Fort Belvoir community members viewed artifacts and personal accounts from the genocide known as the Holocaust during a tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Tuesday.
Three bus loads of Soldiers, civilians and children traveled to the museum to learn about topics such as Hitler's rise to power and acts of heroism displayed by anti-holocaust groups.
The tour, sponsored by the Fort Belvoir Garrison and Operational Support Airlift Agency Equal Opportunity Offices, was designed to raise participants' awareness to genocide.
The Holocaust began with the Kristallnacht in 1938 and continued until the Allied victory in 1945.
"I'm speechless," said Sgt. 1st Class Ebonie Washington, EOO advisor, visiting the museum for the first time. "I thought I was educated about the events of the Holocaust but visiting the museum and seeing the artifacts and exhibits really broadened my horizons."
The Nazi regime and its collaborators murdered approximately 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's purpose is to inspire people worldwide to share the stories of Holocaust victims and prevent future genocides from occurring, Washington said. Observance participants toured the facility from the top floor to the bottom. Each floor contained artifacts, pictures, videos and text explaining the history behind the Holocaust.
The lessons started with explaining Hitler's rise to power through his use of corrupt politics and violent paramilitary forces. The tour continued with detailing the systematic displacement, forced emigration and senseless murders of the Jewish people. The tour also included information detailing the world's reactions and measures taken to assist Jewish people. Images include children in concentration camps who were so skinny that you could see their entire rib cages, maps of German military offenses and clothing from the era. There wasn't enough time during Belvoir's two and half hour visit to take in all of the information, according to Darlene Rieck, Toro Industrial Lawn Care assembler.
"This isn't dinosaur history. This is current history and we need to know what people are capable of doing to each other," said Rieck, speaking to the fact the Holocaust occurred less than 80 years ago. "It's part of the world and it's sad that this happens."
Like Washington, Rieck believes touring the museum exposes people to warning signs of ethnic persecution and, hopefully, challenges them to help prevent future genocide.
"It's amazing that, despite the evidence, some people believe that the Holocaust didn't exist," said Staff Sgt. Rebecca Leonard, U.S. Army Cyber Command. "If we don't know our history, we're doomed to relive it."
According to Genocide Watch, a Washington D.C. based organization dedicated to predicting, preventing, stopping and punishing genocide and other forms of mass murder, genocides such as the Holocaust and killings that took place in Rwanda and Darfur have common warning stages.
The stages are classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarizations, preparation, extermination and denial. The primary discrimination tools include using symbols, such as a religious name or skin color, to distinguish and dehumanize a group of people.
At each stage, preventive measures can stop a potential genocide, but it's up to people to see and act upon the warning signs, Washington said.
"I hope the observance participants were able to reflect and remember the devastation of the Holocaust," Washington said. "If we understand our past we can prevent it from recurring in the future."
Participants were moved to and from the museum in three buses. Two of the buses received a firsthand recollection of Holocaust events from survior Frank Cohn, retired Army colonel, one bus during the trip to the museum and one bus during the trip from the museum. Cohn explained how he and his Family escaped Nazi Germany during the 1930s and came to America where Cohn ended up serving the U.S. during World War II. Cohn, who has visited the Holocaust museum 10 times, called the museum a valuable operation in helping tell stories that must be heard.
"People should visit and see what can happen," Cohn said. "You look around the world and all kinds of people are killing each other because they can't get along. You can say this will never happen again but there are unfortunate examples of genocide occurring in the world. But, awareness helps."

Page last updated Fri April 26th, 2013 at 15:19