Speakers remember victims of the Holocaust, stress need to keep memory alive
April 24, 2013
WIESBADEN, Germany - Chaplain (Capt.) Gary Davidson opened his talk at the Holocaust National Days of Remembrance Observance by relaying an anecdote about a master sergeant who did not know the meaning of the word "swastika."
"That really surprised me because being Jewish, from the time that I was a young child, I started learning about the Holocaust, and it made me realize how important it is to educate people about that time," Davidson said during the April 17 event, hosted by 5th Signal Command, at the Taunus Theater.
Davidson, a rabbi assigned to the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, went beyond explaining the symbol of the Nazi party - the German political party that came to power and killed 6 million Jews during World War II - and provided a detailed overview of the history of the Holocaust.
Today there are people who deny the Holocaust occurred - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad among them - and the only way to deal with it is to educate people about it, Davidson said.
In addition to Davidson's speech, Rabbi Avraham Zeev Nussbaum sang an invocation in Hebrew called "El Maley Rachamim." In it, he asked God to bring a final peaceful rest to the souls of the six million Jews the Nazis and their collaborators killed during the Holocaust.
Dr. Jacob Gutmark, executive board member and spokesman for the Wiesbaden Jewish Community, also spoke about the history of the Jewish community in Wiesbaden since World War II.
The U.S. Army came into Wiesbaden at the end of March 1945, and the synagogue opened again Dec. 22, 1946, Gutman said. "Without the help of the U.S. authorities, Jewish life could not have been returned in such an impressive manner," he said.
There were people with many different nationalities and languages, who were still connected by a common Jewish identity, Gutmark said. "Thus, the Wiesbaden Jewish community was, for them, a new home," he said.
In 1990, after the Iron Curtain fell, the majority of Jews went to Israel and the United States, but some came to Wiesbaden, Gutmark said.
"Their conditions in the new country were far from easy, and there were urgent problems to solve, but the community welcomed them with open arms and accompanied them to the utmost," Gutman said. "At the holidays the synagogue was full to bursting."
Today there is an active community, with a large group of young adults, language courses, many cultural events and a professional administration, Gutmark said.
The program also included a showing of the award-winning documentary film "One Survivor Remembers," which tells the story of Gerda Weissman Klein in her own words. She was 15 years old when the Nazis invaded her hometown in Poland. After separating her from her family, she spent the next five years forced to work in Nazi factories.
Then, in 1945, she was among 2,000 women ordered to march 350 miles to evade the Allied Forces, and she was one of fewer than 120 women who survived. She weighed 68 pounds by the end.
Davidson said the aftermath of World War I laid the groundwork for World War II because after Germany lost the war, the country signed the Versailles Treaty, which imposed great economic sanctions against the country, Davidson said.
The Germans were fined the equivalent of $30 billion, and that bankrupted the country, Davidson said. "Germany could not afford that amount," he said.
The German economy crashed, and millions of people lost their jobs and German money was nearly worthless, Davidson said.
Hitler, who was Austrian and was injured while fighting for Austria during World War I, rose to power largely on his rhetoric concerning the economy, Davidson said.
German authorities arrested Hitler after a coup attempt called the Beer Hall Putsch, and he wrote his book "Mein Kampf," or "My Struggle," while incarcerated for nine months, Davidson said. By 1939, the book had sold 5.2 million copies.
Not only did Hitler talk about the problems the Versailles Treaty caused Germany in the book, but he also talked about his hatred for Jews, Davidson said.
"Nobody exactly knows why Hitler hated the Jews so much," Davidson said.
In July 1932, 10 years after his coup attempt, the Nazi party received more votes than any other party - 37.4 percent, Davidson.
In 1933, German President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler the chancellor of Germany, and the following year when von Hindenburg died, Hitler declared himself the president of Germany, Hitler said.
He surrounded himself with powerful and evil people who would help him to crush any dissent, Davidson said.
Hitler targeted Jews and Communists, and began excluded Jews from professions such as law and medicine, Davidson said. Jewish-owned stores were boycotted and 25,000 books called "un-German" were burned in Berlin.
Then, in 1935 the Nuremberg Laws started. Those laws deprived Jews of German citizenship, relationships and marriages between Jews and non-Jews were outlawed, and Jewish students and professors were thrown out of schools, Davidson said. Jews were not allowed to use many public facilities. At that point, 300,000 Jews left the country.
In 1938, Krystalnacht, or night of the broken glass, occurred, Davidson said. During that night Germans destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses, 200 synagogues and vandalized Jewish homes.
Davidson, who lives in Kaiserslautern, showed a picture of the former Kaiserslautern synagogue, which the Germans destroyed that night. "I personally can see the damage done by the Nazis," he said.
More Jews tried to emigrate from Germany, but many countries, including the United States and Britain, would not accept them, Davidson said.
In 1939, Germany began taking over other countries in Europe, including Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Romania, Davidson said.
The Nazis soon began killing Jews en masse, Davidson said, and one to one and a half million Jews lost their lives to an organization called the Einsatzgruppen alone. In 1942, Nazi leaders, with a plan they called "The Final Solution," decided to kill all the Jews in Europe, Davidson said.
The Nazis set up a series of concentration camps, including Auschwitz in Poland, systematically murdered Jews, Davidson said. 3.5 million Jews died at Auschwitz, he said.
Many people were murdered in showers that released cyanide-based Zyklon B gas that killed people in about 20 minutes, Davidson said.
Hitler killed himself April 30, 1945, and Germany surrendered one week later, Davidson said. General of the Army and future President Dwight D. Eisenhower saw the destruction and ordered people to videotape it because someday people would deny it ever happened.
A year later in Nuremberg there was a trial for 21 of the leading Nazis, and 11 were sentenced to death, Davidson said.
In 1948, Israel was created, and many Holocaust survivors went there, Davidson said.
"As much as we think this is a Jewish event ... it affects all of us, our ancestors and for those of you proudly wearing the Army uniform, we are grateful to you for battling the Nazis and those who supported them and freeing the prisoners in the concentration camps," Davidson said.