Sunday starts Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day we remember and honor the 6.5 million people murdered in the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler. This represents 75 percent of Europe’s Jewish population including 99 percent of Poland’s Jews and 1.5 million children and 40 percent of the world’s Jewish population.
Although this may not be the human disaster with most casualties given that about 20 million people were murdered during the Soviet Union’s Stalin-era political purges, the Holocaust remains the most horrific, organized, government sponsored, engineered and mechanized mass persecution and murder of a people just because of their ethnic heritage. Beyond those murdered in the most horrific ways imaginable were millions more whose lives were forever impacted by the loss of parents, grandparents, homes and family legacies.
I am a Holocaust survivor having lost my parents, grandparents and my entire family at age six never to again see them. I survived only because my parents sent me away on the last train of children to escape Germany to Sweden where I was placed in two foster homes and an orphanage. Each year at this time, so long as I live and am able (I am 81), I acknowledge this as a living witness to this historic human tragedy. Soon, there will be none of us left alive to give personal witness to this history.
At this time, I also remember and honor my parents for their courage to send out into the world alone a six-year-old son so he would have a chance to live knowing they likely would never see him again. Finally, I thank my wife of 60 years, Shirley, who took a chance with a nobody with no family to stand with me and create our own family.
A memorial was erected in my hometown by the Evangelical Church of Schmieheim, Germany in memory of the last 14 Jewish persons arrested and deported from my hometown late in the fall of 1939 to a concentration camp. All were killed. Of these 14 victims, eight were my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
We all are human beings regardless of race, color or religion and should respect our differences, work together toward common goals and strive for all people to live in freedom without persecution.
Together we survive and thrive. Apart we fail ourselves, our community, our nation and the world.
Gunther Karger, Holocaust survivor, Homestead