The symbol of Communist oppression for millions of Germans, the Berlin Wall was designed to keep the Soviet-controlled east separate and isolated from the free world. In 1989, after a series of reforms and popular unrest, citizens from East and West Berlin met on the Wall for the first time in nearly thirty years, affirming the universal thirst for freedom.
Lee Edwards and Lev Dobriansky watched the events of 1989 with great enthusiasm, but worried that the world would too easily forget the lessons of history. These champions of truth and memory embarked on a mission to build a memorial and museum to the victims of communism.
In 1993, a bipartisan bill was introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Robert Toricelli (D-NJ), Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-RI) and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) to establish a foundation that would educate the American public about the crimes of communism and honor the memory of more than 100,000,000 victims of communism around the world. The law was unanimously passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
In 1994, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation was legally incorporated with the mission: To educate this generation and future generations about the ideology, history, and legacy of communism.
Each year, the Foundation awards the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom to “individuals and institutions that have demonstrated a life-long commitment to freedom and democracy and opposition to communism and all other forms of tyranny.” 1999 saw medals awarded to Soviet dissident Elena Bonner, Bulgarian Prime Minister Philip Dimitrov, Lithuanian statesman Vytautas Landsbergis, and longtime labor union leader Lane Kirkland.
Czech writer, dissident, and statesman Vaclav Havel, who served as the first President of the post-Soviet Czech Republic, was one of Communism’s most determined opponents. In addition to leading his country for fourteen years, including through the bloodless “Velvet Revolution,” Havel was an influential dissident intellectual and playwright who described how Communism forced citizens to “live a lie.”
Before becoming pope in 1978, Karol Wojityla lived under both Nazi and Communist occupation in his native Poland, and as spiritual leader to the world’s one billion Roman Catholics he helped provide the moral courage needed to bring down the Iron Curtain. His exhortation to “be not afraid” inspired the Polish Solidarity movement, which in turn forced Soviet authorities to rethink their relationship to Eastern Europe as a whole.
After twelve years of planning and fundraising, construction begins on the Victims of Communism Memorial. Many private donors and ethnic organizations were instrumental in making the Memorial possible – particularly the Vietnamese, Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, and Hungarian communities in the United States.
In June of 2007, President George W. Bush spoke at dedication ceremony at the Victims of Communism Memorial. Modeled after the papier mache “Goddess of Democracy” statue erected by student protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the Memorial was dedicated on the twentieth anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s famous Brandenburg Gate speech. President Bush said, “We dedicate this memorial because we have an obligation to future generations to record the crimes of the 20th century and make sure they’re never repeated. In this hallowed place we recall the lessons of the Cold War: that freedom is precious and cannot be taken for granted.”
The Foundation launches its award-winning online educational portal that has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors from 181 countries. These online exhibits feature expert essays on various aspects of Communism, maps and timelines of Communist crimes, and multimedia features such as interviews with survivors of Communism.
VOC launches a cutting edge online exhibit that features interactive lessons about life in the Gulag, a map of the Gulag system, and a collection of paintings by Gulag survivor Nikolai Getman.
The product of collaboration between Dr. Lee Edwards, Professor Paul Kengor, and Claire Griffin, this special curriculum on communism features nine key lessons about the individuals and events central to the history of 20th century Communism. An important tool in ensuring an accurate memory of the history of Communism, the curriculum is currently being used by high-school teachers and is available for sale through the Foundation.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation celebrates its twentieth year and plans to launch a major initiative to build a physical museum on communism in Washington, DC. The Museum is needed in order to display an independent and accurate account of the history of Communist regimes around the world for the educational benefit of millions of future visitors. The Museum will be a permanent institution of learning and memory dedicated to the victims of communism.