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    The Holocaust Days of Remembrance bring out history, remind people to guard diversity

    The Holocaust Days of Remembrance bring out history, remind people to guard diversity

    Courtesy Photo | The attached image is from the liberation of Dachau, a concentration camp in southern...... read more read more



    Story by Collen McGee 

    Fort Riley Public Affairs Office

    The Holocaust Days of Remembrance are observed annually in April. For some families, remembering is a part of life every day.
    Chaplain (Capt.) Michael Harari and his wife Mishi, recall growing up surrounded by survivors of the Holocaust in their communities and their family. For them, this is something relevant to today and the lessons learned are some they wanted to share.
    Mishi is the granddaughter of four grandparents who were all survivors of concentration camps. Harari is the Rabbi for Fort Riley and the chaplain for 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. To him, the Holocaust has always been about more than one people, one race.
    “In general, when people think of the Holocaust, sometimes they narrow it down to think of it on a Jewish plane,” Harari said. “Saying … how many millions of Jews were murdered in labor camps and death camps and thinking it is something that just happened to one people at one time, years and years ago during the Second World War. When looking deeper into it, to know that it affected all individuals of any minorities of any backgrounds, religions that didn't agree with the establishment or with the Nazi party.”
    That idea of anti-Semitism at its root, for Harari, is also anti-diversity and the care about inclusion is something people today can learn from that period and the events of the Holocaust.
    “So, when thinking about that, it applies more today than even it did that then,” Harari said. “So, it does affect everyone and learning that an educated, sophisticated community or country can do something (so terrible). The battle cry from the Holocaust always is, never forget. Because as long as we remember what was done, what could be done, by a seemingly civilized population, educated population … it could always happen again in any country around the world.”
    According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, though the main push by Hitler’s regime was against the Jews, “German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived racial and biological inferiority: Roma (Gypsies), people with disabilities, some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others), Soviet prisoners of war, and Black people. Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals.”
    For Hitler, according to information from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the idea was to strengthen true German “volk” and for Chaplain Harari, the idea of diversity is what strengthens the Army.
    “So ... not just religion, color, creed, but someone who would be special needs would be exterminated,” Harari said. “Someone who would have a disability would be exterminated. So thinking about that and thinking about our population nowadays, of how we have to be sensitive, accepting and understanding … as the Army teaches in (Army Regulation) 6-22 on leadership, that our strength comes through diversity and not by removing everyone else that is different than you.”
    But the atrocities still happened and they are still a very real part of the family of Mishi Harari.
    “I guess I could say in a way, the Holocaust is what I come from,” Mishi said. “My entire family, my grandparents, great grandparents, all of their siblings, neighbors, cousins, aunts, and uncles - they all went through the Holocaust. Many of my family members were killed in concentration camps, and so for me, it's just more of a personal thing. I feel … almost a sense of pride to say that this is what my family went through, and this is what my community and their families went through and we're still here, and are strong. We have our families and we've … lived and we've grown. I think it's kind of special for me that people nowadays, know what my family went through and what … other people in my community what their families went through, because I feel like a lot of people don't know very much about the Holocaust at all.”
    For Mishi, the Holocaust was a normal part of family conversation.
    “… growing up we were very open about the Holocaust,” Mishi said. “My, all my grandparents, you know, spoke about it. It was just something that we talked openly about so when I meet people that don't know anything about it - I kind of feel like I guess you could say a little bit let down, kind of feel like people should know that, you know, this is what we have gone through as a people. I just feel like it's important for people to know that really unimaginable, unimaginably terrible things can and did happen, and not just to the Jewish people in Europe.”
    And at the same time, Mishi admits that part of her wants to shield her children from the evil that happened during WWII.
