story is one of many told in these documents.  Since it was created in 1979, the Department’s Office of Special Investigations has won more than 100 cases such as the one against Aleksandras Lileikis.  The people it has prosecuted have ranged from high-ranking perpetrators, such as a former Interior and Justice Minister of Axis Croatia, to concentration camp guards and other trigger-pullers who carried out the brutal crimes. 

Large and small, these cases are part of our overall effort to confront the Nazi horrors with the retribution of justice.  They date to President Roosevelt’s declaration in 1942 that “the time will come” when those responsible for the Nazi’s crimes “shall have to stand in courts of law, in the very countries which they are now oppressing, and answer for those acts.” And they continued the work begun at Nuremberg, where one of my predecessors as Attorney General, Robert Jackson, declared: “That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance, and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law, is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.”

As time passes, there are fewer and fewer perpetrators of the Holocaust still living.  But the missions of this Museum and the Justice Department do not depend on their existence.  As I mentioned a few minutes ago, this Museum teaches and allows others to draw more general lessons that reach beyond the four corners of what is documented here.  The Justice Department too has learned – and taught – those lessons.

Just as the Museum has focused on present-day mass killings such as those in Rwanda or Darfur, we at the Department are doing what we can to ensure that those responsible for such atrocities are brought to justice.  We have provided support to the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia; to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and to the Iraqi High Tribunal.  And where we can, we are bringing our own cases.  Both the Office of Special Investigations and the Domestic Security Section – parts of the Department’s Criminal Division – are pursuing cases against perpetrators of those international atrocities who find their way into our country.

The most prominent example of those efforts is the recent conviction of Chuckie Taylor Jr., the son of the former President of Liberia, who was convicted of torturing his countrymen.  His conviction – the first in history under our criminal anti-torture statute – provides a measure of justice to those who were victimized by his reprehensible acts, and it sends a powerful message to human rights violators around the world that, when we can, we will hold them accountable for their crimes.

In these and other endeavors, we look forward to continuing our great partnership with this Museum.  There have been many examples of that partnership over the years.  The Museum has helped the Department by granting us access to key documentation from Germany, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union; by providing expert historian testimony in our cases; and in many other ways.  And when we can, we have helped the Museum – for example, through the funding of a training program by the Museum and the Anti-Defamation League to instruct law enforcement officers on the responsible and ethical use of their authority.  Today’s donation is only the latest example of that valuable partnership. 

The ultimate goal of all these efforts is to ensure that the horrors perpetrated little more than a half century ago never recur.  The papers we present today testify to the hard work of prosecutors and investigators who gave years of their lives to that cause.  And they foretell the work still to be done here at the Museum by scholars and researchers, who will use these accounts for years to come to expand our understanding.  Those people willingly immerse themselves in the study of these horrors as a public service, and to them we owe our thanks too.

The struggle represented in and by these records, and in and by this place, is partially about the victims who suffered and died in the Holocaust.  It is partially about the criminals, many of whom were found, prosecuted, and punished.  It is partially about the investigators, whose determination drives them to pursue these cases.  But we hope it is ultimately about striving for justice, even while we acknowledge we can never completely achieve it – about the work and pain that must accompany its pursuit, and about the blessings that come from that effort.

I thank you all for your part in this effort, for the hard work that these documents represent, and for the good use still to be made of them.

Thank you very much.