ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 12, 2016) --- After the guest speaker canceled due to illness, quick-thinking organizers pushed on to present an alternate Days of Remembrance ceremony for Team APG at the Myer Auditorium, May 3.
The annual observance commemorates the Holocaust genocide that took place during Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany that claimed the lives of about 11 million people, at least six million of them Jews. The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, hosted the event
Listeners were welcomed by Robert Zanzalari, CERDEC associate director, and Col. Matthew Schramm, CERDEC military deputy.
Zanzalari noted that 71 years have passed since the concentration camps were liberated.
"Soon there won't be many left to tell us first-hand what they saw; to share what they remember," he said. "That is why it is the duty of each of us to remain ever vigilant, not just of the world in which we live, but also of our own hearts. When we see hatred, when we see intolerance, when we are witness to prejudice, we must stand. Above all, we must remember what happens when intolerance and hatred are given reign over humanity."
Schramm said that survivors and witnesses have shared their histories so the world never forgets the consequences of hatred.
"The words of the survivors, stark narratives of violence and death, stand as a reminder of not only what has happened, but what can happen when we lose our humanity," Schramm said adding, the morning's discussion would center on, "not only the loss of humanity, but the circumstances of forgiveness.
The 2016 Days of Remembrance theme, "Liberation," would have highlighted the exploits of intended guest speaker, retired Master Sgt. Sol Goldstein, a former 1st Infantry Division Soldier who was among the first to knock down the fence surrounding a satellite concentration camp near Buchenwald, Germany.
Organizers instead went with the theme, "Forgiveness" and discussed the human aspects of the difficult act of letting go of feelings and attitudes.
Rabbi Gila Ruskin of Temple Adas Shalom led the conversation that revolved around the notion of forgiveness as outlined in the 1976 novel, "The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness," by Simon Wiesenthal. The book poses the ethical question to the reader of whether to "forgive" former Nazi soldiers for their transgressions. It contains a symposium of responses from Holocaust survivors as well as former Nazis and challenges readers to search their souls for the answer.
Several audience members responded to Ruskin's invitation to share their thoughts about forgiveness, and sparked conversations that continued after the program was over.
Ruskin credited CERDEC Outreach Lead Erica Bertoli with coming up with the idea for the alternate program. She noted that several people who did not wish to stand shared their thoughts with her later. One was the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, she said.
"I appreciated all the comments and I think we did honor to the liberators," Ruskin said. "Forgiveness is a common human experience. Our overall goal was to state that history cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again."
Ruskin also presented the invocation and benediction and led the traditional candle-lighting ceremony. The event included readings by retired Col. Jonas Vogelhut; Bertoli and Staff Sgts. Jamal Washington and Tyler Young of A Battery, 3rd Air Defense Artillery (JLENS). Soldier participants in the candle-lighting ceremony included Spc. Addison Gibson; Pfcs. Jessica Leal, Yvette Martinez and Anastasiia Oliver; and Pvts. Steven Wendland and Jack Zimmerman.
At the program's end. Zanzalari and APG Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Adams presented certificates of appreciation to Ruskin and Racheal Acevedo who sang the national anthem. Sgt. Louis Schwab of the APG Garrison served as the program narrator.
This article originally appeared in the May 12, 2016 issue of the APG News. The APG News is published in interest of the people of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.