By Senior Airman Stephen Musal , 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 13, 2010
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- EDITOR'S NOTE: Some of the accompanying photographs, as well as the attached photo story, include images of the Holocaust, which may be disturbing to some readers.
"I speak to you as an eyewitness to the darkest pages in human history of man's inhumanity to man," said Jack Adler, a Holocaust survivor who spoke to Team Buckley during the Days of Remembrance observance April 9.
The observance began with static displays, chronicling the horrors of concentration camps in Europe during World War II. More than six million Jews, and millions of other so-called "undesirables," were killed by the Nazi regime in the period of time we now call the Holocaust.
"It was truly the atrocity of all atrocities," said Col. Clint Crosier, 460th Space Wing commander, during his opening remarks. Before introducing Mr. Adler, Colonel Crosier recalled a trip he made as a child to Dachau when his father was stationed overseas. "Walking into the gas chambers, seeing the images of what liberating troops found at Dachau and other camps are memories I will never forget."
Mr. Adler then took the podium, telling his survival story to the roughly 300 servicemembers and local high school students gathered in the audience.
"When the Nazis occupied my hometown, as a 10-year-old, I was excited, because some of the townsfolk were embracing the Nazis, presenting them flowers and food," Mr. Adler began. "How could I have known what was in store?"
Mr. Adler and his family were forced to move to "the Jewish Quarter," a ghetto in his hometown of Pabianice, Poland, where the occupying Nazis shoved the Jews. Forced to wear a yellow Star of David on the front and rear of all his clothing, the young Adler watched as his town's synagogue was converted into a horse stable.
The Nazis separated the "useless eaters" (those who could not work, including young children, the elderly and the infirm) from the "able-bodied workers," sending the workers to a larger ghetto at Lodz and the eaters to concentration camps at Treblinka and Majdenek for execution.
Mr. Adler recalled how, during his stay at the Lodz Ghetto, a day's rations would be a slice of bread and a bowl of soup, and the desperation that accompanied the hunger and exhaustion in all the ghetto inmates.
"The bowl of soup was given to us at work, so many who were too weak or too sick to work dragged themselves to work anyway to get the second half of the meal," he said.
Still, despite the deaths from sickness, malnutrition and exhaustion, the worst was yet to come. When the Lodz Ghetto was liquidated in 1944, Mr. Adler, his father and two sisters (the only remaining members of his immediate family) were put on a train and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a concentration and extermination camp where Nazis would determine whether they were to be killed there or sent somewhere else to be worked to death.
The most horrifying sight, Mr. Adler recalled, were the Nazi officers who ripped babies from their parents' arms, threw them into the air and used them for target practice.
"That's what hate is," Mr. Adler said. "That someone who could perform such atrocities could go home and play with his own children, go to church, pray, and then go back and keep doing these things."
While Mr. Adler's sisters were gassed at Auschwitz, he and his father instead were sent to the Kaufering concentration camp in Germany, and later, to Dachau. There, he was fortunate enough to be assigned to work for a high-ranking SS colonel, who, to his surprise, began to leave food for him.
"Even though he was a high-ranking Nazi officer, he was a decent human being," Mr. Adler admitted. "When he had the opportunity to do something humane, he did it - and it saved my life."
Shortly thereafter, the prisoners were marched out of the camp in the infamous Dachau Death March. When they were liberated by American forces several days later, less than 4,000 were left alive. Of his immediate family, Mr. Adler was the sole survivor.
After recovering from his ordeal, Mr. Adler was placed in foster care in Chicago, later earning his U.S. citizenship and proudly serving in the Army during the Korean Conflict. Since then, he has spent many years telling his story and living life according to "mutual respect guided by the golden rule."
Still, when he sees world events like the genocide in Rwanda, Kosovo and Darfur, he notes that we have a long way to go.
"What has humanity learned from the Holocaust? Unfortunately, not enough," he said. In closing, he urged the audience to teach respect to the next generation and keep from teaching hatred.
After thanking Mr. Adler, Colonel Crosier offered a parting comment.
"Our world, and world history, is full of much good, but our world, and world history, has been full of evil as well," he said. "Our lesson today needs to be this: always strive to do what's right."