April 26, 2012

Those who chose to act changed history

Story and photos by Beth Bellizzi
Special to the Scout
Fort Bliss 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade Chaplain (Lt. Col.) John Rasmussen, the Days of Remembrance Observance keynote speaker, called Holocaust survivors “living witnesses.” He said that term “speaks to the fact that as long as they are here no one can minimize, obfuscate or deny that this tragedy happened without having to say it to them face-to-face.”

There were only four of them, but they represented millions. Under the bright stage lights, their faces of triumph were visible. Sitting silently, motionless, they offered themselves as witnesses to one of the darkest periods in history.

On April 19, four Holocaust survivors from throughout Arizona participated in the Fort Huachuca Days of Remembrance Observance at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fitch Auditorium. The manner in which the four — Wanda Wolosky, Lily Brull, Serverin Szperling and Jack Farkas — entered the auditorium indicated the level of respect they received from their military hosts. Each walked with a military escort to the stage.

The program was co-sponsored by the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and the Fort Huachuca Military Equal Opportunity team. This annual observance is recognized Army-wide to support its history of diversity and to remember the American Soldiers who helped to liberate and rescue Holocaust survivors.

Highlighting this year’s Days of Remembrance theme, “Choosing to Act: Stories of Rescue,” Maj. Gen. Gregg Potter, commander, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca, stated in his opening remarks, “No one can make us into bystanders without our consent.”

Potter noted that “the exact number of victims may never be known, but estimates place the figure between 11 and 17 million people, not including those who died in combat or military campaigns. The lives extinguished by hate and ignorance are only the scars on the face of humanity. Yet, the deeper wounds inflicted were that of the contributions and unfulfilled dreams forever lost.”

Despite the 67 years that have passed since the liberation of the Holocaust camps, Potter reminded the audience to remain vigilant against hatred and prejudice. “I encourage you all to learn as much as you can about the Holocaust and the survivors, and to take a proactive approach to learn what you can about recent episodes of genocide in both Africa and the Balkans.”

Potter was not the only speaker to remind the audience that hatred remains throughout the world. Keynote speaker Chaplain (Lt. Col.) John Rasmussen of the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade in Fort Bliss, Texas, stated, “anti-Semitism is on the rise again as it was in the 1930s and 40s.”

Rasmussen has a personal connection to the horror of the Holocaust — his father was involved in the Danish resistance moment. Every word he spoke to the nearly 75 attendees was ripe with sorrow and pain, but also of remarkable resiliency. When the deportation of Danish Jews was leaked to a member of the Danish Parliament, the Danes, Rasmussen emphatically stated, would “not stand for it.”

“My Dad was a pharmaceutical student at the University of Copenhagen while this was going on …. But his proudest moment … was the country’s spontaneous uprising for the sake of their Jewish neighbors and fellow citizens. During their exodus from Denmark to Sweden … one of Dad’s duties due to his pharmaceutical training was to sedate the young children and infants so that they would not make noise and alert the German patrol boats in the strait.”

Other speakers at the observance included Dr. Gail Wallen, a chaplain, who has served for many years as the director for military programs for Tucson Holocaust survivors through Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Tucson. Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller read a Days of Remembrance Proclamation from the city. He noted that “the Holocaust offers an opportunity to reflect on the moral responsibilities of individuals, societies, and governments.”

The U.S. government is doing more than reflecting; it is continuing to choose to act. In 2011, a presidential study was created to develop an Interagency Atrocities Prevention Board.

No matter if the action is a federal response or the voice of one genocide survivor, all help combat hate. Thus, in a show of mutual appreciation, at the end of the program, the survivors formed a receiving line and shook hands with the entire audience.

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