Days of Remembrance
SPEAKER REMARKS – CAPT NEIL BLOCK, USN, RET
National Infantry Museum, Fort Benning, Georgia
8 April 2013
Thank you for the special honor and privilege of being invited to be your guest speaker at this solemn and important event, Days of Remembrance, to recall what we know of one of the darkest times in history, the HOLOCAUST.
Why are we here today?
We are here today to be reminded of, to remember, and to revisit one of the most horrific man-made human catastrophes in all of recorded history. We are here to focus on, and understand it and its consequences, and what we are obligated to learn from it. For if we do not, our humanity driven resolve to ensure that it NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN—anywhere, at any time, to anyone—may be diminished. We study this singular historical event to remind ourselves of its horror so that we are not DOOMED TO REPEAT IT.
What is/was the HOLOCAUST? First, let’s be reminded what it is NOT. It was NOT a mere awful blip in a world history full of brutality and inhumanity. It was NOT a routine UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE OF WAR. It was NOT just war time COLLATERAL DAMAGE. Nor was it, or is it merely and generally, a reference to war and the inevitable horrors of war. And, it is NOT just the description of a tragedy of great magnitude.
Then if it was NOT all that, what was or is THE HOLOCAUST?
The HOLOCAUST was the state sanctioned and governmentally sponsored, public policy, bureaucratically managed, and systematically carried out program of a national government – the government of Nazi Germany--a program to exterminate every single Jew everywhere – men, women and children. It was a plan
unique to history – the elimination of an entire race of people, a four thousand year old civilization, a civilization which pre-dates the Iron Age, only because of who they were. There was no consideration for economic or resource benefit of their enslavement or captivity as was the general case in historical warfare for conquered peoples or enemies. It was merely the enthusiastic, unopposed, relentless implementation of a policy which we have come to know as GENOCIDE, or more lately as ETHNIC CLEANSING. In fact, in this program of the German Third Reich, the 1000 year empire, to be of ridding the world of Jews, what they euphemistically called the FINAL SOLUTION, much needed war effort resources (rail transport, manpower, and funds) were diverted to support this blind obsession.
The result of this industrially managed and enthusiastically nationally supported extermination resulted in the ultimate slaughter of more than 6 million Jews throughout what are now 35 separate countries in Europe--almost half of that entire world-wide Jewish population of the time. In Poland, whose population was almost 1/3 Jewish, 90% of the Jews, or 3,000,000 were killed—along with 2,000,000 Slavic Poles, whom the Master Race considered inferior human beings as well. In Latvia, Lithuania and Czechoslovakia 90% of the Jewish population was eliminated. In Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Bohemia, the Netherlands it was 75%. In Belgium, Rumania, Luxembourg, Norway, and Estonia, 50%. In France and Italy, it was 30%. Denmark was the only country in war-torn Europe which made a national, positive and coordinated effort to save its Jews by secretly sending them by boat to neutral Sweden. During the Nazi occupation of his country, the king of Denmark courageously wore a yellow Star of David on his clothing, as was the mandate by the Germans for all Jews so as to make it easier for them to recognize their quarry.
And, by the way, there was the ancillary elimination of more than 10 million more other “non-Jewish racially inferiors or undesirables” as well. Included among
that group were: Freemasons, Socialists, Communists, Trade Unionists, Black and Asian Germans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Homosexuals, Gypsies, and the mentally or physically Handicapped.
Please note, these mind-numbing figures do not include the additional tens of millions who were direct casualties of war.
In this industrially managed extermination, when clubbing and shooting and starvation and mass live burials just didn’t do the job fast enough, or efficiently
enough, modern science of the day created gas chambers and crematory ovens. And when the killing production of these modern marvels was only able to eliminate 4,000 persons a day, LTCOL Adolph Eichmann of the German SS, the man in charge of the FINAL SOLUTION, traveled to the infamous concentration camp of Auschwitz to fine tune the operation and managed to get that number up to 12,000 per day. So the killing and cremating of only 200 souls per hour was increased to 600 per hour. One human being went from being gathered up, undressed, herded into a gas chamber, asphyxiated, his or her body removed and placed into a crematory oven, burned and sent up the chimney in smoke every six seconds.
