By Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Wright, ASC Public AffairsMay 1, 2014
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Rock Island Arsenal employees and residents remembered the victims of the Holocaust during an observance in Heritage Hall here, April 29.
Jeno Laszlo Berta, a witness to the persecution of Jews during the 1940s, spoke about his personal experiences with the Nazis and what his father did to help a Jewish family during World War II.
"I would like to tell you that I met the Nazis, my family met them," said Berta. "Then I'd like to tell you how they treated a group of people."
Berta was born and raised in a small Hungarian village in 1937 and recalls the days when he watched Nazi soldiers round up Jews for deportation and worse.
"They (Jews) were killed because of faith or religion or nationality and it was wrong then and wrong now and wrong tomorrow to hate someone for religion, color, nationality or being handicapped," Berta said.
In the fall of 1944, his father brought home a Jewish family of four. For half a year, they hid the father, the mother, the son, and the daughter in their barn and smokehouse.
When the Nazis left Berta's small village in spring 1945, the Jewish family left and travelled back to their home. Soviet Union troops eventually replaced the Nazis and Berta participated in the Hungarian uprising against the Soviets in 1956. He was forced to flee his country, escaping first to Austria and then the U.S.
"March 5 (1957), I was in New Jersey. March 9, I left, going to Casper, Wyoming. March 9, the bus broke down, and I stayed in a Davenport hotel," Berta said. "And, I'm still here."
He met his wife, Catherine, at a McDonalds on Brady Street in Davenport, Iowa. They were married 49 years before she passed away in 2010.
Their son, Maj. Jeno Berta, is a Soldier assigned to Rock Island Arsenal with First U.S. Army. His daughter, Cassie Berta, sang the national anthem beginning the day's ceremony.
"Living in America, I could not talk, I could not read, I didn't know anybody, but I could see. Why do you think they call America, 'land of opportunity?' Miracles happen every day," he said. "People of America made America the 'land of opportunity.'"
And, through tears, Berta ended his story with, "God bless America."
This year, April 27 through May 4 marks the Days of Remembrance, a program established by Congress as the nation's annual commemoration of the Holocaust.
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Robert Land, Army Sustainment Command chaplain, provided the invocation and Sgt. 1st Class Marion Wilson, ASC equal opportunity adviser, narrated the event.
Six candles were lit during the ceremony, symbolizing passing the light of memory and hope from one to another.
Tova Strauss, whose mother and aunt lived through the Holocaust, lit the first candle for the millions who lost entire families and who lay in unmarked graves.
Berta lit the second candle, representing the men and women who stood up and risked their lives and died to help those being persecuted.
Sgt. 1st Class Earl Schaffer, First U.S. Army, lit the third candle for the Soldiers who liberated the camps and all who served with the Allied forces to put an end to oppression.
Allan Ross, the Quad Cities Jewish Federation director, lit the fourth candle for the millions of Jews and non-Jews who were exterminated during the Holocaust.
Jasmine Gonzalez, Army Family member, lit the fifth candle representing the 1.5 million children who were killed during the Holocaust.
Sgt. 1st Class Jacqueline Watkins, Army Sustainment Command, lit the sixth and final candle representing those who are suffering the threat of genocide in places around the world today.