The Tuskegee Airmen

9.7.17_ExhibitOpening_AH_8327-X3Constant reminders that African Americans were inferior to white people marked towns and cities in the first half of the 20th century. Signs labeled “colored,” and “white” were highly visible by design, meant to constrict freedom based on the color of one’s skin. Heroically, many African American men and women refused to accept these labels, determined to prove their intelligence, strength, and fortitude by fighting for their right to fight. Ultimately, their battle focused on civil rights during and after World War II.

Most people are familiar with the Tuskegee Airmen. They are legendary.

In the Museum’s exhibit Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences During WWII, the exhibit centerpiece focuses on the Tuskegee Airmen, the famous Red Tails pilots whose incredible war exploits became a symbol of African-American participation in World War II. The Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance opened the exhibit on September 7, 2017. Speakers included former Tuskegee Airmen Flight Officer Robert T. McDaniel, Mrs. Erma Bonner-Platte, widow of Tuskegee Airmen instructor Claude Platte Jr., and Dr. J. Todd Moye, Professor of History at the University of North Texas.

Dr. Moye moderated a panel between McDaniel and Bonner-Platte which he began by providing historical background on the discrimination African Americans faced when attempting to enlist and/or serve in the armed forces.

“The title of the exhibit Fighting for the Right to Fight is not just rhetoric…African Americans had to fight for the right to serve their country in World War II in significant numbers and in significant roles,” said Dr. Moye. “The plan coming out of World War I based on supposedly scientific studies—of course we all know they are not scientific—purported to show that African Americans who had served in World War I did not have the leadership qualities, did not have equal intelligence to whites, could not be expected to serve as officers, certainly could not lead white troops, etc., etc.”

Segregation, upheld by the landmark case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), along with Jim Crow laws, restricted the civil liberties of African Americans in every sector of society, including the military. African Americans were rejected from serving in the Army Air Services during World War I. This racial discrimination fueled the NAACP and others to work for change in military policies.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a presidential decree that allowed African Americans to join the war effort during World War II. After the decree, the U.S. Army Air Corps trained a limited number of black pilots in Tuskegee, Alabama. The 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

9.7.17_ExhibitOpening_AH_8568-X3
Pictured Left to Right: Dr. J. Todd Moye, Erma Bonner-Platte, Former Tuskegee Flight Officer Robert T. McDaniel

Former Tuskegee Airmen Flight Officer Robert T. McDaniel attended I.M. Terrell High School in Texas and was drafted into the armed services in 1943. He was later accepted into the U.S. Army Air Corps.

“Of course, [the air force] didn’t really want black folks flying planes because they thought that they weren’t intelligent enough and that they didn’t have the dexterity to operate machines and everything as though you were different physically simply because you were the wrong color,” said McDaniel. “Well, we were not aware of this because we had outstanding teachers at my school.”

McDaniel’s drive, intelligence, and skills led him to surpass the benchmarks for acceptance into the air force as established by the U.S. War Department. McDaniel and Bonner-Platte’s husband, Claude Platte Jr., were two of the 922 pilots trained in Tuskegee, Alabama between 1941 and 1946.

The Tuskegee Airmen proved themselves to be some of the best pilots in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Their first-rate skills and abilities earned them the respect of other bomber crews who often requested them as escorts. The Tuskegee Airmen had a much better record than bombers flown by white pilots.

The accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen showed the world that African Americans deserved more recognition and respect than they had received at home. The end of the war reinvigorated their desire for equality and catalyzed the Civil Rights Movement.

During the exhibit opening, a member of the audience asked McDaniel and Bonner-Platte what messages they might have for the next generation of students regarding their experiences during World War II.

“I want young people to know that they can do anything that any other person can do, with no exceptions, and that they shouldn’t let anyone discourage them from any occupation that they desire to pursue,” said McDaniel.

Bonner-Platte answered the question by recalling a story her husband had repeated many times. When he was a young boy, Platte looked in the air and saw an object flying overhead. He ran up to his father and asked what it was. His father explained it was an airplane, and the man he saw in it was a called a pilot. Platte knew immediately that that’s what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“His father said, ‘son, I’m sorry, but you can’t do that because you’re a negro and they don’t let negroes fly planes,” said Bonner-Platte. “[Claude’s] answer to his father was “I don’t care! When I get big, that’s what I want to be!”

