By Kathryn C. WeigelApril 25, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (April 25, 2012) -- American military personnel are in a unique position to stop genocide, a retired Army chaplain told more than 100 service members and civilians gathered at Liberty Chapel April 18 for Fort Lee's Holocaust Day of Remembrance Observance.
Rabbi Ben Romer of Richmond's Congregation Or-Ami was on post with an exhibit of photographs and uniforms from the Virginia Holocaust Museum, also in Richmond. The exhibit was available for viewing through Friday.
Among Romer's assignments during his 22 years in the Army National Guard and on active duty were stints in Bosnia where he witnessed a mass grave of "the others" being unearthed. "There will always be times in which 'the other' is oppressed," Romer said.
He noted that many of the African-Americans and women in the audience had probably been treated as "the other," even in this country.
"In spite of that, in uniform, we have the unique ability to stop it," he said, citing the "unique obligation and opportunity" of America's military.
During his welcoming remarks, Col. Pharisse Berry, commander of the sponsoring organization, the 59th Ordnance Brigade, said, "This occasion is necessary -- very, very necessary -- because we don't want to forget what can happen when a mad man is in power." Berry cited the genocides in Bosnia, Darfur and Rwanda as he reminded the military and civilians gathered at the chapel that some people today deny that millions died in the World War II Holocaust implemented by Adolph Hitler's government.
"Don't fall for the lies that the Holocaust didn't happen," he urged the audience.
Falling for the lies is not likely for the audience members who perused the large photographs and studied the uniforms on display around the room before or after Romer's speech. Maj. Eric Clarke, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 266th Quartermaster Battalion, shook his head as he studied parts of the display. "Man, that's sad," said Clarke, who had never before seen such photos.
He is certainly not alone among Americans who have heard of the Holocaust but have not visited a museum or exhibit. Sgt. 1st Class Gerald L. Napper, equal opportunity adviser for the Ordnance School, said more than 200 people visited the exhibit over a three-day period.
"You can make sure," Romer said to the military members of the audience, "that the Darfurs of your generation come to a quick resolution so that a genocide (on the scale of the WWII Holocaust) cannot happen again."
First Sgt. Nawab D. Harden, HHC, 59th Ord. Bde., was master of ceremonies and read Gov. Robert McDonnell's proclamation on remembering the Holocaust. Napper read a representative list of names of people who died in the Holocaust.
The video, "Why We Remember the Holocaust," was shown before Romer spoke.
Berry officially thanked Romer and Levette Smiley, assistant curator of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, for their efforts that made the program and display possible and presented them with gifts.
During World War II, the Holocaust was Germany's systematic means of eliminating religious and political opponents and other groups of people that Hitler considered undesirable. With the death toll estimated at 11 million to 17 million people, the Holocaust killed two-thirds of Europe's Jews -- an estimated 1 million children, 2 million women and 3 million men. Other victims included gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, Soviet and Polish civilians, homosexuals, people with disabilities and Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Virginia Holocaust Museum has more than 25 exhibits. It opened in 1997 in an old school building next to Temple Beth-el in Richmond. Six years later, growing demand and government support moved the museum to an old warehouse at 2000 E. Cary St.
The museum, which charges no admission, is open weekdays 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and weekends 11 a.m. -5 p.m. It is closed New Year's Day, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
For details about the museum and the Holocaust, call (804) 257-5400 or visit www.va-holocaust.com.