MIDN 1/C Paris Scott
The survivors of WWII are faces of the atrocities of the war. As WWII becomes more of a distant past, the number of those who experienced the war and the hardships in Europe, both the civilians and soldiers, dwindle. The connection that they present to younger generations will slowly disappear. In ten to fifteen years, a book/movie/documentary will be the only connection to the past. Unfortunately, a book can only express so much pain and only so much frustration. A book can never make the story "real" for anyone. A book is simply words on paper. One can try to understand the emotions/feelings behind the words but without a human connection there will never be a strong emotional connection to anything. The experiences read about will fade away once the book is done. Fortunately for me, I got to experience and witness the hardships that WWII had upon the Jewish community in Europe and across the world. It is this experience that I will always remember, both the good and bad. These experiences may haunt me, but in the long run I will remember the pain of the survivors I met. I will remember the hunger they felt. But most importantly, I will remember the families and friends they lost.
In New York City, I had the pleasure of meeting a Holocaust survivor named Bronia... She described how she ended up at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and how she only survived the concentration camp due to the love of her sister, and the coincidence of an American bomb dropping at the exact moment when she talked to Dr. Mengele. The entire time, I could not help but feel Bronia's pain. Her town's entire Jewish population was decimated. She was the only child from her town to survive the atrocities of the Holocaust. When she finished talking, I felt taken aback. Bronia had remembered the smallest details of what occurred over sixty-five years ago. These minute details stayed with me, because they showed me that her life was truly affected by the hate the Nazis showed her.
Bronia was not the only person I met who experienced rule under Nazi Germany. I also got to meet Hannah Rigler, who experienced atrocities at numerous camps in Europe. The biggest impression that Hannah left on me is that of hunger. She told us that if she could, she would have named her book "Bread." This statement alone expressed her hunger, a hunger that I will never experience, a hunger that I do not want to experience. From these two women I learned how hard it is to fight for survival, especially when one is not placed in a situation in which they're supposed to survive. Hannah wrote, "Today, I know that in order to survive I had to bury my emotions, especially fear, and only recall them in my dreams which are really nightmares. It is 60 years later and the cold, the fear and the horror are still with me." My experience with these women gave me my own nightmares. However, these nightmares were not about the concentration camps but fears of whether I would have survived if placed into their situations...
The experience of meeting survivors, and touring the actual site of Auschwitz gave me a sense of reality that I could not have obtained through any book or museum. This experience gave me a set of memories that are critical to ensuring that others do not forget the atrocities of the Holocaust… But these stories and experiences left me with something more than just a responsibility to share their legacy. The experience of this trip left me with a greater understanding of the Holocaust; an understanding that is not taught in class, an understanding that is not in any American textbook. The memories that I have created on this trip have been ingrained into me. I am still haunted by the images of piles of corpses, and brutal murders. However, I'm glad these images have stayed with me because they have helped me realize the power of any nation's military. But most importantly they have taught me the necessity of respect for everyone because it was the disrespect for life that allowed the Holocaust to occur. This trip gave me a reality check of the responsibilities that I will assume in ten months as a future naval officer and as a future leader of America. Whether I am in the military or civilian sector of America I am responsible for ensuring the fair treatment of all. I am responsible to the American people to ensure that our nation is not stigmatized by our military actions.