Platte’s father encouraged his son’s passion for aviation by taking his family to Meacham field to watch the planes land and take off. Platte later found himself in Tuskegee in 1939 and joined the Tuskegee Airmen.

The tenacity and determination these men exhibited during a time of segregation, discrimination, and racial inequality serve as an incredible example of perseverance and inspiration for all ages.

-Janet Montealvo Hitt, Marketing Coordinator, Dallas Holocaust Museum

From Filming to Fighting

Stevens_And_His_Crew_France_1944John Ford, Samuel Fuller, and George Stevens produced some of the most popular and critically acclaimed classic movies of all time. Their work ranges from drama to romance to westerns, and they also directed films inspired by their experiences on the battlefield. From February 16 to August 3, the Dallas Holocaust Museum’s special gallery exhibit, Filming the Camps: From Hollywood to Nuremberg John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens, showcased these directors and their documentation of World War II.

When he began his directing career in the 1930s, George Stevens created light-hearted films such as Swing Time (1936) and Gunga Din (1939). In the 1940s, he enlisted in the army to oversee the Combat Motion Picture Unit (IMDB). During his four years overseas, he witnessed tragic events that affected his filmmaking. Stevens responded by creating movies that captured the human experience and influenced viewers. He wanted his films to have profound meaning and moved away from lighthearted entertainment. His more serious post-WWII films include Oscar nominees A Place in the Sun (1951) and Shane (1953).

Samuel Fuller, known for his low budget and progressive films, is the only featured filmmaker who did not make his directing debut before the war. Before WWII, he aspired to be a journalist. At age 12, Fuller started in the newspaper business as a paperboy, and by age 17 he was a crime writer for the San Diego Sun. His strong writing skills landed him in Hollywood as a screenwriter, but when WWII broke out, he enlisted in the army. The war became the inspiration for some of his most popular films. After the war, Fuller continued writing screenplays and directed his first film, I Shot Jesse James (1949). The screenplays for many of his post-war movies addressed progressive topics for the time, such as interracial relationships in The Crimson Kimono (1959) and feminism in The Naked Kiss (1964). Fuller’s most popular film, The Big Red One (1980), was based on his personal experiences in WWII.

John Ford directed many popular classic movies such as Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and How Green Was My Valley (1941). To this day, he holds the title for the most Oscars won in the category of Best Director (4). Though he was most popular for western films, his Oscar acclaim comes from his more serious dramas. When WWII started, Ford went straight to the front lines to film the action, and for two consecutive years released Academy Award-winning short documentaries, The Battle of Midway (1942) and December 7th (1943). These films were the first color footage from the war released to the American public.

During The Battle of Midway, the narrator reminds the viewer, “…yes, this really happens.” It was vital to Ford that he successfully portrayed the arduous acts of war. “We assume that many Americans simply do not believe the stories of mass killings of Jews and Anti-Nazi Christians… Those stories are so unfamiliar to the common experience of most Americans that they seem unbelievable” – “Caption Sheets” Units No. 5,6 and 7, titles “Dachau Atrocities.” The directors showcased in Filming the Camps helped American civilians understand the full complexities of war and the Holocaust. As well as assisting the American public, the film and photography captured were also an important factor during the post-war trials. “Human memory is faulty, and because objects constituting physical evidence decompose, change or are lost, it is important that a contemporary record be made of the event in such a form that will constitute an acceptable proof of the occurrence, and afford a method of locating, and afford a method of locating principals and witnesses so far as many be possible at some future time,” – John Ford, wrote in his “Report of Officer Returning from the Field.” The Filming the Camps exhibit exposes the harsh realities of war and the Holocaust uncovered by these directors.

Beginning September 7, 2017, the Museum will present the new special gallery exhibit, Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII.

la-trb-new-orleans-world-war-ii-memorial-honor-001

In 1896, Plessy vs. Ferguson held in favor of racial segregation, maintaining that public institutions were to be kept “separate but equal.”  Almost 45 years later, this system was still prevalent in much of America. In the south, segregation was embodied in the Jim Crow laws.

