Ceremony remembers lives lost to genocide
April 17, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 17, 2013) -- Fort Benning observed the Holocaust Days of Remembrance April 8 at the National Infantry Museum.
"In the Germany of the 1920s and 30s, humanity was eroded by xenophobia in general and by anti-Semitism in particular -- and then in the 1940s, gave way completely," said Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Fort Benning commanding general. "The scale of the human toll, the suffering during the Holocaust, is numbing -- six million Jews, five million others systematically murdered."
The guest speaker was retired Navy Capt. Neil Block, a Jewish lay leader from Harris County, Ga.
"Why are we here today?" Block said. "We are here to be reminded of, to remember, to revisit this horrific man-made catastrophe in all of recorded here. We're here to focus on it -- and its consequences, and to learn what we are obligated to take from it. Because if we don't, our humanity-driven resolve to ensure that it never happens again, anywhere at anytime to anyone may be diminished."
Block described the Holocaust as state-sanctioned, government-sponsored public policy, bureaucratically managed and systematically carried out as a program of the national government.
While the annihilation of Jewish people and others went on, Block said, others stood by idly or with their heads in the sand.
"It happened because people were quiet and pretended that while it was happening to somebody else it couldn't happen to them," he said.
McMaster quoted philosopher Edmund Burke, who said, "All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing."
Block listed relatively recent acts of genocide in parts of Africa and Eastern Europe.
"Because it didn't make headline nightly news on TV, did it happen?" Block asked.
He compared genocides that weren't widely known in the media to a falling tree where no one is around to hear it fall.
"Nobody came to their aid, nobody cried out until it was too late," he said.
If people don't learn from the past, Block said, people are doomed to repeat it.
"Let us not relive the barbarity from generation to generation like a macabre game of musical chairs waiting and watching to see which is to be the last race, or ethnic group or culture or religion -- or even state, to remain standing (in the face) of annihilation."
McMaster mentioned Soldiers who helped liberate survivors from camps, including Col. Aaron Cohn of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry, who led his unit to Ebensee, Austria, on May 9, 1945, and Army Chaplain (Capt.) Herschel Schacter, the first rabbi to enter Buchenwald after its liberation.
"Barely an hour after Gen. Patton's Third Army had liberated the camp, Capt. Schacter made his way through the barracks shouting to the prisoners 'Ihr zint frei!' telling them they were free," McMaster said.
He added that Schacter stayed for months helping survivors to relocate.
"American Soldiers, like Herschel Schacter, Aaron Cohn and their eight million fellow Soldiers in the Army of World War II were warriors, but because they fought for liberty and to stop the murder and end the suffering of innocents, they were also humanitarians," McMaster said. "And so are our Soldiers today -- warriors and humanitarians."