FORT HOOD, Texas - The 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command Equal Opportunity Office hosted Holocaust survivor, Mrs. Sylvia R. Gutmann, to commemorate the victims, survivors and rescuers of the Holocaust on April 24 in the 13th ESC Soldier Ministry Center at Fort Hood, Texas.
Although the official Days of Remembrance was observed this year from April 8-15, Mrs. Gutmann brought a sobering reminder of the results of unchecked hatred and bigotry, along with a message of hope and perseverance to stand victoriously in the face of adversity.
"People like Sylvia are a reminder that this did happen," said Col. Jeffery S. Yarvis, 1st Medical Brigade Commander, referring to the persecution and murder of more than six million men, women and children by the Nazi regime in the 1930s and 40s.
Mrs. Gutmann's life began in Belgium, six months after her family fled Berlin, during arguably the most tumultuous time of the 20th century. Shortly after her birth in 1939, her family went in to hiding in southern France where they were eventually arrested in 1942 by the Vichy police.
"At three years of age I had a mother and a loving father, and two weeks later at a camp in France...she was pushed onto a cattle car," said Gutmann, as she spoke of the last moments she had with her mother. "Four days later she was cremated in Auschwitz. She was 34 years old."
Sylvia Gutmann and her two older sisters remained in France until she was seven and then moved to New York with her aunt and uncle.
"I came to America when I was seven years old with my two sisters. I had been in hiding, I had been encamped, I lost my parents, my home, my language and my memory," said Gutmann. "I was traumatically injured."
She spent years dealing with the pain of her childhood before finally reaching out for help at the age of 54.
"I called the United Jewish Appeal-Federation and met with a psychiatrist the next day," said Gutmann. "He was the first person in my life that finally said I was free to cry, and to be angry, and to grieve."
Her path of healing ultimately led her back to Europe and speaking to a crowd on a makeshift stage at the remains of Crematorium 4 in the devastating Birkenau section of Auschwitz.
"I was invited on a Holocaust journey called the March of Remembrance and Hope, where I was one of eight survivors to accompany 400 young university students," said Gutmann. "We visited all of the death camps in Poland."
"This is sacred ground, it is filled with the blood and bones of those who were murdered here."
Her pilgrimage to "tell them who we were" brought her back to Berlin, not far from where her parents lived, to share a message of healing with groups from all walks and backgrounds.
"I was speaking to senior groups, to neo-Nazi groups, to youth groups throughout Germany and they opened their hearts to me," said Gutmann. "Slowly we began the process of healing both them and me."
As the numbers of Holocaust survivors and veterans of World War II gradually depart this world, the importance of Mrs. Gutmann and her message become increasingly more rare and important.
"It's important for these survivors to be out and tell the story," said Gregg Philipson, founder of the Gregg and Michelle Philipson Collection and Archive, who provide several tables worth of World War II and Holocaust archives for the day's event. "It makes it real, the same as touching these artifacts and makes people more aware and better sensed at how horrific this really was."
Sylvia Gutmann carries with her, now, a message of love and healing that is strengthened through the fact that she is a survivor of the largest genocide in human history and continues to impact and inform younger generations.
"It was very emotional for me to hear her story," said Capt. Candis Crossley from the 13th ESC. "Her message that love is the answer to everything was very powerful."
The actions of the Soldiers to liberate Mrs. Gutmann and the rest of Nazi occupied Europe had an impact that continues over 70 years later.
"Because of them [Soldiers] and what they still do today, one of those 1.5 million children I was not," Gutmann said.