The Fort Huachuca annual Days of Remembrance Holocaust Observance has been a unique gathering of survivors, local dignitaries, U.S. military members and their families, and German Army officers for 15 years. The event educates about the past and protects the future, but also promotes face-to-face healing. On April 9, the 305th Military Intelligence Battalion, on behalf of installation commander Maj. Gen. Robert P. Walters, Jr., unveiled a plaque honoring Southern Arizona’s Holocaust survivors. It bears inscriptions thanking survivors for their dedication and commitment to the soldiers of the fort, and a quote from Elie Wiesel: “For the dead AND the living, we must bear witness.”
The five local survivors in attendance were visibly moved when they saw the permanent metal marker depicting a candle surrounded by a blue Star of David, unveiled by Lt. Col. Julie Kellum.
“I didn’t expect this after so many years,” said Wanda Wolosky, a survivor attending from Green Valley. “It’s a really terrific gesture that the military appreciates us so much that they put a monument there,” Wolosky told the AJP, referring to the Military Intelligence Soldier Heritage Walkway, where the plaque — the only civilian recognition on the path — is located.
Gail Wallen, Ph.D., a chaplain and the civilian volunteer founder and director of the military Holocaust educational program, said the Fort Huachuca program was the catalyst that spread similar programs to Army and Navy installations across the southern region since 2003 —principally in Texas and Florida. “The military has been generous,” said Wallen, “and the survivors love the U.S. military. Many were rescued by them.”
Col. Elmar L. Henschen, the German Army liaison posted to Fort Huachuca, hosted a reception after the formal ceremony and unveiling. He recounted his personal emotions in facing survivors while wearing a German military uniform. “In Germany we are educated about our own history. But facing survivors here, we are affected in a different way. I hear their stories, and think those things were done by my grandfather and great-grandfather. It is a moral injury you feel more here.
“When a survivor sees a German uniform, I can only imagine how they feel,” he said, noting the first woman he faced said she knew he wasn’t guilty, but neither were the family members she had lost. He called it a unique healing opportunity to look to the present to understand the past and prevent it from happening again in the future.
Henschen credits his predecessor with extending the unique, mutual healing exchange, in collaboration with the U.S. military and Wallen. He invites survivors to meet German soldiers across U.S. installations where they are stationed for training. Henschen will personally drive those survivors to El Paso, Texas, to meet soldiers for healing conversation and contact.
Along with Wolosky, Theresa Dulgov, Annique Dveirin, Wolfgang Hellpap and Pawel Lichter spent the morning at different locations across the fort, sharing their personal Holocaust survival stories with groups of soldiers. Afterward, more than 250 military, civilians and family packed Fitch Auditorium at Alvarado Hall, with standing room only, for “Learning From the Holocaust: Legacy of Perseverance.” Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller presented the city’s Holocaust Observance Proclamation, giving each attending survivor a symbolic copy. German military chaplain Rudiger Scholz, who lived seven years in Israel, read the poem “First They Came for the Jews” by Martin Niemoller. Master of ceremonies Sgt. Joshua Levy recited the Mourner’s Kaddish in Hebrew.
Keynote speaker Gil Ribak, Ph.D., a University of Arizona assistant professor, focused on the poet Avrom Sutzkever, a survivor of the Vilna Ghetto, “to show the history of just one individual to help understand the Holocaust, and to
exemplify the human will to survive and endure.” Wallen and Scholz read a list of concentration and extermination camps in Europe and the totals murdered at each one.
Each survivor was accompanied by a U.S. military escort and a member of the youngest generation. Each trio lit one of six candles representing the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. A seventh candle represented the five million non-Jews killed in the Holocaust; an eighth for the “Righteous Gentiles” who risked their lives to save Jews; and a ninth for the Allied liberators. Master of ceremonies Levy remarked on the importance of including three generations in the candle lighting — “survivors, our soldiers and our soldiers’ children — making sure the past is not forgotten.”
Audience member Master Sgt. Jeff Lane told the AJP, “I attend many events here but this one means a lot on this day.” Kellum closed, saying, “We must never forget. When something is wrong, we must make it right, l’dor v’dor [from generation to generation]. Remember the value of human life.”
Editor’s note: this article has been updated to reflect that Avrom Sutzkever was a survivor of the Vilna Ghetto, not the Warsaw Ghetto.