One by one the five seated actors recited personal testimonies from Holocaust survivors. Their accounts portrayed the policies and incidents of anti-Semitism from the early 1930s through as recently as January 2015.
"The Seasoned Performers" were part of Team Redstone's Days of Remembrance program April 29 in Bob Jones Auditorium. Deborah Layman, vice president of the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, introduced the actors -- Jesse Bates, Marva Douglas, Martha Haarbauer, Wade Haarbauer and Bob Penny -- and their musical accompaniment, Dr. Alan Goldspiel on guitar and Marilyn Pipkin on violin.
Their presentation, titled "A Slippery Slope," was written by Layman and directed by Haarbauer with musical direction by Goldspiel. The estimated 300 attendees gave the performers a standing ovation afterward.
"What a wonderful, wonderful performance," Angela Morton, equal employment opportunity officer for the Corps of Engineers' Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, said. She conducted the observance program with the Huntsville Center as the host organization.
Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar, of the Temple B'nai Sholom, gave the invocation. She joined Huntsville Center's Irene Freedland in a symbolic lighting of the yarhzeit candle.
"The Holocaust is often characterized by the indelible images of concentration camps and death camps," Huntsville Center commander Col. Robert Ruch said in his opening remarks. "But the Holocaust did not begin with the camps. It began with hate. For the Jews, it was a slippery slope in which anti-Semitism escalated to discrimination, persecution, violence and finally, genocide -- the terrible consequences of hate. Today, as we witness violent consequences of racial and ethnic divisions both in our country and abroad, Holocaust Remembrance Day is a poignant reminder that we must be vigilant in our efforts to promote equality, understanding and peaceful resolution of conflict."
Morton asked the audience for a moment of silence in remembrance.
Seated together in a front row were four World War II veterans. They included Harold McMurran of New Market, who was among the Soldiers who went ashore on D-Day, June 6, 1944, to liberate France from Nazi occupation. Bill Varnedoe of Huntsville flew 26 combat missions in 1945 as a navigator with the Army Air Force 385th bomb group, based in England.
Bob Jones of Huntsville, who had his 91st birthday April 28, was 18 when he enlisted in the Army Reserve on Sept. 15, 1942. He was called to active duty April 10, 1943. Jones served in the European theater from July 1944 to January 1946 through four campaigns: ground defense of Britain; the Ardennes (Bulge); battle of Germany, west of the Rhine and Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen; and central Germany campaign. He was discharged from active duty Jan. 16, 1946.
"Any (WWII observance) program means a whole lot to me," Jones said. "At least it means we've been remembered."
Howard Polin, 91, of Huntsville, was a corporal in the Army Air Corps, 8th Air Force, 352nd Fighter Group in Europe. He and his wife, Diana, attended the program.
"It was wonderful, very nice, very well done," Polin said.
"Very moving," added Diana.
In support of this year's observance of national Days of Remembrance, Team Redstone sponsored an essay and display contest. The essay winners included: first place, Catherine Gong of NASA; second, Ralph Scott of Missile Defense Agency; and third, Heidi Meadows of Missile Defense Agency. The display winners included: first, Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command; second, Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville; and third, Missile Defense Agency.