And once a complacent world finally had the courage to realize that no one anywhere on earth would or could be safe from this scourge, and it finally mustered upthe collective gumption to confront it and accept that to pretend that as long as it took place in someone else’s backyard it was okay, it took another five years and another 30 to 40 million more people to die—soldiers and civilians—to stem the tidal wave of this brutal, irrational, destructive Nazi philosophy and beat it back into submission.
How did we get to this horror? How did this unimaginable bestiality arise in a 20th century world of science, technology, sophistication, and intellect? How did
humankind go in that mere 100 year period from travel on foot and on horse back, from communications by smoke signals, yodels and ink on paper to trains, planes, rockets, electricity, instantaneous communications by airwaves to organized and meticulously thought out mass murder of a very piece of itself?
It happened because history was forgotten. It happened because people who should have known better merely stood by idle and let tyranny and despotism ignite fires in their backyards which became conflagrations leaping into the front yards of the complacent world community who didn’t bother or consider to put out the initial flames. It happened because people were quiet and pretended that while it was happening to others, it couldn’t possibly happen to them.
In the early 1930's when Adolph Hitler was rattling his saber in eastern Europe, Neville Chamberlain, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain traveled to Munich to meet with Hitler. There Chamberlain bartered away what was then the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia which Hitler insisted on annexing. When Chamberlain arrived back in England he proclaimed that he had achieved “peace in our time.” Seven years later Britain was fighting for its life and continued existence against that same bully to whom it earlier caved. Had it not been for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which finally forced the United States to realize the folly of our own “head in the sand” view of the world situation in Europe and Asia, Britain would probably not have survived as it did. So we too, America, declared war and entered the raging inferno. Until that time we too took the view that “whatever was not happening in our own backyards wasn’t happening, and so was none of our business.” Our vast and remote national backyard, separated from the rest of the world by two huge oceans, had suddenly become another enclave close- by to the conflagrations raging overseas. It then took 4 more years of fierce fighting across Europe and North Africa and into western Asia and the millions of lost lives to end the barbarity of the Nazi menace.
When The Reverend Martin Niemoller, a German Christian, one of the few clergy that stood up and spoke out against the Nazis and survived was finally released from seven years in a concentration camp, he wrote:
As the combined forces of the Russian and Allied armies began to squeeze the Germans back into Germany in late 1944 and early 1945, the grisly horror of the
German extermination machine was uncovered for international public view. General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, wrote a letter to his Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, in which he told of being physically sick upon entering a concentration camp near the town of Gotha and seeing piles of bodies—dead and almost-dead—just lying on the ground. General Patton wouldn’t even enter the camp, he was so repulsed by the horror, the cruelty and the bestiality. General Eisenhower later stated that despite his being so overwhelmed by what he encountered that he forced himself to inspect every nook and cranny of the camp so that he could personally bear witness and testify first-hand to what he had seen so he could give lie to what many had convinced themselves was just “anti-Nazi propaganda.”
When General Terry Allen’s troops liberated the concentration camp at Nordhausen and saw the horrific circumstances of the barely surviving inmates, he
ordered his fighting troops to lay down their weapons, to stop pursuing the fleeing Germans, and stay “to save human lives.” For almost a solid week all his troopsbecame medics. Only after the living were helped as best they could be, and the dead buried, and the camp bulldozed, did his liberating units pick back up their weapons and continue their drive to the Elbe River.
One of those liberators wrote that within 3 miles of the camp there was a stench so overpowering that it would make the advancing troops nauseous. And when they finally got to the camp they discovered that the stench was the smell of rotting and decomposing naked human remains merely laying around in stacks several feet high, like cord wood. Yet, when the local townspeople were asked how they could permit such inhuman barbarity they said they had no idea of what was happening and were merely people who minded their own business. Indeed!!
The descriptions of what concentration camp liberators saw was beyond civilized belief. One can only imagine the experience of those fortunate few who actually lived to tell about it, and the horrors of those who did not.
