By Lori Newman, Brooke Army Medical Center Public AffairsMay 22, 2019
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Brooke Army Medical Center held a Day of Remembrance observance on May 15 to remember those killed during the Holocaust and honor those who survived.
BAMC Commanding General Brig. Gen. George Appenzeller opened the ceremony by acknowledging the observance wasn't like most of the equal opportunity celebrations held at the hospital.
"This is a time we remember millions that were needlessly killed," the general said. "This is where we remember the perseverance, courage and resilience of those who survived and that we are thankful for all of those who put their lives at risk for others.
"The human beast can do horrible things, and it takes courage, sacrifice, honor, resilience and love for others to keep it from happening again, and that's why we remember today," Appenzeller said.
Dr. Steven Rosenblatt, guest speaker and the son of a Holocaust survivor, talked about Adolf Hitler's rise to power and his mother's journey as a Holocaust survivor.
"The stories are what make the history real, and pictures are worth more than a 1,000 words," Rosenblatt said, as he launched into his slide presentation which included images of the horrors of the concentration camps and the many Jews who died there.
His mother, Mathilide, was 15 years old and living in Vienna when German troops invaded Austria in March 1938, he explained. The Austrian people did not resist, and Hitler quickly folded Austria into the German Reich.
Rosenblatt spoke about the Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, where Jews were pulled in the streets and beaten, their business and stores looted, synagogues destroyed and Holy books burned.
During the chaos, he said, his mother went out into the street and saved a small piece of a page from what was left of a book.
"She took that fragment and stuck it in her bible," Rosenblatt said. "It was the only procession she had besides the coat on her back when she came to the United States."
After his mother's death, the family decided to donate the small fragment to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
"What we didn't know is there are only three such fragments that exist in the world," Rosenblatt said.
Mathilide and her family moved to Warsaw to stay with a family member, but were soon pushed into a Nazi ghetto.
"She said she couldn't stand the crying babies, who were hungry," he said. "She would sneak out of the ghetto at night through the sewers and go to the black market and bring bread back."
Eventually, the American Consulate in Vienna sent a message that if she could make it back to Vienna she would be given papers to travel to the United States.
"Her parents realized that if they tried to go together they wouldn't make it," Rosenblatt said. She said goodbye, knowing they would probably never see each other again.
At 16 years old, she began the more than 450 mile trek alone. As she was crossed at one of the borders, she was running with others who were also trying to escape. A woman running next to her, who was carrying a baby, was shot, but Mathilide had to keep running.
"I think she thought about that baby every night (for the rest of her life)," he said, equating it to a form of post-traumatic stress.
On Feb. 3, 1940, she was granted permission to travel to the U.S., and about a week later, she was on a boat departing from Europe.
Rosenblatt described his mother as a slight women, who only weighed about 100 pounds and the fact that she had to travel more than 650 miles by train across Germany to get to the port.
"That's when my brother and I realized what a survivor she was," he said, showing a photo of her documents with all the travel stamps.
Rosenblatt also spoke about Auschwitz.
"Jews were placed in two lines," he said. "Doctors decided who could handle slave labor -- the young and frail went to the left and the others to the right. The ones on the left were killed in the gas chamber."
A total of 11 million people -- 6 million Jews and 5 million others -- systematically died at the hands of the Nazis before the camps were liberated by Allied soldiers in the mid-1940s. The victims included 1.5 million children and represented about two-thirds of the 9 million Jews who had lived in Europe.
A candle-lighting ceremony was held to honor the Jews killed in the genocide. The final candle was dedicated to the next generation, who are left to "carry the flames of remembrance."
"The holocaust teaches us that you should not judge a person by the way they look," said BAMC Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Oates. "More importantly, it teaches us that we should ever be so mindful that all people should be treated with dignity and respect."