Some claim the Holocaust never happened. Some schools have deleted it from their curricula. But Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, this week warned the world to learn from history and prevent another Holocaust. Even Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, referred to the Nazi genocide as “the most heinous crime” of modern history.
Six million Jews, including children, were murdered during the Nazi quest for world domination and nearly six million Christians — including clergy, civilians, gays and blacks, the handicapped, the mentally ill plus captured U.S. and Allied soldiers, were also killed.
On Tuesday, area residents had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to hear Holocaust stories directly from eye-witnesses to this history. Thunder roared outside St. Timothy’s Catholic Church as four World War II U.S. Army liberators began to speak at the Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance event sponsored by Temple Shalom.
The unique slate of speakers, in their 80s and 90s, spoke of horrific events some seventy years ago with remarkable clarity. After thanking Father Ed for St. Timothy’s church as venue, Rev. Drew Willard of the United Church of Christ gave the invocation and Temple Shalom’s spiritual leader, Sheldon Skurow prayed. U.S. Air Force veteran Gene Sweeney, co-founder of the Liberator Foundation Todah Menorah Memorial, introduced the key speakers. For a fifth liberator in attendance, Villager Bob Linker, Holocaust memories were all too vivid, and he did not address to the crowd.
First Sergeant Jim Bishop, with the 579th Signal Company, helped to liberate Dachau, a labor camp in Bavaria. “I had seen more than my share of dead bodies,” Jim said, recalling his previous battle experiences, “but seeing the camp was the worst experience of my life.” He shares his story at schools and organizations and finds it shocking how many young people never heard of Adolf Hitler or the Holocaust.
Village of Santiago resident, Irving Locker, a Staff Sergeant with the 116th AAA Gun Battalion Anti-Aircraft Tank Artillery, was at the site of the Gardelegen massacre, where more than 1,000 Jews, POWs and political prisoners were burned alive by the Nazis. As a Jew, Locker wondered in horror how God could have possibly let these atrocities happen while most of the world looked the other way in fear.
Crystal River resident, 101st Airborne Division Sergeant 1st Class Patrick S. Macri, was at a Landsberg prison camp near Munich. He still recalls the smell of burning flesh and wonders how men could have been so inhumane to other humans.
Pfc. Bill ‘Skip’ Whipp, a Village of Country Club Hills resident who served in the 22nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Army and 4th Infantry Division, was also one of the Dachau camp liberators. He spoke about people so emaciated, he described them as skeletons. “They had suffered so much,” Skip said, “they didn’t believe the U.S. Army was there to liberate them.” The GI’s shared cigarettes and chocolate with the victims, who shared vodka they had made from potatoes and hidden. Skip came home from the war on July 11, 1945 and celebrated his 19th birthday.
Holocaust committee co-chairs, Phyllis Kalter and Kathy Schachter, gave flowers to several Holocaust survivors present, and Bob Gold, of Temple Shalom, presented certificates representing memorial bricks, which will be placed in honor of the five liberators at Veterans’ Memorial Park in The Villages.
Let us not become indifferent to the suffering of others. In some small way, everyone can make a difference. Spanish-born American philosopher, George Santayana, wrote: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”