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President Obama Speaks at the Righteous Among the Nations Ceremony

President Obama honored four individuals who heroically risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, President Obama spoke at the Righteous Among the Nations Award Ceremony at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C. He was introduced by filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who is dedicated to recording and preserving the testimonies of those who suffered the horrors of the Holocaust and those who risked their lives to save them.

President Obama Speaks Righteous Among the Nations Ceremoy
President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the Righteous Among the Nations Award Ceremony at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C., Jan. 27, 2016. The event, which takes place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, is sponsored by the Embassy of Israel in partnership with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Israel. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

In his remarks, President Obama talked about our responsibility to fight anti-Semitism:

“Here, tonight, we must confront the reality that, around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise. We cannot deny it. When we see some Jews leaving major European cities because they no longer feel safe; when Jewish centers are targeted from Mumbai to Overland Park, Kansas; when swastikas appear on college campuses; when we see all that and more, we must not be silent.”


Forcefully combating anti-Semitism remains a priority for the President and his administration. The work of Ira Forman, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Global Anti-Semitism, helps ensure the United States plays a leading role internationally to push back against anti-Semitism.

  • In 2015, we organized the first UN General Assembly meeting on anti-Semitism. There, UN Ambassador Samantha Power remarked, “We are very far from vanquishing anti-Semitism. Indeed, as we know, it is on the rise in many parts of the world. Even in Ireland- even in our Ireland – where [Chaim] Herzog and I were both born and spent our childhood years – a plaque marking the site of Herzog’s Belfast birthplace was taken down last year, after the building where it was placed was repeatedly defaced with anti-Israel graffiti and where objects were routinely thrown at it. What more do you need as a testament to how far we have left to go? Additionally, here in the halls of the UN rarely a day goes by without some effort to delegitimize Israel, or to unjustly exclude it from what for all other countries is just business as usual. We will never stop fighting for Israel to achieve a very simple goal here, which is to be treated like every other country.”
  • Last year, a group in Hungary received government funds to build a statue in honor of Balint Homan, a Nazi supporter and proponent of anti-Jewish laws who called for the deportation of Jews in 1944.  The United States worked with many Hungarians and other interested international groups very hard to prevent the erection of the statue. In expressing our concerns, we were clear that erecting such a statue would reflect badly on Hungary’s standing in the international community and would send the wrong message about its values. U.S. Special Envoys Ira Forman (Global Anti-Semitism) and Nicholas Dean (Holocaust Issues) were part of the overall effort to convince the statue’s supporters not to proceed, including expressing concern both in writing and on the ground in Hungary with about the statue. Ultimately the statue’s backers canceled their plans.
  • The President has consistently made clear that America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, and we are there to speak up when criticism of Israeli policy turns into denying Israel’s right to exist.  This administration rejects the delegitimization of – or application of double standards to – Israel.

At the ceremony, which is the first of its kind in the United States, Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, posthumously recognized four individuals who heroically risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis, forever demonstrating the importance of standing up to intolerance and hatred everywhere. Paying tribute to the four honorees, the President declared: “When any Jew anywhere is targeted, just for being Jewish, we must respond, together, as did Roddie Edmonds—We are all Jews." Read about the honorees:

Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds

Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds participated in the landing of the American forces in Europe and was taken prisoner by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. While in captivity, the Germans ordered the captured Jewish POWs at the camp to report. Master Sergeant Edwards, the highest-ranking American non-commissioned officer, ordered all of the U.S. soldiers to stand together, and he announced to the German officer, “We are all Jews.” The German officer gave up, and the Jewish soldiers’ lives were saved.

Lois Gunden

Lois Gunden was an American teaching in France who helped smuggle Jewish children out of an internment camp and into a children’s home she established.

Walery and Maryla Zbijewski

Walery and Maryla Zbijewski were a Polish couple who put their lives at risk to secretly house a Jewish child in Warsaw for several months.

By recounting the heroism of those who lived their values, the President affirmed the responsibility we all share to stand up against anti-Semitism, hatred and intolerance in all its forms. Read his full remarks.