The Department of Defense poster “Beyond Religious Boundaries” displayed last week for Fort Carson’s Days of Remembrance told a subtle but powerful story. The simple blue and white vertical-striped background, ragged in places, mimicked the uniforms worn by millions of Holocaust prisoners.
Less subtle were the emotionally wrenching photos and stories of those murdered in the Nazi camps during World War II.
The Days of Remembrance event, an annual push to remember the Holocaust, follows a congressionally backed national commemoration, which ends Sunday.
Some soldiers and guests at the Fort Carson event were teary-eyed as stories kept by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum unfolded: how elderly women and children were shot to death near Kiev; how Simcha Perlmutter, a philosophy professor with two daughters perished with 30,000 other prisoners at Dachau; how Chaim Frenkiel, 14, who survived his ordeal at a labor camp, saw five boys killed searching for food in garbage.
Even the voice of guest speaker Todd Hennessy, director of the Colorado Holocaust Educators, who has spoken at such events for 25 years, had a poignant edge during his presentation.
Hennessy has visited Nazi camp sites and museums on numerous occasions, the first time with a high school hockey team he coached.
But on a trip in November to the Paris Holocaust museum, a new display sent “cold chills” down his spine. It was a machine that the Nazis used to crush the bones of victims into powder.
“Even in death, the Nazis wanted to make sure nothing was left,” Hennessey told the crowd.
Hennessy, a Centennial firefighter, is a former history teacher. He began Holocaust research after a parent challenged him to prove the Holocaust was real. His work led to a fellowship at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2000. Since then, he has presented workshops worldwide. Last week, he emphasized the role played by soldiers including those from Fort Carson’s 4th Infantry Division, who liberated concentration camps
At the first camp freed on April 4, 1945, at Ohrdruf, Germany, soldiers were confronted with hundreds of ghostlike survivors, 3,000 dead prisoners with some “stacked like wood,” and torture tools used to smash teeth and retrieve gold fillings. Gens. Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton and Omar Bradley arrived there few days later. Eisenhower, who led all Allied forces in Europe and later became president, wrote about that day: “The things I saw beggar description . . . the visual evidence and verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick.”
At least 6 million Jews were exterminated in the camps and elsewhere between 1933 and 1945. Millions of others were also killed by Nazis for racial, ethnic and other reasons, from Jehovah’s Witnesses to journalists.
Hennessy and Fort Carson officers who spoke warned that anti-Semitism remains alongside similar forms of hate. “It’s important to remember that anyone today can be a victim, and we have to be our brother’s keepers,” Hennessey said.
Col. Lawrence Ferguson, commander of Fort Carson’s 10th Special Forces Group, told the audience: “I was raised in the South and am not convinced that we are not that far away from the past.”
He pointed to the large-scale slaughter of civilians and others by Islamic State terrorists. “We have to take all this seriously and remain vigilant, and be ready to face the threats. The seeds are out there.”
At the conclusion of the program, 11 soldiers read short biographies of victims who perished or endured. Each soldier lit a memorial candle, stood at attention and called out: “You are remembered.”