As we take time today to remember those in our armed forces who gave up their lives for the well-being of others, let us not forget the victims of that time in human history that saw the desecration of the worth and dignity of human life: the Holocaust. Let us hold up before God and our community those millions of souls whose only crime was that by ethnic origin, personal conduct, profession or political affiliation they did not meet the criteria as a person to live in Adolph Hitler’s vision of a thousand-year Reich.
As a member of the 354th Fighter Group in the U.S. Army Air Corps, I arrived at the concentration camp in Ohrdruf, Germany, just after the U.S. infantry. It was April 1945. In a one-story barrack-type building, I observed the Holocaust in row upon row of bodies stacked like cordwood covered with lime. At one end of the building was a gallows, and outside the remains of a funeral pyre.
In an open area inside the main gate, civilians from the village, on orders from the general in command of the American troops, were carrying out emaciated bodies, wrapping them in sheets in preparation for burial. Those scenes I will take to the grave.
On this Memorial Day, let us not forget those who were the victims of intolerance, hate and injustice, those who died as the result of the self-importance of a narrow segment of humanity. Albert Speer, a member of Hitler’s hierarchy, in his book Inside the Third Reich, put it quite clearly: “We sold our soul to the devil.”
In Ohrdruf, Germany, I walked in the presence of evil. It is true that the Holocaust is from another era of history, another century. What of the present?
On this Memorial Day, as we give thanks to God for those who lay in graves in this nation and in foreign lands, as we hold up before God those who suffered and died in the hands of evil, let us remember that evil does not fade away. It lurks in many shadows. There are many forms that can enslave the human soul.
On this Memorial Day, and as we make ready to observe the 70th Anniversary of D-Day on June 6, in our tribute to those we hold up before God, let us pledge ourselves to maintaining eternal vigilance against the forces that enslave the human soul, by speaking up for those with no voice.
We must stand for those who have no power in the political or financial fabric of the community. We must speak up for justice where injustice prevails. We must raise our voices for tolerance where intolerance is present. It is the responsibility of the religious community to speak for peace, justice and righteousness, so that evil cannot find the light of day in our time or in the lives of those who follow us.
On this Memorial Day, let us be mindful of the words of the Prophet Micah: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
May God continue his blessing and loving care of those we remember this Memorial Day. And may God bless the United States of America.
The Rev. Canon Chassey, a retired Episcopal priest living in West Columbia, was the featured speaker at Columbia’s annual Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Commemoration last month; contact him at GChassey@aol.com