Natick Soldier Systems Center Honors Holocaust Remembrance with Keynote by Jewish Survivor and Descendant of Nazi Escapees

By David AccettaMay 3, 2024

The Natick Soldier Systems Center held a special event May 1st to observe the 2024 Holocaust Days of Remembrance and Holocaust Remembrance Day featuring a presentation by a Jewish man whose family escaped the horrors of the Holocaust by fleeing Germany for Japanese-occupied Shanghai, China in April 1939.

Dr. Kurt Linden was only two years old when his parents left Berlin for the long trip to Shanghai shortly after the November 9th, 1938 “kristallnacht” or night of broken glass, referring to the shattered remains of Jewish shop and house windows following the Nazi’s coordinated wave of antisemitic violence across Germany and parts of Austria. Even though his father and other family members had served in the German Army and fought in World War I, as Jews the Lindens were still victimized by the Nazi government and the family store was destroyed.

Sensing further oppression and danger, Linden’s parents decided to leave Germany. They chose Shanghai simply because they had no other choice as they were not able to obtain entry visas from any other country, and Shanghai had no entry visa requirement. Oddly, Shanghai was occupied by Japanese troops who defeated the Chinese army forces in November 1937. Shanghai remained under Japanese occupation until the surrender of Japan on 15 August 1945.

Linden described what it was like to live as a Jewish child in Shanghai and how his family survived there along with many other Jewish families who had fled Nazi-controlled Europe. In 1941 all immigrants were confined to the Hongkew district, a small 1 square mile area which they could only leave by special permission. Hongkew was also heavily populated by the poorest Chinese, and life become even more difficult with food being scarce, but the 20,000 mostly Jewish refugees, having established their own community with theaters, barber shops, stores, restaurants, night clubs, newspapers, and other commercial enterprises, survived under strict Japanese rule. According to Linden, “many refugees died of diseases and American bombing raids. After the Japanese surrender in September 1945 the Jewish refugees were shocked to learn that their relatives and friends were murdered in concentration camps. The names of death camp victims were posted on public display.”

After the war, the Lindenstrauss family (their original name while living in Germany and Shanghai) was finally able to immigrate to the United States in 1947, sponsored by a distant relative in Pittsburgh.  Traveling on a converted troop ship, they arrived in San Francisco in August 1947, and chose Salt Lake City, Utah to begin a new life.  Upon naturalization they changed their last name to Linden, abandoning their German sounding name.  Dr. Linden attended the University of Utah where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering degree in 1959 and was then admitted to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1961. He later earned a PhD degree in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University in 1966, after which he worked as a research and development scientist at several Boston-area companies.  He is currently a senior scientist at Vox Biomedical in Bedford, MA.

During the observance Rabbi Danny Burkeman of Temple Shir Tikva in nearby Wayland, MA, provided a traditional prayer and after Linden’s presentation led a special candle-lighting ceremony remembering all the victims of the Holocaust.

“In the Jewish tradition when mourning the loss of a loved one we light a candle. On the darkest night we know that a single candle can expel all of the darkness, bringing light where there was none. The lights of the candles have become a way of remembering and we remember the light of the lives that were cruelly extinguished during the Holocaust, “Burkeman said.

Following the program, attendees were able to experience an innovative 3D interactive exhibit called New Dimensions in Testimony: Digitally Preserving a Holocaust Survivor's Interactive Storytelling, a collaboration between the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. New Dimensions in Testimony is an initiative to record and display testimony in a way that will continue the dialogue between Holocaust survivors and learners far into the future.

Dr. David Traum, Research Professor of Computer Science and the Director for Natural Language Research at the ICT explained the origins of the exhibit and demonstrated how it worked, showing how people can have simulated, educational conversations with Holocaust survivors through  the fourth dimension of time.

As a University Affiliated Research Center, USC and the ICT work closely with the Combat Capability Development Command Soldier Center, or DEVCOM SC at Natick and its office in Orlando, Florida developing virtual reality and augmented reality modeling and simulation training experiences. The UARC program is a strategic United States Department of Defense research effort that ensures essential engineering and technology capabilities of particular importance to the DoD are maintained.

The event also included support from Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Joshua Metz, the DEVCOM Chaplain, who gave the invocation and benediction, and other members of the Natick Soldier Systems Center community who helped plan and execute the event.

DEVCOM Soldier Center was the Holocaust Remembrance event sponsor for 2024 and the program is important for Soldiers and army civilians alike as the Army remembers the six million Jewish people and millions of other victims of the Holocaust and honors the resilience of the survivors.

Mr. Douglas Tamilio, DEVCOM Soldier Center director, said “It is important to remember and honor those killed during the Holocaust, as their sacrifices remind us to be vigilant against hate and persecution.”

The Natick Soldier Systems Center EEO Special Observance program promotes diversity, inclusion, cultural awareness, and helps to honor the past while preparing for the future. The next special observance will be the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Observance on May 22, please join us then.

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