Members of Team Hill and the local Jewish community convened at the Hill Air Force Base Chapel Annex April 14 to memorialize the millions of Holocaust victims and pay tribute to the U.S. and Allied soldiers who helped defeat Nazi Germany and liberate the Holocaust survivors more than 65 years ago.
The inaugural Days of Remembrance event at Hill AFB was held in the middle of the week designated by U.S. Congress as the nation's annual commemoration of the Holocaust, called Days of Remembrance. This year the Days of Remembrance were nationally recognized April 11-18. These dates coincide with the date of April 12, 1951, when Israel's parliament proclaimed Holocaust and Ghetto Revolt Remembrance Day to be on this day. Currently, the United States officially commemorates the Holocaust during Days of Remembrance, which falls during April or May, corresponding with the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, which marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943.
In accordance with its congressional mandate from 1982, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is responsible for leading the nation in commemorating the Days of Remembrance, and for selecting the annual themes.
This year's Days of Remembrance theme, "Stories of Freedom: What you do matters," served as a reminder for citizens to proactively protect democratic ideals.
"We remember in order to make a change to ensure that something like this doesn't happen again," said the event's guest speaker, Eileen Hallet Stone, an oral historian and author who also writes a monthly Living History column for a Salt Lake newspaper.
"We need to teach how this happened and when it happened," said Stone. "As for the 'why,' there is still no answer for that, but every year we must teach diversity, tolerance and acceptance. It is important to teach these things to kids and to other people. Otherwise, it could happen again."
However, as noted in the video, "Why We Remember," produced by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and displayed during the April 14 event, genocide continues to plague countries such as Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. The past and current threats of genocide inspired many to join the U.S. military and proactively deter these threats, including 2nd Lt. Jason M. Holzman, who currently serves in Hill's 416th Supply Chain Management Squadron.
"I joined the military for many different reasons, but one of them being that the uniform represents freedom and everything America represents," said Holzman. "That is everything that is against what the Holocaust represented. (Today's) event brings up not just what happened 70 years ago, but also what is still happening today."
Chaplain (Capt.) William T. Brown, a Protestant chaplain with the 75th Air Base Wing, organized the Days of Remembrance event with the Team Hill Holocaust Remembrance Committee to aid the freedoms represented by the U.S. military uniform. "It is my duty (as a U.S. Air Force chaplain) to facilitate the free exercise of religion among U.S. military personnel."
Brown added that spreading the message of the April 14 event is also an opportunity for Team Hill to "look in the mirror and become better citizens."
"It helps us to reflect on our attitudes and the future, and to know that what I do matters and it matters to our leadership, also," he said.
During her recollection of first-hand accounts of survivors Stone interviewed while compiling her book, "A Homeland in the West: Utah Jews Remember," Stone noted that many Jews survived the Holocaust due to efforts made by non-Jewish citizens. Although many survivors never knew the names of their saviors who provided them food, shelter and escape at the threat of death, Stone noted their efforts were not in vain.
Alex Shapiro, who serves as vice president and board member of the I.J. and Jeanne Wagner Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City, attended the event and emphasized the urgency of maintaining the memory of the Holocaust atrocities. "We are coming near the end of the line of the (Holocaust) witnesses. We need the next generation to continue this message."
Shapiro's father, Joel, served as a U.S. soldier during World War II and saw the concentration camps firsthand. His accounts are also featured in Stone's book.
In the concluding remarks of the event, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Kenneth Crooks, 75th ABW chaplain, reiterated, "The scripture exhorts us to remember. It is important to remember; if we don't history will keep repeating itself."