The bestiality was not merely limited to just killing either. There were bizarre medical experiments conducted on camp inmates. Experiments like immersing people in freezing water to see how long they would live. Experiments with surgeries and amputations without anesthesia. Experiments on fetuses in wombs. Experiments with twins, using one as a control while the other was the subject. Experiments with electricity, ingested poisons. Experiments too horrible to try to describe. All of this horror and barbarity, governmentally sanctioned and carried out, and benignly overlooked by so many people watching it unfold. But, are we less immune today than we were 75 years ago to being benignly passive to indiscriminate slaughter? What about the rampant “ethnic cleansing” in what was once Yugoslavia where only just a few years ago Serbs were killing Muslims, and Croats were killing Serbs and vice versa? Does that count? Does anybody here recall a town called Szrebenica where every one of the men and boys were summarily killed and buried in mass graves which are still being uncovered? (We still have troops stationed there as part of a very belated and begrudging UN mandate to do something more than just stand by and watch while uselessly wringing hands.)
And what about the even greater and generally less visible catastrophe of similar “ethnic cleansing” in Africa, where in a mere 3 month period 1 ½ million Tutsis were killed, burned, mutilated by Hutu tribesmen in Rwanda, and where in the town of Butare 65,000 people were killed in a single day between 1000 and 1500 hours. (Because it didn’t make headline nightly news on TV, did it not happen? “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it, does it still make a sound?”) Nobody came to their aid. Nobody cried out until it was again too late to do anything about the vicious slaughter and indiscriminate maiming with a brutality which included cutting off of limbs, lips, breasts, ears, noses with machete. Only after the fact did the then UN Secretary General, Kofi Anon, make a public statement to the effect that “maybe the UN should not have merely stood by and watched the annihilation play out.”
However, that apparently has not stopped the repeated inert inaction again of the UN and the rest of the world as it blithely stood by and watched the same scenario play out a mere decade ago in the Darfur region of the Sudan where Arab Muslim militias targeted Black Christians and Animists and annihilated more than a half million people while driving almost that many more into refugee camps in the Chad. And, as we sit here today, what about the collision by sword and suicide bomb taking place throughout the world perpetrated by Muslim religious fundamentalists whose philosophy does not permit viewpoints other than their own as they unite worldwide to target for annihilation non-Muslims—Jews, Christians, and others—and sometimes each other as Sunni confronts Shia and Shia faces off against Sufi and vice versa? Do we merely stand by and watch the fires down the street consume all in its path until it gets to our house, or the house of our relatives, or friends, or battle buddies? What have we learned from the Holocaust and the consequences of its evil philosophy? Aren’t we all God’s children under our skin—despite the color or hue of that skin, or behind all the labels that skin might bear?
So, ladies and gentlemen, as I first began my remarks, I remind you, “if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.” Let us learn from history. Let usnot relive its barbarity from generation to generation, like a macabre game of musical chairs, waiting and watching to see which is to be the last race, or ethnic group, or culture, or religion or even state to remain standing while others are eliminated, annihilated, disappeared-- the experience of the Jewish people during the HOLOCAUST. Let’s not continue the mentality which reduces to bloody conflict and oppression and horror pitting white skins against black skins, black skins against white skins, my religion against your religion, or your religion against my religion, or even your cultural or philosophic ideology against mine. For we here in this United States of America, which is the noblest national undertaking, anywhere, at any time--a social idea which has acculturated and integrated so many vastly different ethnicities, religions, cultures, ideologies into that unique human being called “an American”, the challenge for us all to be brothers and sisters and to get along together and function as one despite those differences of race, religion, ethnicity or any of the other labels placed on our special American humanity is even greater than for most others. For it is you who will ultimately have to be the front line in the ensuing conflicts which inevitably will arise as a result of us not being able to “overcome.”
Let us all pledge to remember, and live in our hearts and actions and resolve that we won’t let genocide, ethnic cleansing, racial purification, religious idelogical
differences ever create again in our world another HOLOCAUST.
“NEVER AGAIN.” “NEVER AGAIN.”
Thank you. God bless you, one and all, from a grateful America, and this grateful American. God Bless America!!!!
"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the labor leaders, and I did not speak out because I was not a labor leader. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”