Holocaust victims remembered, honored
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

A brief video at the Fort Riley Holocaust Remembrance Day event April 17 showed the audience why this piece of world history should never be forgotten.

The quick and condensed video showed photographs of the carnage while its narrator spoke of the rise of the Nazi party and how everyday people turned on their Jewish neighbors. It helped drive home the event's opening message by Sgt. 1st Class Orlando Marin, pharmacy services non-commissioned officer in charge at Irwin Army Community Hospital.

"We must teach the lessons of the Holocaust, and most of all, we ourselves must remember," he said. "We must remember the terrible price paid for bigotry and hatred, and also the terrible price paid for indifference ... to truly commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, we must harness the outrage of our memories to banish all human oppression from the world."

Just prior to the video, six candles were lit in remembrance of the millions of victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

Chaplain (Col.) Shmuel Felzenberg lit the first two candles as Marin spoke of their significance:

"We light our candles by passing the light of memory and hope from one to another," he said. "Let us honor those whose lights were put out, whose dreams, hopes and lives were snuffed out before they even lived, for the one and one half million children.

"We light a candle for the untold millions for whom there is no one to mourn, whose entire families were annihilated and who lie in unmarked graves.

"We light a candle for those who stood upright while others were bending to unmoral will," Marin read as Maj. Tad Coleman lit the third and fourth candles. "For the righteous among the nations who risked and even gave their lives to help their fellow human beings.

"We light a candle for those brave Soldiers who liberated the camps; who carried the dead and near dead in their arms to a kinder and more humane future and for those who served with the allied forces to put an end to tyranny and oppression.

"We light a candle for the nearly 6 million Jews and for the 6 million non-Jews who perished in a planned system of human destruction, the scale of which had never before been even imagined," he continued as Sam Devinki, the event's guest speaker, lit the last two candles.

"We light a candle for those who live even now under the yoke of oppression, in places where the threat of genocide is real and ever present.

When Devinki took his place at the podium, he told the story of his family -- of their deaths and their survival through the Holocaust.

Devinki was born in a Displaced Persons camp in Ragensburg, Germany, in 1946. But his family's story started years earlier -- in September 1939.

"In September of 1939 I had a great-grandfather, I had three grandparents and nine aunts and uncles, about two dozen cousins," he said. "When the war ended in 1945, my great-grandfather was murdered; I only had one grandparent left, the other two were murdered. I only had one aunt, one uncle and two cousins. Everyone else had been murdered."

His great-grandfather was a Hasidic Jew who adhered to the strict codes of dress required of the Jewish men. The striped uniform he was given to wear did not fit the standard. When he refused to put it on, he was killed.

With the help of a neighbor, his uncle built a false room in his basement. But there was a rule -- if someone turned in Jewish people they could get their property.

The neighbor betrayed the family and directed the Germans to the secret room. Two Nazis took Devinki's uncle and aunt and their four children; another aunt and her three or four children, and his grandmother out into a field and killed them.

"My father was never the same after that," he said. "He wasn't there, but he was in town when this happened. In his mind he thought 'there was only two of them, maybe he could have rushed them.'"

On the paternal side of the family, Devinki's mother grew up in Poland. Her father was sent to Treblinka and the rest of the family was moved into the ghetto.

When word spread that the Germans were about to liquidate the ghetto, Devinki's grandfather's business partner Jozef Gondrowicz, who was a member of the Polish nationalist resistance movement, arranged to hide the family in a 10-foot by 15-foot hole underneath a barn.

They lived there with no electricity or bathroom facilities for 26 months. While some of the family survived those 26 months, others were caught and killed, including young children.

When the war ended, his family had lost everything. They were in the DP camp until they could move to America. He was a toddler when his family settled into the Kansas City area in 1950. His parents did all they could to build their lives, but the memories of the Holocaust had changed them. Devinki grew up in that shadow.

He recalled his father as a man who was generous and loving but also could be violent and demanding. Devinki has devoted much of his life to making sure the Holocaust is not forgotten. He received a presidential appointment to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council from former President George W. Bush and travels to tell his family's story.

But not everyone who has Jewish heritage has the same story, although they may still feel the connections when they hear the horrors of what people when through because they were Jewish.

Sitting quietly in the back of Barlow Theater, Staff Sgt. Matthew Muentes, 625 Movement Control Team in Manhattan, Kansas listened.

His mother is Jewish and is from Corsica, his father is Catholic.

"My family left Corsica before World War II," he said. "We were forced conversion Jews from Corsica to the Caribbean."

He appreciated Devinki's program because he shares the Jewish lineage. He recalled visits in the past few years to the Holocaust Museum and Poland.

"It was intense," he said. "I couldn't get past feeling my bloodline there."