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Choosing to Act: Stories of Rescue

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- The Holocaust Days of Remembrance is a weeklong event done each year to commemorate those who lost their lives during the Holocaust.

The Holocaust, which occurred between 1933 and 1945, was a mass genocide. It is estimated that approximately 11 million to 17 million people were killed. Many of the victims were Jewish, but others included homosexuals, people with disabilities, gypsies and many others that did not look or think like Nazi Germany.

In 1980, Congress passed legislation that established a United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The council provided an annual remembrance to the victims of the Holocaust. On April 30, 1981, President Ronald Regan spoke at the first council-sponsored Days of Remembrance commemorative ceremony.

"We remember the suffering and the deaths of Jews and all those others who were persecuted in World War II. We commemorate the days of April in 1945 when American and Allied troops liberated Nazi death camps. The tragedy took place in our lifetime. We share the wounds of the survivors. We recall the pain only because we must never permit it to come again. Our spirit is strengthened by remembering and our hope is in our strength."

The theme for 2012, Choosing to Act: Stories of Rescue, honors those who chose to intervene and help rescue individuals targeted during the Holocaust.

Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker, organized the smuggling of approximately 2,500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto. She placed the children with Polish families and gave them a new identity. In 1943, the Nazis discovered her activities and sentenced her to death. She escaped her impending death and continued her work for the Jewish children until the end of the war.

Julian Bilecki, a Polish teenager, and his family heard a knock on their door. They opened it to find some of their Jewish friends and neighbors seeking refuge from the Nazis. The Bilecki family took them in and built a bunker to hold all 23 of the people. After almost a year of living in the bunker, salvation had come when they heard the arrival of the Russian Army in 1944.

Paul Grueninger, commander of the Swiss border police, turned a blind eye to Jewish refugees that crossed the border looking for freedom. He backdated and ignored fake visas they offered to him. Convicted of fraud, Grueninger faced prison time and was required to pay a severe fine. His actions saved between 2,000 and 4,000 Jews.

These are just a few of the heroes named that saved people from execution. The theme of the Days of Remembrance this year is to recognize those who took a stand for the rights of people. The punishment for taking in refugees was usually death. These people knew the risk but still intervened to rescue those that faced genocide.

People make choices every day. The choice can be to stand up for what they believe is right, or allow others to make the decision for them. Choosing to act can make a difference in a job, personal life, or can make the difference to a person or a society.

For more information regarding the Holocaust Days of Remembrance, please visit www.ushmm.org or contact the 28th Bomb Wing Equal Opportunity office at (605) 385-1334.

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