Executive Order 8802, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, opened war industries to African American workers. However, black soldiers were still segregated from their white counterparts, often forced to work non-combat jobs (as cooks, logistics, stewards, etc.) without proper training. Despite segregation and other obstacles, many African Americans joined the war effort. As American soldiers fought against Nazi ideology, institutionalized prejudice flourished at home. The new exhibit, Fighting for the Right to Fight, uncovers the struggles African Americans faced when trying to fight in WWII.

African Americans joined the war effort hoping to inspire change in America. The Double V Campaign, which spread like wildfire in black communities, called for a victory overseas and a victory for American minorities at home. It began in 1942 when a black man from Wichita, Kansas wrote to The Pittsburgh Courier:

Should I sacrifice my life to live half American?…[Is it] too much to demand full citizenship rights in exchange for the sacrificing of my life? Is the…America I know worth defending? Will America be a true and pure democracy after this war?…I suggest that while we keep defense and victory in the forefront that we don’t lose sight of our fight for true democracy at home.–James G. Thompson.

After the war, African Americans expected improvements in society, but conditions remained stagnant. Over the next decade, racial tensions grew. Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) which banned segregation in public schools led to the official start of the Civil Rights Movement. Sit-ins, marches, freedom rides, and rallies pushed the limits of race relations in the nation and drove the government to institute necessary legislation against segregation.

Upstanders emerged to oppose hate, injustice, prejudice, and ignorance. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall inspired others to stand up and fight for what they believed.

The Civil Rights Movement demanded that the treatment of minorities in America change. Current events bring home the point that this is a work in progress. The Museum special exhibits discussed here will inspire visitors to continue to stand up against injustice and hatred.

Sources:

http://hcl.harvard.edu/hfa/films/2015junaug/fuller.html

http://www.filmsite.org/bestdirs.html

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0828419/bio

http://www.vahistorical.org/collections-and-resources/virginia-history-explorer/civil-rights-movement-virginia/turning-point

http://www.pbs.org/thewar/at_home_civil_rights_minorities.htm

https://www.biography.com/people/john-ford-9298806

http://www.righttofightexhibit.org/home/http://www.righttofightexhibit.org/home/

Samuel Fuller Film Screenings in July: The Big Red One and Falkenau, the Impossible

fullerinfalkenauweb
Director Samuel Fuller (Emil Weiss)

Acclaimed Hollywood director Samuel Fuller is featured in the Museum’s current special gallery exhibit Filming the Camps: From Hollywood to Nuremberg—John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens. Fuller was born in Worcester, Massachusetts to Jewish parents in 1912. He later moved to New York City and became a crime reporter at the age of seventeen. Fuller joined the U.S. Army during World War II and was assigned to the 16th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division, nicknamed “The Big Red One” for the red “1” patch worn on the shoulder of the Division.

The First Infantry Division took part in the Allied invasion of North Africa and Sicily, and the unit stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944. In 1945, Fuller witnessed the liberation of Falkenau concentration camp, a subcamp of the Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was asked by his commanding officer to film the atrocities of the camp with his camera, a gift from Fuller’s mother. His footage became part of the French documentary Falkenau: the Impossible.

In July, the Dallas Holocaust Museum presents two film screenings that accompany the current special gallery exhibit Filming the Camps: From Hollywood to Nuremberg—John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens:

The Big Red One

Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 7 p.m.

Studio Movie Grill (Spring Valley and 75)

Free. RSVP through Eventbrite.

The Big Red One stars Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill as a sergeant and a soldier of the U.S. First Infantry Division, a group of GIs who witness the armed conflict in North Africa and Sicily, Omaha Beach, and Belgium. The unit liberated Falkenau concentration camp and saw the horrors of the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia. The film, based on Fuller’s personal experience during World War II, depicts his service in the First Infantry Division and the liberation the infamous concentration camp.

Falkenau, the Impossible

Sunday, July 16, 2017 at the Museum, 2 p.m.

Free. RSVP required through Eventbrite.

Emil Weiss’s 1988 documentary Falkenau, the Impossible features interviews with Fuller at the site of Falkenau concentration camp. The documentary also includes original footage shot by Fuller of the camp.

