Deputy Commander Stansberry, Master Sergeant Guzman, soldiers and civilians of Fort McCoy…
I am Rabbi Brian Serle, with Congregation Sons of Abraham in La Crosse.
I cannot begin to tell you what a great honor it is to be here, speaking with you today.
Why are we here?
Why are we commemorating the Holocaust?
Why are we talking about this horrific period that ran the entire length of the Nazi regime in Germany, from 1932 to 1945?
After all, that was 78 years ago!
For my kids, Iraq and Afghanistan are ancient history, let alone Korea and Vietnam.
The Holocaust Remembrance Day – in Hebrew “Yom HaShoah” – was declared a national holiday in Israel in April of 1951, exactly 72 years ago, and just 6 years after the end of the Holocaust. Over 6 million Jews were murdered, specifically targeted for who they were. 70 million or more of all countries died as a result of the worst war in history.
Holocaust Remembrance Day – Yom HaShoah – is commemorated all over the world with solemn music, sincere prayers, mourning for the innocent murdered Jews, and speeches like this one, reminding us of why we are here.
For many years, we also had survivors of the Holocaust, who could speak with audiences like this, putting a personal face on the suffering and tragedy they experienced in their own lives. Sadly, most survivors of this horrible time in our history are gone.
It is 78 years since the end of the war. Those who survive and have memories of their early lives are well into their 80s and beyond. We are so grateful for those who continue to be able to share their stories and their pain with us.
But why are we here? What is the point of remembering a sad and tragic period of history some would rather forget?
When declaring this a national holiday, the Israel government said we must bear witness to the Holocaust, with the phrase “Never Again!” This kind of systematic, government-sponsored murder and genocide must never happen again.
Wherever we see governments – legitimate or not – turn on their own citizens, to torture and murder them for their political or religious views – or for who they are as people – it is our responsibility to call them out, to bring them to the world’s attention – and to save their lives.
I am so honored to be speaking to you today – here at Fort McCoy – because you folks are living examples of the behavior we want to spread throughout the world – the idea of “Never Again!”
When over 50,000 Afghans fled their home a couple of years ago, desperate to save the lives of their families in the last moments before the Taliban recaptured Kabul, 1/3 of those refugees were brought right here to Sparta, Wisconsin.
You were not prepared to take in so many people, and in the middle of the winter to boot. You worked with local churches, synagogues, charitable groups. You housed these folks, you fed them, you got them boots, gloves and warm coats.
Despite the anti-immigration and anti-refugee feelings among many of our fellow Americans, you welcomed these Afghans with open arms. You did the right thing – the American thing. You told them “Never Again!”
You showed them love. You followed the law in the Bible- “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Do you know where those Afghans are today? The people who came here with no money, no food and little clothing? The Afghans you brought her into Sparta and showed them love?
Today, they are all over our country. They have jobs and Social Security numbers. They have learned English. They are paying rent, buying homes, making car payments. Their children are enrolled in public schools and universities. And some have already become American citizens.
No, we can’t open all our borders all the time to everybody.
But we can be there for those who are suffering, those escaping criminal societies, grinding poverty, government-sponsored oppression and murder.
Yes, it is tragic that there are still regimes all over the world that want to oppress and kill people – often their own citizens – to further their evil goals. Never Again!
And all that stands between these rogue governments and total chaos is YOU.
You men and women of our armed forces here in Fort McCoy – who project our American values and beliefs all over the world – you are our ambassadors for the love we want to share with other.
This is what Yom HaShoah is all about. Yes, we remember and honor the murdered victims of Hitler’s criminal empire. But we also praise the courage of those will stand in the way of these murderers, and exclaim to the world, “Never Again!”