By Maj. Jason CristApril 19, 2018
Norfolk, Virginia - Escape time and your senses focus solely on your hearing. Concentrate on searching for the unmistakable resonance of the violin. Imagine listening as it reads a story written in chords rather than words. The audible tones portraying the story's depth; desperately defining its translation of emotions.
Imagine the symphonic portrayal of anxiety and uncertainty as the bow rhythmically cascades across those tender strings. The violinist's is providing an extraordinary dialogue. As an innocent spectator, your appreciation promotes the internalizing of this memory while suddenly interrupted by "ACHTUNG!"
During April, the world reflects and remembers the example of evil that was the greatest campaign of hate spanning 1933 to 1945. April 11 is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, celebrating those whose human spirit and faith endured.
The day honors survivors, liberators, righteous gentiles and remembers the victims of the holocaust. Locally in the Tidewater region, the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater hosted a Yom Hashoah Remembrance on April 11. The Congregation Beth El in Norfolk, Virginia, accommodated the observance sponsored by the Holocaust Commission. This event was a terrific accumulation of efforts forging a lasting difference today while educating the future.
The event acknowledged the visual and literary talents of local students; recognizing their submissions through the 21st Annual Elie Wiesel Writing and 16th Annual Visual Arts Competition.
The competition was comprised of 29 judges who chose 15 literary winners, six multimedia winners, and 11 visual arts winners.
Additionally, the commission recognized the efforts of two local educators honoring their excellence through the Esther Goldman Teacher Award and the Ruthi Sherman Kroskin Excellence in Holocaust Education Award.
These competitions are designed to stimulate the students' application of history to decisions encountered today. The Holocaust provides opportunities to examine the issues of moral courage, dangers of prejudice, peer pressure, blind obedience to authority, and indifference.
These goals and aspirations aligned with Army and Air Force Core Values. These principals also apply to ourselves as well and these Days of Remembrance should not be isolated to a finite period defined by a calendar.
Our Nation's military is a melting pot of the Nation's 1%, however that 1% is comprised of the other 99%. Our military is a cross section of our country's greatest strength, diversity. Soldiers and Airmen are human and affected similarly by the social stimuli facing our country. Each service reaffirms their values uniquely with the end state of morally right decisions without prejudice that are subject to withstand legal scrutiny. This is the foundation of trust the United States Armed Forces have established with the Nation and World.
The remembrance event was capped by guest speaker Dr. Mark Wygoda, speaking on his father's resistance of Nazi oppression and resistance efforts in Italy.
Dr. Wygoda's father's story is only one incredible chapter in a novel of thousands depicting heroic men and women who refused to be indifferent.
His father, Hermann Wygoda, was a German-born Polish Jew whose family had been murdered by the Nazis.
While living in Poland he developed unique smuggling skills aiding those trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto. In time, his safety became jeopardized as his identity became known. This forced his travel through Europe under false identity papers evading German patrols.
In Italy, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Germans. Luckily for him the Germans had mistaken him for an English spy, their relaxed detainment practices enabled his escape.
After his escape he joined the partisan resistance, eventually commanding 2,500 fighters. He lead attacks, coordinated prisoner exchanges with the Germans, and liberated the city of Savona. "Comandante Enrico" as he became known was later recognized by the American Army for his service and was awarded the Bronze Star in Paris.
For those attending the Yom Hashoah Remembrance event and hearing Wygoda's story for the first time, the fleeting two hour event is likely imprinted in their minds for the rest of their lives. The acknowledgement and presence of local survivors in attendance was felt throughout the ceremony.
Virginia's Tidewater area is home to hundreds of families who survived the Nazi genocidal intent. This population is a definitive prototype of the American Dream, having risen from under the tyrannical Nazi boot to stand up and state clearly never again.
Our future is at a crossroads. Time is the modern enemy, with each day constituting the loss of another first person survivor account. Time marches on in parallel, and societal evolutions march with it. The loss of this first person accountability jeopardizes our remembrance of the victims and circumstances of this atrocity.
The Holocaust Commission's pursuit linking scholarship and commemorative efforts offer a silver lining via educating younger generations through a modern lens. The stories told by survivors speak of a resiliency, determination, and love that would easily stun those who have never survived the experience, leaving one to wonder how a population which has endured so much hatred able to maintain such purity of hope and love for their fellow man?
"Arbeit Macht Frei" is a phrase which carries immense significance, stirring the rawest of emotions. But those who survived the Holocaust and who told their story at the Congregation Beth El seemed to embrace a contradictory phrase, "Liebe Wird Euch Frei" which translates to "Love Will Set You Free."