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Rabbi Beth Schwartz posed one question to Soldiers and civilians during the Holocaust Days of Remembrance commemorative service Monday. Why do we still remember?
We gather today so we can never forget what happened when evil conquered the world, Schwartz said. It is critical that we remember and that we are strengthened from the reality of the Holocaust. The truth of our memories is our ammunition against any repetition of such violence aimed against Jews or any others.
Nearly 70 years later, Fort Benning and surrounding communities remembered millions of Jewish victims of the Holocaust during a service at the National Infantry Museum, presented by the Equal Opportunity Office. The service included lighting a candle in remembrance of those who survived, witnessed and tried to stop the acts of cruelty, as well as those who were ultimately killed. Students from Columbus State University Department of Theater performed a skit based on the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.
Schwartz, rabbi of Temple Israel in Columbus, was a guest speaker for the service. Ordained as a rabbi in 1999, she serves as a speaker and teacher at local schools and colleges, churches and civic organizations. She has sat on the boards of directors for organizations within and outside of the Jewish community and served on local government task forces.
I certainly feel a sense of obligation to teach about it and try to understand and know as much as I can, Schwartz said. Both my father and father-in-law fought in World War II in Germany, so it has certainly been a presence in my life because Im the child of a veteran.
According to information presented with the exhibits at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, by May 1945, the Germans and their collaborators had murdered 6 million European Jews as part of a systematic plan of genocide. When allied troops entered the concentration camps, they discovered piles of corpses, bones and human ashes testimony to Nazi mass murder. Soldiers also found thousands of survivors Jews and non-Jews suffering from starvation and disease. While many witnesses helped the Nazis carry out their crimes, there were others who risked their own lives to save and shelter Jews.
The Nazis could not extinguish human dignity, not entirely although they tried very hard, Schwartz said. Their evil was unspeakable, and yet we must witness and remember. With each passing year, survivors, rescuers, witnesses and liberators are dying out, even as new evidence is discovered to document the Holocaust.
Schwartz said millions of people who have died from acts of genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and the Ukraine and other countries are examples of how much hatred has spread globally since World War II. No American, whether Soldier or civilian, should look at anyone as just a stranger or become a bystander to cruelty, she said.
What should be our response today, how much can any of us do to change the world? Schwartz asked. Whatever you do matters.