PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Like many of the special observances we partake in each year, the Holocaust remembrance exemplifies a significant time of human suffering. This time has become a reminder for us to take a moment of silence and reflect on the impact of the slaughter that nearly wiped out an entire community.
The Days of Remembrance falls on April 23-30 this year and is one of the most significant commemorative events allowing us to remember the effects of the Holocaust. Most importantly, it reminds us that this all began by simply allowing an attitude of indifference to the suffering of others to evolve into genocide.
How could we ever forget the Nazi persecution of at least six million Jewish people and the additional millions of non-Jewish victims? From imprisonment, to isolation, and forced emigration to deportation, the timeline from 1933-1945 shows us how the Nazi Party gradually increased momentum.
They preyed upon the diminishing population of the German Jews and others, while proclaiming themselves as superior beings. This eventually led to the implementation of concentration camps and killing centers.
While many will stay quiet and humble during this time of remembrance, some opt to share their tragic experiences and memories with us.
One experience in particular is from Army Maj. Eddie Willner. As a member of the German Jewish community, he survived the torture at the Auschwitz concentration camp first hand.
Willner and his parents fled to France, but were eventually caught and transported back to Auschwitz when he was just 18 years old.
His mother was sent to death in the gas chamber immediately. His father, at the age of 50, was killed after a couple years for seemingly being too old for labor. In all, Willner reported losing 27 family members. As he continued in the death march, he finally saw a window to escape again.
“We were in our third day of marching when six of us prisoners, who had long planned an escape, felt that our time had come,” said Willner. “We had just crossed a small bridge that passed over a narrow stream and that’s when we made our break, spreading out in different directions to make it more difficult for the guards to target all of us, which meant some of us would probably survive. The dogs were released, some of the prisoners were shot, but we kept running.”
This brave soul was finally rescued by U.S. soldiers in Germany in 1945, when the allies were finally able to move in on the camps. At this time the U.S. Army assumed the role of liberating the survivors of at least five camps, providing medical care for survivors and reuniting families.
They also became witnesses for the future war crimes trials in attempts to serve justice.
During this time of remembrance, we should consider educating ourselves through research, documentaries, or visiting the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., or other sites across the country and abroad. This will help us gain a better understanding on how these events unfolded, and the impact on millions of innocent people.