By David VergunMay 5, 2016
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 5, 2016) -- As Army units fanned out across Western Europe in 1945 toward the end of World War II, they encountered something they were not prepared for, something horrific, said Michael Rugel.
Rugel, program and content coordinator, National Museum of American Jewish Military History, spoke at a Pentagon Holocaust Remembrance Day Observance, May 5, at the Pentagon Memorial Chapel.
U.S. Soldiers, who did not have specific orders to liberate concentration camps, nonetheless came across them, often by accident, during their drive to Berlin, he said.
During the earliest camp liberations, there were few survivors, Rugel said, just piles of bodies. The camps were essentially abandoned by the guards, who killed as many as they could before fleeing.
There were two essential things that Soldiers did as they liberated these camps, Rugel said.
First, they took a lot of photographs, he said. Those photographs then went to the outside world, informing people of the extent of the horrors the Nazis had inflicted on the Jews and others in their so-called final solution. "This created tremendous awareness that had not been there before."
The second thing Soldiers accomplished -- Soldiers of Jewish heritage in particular -- was to re-establish the Jewish community in Europe, beginning with the survivors of these camps, he said.
Almost immediately upon entering the camps, these Soldiers, many of whom spoke Yiddish, said the Kadesh prayer with the survivors, even as they took care of their immediate medical and other needs, he said.
Looking back at the Holocaust, Rugel summed up: "The National Socialists took Jewish property and lives, while America gave its Jewish Soldiers weapons to fight the injustice."
America values life, human dignity and freedom, he added.
The attendees then sang "God Bless America." Later, there was a candle lighting to memorialize those who never made it out of the concentration camps.
Six candles were lit, each candle representing approximately 1 million men, women and children who lost their lives. Ruger and Jewish chaplains in attendance lit the first four and the last two candles were lit by two attendees who had lost immediate family members in the Holocaust.
Maj. Donald Ehrke, Pentagon Family Life chaplain, who introduced Rugel, said it's human nature to want to look back at good times and not want to remember something as terrible as the Holocaust.
"But this is necessary for our preservation as a people," he said. "We say 'never again,' yet we look around and see so much evil in the world today."