Washington, D.C., September 11, 2008
Integrity. Principle. Vision.
Statesmanship. Determination. Optimism.
Erudition. Wisdom. Wit.
Decency. Humility. Empathy.
These are the first words that come to mind when thinking of my friend, the late and beloved Bronislaw Geremek.
As a son of Holocaust survivors, I’ve always admired greatly those who not only somehow managed to survive the Shoah, but also managed, perhaps against all the odds, to find faith in humankind after the darkness that descended.
Professor Geremek was one such survivor. He emerged from the inferno, summoned the strength to put one foot in front of the other, and relearned the meaning of a more hopeful future.
As a child of the Cold War, I’ve always admired those who, at incalculable risk to themselves, challenged their oppressors behind the Iron Curtain and ultimately exposed the bankruptcy of the system.
Professor Geremek was a giant, one of those intrepid figures who toppled a seemingly indestructible structure built on what I would call the four tyrannies—repression, fear, deceit, and corruption.
As a beneficiary of democracy, I’ve always admired those who, denied it, stood tall in its pursuit and paid a heavy price for its achievement.
Professor Geremek, in his enviable diplomatic style, was central to achieving, in the words of The Economist, the "communist surrender," and restoring Poland to its rightful place in the family of nations that cherish human freedom, human dignity, and human rights.
As an unabashed fan of the European Union, undoubtedly the most ambitious and successful peace project in modern history, I’ve always admired those who fought to make it a reality—and those who saw clearly the future in their countries’ accession to the European project.
Professor Geremek helped plant the seeds for Poland’s eventual membership in the European Union and, later, as a Member of the European Parliament, where I last saw him, he spoke of a mission half accomplished—Europe was created, he famously said, but Europeans were still in the making. He was working on it until his untimely death!
As a firm believer in the transatlantic alliance, I’ve always admired those who recognize that this unique partnership was and, I should underscore, is vital for global stability and the defense of shared values.
Professor Geremek was Poland’s distinguished foreign minister when his country, in 1999, proudly joined NATO, quickly becoming one of its most committed members.
Like the other speakers—and I am honored to be in their company—I could go on at length describing the traits of this remarkable man who all of us gathered here at the National Endowment for Democracy so deeply admired.
Suffice it to say that Professor Geremek, early in life, became a witness to history, then, literally, its prisoner—first under the Nazis, later the Communists. He lived, remarkably, to become an author of history.
No, I don’t mean an author about history, though, to be sure, he was that as well—and, to boot, with his trademark beard, pipe, and tweed jacket, he came straight from central casting.
I mean an author of history, a title that precious few can legitimately claim. An author of the single most important historical event of the past sixty years—the end of the Soviet empire.
What an extraordinary man!
What an extraordinary life!
What an extraordinary legacy!
What an extraordinary loss that he was taken away from us—and from all that he yet planned to do, drawing upon his inexhaustible fount of energy and creativity—too soon!
May his memory, as we say in the Jewish tradition, forever be a blessing.
May his righteousness and steadfastness be sources of inspiration for all who believe in the indivisible rights of man.
And may we cherish the example, on this very special anniversary, September 11, and every day, of those brave few—who unflinchingly faced the tyrants, who stood unbent and unbowed in the long and difficult struggle, and who emerged triumphant to create a new dawn."