JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Sponsored by 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division and the I Corps Equal Opportunity staff office, Joint Base Lewis-McChord honored victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Two guest speakers were at Soldier's Chapel April 9, to share stories and insight into history, and to enlighten soldiers, family and friends on why the world should never again allow the horrors of the Holocaust.

In 1980, Congress unanimously passed legislation to create a council responsible for establishing and overseeing the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The council designates one week each April, the 7th-14th this year, as Days of Remembrance - our nation's annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Also, the council designates the annual theme for the observance, which for 2013 is, "Never Again: Heeding the Warning Signs."

A group of approximately 100 soldiers, family, and civilians were in attendance, as two guest speakers made their presentations. First to speak was Peter Damm, former Jewish refugee.

"Hate and ignorance are two words which are interchangeable," Damm said. "One gives way to the other."

Through many photos, stories and illustrations, Damm shared the story of his family's escape from Nazi Germany. He was born in 1931, to affluent Jewish parents - his father, a physician, his mother a homemaker. Though doctors were, at times, left alone for their professional usefulness, the Damm family was still not safe from the clutches of Hitler's Nazi regime.

Because the Damm family hadn't yet been corralled by the Nazis, they were still in possession of their savings; this afforded them the ability to pay the ransom-like bill for Peter's release after he had been arrested - for being a Jew. Times in Germany got increasingly more desperate for this Jewish family.

Realizing there was no longer safety in their homeland, Damm, along with his mother, father and sister, fled Germany to escape the Jewish persecution. From Berlin to Treiste, Italy, and then by ship through the Suez Canal, the Damms made it to Shanghai. Though they had escaped great odds of capture, and possibly death at the hands of the Nazis, life in China as Jewish refugees would prove to be anything but hospitable.

Upon arrival in Shanghai, the Damm family was made to stay in the squalid reality of what was known as the Shanghai Ghetto. Roughly 20,000 Jewish refugees added to the already dense and desperate living conditions of 10,000 hungry, homeless and struggling Chinese. Approximately 30,000 people were forced to share the same 1.5 square mile area of the Honkew District. No running water, no hot water, no medicine, no heat and no food, were just a few of the sufferings of the Ghetto - but they were alive.

Having survived the squalor of Shanghai, Peter, his mother and his sister were given visas and safe passage to the United States in 1947- his father had passed away in Shanghai. Today Peter, his wife, Ester and their four children all call Seattle their home.

As Damm finished his presentation, Rabbi Bruce Kadden took the stage.

The current rabbi of Temple Beth El in Tacoma, Kadden said that it was not only his job, but also his honor, to share his insight at the JBLM Days of Remembrance. Kadden is the past president of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis. Along with his wife, Barbara, he has co-authored three resource books for Jewish teachers.

The rabbi's presentation was short, and very much straight to his point - "If we don't learn from it, we are more likely to repeat it."

"If there is one point above all else for me to stress, I would say that even though we cannot undo what has been done, we can certainly make changes for tomorrow, by understanding that as people, we all have value," Kadden said. "Moving forward, we must all be considerate of one another's intrinsic value. We must realize that we all share the same basic needs - love, respect and opportunity - no matter where we come from."

Page last updated Mon April 22nd, 2013 at 00:00