Sill remembers, honors Holocaust victims

By Mr Jeff Crawley (IMCOM)April 26, 2012

Holocaust remembrance
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, Okla.-- Fort Sill honored and memorialized the victims of the Holocaust with its National Days of Remembrance ceremony April 19 at the Patriot Club.

The annual event was co-sponsored by the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade and Installation Equal Employment Opportunity office, and hosted by the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general. This year's theme was "Choosing to Act: Stories of Rescue."

In his invocation, Michael Jacobs, Fort Sill Jewish Distinctive Faith Group leader, quoted Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wieseil: "… for that is what the victims wanted to be remembered, at least to be remembered. Just as the killer was determined to erase Jewish memory, so were the dying heroes and fighting martyrs bent on maintaining it alive."

Speaker Michael Korenblit, a writer and native Oklahoman, told the story of how two Polish teenage friends survived concentration camps, would later marry and become his parents.

It was when he was 6-years-old that Korenblit first noticed tattoos on his parents' wrists.

"On the inside of my mother's forearm right across there, there was a the letter 'A' followed by the number 27327," Korenblit said, gesturing. "I asked my parents what those were. They tried to explain to me in the simplest of terms and in the least horrifying way that they were both survivors of the Holocaust."

Manya and Meyer, Korenblit's mother and father respectively, one night snuck out of their separate Polish ghettos to see where the Nazis where taking a group of Jews.

The Nazis led the group of about 25 Jews and Christian sympathizers to a large hole dug into the ground. They were forced to strip then they were shot, Korenblit said.

"After those holes had been filled up with dirt, they could still see the ground moving up and down," Korenblit said, "because everybody who had been shot had not been killed. Those who were alive were trying to dig their way out."

The Earth still moving was the most vivid image his parents had of the Holocaust, he said.

With his voice often wavering, Korenblit spoke about Christian Poles, who helped his parents and their families survive.

Joseph Wizniewski, a farmer, hid Jews in his haystack from Nazis. Another young man, Henrik Gorski, 20, warned Meyer that the Nazis were planning to round up Jews in the ghetto the next day and offered to hide them at his father's house.

And, John Salki, who worked for the Polish underground, also hid members of Mayna's and Meyer's families. Salki's son, who was 13, at the risk of death warned Jewish families of planned Nazi deportations.

When she was liberated by Russians from a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia in March 1945, Manya, 20, had 65-pounds on her 5-foot-1-inch body.

Meyer and some friends had escaped from a death march from their Dachau subcamp. A young German farmer discovered them sleeping in his barn April 19, 1945. The farmer provided them food, but said they would have to leave because he and his family would be killed for harboring Jews.

"The next morning they were awoken by rumbling sounds," Korenbilt said. "Coming down the road were trucks and jeeps with American flags on them. My dad and his four buddies were liberated by the American forces."

Meyer, then 19, weighed 78 pounds.

"My dad has a very special place in his heart for the U.S. military and what they did," he said.

The story of Manya and Meyer is the story of three miracles, Korenbilt said.

"One, the fact that they even survived in the first place. The second, they found each other after the war and got reunited," he said.

The third miracle happened 39 years later when through his research, Korenblit found Manya's brother alive. During her internment Manya had heard he had been killed at Auschwitz.

Sooner sponsors

After the war Manya and Meyer lived in Germany, but after four and a half years, his mother wanted to move, Korenblit said. There was a visa process, but Meyer said why bother? The process took years for approval.

She persuaded her husband to let her apply for visas. At the interview at the American consulate in Munich, the questions were translated to Manya. She answered every one of the interviewer's questions with "yes," not totally understanding everything, Korenblit said.

One of the questions was would you be willing to go a southern route, and not through Ellis Island, N.Y., for immigration to the United States?

Within three months, they were on a ship to America. After 270 refugees were dropped off in Venezuela, the ship steamed to New Orleans.

There was a shortage of sponsoring Jewish families in New Orleans, but the Jewish community in Ponca City, Okla., offered to sponsor them. His parents arrived in Ponca City in April 1950. Manya lived there the rest of her life, and up until recently, Meyer, now 88, was there, too.

Col. Brian Dunn, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill chief of staff, thanked Korenblit and presented him with a gift.

In his remarks, Dunn quoted Edmond Burke: "All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing."

Dunn added: "The individuals in this room stand for an element of society that does not sit back and let evil prevail."

Editor's note: Korenblit has chronicled his parents' story in his book "Until We Meet Again: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Holocaust."