Base recognizes Holocaust survivors
April 26, 2013
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. Holocaust survivor Halina Yasharoff Peabody brought her story of courage, faith and determination to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall as the installation observed Holocaust Remembrance Day April 24 at the community center on the Fort Myer portion of the joint base.
"The best we can do and the best you can do is listen and hear it," Peabody said. "The kind of atmosphere that was there, it's impossible to get your mind around.
"I'm talking for all of us, we're all miracles to be here. I'm one of the lucky ones, one of the few lucky ones."
With the theme of this year's Holocaust remembrance, "Never Again, Heeding the Warning Signs" as a backdrop, Peabody discussed how she and her family survived in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
"We try to inspire people to remember what happened," she said. "We cannot forget. If people ask us to forget, we have no right. We're not God, and we cannot forget six million people who were killed. Who am I to forget them."
Peabody was just a young girl when the Soviet Union invaded her native Poland in September 1939.
"My story happened when I was very, very young," she said. "I was just 7 when the war broke out."
Peabody said she had a "very wonderful life" prior to the outbreak of the war. Her father was a dentist and her mother was a championship swimmer. A younger sister rounded out the family. Peabody's father, Izak, feared he would be conscripted into the Soviet army following the 1939 invasion, and he fled to Romania. When he returned to his family, Soviet officials accused Izak of espionage and sentenced him to 20 years of hard labor in Siberia.
The family lost touch with Izak and when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, they also conquered the part of Poland where Peabody, her mother and sister were. Eventually, the family was moved into what would become a ghetto.
Peabody's mother, Olga, realized what would happen and sought identification papers that would designate them as non-Jews.
"She brought papers from a Catholic priest," Peabody said. "As Catholics, she thought maybe we could go places where there were no Jewish people, nobody knew us, three women, and we'd have a chance to survive that way."
With the papers in hand, the family boarded a train, but were pressured by a man into admitting they were Jewish. On the way to Gestapo headquarters, Olga talked the man out of turning them in.
When the war ended, Olga placed ads on the radio seeking Izak's whereabouts. A friend of the family heard the announcement and soon the family was back together. They settled in London, England.
Peabody immigrated to the United States in 1968 and volunteers with the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
JBM-HH Commander Col. Fern O. Sumpter thanked those who attended the event for honoring the victims of the holocaust.
"This year's theme reminds us to heed the warnings that led to the Holocaust. The many things that we think of as our inalienable rights were stripped from the Jews in 1930s Nazi Germany," she said. "This was done gradually, almost subtlety. Not many heeded the warnings. We must stand up and speak up for human dignity and rights and commit to never again ignoring the warning signs of persecution because we think they [don't] affect us personally."
Sumpter then read Martin Niemoller's poem "First They Came."
"We must remember the terrible events of this nightmare called the Holocaust and remain vigilant against hatred, persecution and tyranny," she said. "We must actively re-educate ourselves to the principals of individual freedom and a just society."
Also in attendance at the event were Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, commanding general Joint Force Head-quarters-National Capital Region and Military District of Washington; JFHQ-NCR/MDW Command Sgt. Maj. David Turnbull; JBM-HH Command Sgt. Maj. Earlene Y. Lavender; Headquarters Command Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Mark Beihl and Headquarters Command Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Jessup.