Story by Pvt. Crystal D. Eldridge
Photo by Pfc. Fabian Ortega
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office
The darkness of the theater reflected the tragedy of days so long ago - a time when race and religion determined the so-called worth of a man. The U.S. had fought its own war in an effort to find true equality among nations. Yet halfway around the globe, a new war was waged, a war that destroyed the lives of human beings based on the grounds of their heritage and birth.
Sixty years have passed since the Holocaust's end, but the world is still scarred with the graves of the millions who were slaughtered. These scars are symbols of wounds that have long healed but are not forgotten.
"You can forget me, but don't forget my story," said Sol Wachsberg, one of the few living survivors of the Holocaust. Wachsberg, a Jew of Polish birth, was the guest speaker at the 13th Corps Support Command Days of Remembrance ceremony at Palmer Theater here May 2.
"My obligation is to tell to you this story because I want you to hear what prejudice can do," said Wachsberg as he addressed soldiers in the theater May 2.
Wachsberg's story began in May of 1926. He was born in Chrzanow, Poland, not far from the German border, to a religious Jewish family. The third of four children, Wachsberg lived a life that he says was typical of Polish Jews. He went to public and religious schools, played sports and observed religious practices until 1939, the year he turned 13.
Sept. 1, 1939 - a day Wachsberg says he will never forget. Germans invaded Poland, bombing the town that Wachsberg and his family called home.
Many of the townspeople set out on foot, trying desperately to evacuate before the Germans could reach them - but the roads were crowded and progress was slow. Within three or four days, the
Germans caught up with the would-be refugees, forcing them to return to their occupied hometown.
Wachsberg was then taken from his home and forced to work for the German regime. For a time, Wachsberg and one of his brothers cleared the streets of ice and snow. Then they had to dig ditches to allow water to flow more freely in a flood-prone area. Later, they were forced to make canvas for German soldiers. Near the end of the war, Wachsberg had to carry large rocks that were intended for camp expansion.
During this time, Wachsberg was malnourished, unclean and exhausted. Still, he says that he was lucky. On an almost daily basis, people died from the unsanitary condition of the camps, Washberhg said. He remembers days when mounds of dead could be collected.
"I can not tell you," said Wachsberg, "how I stayed alive all that time. I just tried to live day by day … just try to live."
"Were we hungry? 24 hours a day. Were we thirsty? 24 hours a day," Wachsberg said, remembering the harsh conditions under which he lived.
Still, Wachsberg did not know just how harsh those conditions had been.
"I saw people die in camps, but didn't fully understand," he said.
What he did not understand was that he had lived in camps that contained crematories. All he knew was that the sick people in the camps would leave and would not come back. He would see dead bodies in the morning before he went to work, but they would be gone by the time he returned at the end of the day.
Wachsberg also learned after the war that German soldiers killed many Jews by loading them on the back of a covered truck and running the exhaust inside. This practice, according to Wachsberg, was so inhumane that the soldiers eventually refused to continue. It was one thing for the Jews to be murdered in ovens where their reactions could not be seen, but another thing entirely when the soldiers could actually see what they were doing, said Wachsberg.
What they were doing, said Wachsberg, was running killing factories. He said he was lucky to have survived, as did his siblings, but he lost both his parents at Auschwitz. Six million other Jews lost their lives at the hands of the Germans, Wachsberg said.
"They were our neighbors, turning us in … Denmark - 100% saved. Bulgaria - 99.9% saved. Poland - 90% lost," Wachsberg said.
And that is why Wachsberg is speaking out 60 years later.
"In a few years from now, you won't be able to hear people like me," said the 79 year old Wachsberg, his voice choked with emotion. "Remember and tell (the story) from generation to generation."
If the Holocaust is not remembered, it is destined to be repeated, said Wachsberg.
Capt. Jody Dunkley, of the 1st Medical Brigade, agreed.
"We must learn, remember and teach … Deliver this warning - hatred is destructive," said Dunkley during her welcome at the beginning of Monday's ceremony.
"The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated:" Justice Robert Jackson, Chief U.S. Counsel to the International Military Tribunal, Nuremburg, Germany, November 21, 1945.
Sol Wachsberg, one of the few living survivors of the Holocaust, speaks to a group of Soldiers at the 13th Corps Support Command Days of Remembrance ceremony at Palmer Theater here May 2.