In the Capitol building, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sojourner Truth are honored for their contributions to American racial justice. Busts of these important figures, among others, sit alongside busts of all of the American Vice Presidents (Al Gore’s and Joe Biden’s are still in progress) and of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazis. If a new bill introduced to the House goes through, Wallenberg will be joined by another important figure of Holocaust history: Elie Wiesel.
Last Friday, Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives last Friday to commission a bust of Elie Wiesel for the Capitol building.
In the weeks following the death of the prolific Holocaust survivor, writer, and activist this past July, Congress passed a resolution affirming their admiration for Wiesel’s moral leadership in regards to American education about the Holocaust. That resolution was introduced by three members of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council (of which Wiesel was the founding chair); Cohen “absolutely supported” it, one his staffers told me. That same day, Cohen introduced his own bill specifically proposing a statue or bust to memorialize Wiesel. That bill expired, so Ros-Lehtinen joined Cohen in renewing the proposal last week. Bipartisan support for the bill “grew substantially between this Congress and last Congress,” according to the staffer. Currently, the bill has more than 50 co-sponsors, with at least twelve of them Jewish, according to JTA. Prominent civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis is also among the co-sponsors.
The bipartisan proposal, refreshing in this political climate, makes a strong statement about the U.S. government’s moral imperative to fight bigotry. The timing of the bill is also particularly apt: It was reintroduced, Ros-Lehtinen pointed out, in the same week as “the first Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, since Elie Wiesel passed.” May is also Jewish American Heritage Month, according to Presidential proclamation. In a press release, Cohen called Wiesel “one of the greatest moral forces in the world,” comparing his impact to Nelson Mandela, MLK, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.