By Michael StrasserApril 26, 2018
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 25, 2018) -- Members of the Fort Drum community observed the annual Days of Remembrance with a Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony on April 24 at the Commons.
Retired Chaplain (Col.) Jacob Goldstein, guest speaker, said that he was thankful to be invited back to Fort Drum, where he had attended summer training several times during his 38-year Army career. Goldstein retired in 2015 as the longest-serving Jewish chaplain. He was also a rarity in the service - being granted an exception to Army policy that allowed him to keep his beard, as Jewish law forbids a rabbi from shaving.
During his career, Goldstein deployed to Grenada, Bosnia, South Korea, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Israel and Cuba. He offered spiritual comfort at times of great distress - during the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in New Orleans and at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
Goldstein was born in a displaced persons camp in Paris after World War II and immigrated to the U.S. with his parents soon after. He didn't know about the Holocaust until later in life, but Goldstein said that at his birthday parties, he would ask his mother why he didn't have relatives in attendance like his friends had at their parties.
"My mother always said, 'When you get old, you will understand,'" said Goldstein. "My father never, ever spoke about his holocaust experience - he never spoke about that part of the world that was taken away from him."
Goldstein joined the Army in 1977, and he said that his mother cried when she first saw him in uniform.
"She said 'Always remember that in a war, only good people get hurt. You have to protect those good people,'" he said. "I would imagine that when she saw me in uniform, she had an immediate flashback to her liberation. She did tell me once about the great American Soldiers who saved her life."
Goldstein spoke about Herschel Schacter, the Jewish rabbi assigned to the Third Army's VIII Corps when the troops liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp. After the devastating scene he witnessed there, Schacter went back to headquarters and forced his way into Gen. George S. Patton's office to get help for the survivors.
"As battle-hardened as Patton was, he froze upon looking around at this site," Goldstein said. "He ordered every blanket, every drop of extra food, every medic, every doctor to go there. The experience of World War II taught our country a lot. You need to care for people, you need to be there for people and we need to stick our necks out for other people."
Goldstein said that Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds is an example of that kind of selfless service. In 2015, Edmonds posthumously received the Righteous Among the Nations award, the highest honor Israel confers on non-Jews who saved Jewish people during the Holocaust.
As the highest-ranking prisoner of war in a Nazi camp, Edmonds defied the camp commandant by refusing to identify all the Jewish service members in the formation. There were roughly 200 Jewish prisoners among more than 1,200 Americans in the camp and, even with a gun to his head, Goldstein said that Edmonds would only say, "We are all Jews." The camp commandant eventually gave up his efforts to separate the prisoners.
"This sergeant performed a major heroic act by refusing to bow to pressure," Goldstein said.
Goldstein said that the Holocaust was not an idea conjured up by a gang of street thugs, but a meticulously planned system that required business and military leaders, financiers and government officials.
"All of these people plotted this together, how to loot and plunder the Jewish community as it existed in Europe at the time," he said.
Goldstein said that the Allied Forces - mostly led by the U.S. - liberated the world from tyranny during World War II.
"Led by people like Sgt. Roddie and tens of thousands of countless others to make this world a better place - that we can understand what happens when we see racism or religious hate, and the list goes on and on. When we led the way during World War II, it set the tone of hope for the future, and that is the greatness of our country."
The theme of this year's Days of Remembrance is "Learning from the Holocaust: Legacy of Perseverance," and the event was hosted by 1st Brigade Combat Team. Lt. Col. Scott Wence, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment commander, thanked Goldstein for sharing his personal stories and historical perspective.
"This ceremony is a reminder for us today that evil cannot go unnoticed, and many people in this room have joined a profession where we get a front row seat to some of that evil," Wence said. "For me personally, after hearing that wonderful speech by Col. Goldstein, we should realize that indifference to evil is the same thing, and we cannot be indifferent. It makes me proud to be a U.S. Soldier and (proud of) all the things that we do across the world to deter evil."