A rabbi's moment at the March on Washington

(CBS News) This past week marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washingtonand one of the most important speeches in the history of this country. But more than one man articulated a dream that day -- even if the power of Martin Luther King overshadowed him.

It was the toughest time slot of the day. Never mind having to follow Mahalia Jackson -- the "Queen of Gospel".

"I wish I could sing," Rabbi Joachim Prinz told the audience fifty years ago at the podium on the day of the March on Washington. He was the last man up before Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime," he continued.

Watch an extended version of Jim Axelrod's report on Rabbi Prinz:

The horrors this rabbi witnessed in Nazi Germany in the '30s compelled him to challenge America in the '60s.

"Bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems," he said in his speech. "The most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence!"

"It was really marvelous to see a quarter million people," said Rabbi Israel Dresner today. A protégé of Prinz, he was standing just a few feet away on the podium that day and could feel the power of Prinz's message ripple through the crowd.

"That really rang a bell because all sorts of clergy in America, you know," said Dresner, "they weren't racist, they weren't bigots personally, but they just kept their mouths shut."

Prinz was expelled from Germany in the late 30's. He came to Newark, New Jersey, where his congregation welcomed the young Dr. King twice.

Dresner agreed there was a direct line between the Holocaust and the American civil rights struggle. "Jews are opposed to injustice," he said. "We are opposed to hatred and bigotry and bias and racism and exploitation and so forth. And that's what we are supposed to be opposed to. "

As he had three decades before, Joachim Prinz refused to be silent and encouraged all Americans to speak up just as loudly.

"America must not remain silent," he once said.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.

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