By Sgt. Chris McCann
2nd BCT PAO NCOIC
The whole family was taken. The teenage girl held an older sister’s baby in her arms as they got off the train, not knowing that young mothers with their infants, along with the elderly or infirm, were taken to the gas chambers immediately. As she stepped up to the desk, an older woman ran up to her and grabbed the infant from her arms.
“You live. You tell this story. I’m dead already,” the woman said.
“I don’t know who she was,” Rabbi Yaakov Roth said, with tears in his eyes. “But I thank her, because without her I would not be here.” The teenage girl later became his mother.
Roth was the guest speaker as Fort Drum observed the Days of Remembrance with a ceremony May 8, honoring the 11 million people who died in the concentration camps under the Nazi regime. About six million were Jews, but Poles, Gypsies, homosexual men and the disabled also perished en masse.
Roth noted that Holocaust Remembrance Day falls not long after Passover, and that one of the prayers during the Passover seder addresses God as “He who stood for us and our forefathers, because not once, but in every generation someone rises up against us.”
Many people – himself included, Roth said – have asked how the people living in Germany could have allowed the situation that led to the Holocaust.
“I asked my parents, ‘How did you allow yourselves to go through this? Why did no one stop it?’ But later I realized, no one could believe the scope of the horror. Like Sept. 11, 2001; we were watching it live on TV and not believing it. ‘It can’t happen here,’ ‘People don’t do things like that.’”
The Holocaust has had a massive impact on the entire world, especially on the Jews, and children and grandchildren of camp survivors have often been raised in an atmosphere that says life is good now, but could change at any moment.
And despite the fact that the horrific events before and during WWII took place within living memory, parts of the world continue to sanction antisemitism. He mentioned three articles in the news that day, including Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s assertion that the state of Israel is a “stinking corpse bound for destruction.”
“It is through the generosity and magnificence of the United States that Israel holds on, both physically and financially,” said Roth. “My parents talk about the assistance they received from Americans, from the liberation of the camps to life in the displaced-persons camps and afterward. Jews are very thankful for U.S. support for Israel. But we cannot forget the cruelty that existed in what was one of the most cultured countries in the world.”
The laws under Hitler were “cruelty for the sake of cruelty,” he said.
Pfc. Robert Pruitt, a maintenance specialist with Company B, 10th Sustainment Brigade Troop Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade, attended the ceremony to honor and remember a Jewish friend.
“Specialist Lewis was very knowledgeable and wanted to come back into the Army as a rabbi, a chaplain. He was a great Soldier and always got the job done. This really helped me remember him,” Pruitt said.
“It was a moving experience,” said Sgt. Joseph Leighton, a Jewish Soldier with Co. A, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. “It was great to have Rabbi Roth relate experiences that really brought it home and made it less like history and more personal.”
Roth, who provides support for Jewish Soldiers and community members, said he was honored to speak and felt it was necessary.
“I feel that as the generation who survived passes on, it’s more incumbent upon we, the children, to tell the stories of the atrocities and the heroes so people remember - especially today, when evil for the sake of evil is rearing its head in the world again.”
Soldiers are an important force in the fight against evil.
“I thank Soldiers for their help and how it has had an effect in the Middle East,” said Roth. “It’s helping keep Israel’s borders secure. In Judaism, we have an obligation to acknowledge help and good deeds, even those done in the past, so it is incumbent to thank the U.S. military for its part in the liberation of the camps.”
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
By Sgt. Chris McCann