Filming the Camps is on view at the Museum now through August 3, 2017. The exhibition, curated by historian and film director Christian Delage, was designed, created, and distributed by the Mémorial de la Shoah (Paris, France), and made possible through the generous support of SNCF.

Community Partners: VideoFest, Dallas Jewish Film Festival, Denton Black Film Festival, 3 Stars Jewish Cinema

– Janet Montealvo Hitt, Marketing Coordinator, Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

“Filming the Camps: From Hollywood to Nuremberg—John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens” Special Gallery Exhibit Open to Museum Visitors

IMG_0692
Exhibit Curator Christian Delage Presents “Filming the Camps”

The Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance opened the new special gallery exhibit Filming the Camps: From Hollywood to Nuremberg—John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens on Thursday, February 16, 2017. Christian Delage, the exhibit curator, and Déborah Sinclair, Head of Touring Exhibitions in North America, for Mémorial de la Shoah, spoke at the opening reception. Delage pointed out many notable details about the three men, their filming, and the impact of what they encountered.

The Nuremberg Trials in 1945 used an unprecedented form of evidence—film of the war and the liberation of concentration camps. The raw footage compiled into a documentary titled Nazi Concentration Camps, became crucial evidence, presenting the crimes the Nazis committed in an unflinching and authentic format to the court.

John Ford, Samuel Fuller, and George Stevens, the directors featured in the exhibit, filmed the atrocities committed by the Nazis, particularly at the concentration camps of Dachau and Falkenau. The U.S. government wanted to capture the crimes and horror of the Holocaust to use as evidence. The use of a “single take” filming technique was used to ensure no one could claim the footage had been cut or modified.

The first panel of Filming the Camps shows the name of the exhibit in stark grey letters on a black background. Music from George Stevens’ 1936 musical Swing Time emanates from the panel calling to mind the pre-war light-hearted comedy starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

“I didn’t want to immediately shock [visitors], so the exhibit starts with the music coming from Swing Time 1936, and you can see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing,” said Delage, referring to the first panel of the exhibit. “That’s what I wanted the visitors to be confronted with.”

Influenced by the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will, George Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II and headed a film unit under General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Stevens’ unit included a team of 44 filmmakers and writers and shot footage documenting D-Day with his personal 16mm home movie camera. His footage is some of the only color films of World War II.

During his four years of service, he filmed the liberation of Paris and the horrific scenes of the infamous Dachau concentration camp. Stevens’ footage of the camp became crucial evidence in the Nuremberg Trials.

Renowned director John Ford was well known before the war for westerns such as Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as well as the films The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley. During World War II, Ford commanded the Field Photographic Branch under the Office of Strategic Services and made propaganda films for the U.S. Navy Department. He won back-to-back Academy Awards during this time for his documentaries, The Battle of Midway and December 7th.

Samuel Fuller served as a soldier in the 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed “The Big Red One.” He captured footage of the liberation of Falkenau, a sub-camp of Flossenbürg concentration camp, under the orders of his captain with a camera Fuller’s mother sent him.

In 1945, Ford created a documentary of the war incorporating Stevens’ footage of Dachau. The film, shown first to American audiences, was used as evidence of Nazi crimes at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Ford also documented the Nuremberg Trials. The footage showed the dead at Dachau, disoriented and emaciated survivors, children, guards, and tools used on the victims.

The courtroom at the Nuremberg Trials set up a focal placement of the film screen, and the judges watched the documentary evidence three separate times during the trial. The Nazi prisoners on trial watched the film along with the public.

“The criminals were confronted [with] their crimes, and the graphic footage disturbed most of them,” said Delage. “We know that because a psychologist named [Gustave] Gilbert watched them during this screening [and] on a daily basis so he was writing notes and we know exactly what each defendant thought during this moment.”

The war and the camps deeply affected the three directors and their future work.

Following the war, Stevens’ films gravitated toward more serious subjects. He went on to direct the Academy-Award winning films Shane, Giant, and The Diary of Anne Frank. After the war, Fuller directed many films including The Big Red One, based on his wartime experiences.

The lively music at the start of the exhibit serves to show what the directors, namely Stevens, did before the war and how unprepared the filmmakers and the public were to face the horrors of the Holocaust.

