WASHINGTON — Elderly Holocaust survivors and the veterans who helped liberate them gathered for what could be their last big reunion Monday at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Nearly 1,000 survivors and World War II vets joined with Bill Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust activist Elie Wiesel to mark the museum’s 20th anniversary. Organizers chose not to wait for the 25th milestone because many survivors may not be alive in another fiveyears.
‘‘We felt it was important, while that generation is still with us in fairly substantial numbers, to bring them together,’’ said the museum’s director, Sara Bloomfield.
Washington has many monuments and memorials that offer something special, Clinton told the crowd, ‘‘but the Holocaust memorial will be our conscience.’’
Since the museum opened, the world has made huge scientific discoveries, including the sequencing of the human genome, Clinton said.
‘‘Every non age-related difference you can see in this room and across the globe, every single one is contained in one half of 1 percent of our genetic makeup . . . but every one of us spends too much time on that half a percent,’’ Clinton said. ‘‘That makes us vulnerable to the fever and the sickness that the Nazis gave to the Germans. And that sickness is very alive all across the world today.’’
The occasion marked a reunion of sorts for Clinton and Wiesel, a professor at Boston University. Both were on hand to dedicate the museum at its 1993 opening.
On Sunday night, the museum presented its highest honor to World War II veterans who helped end the Holocaust. Susan Eisenhower accepted the award on behalf of her grandfather, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and all veterans of the era.
The federally funded museum also launched a campaign to raise $540 million by 2018 to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.