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May 11, 2012


Speaker: Servicemembers can help prevent another Holocaust

By Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff

Servicemembers play an important role to help ensure the world never faces another situation like the Holocaust, said Rabbi Joshua Ben-Gideon.
PHOTO: Rabbi Joshua Ben-Gideon (standing) speaks to a Fort McCoy audience during the installation’s observance of Holocaust: Days of Remembrance. Photo by Allan Harding
Rabbi Joshua Ben-Gideon (standing) speaks to a Fort McCoy audience during the installation’s observance of Holocaust: Days of Remembrance. Ben-Gideon spoke about the military’s role in preventing another Holocaust event and how remembering history is important to the military and to the Jewish faith. (Photo by Allan Harding)

Ben-Gideon, the guest speaker for Fort McCoy’s observance of the Holocaust: Days of Remembrance and the rabbi of the Beth Israel Center in Madison, Wis., told the audience it was his honor to speak at Fort McCoy and said he appreciated everything the military does on a daily basis to protect Americans and guarantee their freedoms. As the military does, members of the Jewish faith honor their followers, study and learn from their history, he said.

As long as there are people who are survivors of the Holocaust the event will be one of remembrance, not a memorial. Ben-Gideon said the Holocaust was an event where 6.5 million Jews, including about 1 million children — about half the existing Jews in the world — died or were murdered suddenly, although the buildup to the situation occurred over a period of several years.

“The hope is that when we are faced with this situation — a Holocaust — again, we will be ready to stand up and create a barrier against people who want to do these things,” he said.

The current survivors often tend to be youth from that time, as a vast majority of the original adult survivors of the Holocaust probably have died as have many of the World War II veterans, he said. Ben-Gideon said several members of his synagogue’s congregation are Holocaust survivors and will speak about their experiences if asked or requested.

In the 1946 book “Man Searches for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, the author describes life in Nazi concentration camps and the lessons for spiritual survival, he said. The book talks about what camp inmates had to do to survive. For example, inmates could earn special treatment or premiums, such as cigarettes, for completing a task, Ben-Gideon said. These cigarettes became very valuable to buy favors from camp personnel.

“It tells a lot about the dehumanizing effects of the Holocaust that their lives were measured out in cigarettes,” he said. “People had to do many dehumanizing things to live. Once they lost the will to live they seldom returned.”

Yet, as time becomes further removed from the Holocaust era, people’s views change, he said in response to a question from the audience. Twenty years ago Jewish people wouldn’t buy things from Germany, but Ben-Gideon said today many Jews, including himself, would not think twice about driving a Volkswagen, for example.

Germans did much to repent and to try to make amends for the Holocaust, including becoming a big supporter of Israel, he said.

Garrison Deputy Commander Col. Rob Humphrey said Ben-Gideon’s talk reaffirmed the need to teach and share history with the next generation.

Military personnel and people in general also need to resolve to remain a nation that will stand in the way of future events, such as the Holocaust, Humphrey said.

Master Sgt. Claudia Simpson, Fort McCoy Equal Opportunity adviser, said the purpose of the event is to reflect and resolve to never have another event similar to the Holocaust occur.

Garrison Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Allen Raub said in his invocation that it was difficult to see how society could sink to such depths of evil, immorality and degradation.

The Lord’s holy word advises people to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, for the rights of those who are destitute to be judged fairly and for the rights of the needy and the poor. Americans and servicemembers should rise up to be a nation that defends and protects the helpless and speaks for all those who have no voice, he said.

The Fort McCoy community will observe Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in May. For more information about ethnic observance events in the Fort McCoy community, call 608-388-3246.

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