National Chaplain's Message
Harvey H. Klee
National Chaplain of the American Legion
This month, my thoughts and prayers focus on April 24, Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah. It is Israel's day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany during World War II and the Jewish resistance during that period.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency not to learn from history as genocide is carried out today in the most horrific ways by those holding radical religious beliefs.
In 1945, American troops, including at least one ethnically segregated artillery battalion of the U.S. Army, many of whose own relatives were themselves interned during the war on American soil, liberated the Dachau concentration camp and a number of its satellite camps. They rescued hundreds of Jewish-ethnicity camp inmates drive southward from Dachau by the Nazis on a death march only days later.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had initiated a remembrance program after U.S. forces liberated Ohrdruf (a Nazi labor and concentration camp). Eisenhower called for reports from the United States and the United Kingdom to document evidence of the Holocaust so that "the time would never come when such atrocities could be denied and reports about them could be regarded as mere propaganda," he said. "The American GI did not always understand what he was fighting for, so he should see this evidence to understand, at least, what he was fighting against."
These words are as true today as the day they were first spoken.
The Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust was designated as such by U.S. Congress for civic commemorations and special educational programs that help citizens remember and draw lessons from the Holocaust.
A National Civic Commemoration is held in Washington, D.C., with state, city and local ceremonies and programs held throughout the country and on U.S. military ships and stations around the world. The Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. designates a theme for each year's programs, and provides materials to help support remembrance efforts.
A House joint resolution in 1979 designated six days in April as "Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust (DRVH)".
In 1989, the year the revised Department of Defense Guide for DRVH observances was issued, President George H.W. Bush summed up the goal not only for military participation but for the annual National Days of Remembrance of the Holocaust as a whole.
"Our challenge today is to insist that time will not become the Nazis' friend, that time will not fade our sense of specificity, the uniqueness of the Holocaust, that time will not lead us to make the Holocaust into an abstraction. Our challenge today is to remember the Holocaust, for if we remember we will, as our soldiers did, look its evil in the face. For memory is our duty to the past, and memory is our duty to the future.
Harvey H. Klee