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Commentary - Holocaust Days of Remembrance

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --

Millions of people around the world have died as victims of the Holocaust or other genocides. When I hear the word “Holocaust” images of torture and death come to mind; I think of the concentration camps, camps where human beings were warehoused like cattle and treated like garbage. When I think of the word “Holocaust,” I think of the inhumanity that one group of people chose to enact against another group of people. For me, the word Holocaust has political meaning while genocide has religious meaning. Countless families have been affected, victimized or destroyed all in the name of political or religious differences.

There is another image I have when I hear of tragedies like mentioned before.  That image is of bravery and courage.  While stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, I visited historical sites and cities all over Europe, but I also made it a point to visit historical sites related to the Holocaust and World War II. I visited the Dachau concentration camp near Munich, Germany and I also visited the Anne Frank and the Ten Boom Museums in Amsterdam.  Each of these sites told the story of tragedy and courage.  Each story of courage reminded me that there will always be those who stand up against tyranny and the torture and annihilation of the innocent.

One story that comes to mind is the story of Irena Sendler.  Irena was a social worker living in Poland when the Nazi’s invaded.  She knew that the Nazi’s were rounding up Jews into a walled-in ghetto in preparation to murder them.  She was able to obtain nursing credentials and sneak food and medicine into the ghetto.  More importantly she was able to smuggle 2500 children out of the ghetto and place them in “Christian Orphanages” where they received new identities and were spared execution.

Another story that comes to mind is of John Rabe, a German businessman, living in Nanking, China.  He set up “safe zones” as sanctuaries for the Chinese. The Japanese respected the safe zones because he was officially a member of the Nazi political party and an ally to Japan at that time.  His actions protected 200,000 to 250,000 Chinese from being killed by Japanese soldiers. 

Unfortunately, Holocaust and genocide-like tragedies exist even today. As we take time this week to remember the Holocaust from World War II and other genocides that litter the history of mankind, let us take a moment to reflect on the actions of those who were courageous enough to take a stand.  May we have the courage to stand up against tyranny, persecution in any of its forms, and may we have the courage today to relieve the suffering of those who are victims and survivors of their own genocide.