“[Swing Time] is what George Stevens did before going into World War II,” said Delage. “That’s why he’s so sad in the photo you can see at the top [taken at the Nuremberg Trials] because his life was never the same after and the same for John Ford and the same for Sam Fuller.”

The exhibition contains film and photographs of World War II as well as clips from the filmmakers’ pre-war films.

The exhibition, curated by historian and film director Christian Delage, was designed, created, and distributed by the Mémorial de la Shoah (Paris, France), and made possible through the generous support of SNCF.

This presentation was made possible through the support of the Consulate General of France in Houston, the Embassy of France in the United States, and SNCF.

This presentation is sponsored by the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, Studio Movie Grill, the Consulate General of France in Houston, the Embassy of France in the United States, and SNCF, and is on view at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance February 16—August 3, 2017.

Community Partners: VideoFest, Dallas Jewish Film Festival, Denton Black Film Festival, 3 Stars Jewish Cinema

– Janet Montealvo, Marketing Coordinator, Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

Factual Survey leaves indelible mark—but for the right reasons

german-concentration-camps-factual-survey-1945-2014-002For the first seven minutes of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, the audience sat in communal silence.

Literally, not one sound could be heard in the Cinemark 17 Theater in North Dallas as the official British documentary film on the Nazi concentration camps of WWII began to play.

Before the film, Museum President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins warned the 325 people in attendance at the Aug. 3 special screening that the images we were about to watch would be “full of the painful truth” about the atrocities that happened at Nazi concentration and extermination camps—the “starvation, cruelty, murder, misery and suffering . . .”

It was most certainly painful. And, it is why silence seemed the appropriate response to this film: words cannot accurately capture this depiction of man’s inhumanity to man.

Incorporating the work of British, American, and Soviet camera crews, the film documents the liberation of concentration and extermination camps by the Allies as the war in Europe came to a close in April and May 1945.

Alfred Hitchcock, a one-time treatment advisor on the film, suggested the filmmakers avoid tricky editing to enhance the film’s authenticity and credibility. What we are left with are long takes of the most gruesome scenes from the Holocaust: piles of human remains, ashes from the crematoria, and the signs of lives once lived—bags of human hair, wedding rings, spectacles, and toothbrushes.

Footage accumulated for the film would be used in the postwar prosecution of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg and Lüneburg.

Postwar politics and an urgent need to begin the rebuilding of war-ravaged Germany and Britain overtook the film’s production timeline and reflective script.

Consequently, the film was shelved, although excerpts from it were released as part of other Holocaust documentaries after the Imperial War Museum took possession of the rough cut in 1952. Footage, for example, was used in the 1985 documentary, “A Painful Reminder.”

After funding was secured, work to restore and complete the film began in earnest in December 2008. Factual Survey premiered at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. A documentary about the making of the film was later shown on HBO (under the title Night Will Fall) on Jan. 27, 2015, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

In a brief Q&A following the Cinemark screening, local Holocaust survivor Max Glauben said the film depicted the life he experienced in concentration camps, but the true reality of the atrocities, he said, remain difficult to convey. Max said he would rather focus on the positive lessons he learned as a survivor while reminding the world that evil is ultimately a choice made by each person individually.

The film screening was made possible by Cinemark Theatres, which donated the use of the theater, Academic Partnerships and, in part, with a grant from Humanities Texas, the State Affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Join us on September 10 at 5:30 p.m. for the opening reception and lecture for the upcoming special exhibit “Holocaust by Bullets.” Also, please plan to join us on October 15 for our next Upstander Speaker Series presentation: Ret. Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, former UN peacekeeping force commander for Rwanda at 6:30 p.m. at SMU.

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum

Jews Who Fought for Hitler Stir Emotion, Controversy and a Journey of Self-Discovery for Dallas Author Who Wrote Book About Them

At age 19, while in Germany on a college research trip to study German and sift
through records from World War II, Bryan Mark Rigg—a devout Baptist while
growing up in Fort Worth—made two startling discoveries.

Both revelations would change his life.

The first surprise: the surprisingly large number of Jews who fought for Hitler’ Nazis
during World War II.

The second: That Rigg himself was born to a Jewish mother, which made him a Jew
by birth.

