By Wallace McBride, LeaderApril 26, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Time doesn't heal all wounds, especially those resulting from the slaughter of millions that took place during the Holocaust almost seven decades ago.
But the holocaust isn't merely a lesson in pain and suffering. It was also a time of great heroism, and Fort Jackson decided to honor the stories of its survivors and saviors in its Days of Remembrance ceremonies last week.
"Every genocide also has its rescuers," said Carol Apt, sociology professor at South Carolina State University, who was the guest speaker for a Days of Remembrance event Sunday at The Joe E. Mann Center. "Some survive because they were rescued, and we observe the Days of Remembrance in order to remember and honor those who risked their lives to stand up against injustice. Some did so out of opposition to Nazi ideology, others did so out of pure human compassion."
Not all of the rescues that took place during the Holocaust were of people. Rabbi Jonathan Case, guest speaker for the Days of Remembrance ceremony at the Soldier Support Institute, described a discovery he made within a Torah scroll during his days at a synagogue in Massachusetts. Case said the Nazis took great pains to preserve Jewish artifacts for a museum that would darkly commemorate the mass murders that took place, and this campaign is one of the reasons that many Jewish artifacts survived the war. He was able to get one of these scrolls from a Czechoslovakian collection to display for his congregation, and to use in ritual services.
"I discovered marks on it, bloodstains," Case said. "I began to wonder what had happened to the individual that had been holding this Torah scroll to his chest, trying to protect it from the infidels who wanted to destroy him, and every last vestige of everything that belonged to the Jewish community."
He said it was "a rescue, not of a human being, but of an artifact."
Apt said the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon hid 5,000 Jews and smuggled many of them across the border into Switzerland.
"When one former resident of that village was (later) being lauded as a hero, he simply said 'We did what had to be done,'" she said. "Anyone can be a rescuer. You don't have to be rich, you don't have to be powerful, you don't have to be well connected. All you have to do is care."
The words, "holocaust," and, "genocide," were created to describe what happened under Nazi rule.
"There was no word to match the horrors of what occurred just a little but more than half a century ago," Case said. "The word did not exist in the English vocabulary. There was not a word to encapsulate death camps, vivisections on human beings, people treated like cattle and branded, operated on while they were still alive and cognizant and able to see the effects of various experiments on their bodies would yield."
"The term, 'genocide' did not exist before 1944," said Apt, whose father was a refugee from Nazi Germany. "It was coined by a Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, who was trying to describe the Nazi policies of murder in one word."
Another goal of Days of Remembrance is to try and make sense of the people who perpetrated the Holocaust, a goal that is sometimes misunderstood. Ultimately, it might even be an impossible task, Apt said.
"Let me say that to 'understand' is not to 'excuse,'" she said. "We're trying to understand why it is that seemingly ordinary, otherwise rational and sane Germans would choose to participate in such horrific atrocities against their fellow human beings."
Both speakers shared stories of survivors during the events, discussing at length not just the physical dangers, but the emotional and philosophical risks, as well. Case spoke about a man who struggled with the decision to save his own son from certain death, a decision that would have condemned another to take his place. Even today, 67 years later, the man's dilemma has no clear solution, he said.
"The obsession must remain an obsession for us all, because when we cease to tell the stories, the dead have lost their reason for having died," Case said. "As you heard the stories... you can understandwhy we would want to remember this," said Col. John Cooper, deputy commanding officer of SSI. "Not necessarily because we want to celebrate it, but we want to remember those acts that tyrants have done in the past, and things we don't want to forget in our history."