Meade event remembers the Holocaust; Annual observance recounts tragedy through anecdotes, displays

Rabbi Leonard Finkelstein lights a memorial candle during Fort Meade’s “Holocaust: Days of Remembrance” observance on Monday at McGill Training Center. (Photos by Steve Ruark)

Stark black-and-white images depicting the tragic story of the Holocaust scrolled across a screen Monday at McGill Training Center.

The video was part of the installation’s annual “Holocaust: Days of Remembrance” observance, which was hosted by the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade. The theme was “The Strength of the Human Spirit.”

Rabbi Leonard Finkelstein, who has worked at Fort Meade since 1970 and hosted the weekly “Lunch with the Rabbi” at Argonne Hills Chapel Center in recent years, was the guest speaker.

About 160 people attended the hourlong event, which began with the singing of the national anthem by Master Sgt. Laura Lesche of the U.S. Army Field Band. Chaplain (Maj.) Brian Satterlee gave the invocation.

Posters detailing the timeline and statistics of the Holocaust were set up around the room.

A program sits beside a Soldier’s cap during the poignant ceremony.

Rear-view Mirror

Before his speech, Finkelstein lit a yahrzeit candle, a Jewish memorial candle, to commemorate the 6 million Jewish men, women and children who died during the Holocaust.

“We should be lighting, really, 6 million candles,” he said.

Finkelstein recounted personal anecdotes he had collected from friends and family members about their connection to the Holocaust.

He gave a brief overview of how the Holocaust progressed, from the end of World War I until the Allied forces liberated the Jewish people from concentration camps.

While talking about the way Nazis determined how to efficiently kill large masses of people, Finkelstein gave a graphic description about how, after killing them in the gas chambers, the Nazis put women and children at the bottom of ovens since they had more body fat and their bodies could burn more quickly.

“That’s why they call it the Holocaust,” he said. “Holocaust means completely burnt. … How cruel can you be to think of such a thing or do such a thing? The whole system was a sickening system.”

Finkelstein ended his speech on a positive note.

“This is my own take on this,” he said. “I see the Holocaust like a rear-view mirror. My job is to go forward. I can’t let the Holocaust hold me back. I have to go forward, but I have to look at the rear-view mirror.

“I want to make sure that I’m going straight, that I’m not going to get into an accident. So, that’s how we should look at the Holocaust.”

Finkelstein reminded those in attendance of the importance of performing small acts of kindness.

“Every little thing counts,” he said. “You have to respect other human beings. If everyone respected every human being, this Holocaust would never have happened.”

After Finkelstein’s speech, Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard thanked those who attended and presented the rabbi with a glass plaque.

“Thank you so much for helping us to remember,” he said. “May we never forget.”

Remembering History

Sgt. 1st Class Derrick Chambers, garrison senior enlisted adviser for the Equal Opportunity Office, was proud of the event’s turnout.

“I think, overall, it was a success for us,” he said.

Hearing how Nazis sought to kill the Jews struck a chord with Chambers.

“To hear how there were actual people within the German community who were thinking of better ways they could burn a body, it really kind of stuck with me,” he said.

Chambers has a positive outlook on building a better community.

“It’s about treating others the way you would want to be treated and looking after your fellow man with respect and dignity,” he said. “I want to be a peacemaker in the world.

“I feel if we all look at each other with respect and appreciate our differences, I think the world would be a better place.”

Among those in attendance was Spc. Jasmine Neuhaus.

“Rabbi Finkelstein had some stories that were rather personal that were of a nature I hadn’t heard before,” she said. “I enjoyed his commentary. He has a lot of humor in what he says, and that’s not something you normally get on this subject.”

The observance was an opportunity to display harsh facts about the Holocaust.

“We’re at a time when many different people, both in our country and outside of our country, are denying the existence of the Holocaust,” Neuhaus said. “I think it’s extremely important for that reason to show all the evidence and the proof and to remember it so that the people, who are quite frankly naysayers, can be disproven.”

Carina Kajley, spouse of an active-duty service member, also attended the event.

“I think it’s important to just remember, really,” she said as her eyes filled with tears. “I can see that history is repeating itself right now and that scares me.”

For Kajley, who is Swedish, remembering the atrocity of the Holocaust is a necessity.

“I think it’s very easy to distance yourself because it happened on a different continent,” she said. “There are a lot of young service members here who don’t have that connection, maybe. But it can happen anywhere at any time and that is why we need to remember.”

While her husband was stationed in Germany, the couple went to the Dachau concentration camp.

“Seeing the images and walking [through] there was horrifying,” she said. “I think that it’s important that we keep seeing the images from the camps and seeing the suffering of the [Jewish] people.

“I think that’s why it’s so important we don’t forget. Our minds cannot imagine it. I don’t understand people who say it never happened because everything is documented. Every single thing is documented.”

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