“Welcome to the tribe,” an Ultra Orthodox Jew told him, recalled Rigg, who spoke to
about 75 people at a special Dallas Holocaust Museum lecture on April 25 about his
book, Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers (University Press of Kansas, 2002).

His work has been featured in The New York Times and on programs including NBC
Dateline and Fox News.

The book, which tells of the surprisingly large number of Jews who served in
the Nazi army, had its genesis in Rigg’s visit to a Berlin movie theater during
the summer between his freshman and sophomore year while a student at Yale
University.

Rigg went to a showing of the film Europa, Europa, which is based on the true story
of Schlomo Perel, a Jewish man who served in the Nazi army and attended a Hitler
Youth school.

At the theater, Rigg made the acquaintance of an elderly man named Peter Millies,
who offered to translate the dialogue in the film. After the showing, Millies told Rigg
that he himself was a “Mischling” (a person of mixed, partially Jewish ancestry) who
had served in the Wehrmacht, the German army.

Intrigued by this story, Rigg decided to try to find other Jews who, like Millies and
Perel, had fought on the side of the Nazis.

Returning to Yale for his sophomore year, he suggested the idea to his professors,
who discouraged him from pursuing what they considered dead-end research. “That
only propelled me more to pursue it,” Rigg said.

Rigg estimates that there were 60,000 half-Jews in the Nazi army and 90,000
quarter-Jews.

After graduating from Yale in 1996, Rigg went to Cambridge University on a Henry
Fellowship and continued his research. He received his M.A. in 1997 and a Ph.D. in
2002.

The thousands of documents and video-taped testimonies he amassed in the course
of his study have been collected as the Bryan Mark Rigg Collection in archives
housed in Freiburg, Germany.

Almost as remarkable as his historical findings, said Rigg, was a personal discovery
he made while going through old town archives: His own ancestors were Jewish.

He returned to his family in Texas, where he had grown up as a devout Baptist, with
the startling revelation. He now identifies himself as Jewish and has served as a
volunteer in the Israeli army.

“Identity became a key question for me,” said Rigg. “Who am I? Ultimately, the way
we identify ourselves determines how we view others. Therein lies the wisdom.”

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

In The Presence of Heroes

Last Wednesday, the Museum and the Daughters of WWII hosted an event for Victory in Europe Day. The original V-E Day, May 8, 1945, marked the end of WWII in Europe, as the Nazi regime officially surrendered. Fittingly, our program focused on the WWII veterans who assisted in liberating concentration camps and the Holocaust Survivors who were freed as a result of Allied victory.

We began the event with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and an inspirational rendition of the National Anthem. To hear these American soldiers who were part of such an important event in our history singing alongside Holocaust Survivors from across Europe who are now proud to live in America was moving. Being able to sing with them was truly an honor for those of us in the audience who were there to hear their stories and honor their legacies.

As the event progressed, we heard from several men who each played a different role in liberating the camps. Some were medical personell, others spotted the camps and reported their location to their commanding officers, a few shared their stories of being among the first to see the prisoners, to notice the dead, to experience the horrors of these places the Nazis abandoned and later, denied.

No matter the role they played, each of the liberators had a unique story to tell. It was fascinating, yet chilling, to hear about the first impressions of these men. Many of them described the horrible smell that made them want to run away as soon as they neared the camps. They described living skeletons, zombie-like men and women, and the bones of the dead, laying out in the open for all to see.

These heartbreaking stories were matched with tales from Holocaust Survivors, focusing not on their time in the camps, but instead on how the sight of the American soldiers was at first a little frightening, but soon, filled them with hope. The Survivors all thanked the veterans for what they did as they shared their memories. They told the audience that they were grateful for these men and others like them, without whom they never would  have survived. Angels, heroes, saviors. As the accolades were heaped upon the soldiers, one man summed up what many of them were feeling when he said, “I don’t know why I’m up here; I’m not a hero.”

More than once, the audience was in tears, or gasped collectively at the true stories of what it was like in the camps. We all felt shock at the cruelty humanity is capable of, as the soldiers did many years ago, seeing it in person. That feeling of shock is one reason events like these are so important. The raw, fresh feelings at the injustice of it all, the pure evil enacted on one man by another, the resolve these feelings bring to never stand by and let this happen again.

Liberators and Survivors together