By Ms. Michelle Miller (USASAC)April 18, 2017
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama -- The Team Redstone "Days of Remembrance" observance will be held April 24 at 10 a.m. in the Bob Jones Auditorium.
The week of April 23rd commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. The Days of Remembrance was established by the U.S. Congress and memorializes the six million Jewish murdered in the Holocaust, as well as millions of non-Jewish victims and those whose actions helped saved lives.
The event will include a recount of a survivor's story, a candle lighting and reading ceremony, a survivor exhibit from the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center and the presentation of Redstone Arsenal's essay and static display contest winners.
Dr. James Sedlis, a physician from Birmingham, will share his father's story of survival living in Vilna, Lithuania during the German occupation and his experience of joining the resistance movement with the Jewish partisans and Russia.
The traveling exhibit, "Darkness into Life: Alabama Holocaust Survivors through Photography and Art," will be available for viewing in the Bob Jones Auditorium lobby, courtesy of the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, throughout the event. The exhibit educates viewers through historical information, paintings, photographs and the personal stories of twenty Alabama Holocaust survivors.
During World War II Lithuania was annexed into Soviet Union control, but in 1941 Germans occupied Vilna and set up two Jewish ghettos. Vilnius, or Vilna as it is known to locals, is located in the south eastern portion of Lithuania. The ghettos, located throughout Europe, were established as way for Nazi Germany to segregate and confine European Jews before persecution through the Holocaust. The ghettos, overcrowded and ridden with starvation and disease, lasted anywhere from a few days to a few years before being emptied, closed or destroyed.
Gabriel Sedlis, James' father, was a resident of the Vilna ghetto and avoided the concentration camps "through a lot of luck," according to James. James' grandfather was a physician, and when his family was moved into the ghetto, he ran its hospital.
Gabriel was able to study art at school and learned several languages, including German -- which gave him a unique position during the occupation. James says his father "had the right skills, at the right time."
He was given jobs by the Germans, such as a sign painter, building sketch artist, miniature model maker and German officer portrait artist.
When it was discovered that his artistic talent could be used to forge documents, he also began helping Jewish families escape the ghetto, and that skill was noticed by the local resistance movement. The Jewish partisans, an organized movement of fighters against the German forces, lived in the surrounding forests and survived off the land and in some seldom instances through the assistance of local villagers.
This year's national theme for the remembrance, "Learning from the Holocaust: The Strength of the Human Spirit," exemplifies Sedlis' story.
"My father, who passed away in 2003, lived a very simple, enjoyable life. He was a hard worker and enjoyed his family."
"He was a humble man, who didn't think his story was more important than any other survivors' stories. He just did what he could do."
By telling his father's story, James hopes others will gain an appreciation for the strength of the human spirit one can have when faced with difficult circumstances.
James, who has just recently started sharing his father's story of hope, luck and survival says it has taught him to "live life to the fullest."
"We were always told you never know what is going to happen in life," he said. "The only thing that can't be taken away from you is a life well lived."