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National Days of Remembrance

(Illustration provided by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute.)

(Illustration provided by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute.)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- From 1933 to 1945, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party led the German government in the systematic persecution and annihilation of Europe's Jewish population.

"Jews were the primary victims -- six million were murdered; Roma (Gypsies), people with disabilities, and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents, also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi Germany," according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

This genocide, known as the Holocaust, is a horrifying example of what happens when a community and culture are robbed of their human rights.

During the Holocaust, German soldiers followed orders without question. Bystanders witnessed atrocities and did nothing. Too scared to speak up, they stood by while innocent people were killed. More than six decades have passed since then, yet to this day, people treat those who are not like them differently. If you look across the world to places like Bosnia or Rwanda, there are still millions of people being persecuted for their differences.

Congress designated May 1 to 8 as Days of Remembrance to honor the many victims and survivors of the Holocaust. The 2011 Days of Remembrance theme, "Justice and Accountability in the Face of Genocide: What Have We Learned," encourages reflection on the role of justice in the aftermath of genocide and commemorates the 65th and 50th anniversaries of the verdicts delivered at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg and Eichmann trial. These verdicts established the premise that no one, regardless of official position, is above the law and the defense that someone is just following orders is no longer valid. Shooters at mass executions, guards at gas chambers, physicians and business leaders, government officials and civil servants were required to take responsibility for their actions.

A quote from an unknown author comes to mind while reflecting on the theme of accountability in the face of genocide:

"Be careful of your thoughts; they become your words;
Be careful of your words; they become your actions;
Be careful of your actions; they become your habits;
Be careful of your habits; they become your character;
Be careful of your character; it becomes your destiny."

Across the nation, members of the Jewish community are sharing stories of justice and accountability.

Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, from the Washington Hebrew Congregation said, "So Days of Remembrance is an opportunity for us to remember the suffering that was and the efforts that were made to put an end to such suffering, and it's a call to conscience today in our world to make sure that we aren't the silent ones standing by, contributing to the suffering of others."

I encourage you to speak to a war veteran, a person from a Jewish religious background or a family member about their recollection of the Holocaust. Learning about what happened during the Holocaust can help you to understand that what you do for your squadron, service and country matters. Your contributions help to protect the inalienable right of everyone to be free.

For more information about the Holocaust and Days of Remembrance, call the base Equal Opportunity office at (605) 385-1341, or visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum web site at, http://www.ushmm.org/remembrance/.

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