Holocaust Remembrance: Forgiveness overcomes hate

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Raughton
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

First, they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists. I did not speak out
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
And then they came for me, there was no one left to speak for me.
-Martin Niemoeller

The National Socialist German Worker’s Party, led by Adolf Hitler, systematically exterminated between six and nine million European Jews in concentration camps throughout their regime beginning in 1933. By 1945, more than 11 million people in total are estimated to have been murdered by the Nazis.

More than 70 years later, Osan Air Base remembers the lives of the Jewish people who perished under the brutal dictatorship.

From April 9 to 13, 2018, the base hosted an opening ceremony, a film screening of Conspiracy, a 5K run, and a remembrance service held at the chapel.

U.S. Air Force Col. Daniel Walls, 51st Operations Group commander, delivered remarks at the opening ceremony April 9.

“Challenging times of social upheaval will come again. Perhaps we are in the midst of such times already. We must reflect and consider that as a society, we must always guard against this behavior. Perhaps the scariest thing to consider is that the holocaust is not an isolated event in human history,” he said. “Our remembrance should be about honoring the past, but also about ensuring this epic failure of humanity is never repeated.”

So how could a young democratic government and its people undertake such atrocities?

Walls commented that in the 1930s, the German people were not evil, but it was a time of great social upheaval. It was a time when people were questioning the foundational principles of society and culture, governance and economics. It was a time where when people made choices.

“They perhaps were silent when they should have spoken up, and it set the stage for events that we are talking about today,” Walls’ said.

Remembrance Week organizers also invited in Larry Rosenberg, U.S. Army retiree and New York native, to be a guest speaker.

“In 1935, Germany passed the Nuremburg laws and institutionalized the racial ideology that barred people of Jewish descent from German society,” said Rosenberg. “Concentration camps were built and Jews were beginning to be imported to ghettos, and from the ghettos to the concentration camps. Over the next 12 years, Hitler systematically murdered 9 million people, of which 6 million were Jews. That was over 33 percent of the European Jewish population.”

Growing up in New York City, Rosenberg said that in his youth he remembered people emigrating from Europe, and often wondered how the human spirit perseveres after witnessing such atrocities.

“There was a kind of silence that followed, as if there were no words that they could say to describe what happened to them. It was a part of their life they did not speak about,” he said. “Much like the soldier returning from war. Children unaware of their past would inquire why do you have those numbers tattooed on your arms? Never knowing those numbers were to replace their names in countless books that the Nazis kept, chronicling each and every Jewish person that they planned to exterminate. Nine million souls were stolen from the world along with all their intellectual treasures they could have shared with us.”

Rabbi Michael Cohen, U.S. Army chaplain, echoed Rosenberg’s sentiment and added that the way forward is down a path of forgiveness.

“We are grateful for the precious time nine million had on this earth, and we must forgive those who committed the atrocities, all those who blindly follow orders without question, all those who were just following orders and all those who claim they had no other choice,” he said. “We must forgive them, and not let hate poison our souls. We must forgive simultaneously, and never forget. We must learn from these events in order to inform our future actions. We must stand up for those who are being oppressed and we must see the sanctity of life as paramount and undeniable, and never again let an ideology of hatred and darkness sprout roots in any society.”