    “I feel like nowadays we work so hard to protect ourselves and our children from anything that's negative,” Mishi said. “I even find myself thinking that way sometimes like if any of my kids, you know, has been reading a holocaust book. My initial reaction is like, oh I don't want them to know about that, and then I remind myself when I was a 4- or 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-year-old kid, I knew all about the Holocaust. I mean we read books, we heard firsthand stories from my grandparents, and we didn't grow up traumatized from it. We grew up strengthened. This is what our people went through. This is what my family went through, and this is who we are now because of it. I feel like it's sometimes important to not be so worried that our kids or our Soldiers you know are going to know about something so horribly negative. Sometimes it's important to know about what happened and that it could happen and that it did happen. You know, our whole country was affected by World War II and, you know our Soldiers were affected by what they saw when they liberated some of the camps and so the negativity and the trauma affected very, very many people. I think it's just important to remember that part of World War Two not as a side note, but as something that was really impactful.”
    Mishi’s family settled in the northeastern United States. Harari came from a different climate.
    “I grew up in South Florida where many Holocaust survivors moved due to the weather and other things,” Harari said. “So growing up as a kid, I remember clearly people, congregants in our synagogue, with numbers tattooed on their arms from concentration camps, and that was a normal thing. Everyone knew these were survivors with tattoos on their arm.”
    For every survivor, that tattoo tells a story.
    “I think it's our job to continue to tell it (the story of the Holocaust) for those who no longer can tell,” Harari said. “Every single year, we lose more and more survivors and there will be a day, unfortunately in the near future … there'll be no more survivors. Who's going to tell the story? Who's going to say, ‘hey, this is what happened to our people, this is what happened to all people that were different.’”
    For Mishi’s grandmother her tattoos were a symbol of what she had overcome.
    “My grandma that was in Auschwitz, she had, you know, a tattoo,” Mishi said. “She had her numbers and we always used to run our hands on her arm and say, ‘grandma your numbers, your numbers.’ I can't remember the first time that we said, ‘what is this?’, But you know, it was just, it was a part of her. ‘Oh these are, these are my numbers,’ she would say, ‘these are my numbers.’ And it was just like her numbers, you know, we knew that she was in Auschwitz and she was tattooed and she was numbered. For anyone else that would meet her it was, it was strange, it was foreign. To us … to me, that was my grandma, that was my grandma's arm … she had a unique way of … taking pride in it, you know, she wasn't ashamed. There were many people that would keep their sleeves down because it was traumatic or embarrassing, and she was very proud to show people her numbers and so that was always very…”
    “She was a survivor,” Harari said completing Mishi’s sentence. “She didn’t go through the Holocaust like a reed going down a river, she was a survivor. She fought.”
    “She was a very tough woman,” said Mishi.
    Another of Mishi’s grandmothers was an activist who spent her time speaking at schools and educating people all over about the facts of living through the Nazi occupation and the concentration camps. Both women had been in Auschwitz. For her, Mishi said the past made her outspoken and an advocate. For her grandfather, Mishi said her family referred to him as quiet and he never spoke about his experiences.
    My grandma who's … she's still alive, she always says even to this day, ‘who would have thought, you know, all of my children, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren are in America, you know, we built a successful life and who would have thought?’”
    “I could picture a very big, big smile, ear to ear, with an accent … but as she's cooking something and seeing all the kids or going to a wedding or a bar mitzvah, that she really, really thanks God every day and every moment, because of … where she came from and where her family is now and how it's grown,” Harari said.
    In his own community growing up, Harari said he also saw that kind of life gratitude exhibited by survivors.
    “So one of the things and also I've seen this elsewhere … I guess parallels and survivors is, as my wife mentioned, the joy of seeing children,” Harari said. “Seeing another generation of, you know, Jewish children learning Torah reading Hebrew, doing things like that brought them such joy; because, I'm positive in some very dark moments in the 30s and 40s, they thought they would be the last Jew on Earth, that there will not be another generation.”
    Harari said that prompted some to do little things like giving the children candies at synagogue just because they loved seeing the children come. For others though, there were deep battle scars and physical and mental impairments. Harari said the community just knew that these people had suffered much and it was understood.
    Looking forward, Harari is grateful for the inclusivity and diversity of the nation, and especially the Army. However, he doesn’t want to take it for granted. Harari feels the Days of Remembrance should spark action.
    “I guess if we were going to leave off (with) one idea, what act of kindness could we do in the world right now because of that?” Harari said. “Remembrance is one thing, but let's do something good, let's do something positive. Let's be a better neighbor, let's help someone out. Let's give charity whatever it is,… in your religion or background or even just you know the idea of every Jew thanks God for what they have right now. Even just taking a moment of silence, and thinking about how lucky we are, and how we owe it all to Him.”



    Date Taken: 04.09.2021
    Date Posted: 04.09.2021 12:23
    Story ID: 393454
    Location: KS, US

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