An elderly man makes his way to a platform after being introduced as the day's guest speaker at the Iron Mike Conference Center at Fort Bragg. He stands to face the audience with an air of quiet strength. In a soft, yet firm voice, he addresses the Soldiers, civilians and visiting Shughart Middle School students.
Hank Brodt, a 91-year-old native of Poland, is a Holocaust survivor who joined the U.S. Army and served during the Korean War. Brodt accepted an invitation to speak during this year's Holocaust Days of Remembrance Observance, hosted by the XVIII Airborne Corps and the 18th Field Artillery Brigade on May 5, the day before his 71st anniversary of being liberated by the U.S. Army.
He was 13 years old at the onset of the Holocaust. From 1943 to 1945, the Nazis moved Brodt to five different concentration camps, a forced labor camp, and he survived a three-day death march. Soldiers from the 80th Infantry Division liberated his camp on May 6, 1945. In 1949, he immigrated to the United States thanks to a Soldier's sponsorship and eventually settled in North Carolina.
Although Brodt initially was hesitant to talk about his experiences, he was soon convinced that he needed to talk to others about what happened in Europe during the Holocaust.
"I don't tell this story for myself," said Brodt. "I tell this story to make sure something like the Holocaust never happens again, and to speak for the dead. I do this for the memory of my Family and the people who can't talk."
During his time at the five concentration camps, labor camp and death march, survival was Brodt's priority.
"I survived through determination," explained Brodt. "I told myself, by hook or by crook, I was going to survive."
One year after coming to the United States, Brodt was drafted into the Army following the start of the Korean War. It was his chance to give back to the Army who had done so much for him, from liberating him from the Nazis to granting him American citizenship.
"When I was drafted, I was happy to serve this country," said Brodt. "The Army gave me an opportunity through my service."
Sgt. 1st Class William Joy, the 18th Field Artillery Brigade Equal Opportunity advisor, assisted in putting the Days of Remembrance event together, including the request to have Brodt as guest speaker.
"I think this event was a success," said Joy. "We're so lucky to have people like Mr. Brodt here today to share his story ... his message really got to me. We need to ensure we never experience such a terrible thing again."
Spc. Everett Bajada, a newly arrived Soldier in Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 18th Field Artillery Brigade, and about 20 Soldiers had lunch with Brodt before the Days of Remembrance event.
"His message was very powerful," said Bajada. "Mr. Brodt was really inspiring and it was a humbling experience. To hear everything he went through, it made me really appreciate the uniform that I have on. One of the things that came up during lunch was resiliency, and the fact that he made it through the Holocaust and served in the Army, and kept pushing on, I was mesmerized the whole time."
"I had Family that passed away in the Holocaust," continued Bajada. "A number of my grandfather's Family members were executed, but one of his brothers made it here to America. He became a sponsor and brought nearly 100 Jews over from Europe."
Brodt has dedicated himself since then to educating people on the atrocities that were committed during the Holocaust, with the goal of making sure that what occurred is never forgotten and that acts of genocide are stopped before something like the Holocaust occurs again.