By Beverly Joyner, Fort Eustis Staff WriterApril 29, 2009
FORT EUSTIS, Va. (April 30, 2009) -- The Fort Eustis community solemnly gathered to observe the Holocaust Days of Remembrance April 22 at Jacobs Theater, hosted by the 8th Transportation Brigade.
Themed "Never Again: What You Do Matters," the event included opening remarks by Col. Daniel M. Georgi, 8th Trans. Bde. commander, a special musical selection, You Raised Me Up, by Spc. David Moseley of the Transportation Express and a book signing in the lobby.
Maj. Michael Rutherford, master of ceremonies and U.S. Army Transportation Center and School Transportation Basic Officer Leaders Course chief, spoke of how the Holocaust was a state-sponsored systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jews and expatriates by Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims and six million were murdered.
"We must all learn from the terrible events of the Holocaust and remain vigilant against hatred, persecution and tyranny. We must rededicate ourselves to the principles of individual freedoms in a just society," he added.
Leading the audience in prayer, Chap. (Maj.) Craig M. Johnson, 8th Trans. Bde. chaplain prayed, "We remember those who were determined not to let evil rob the smiles from their faces and their hearts, those who have persevered for many years to keep alive the memory of what transpired and the resolution that it must never happen again."
Serving as guest speaker was Alexander Lebenstein, Holocaust survivor and author. Lebenstein was born in Haltern-am-see, Germany, the only son and youngest of four children. Currently residing in Richmond, Va., he has co-authored a book where he recounts the story of his life prior to, during and after the labor camps.
Lebenstein told the audience that it was not only a pleasure to be at Fort Eustis but it was also his duty. "It is so important that we never forget but even most important is that we cannot live in the past," he said.
Taking the audience back in time to how he and his family lived prior to the Holocaust, Lebenstein described the good times he had as a child "horsing around" in the family's garden gazebo.
He recalled how his mother would bring coffeecake and other food to the gazebo and how his father played cards there with his friends. Lebenstein's family grew their own vegetables and fruit and he reminisced about how he would never forget "the beautiful, beautiful smell of vegetables and fruits being preserved in the winter."
In 1938, Lebenstein's neighbors started spreading the word about what they had heard on the radio. The Nazis were exterminating European Jews and other groups that they deemed to be inferior.
Lebenstein was 11 when the Nazis marched through his town in November 1938 singing anti-Semitic songs, looting houses, beating the residents and burning books and synagogues. They beat Lebenstein's father and spit in his face.
His family first went to the garden gazebo to hide, and later to a ditch in the cemetery, hoping that since there was nothing of value in the cemetery, they would be safe there. Lebenstein said he still remembers the sound made by the sledgehammers the Nazis used to smash every headstone in the cemetery.
Lebenstein and his family were eventually sent to several ghettos and concentration camps before they were liberated in 1945. When an attendee asked Lebenstein about living amongst Germans after he was liberated and whether he held the Germans responsible, Lebenstein replied, "I held them responsible and after I was liberated, I turned into, what was, perhaps, the angriest man alive. Anybody can get over anger but, let me warn you, it takes a lot of work, and you shouldn't do it by yourself."
As the sole survivor from his community, Lebenstein eventually returned to his home town of Halter-an-see to visit, and in 2008, the town honored him by bestowing upon him the name "Ehrenburger," - honored person.
The town's middle school was also renamed Alexander Lebenstein Realsche.