Friday, May 06, 2016

TOP STORY >> Holocaust ceremony on LRAFB

Leader executive editor

A group of eighth graders from the Flightline Academy on Little Rock Air Force Base entered the Walters Community Center auditorium on Thursday morning for a Holocaust Remembrance Day service.

Dozens of airmen attended the ceremony at the base, hosted by Col. Charles E. Brown Jr., commander of the 19th Airlift Wing. The memorial service was held simultaneously with a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Emancipation Hall at the Capitol in Washington.

The ceremony here included a nine-minute video called “Why We Remember the Holocaust” produced by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where my brother Steve directs the emerging young scholars program.

Col. Brown had asked me to talk about how my parents survived the Holocaust thanks to heroic efforts of the U.S. military and its allies. The memorial service was held on the 71st anniversary of my late father’s liberation from captivity. It was on May 5, 1945, that the U.S. Army’s 71st Infantry Division freed my father, Ferenc, at the Mauthausen-Gunskirchen concentration camp in Austria. Soldiers wept when they discovered thousand of corpses all around the camps.

I wanted to address the youngsters who were sitting in the back of the auditorium. I told them my mother, Ilona, and her family were put in cattle cars in northeast Hungary and taken to Auschwitz 200 miles away in Poland, traveling two days and two nights in May 1944 with a little water and no food.

My father was in a forced labor battalion in Austria, but his parents, grandmother and siblings were also pushed into cattle cars and sent to Auschwitz.

Only my parents survived from their families as more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews perished in Auschwitz in the summer of 1944. My parents married after the war. My mother was a teenaged survivor, while my father was 22.

My mother, who is 90, lit a memorial candle this week in Miami. My mother used to tell me about U.S. planes bombing Frankfurt, Germany, where she was held captive in late 1944. “Nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force,” I said at the ceremony.

She had been taken from Auschwitz, where young Anne Frank and her sister Margot were also prisoners.

As the Germans retreated, they kept taking the surviving prisoners with them. After Frankfurt, my mother went to camps in Ravensbruck and Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany. Anne and Margot were sent to Belsen about the same time my mother was there.

The sisters died probably in February 1945, just weeks before my mother was liberated by British troops April 15, 1945.

A moving candlelighting ceremony followed my talk. Six airmen lit candles to honor the 6 million victims of the Holocaust. Like my parents, 300,000 other Jews survived the camps. Some 1.5 million other Jews in Europe also survived the war before the Nazis could murder them all.

I told the group that I wanted to bring them a message of hope. I ran out of time before I could tell the youngsters in the back that my family survived not only the Nazis but also communism and found a home here in America.

I should have told them, too, about the Jewish American generals leading our Air Force. Retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, who was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, was Air Force chief of staff from 2008-2012, and Gen. David Goldfein has been nominated as the next Air Force chief of staff.

My mother will think of them both when she lights her Sabbath candles..