SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (April 29, 2019) - U.S. Army Central joined the nation in commemorating the millions of victims and survivors of the Holocaust and the heroes whose actions saved an infinite amount of lives during a Days of Remembrance ceremony at USARCENT headquarters on Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., April 24.
Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation's annual commemoration of the Holocaust, where the Nazis decision to kill every Jewish person everywhere in Europe was the single target. This year, it is observed from April 28 through May 5.
The theme for this year's Days of Remembrance is "Learning from the Holocaust: Beyond Religious Boundaries," and while many of the Holocaust victims were in fact Jewish, other innocent targets of the Nazi regime included Polish, Africans, Muslims, and people with disabilities.
"Today's observance is a somber one, as we reflect on and learn from the horrors of the Holocaust, which led to the death of approximately six million people," said Maj. Gen. David C. Hill, deputy commanding general, USARCENT, who introduced the ceremony's guest speaker.
USARCENT was honored to host Dr. Lilly Stern Filler, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, as the guest speaker. Filler is also Chair of the South Carolina Council on the Holocaust, which provides professional development opportunities for South Carolina teachers to educate children on the Holocaust.
Filler's parents, Ben and Jadzia Stern, who were both born and lived in Poland, were only teenagers at the start of World War II, and during the start of the official annihilation of several million innocent civilians.
It was the summer of 1942. Filler's father was only 18 years-old and living in a Nazi-created ghetto with his family in Keilce, Poland. He witnessed the slaughter of his sister's 6-month-old baby by Nazi soldiers, and was forcibly separated from most of his family as they were taken to a death camp and never heard from again. He was instructed to stay behind and clean the ghetto.
"Years later my father was loaded into a cattle car headed for Auschwitz concentration camp. He remembered the intense heat in the cattle car, standing room only for two days, with no sanitation, food or water," said Filler. "... Dad clearly remembered when the cattle cars were opened in Auschwitz. I remember him saying, 'The SS guy, always with that whip, with German shepherd dogs, and one leg propped up on a stool and instructions given with his fingers.' We didn't know at the time, but to the right meant life, to the left meant the gas chambers. Dad was instructed to move right."
"If it were not for the American Armed Forces in WWII, my parents would not have survived the Holocaust and I would not be here," added Filler.
Filler said U.S. military forces were the first to witness the evidence of the Holocaust as they liberated several camps. Her father was liberated from Allach concentration camp on April 30, 1945.
Recalling the words of her father, Filler remembered him describing the day his nightmare ended, "When I recall the sight of American Soldiers entering the camps, it was as though God himself had sent his own angels of deliverance. It was a moment I shall never forget."
There are many common stories of rescue that belong to individuals whose names were never recorded by history. For example, the families who hid Jewish friends in their attics and basements, and the nuns who offered a safe haven to Jewish children.
The Army's 3rd, 6th, 10th, and 11th Armored Divisions and the 42nd, 45th, 80th, 90th, and 103rd Infantry Divisions are known as "liberating units," as they freed prisoners near the end of World War II. They proudly upheld the Army Values as they liberated occupied towns, villages and concentration camps.
"On May 5, 1945, the 11th Armored Division liberated Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where 150,000 prisoners were killed," said Lt. Col. Lee Roberts, the narrator for the ceremony and the internal review chief at USARCENT. "The surviving prisoners used sheets and jackets to make a United States flag as a gift to the American Soldiers. The prisoners could not remember how many stars the United States flag had, so they made their flag with 56 stars."
The flag is displayed today at the Museum of Tolerance, a Simon Wiesenthal Center and global human rights organization, headquartered in Los Angeles, California.
Remembering events that took place during the Holocaust not only serve to keep the world alert to unchecked hatred and bigotry, but also serves as a reminder that strength and courage helps the world confront adversity.
The Army remembers the American Soldiers who liberated the Nazi concentration camps and bore witness to the horrors that many would try to deny.
Former president and supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in a letter to former Gen. George C. Marshall, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff in April of 1945, "The things I saw beggar description. ...The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where there were piled up 20 or 30 naked men, killed by starvation, former Gen. George Patton would not even enter. He said he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to 'propaganda.'"
"The Army honors the individuals who took a stand during the Second World War, and it honors individuals today who take a stand against hatred, wherever we find it - in our work places, in our schools or on the battlefield," said Roberts. "Please remember those who stood for goodness and decency and stand with them."