On Auschwitz I and II (Poland)

Forgetting them means letting them die again. (Elie Wiesel)

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Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana)

 

Night, night without end, no dawn comes. (Tadeusz Borowski)

 

We have to remember, always, but it’s never easy. (Alberto Israel)

 

Auschwitz cries out with the pain of immense suffering and pleads for a future of respect, peace, and encounters among people. (Pope Francis)

 

Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity. (on a plaque)

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It happened, therefore it can happen again. (Primo Levi)

 

Any denial of the facts is a denial of the truth (A. E. Samaan)

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Personal note: Everyone should visit Auschwitz I and II at least once in their life. I never realized that the two are a 5-minute ride apart. At Auschwitz I, exhibits as hair, suitcases, shoes, and belongs can rattle the soul – but the size of Auschwitz II (aka Birkenau) is staggering. For me, I’m glad we didn’t have a guide – therefore, at the chance to move and contemplate on our own.

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Next stop: Eger

Click here for past posts of this tour.

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On a Beach: But Not Just Any Beach

The walk to the view from above is as serene as the view.

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The view from the beach is calm. The surrounding houses, people on the beach and in the water are reminders of the why.

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The statue, the sign markers, the museum, the photos are reminders of what happened on 6 June 1944 – right here on Omaha Beach.

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The rows and rows gravemarkers also reminded us of the importance of being about to enjoy happiness today on the beach below. This is the US cemetery above the beach.

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You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely. (General Dwight D. Eisenhower, United States Army)

Next post: More Normandy

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

On Honoring

Considering that events are like dominos, determining the most significant events in a century is actually difficult – but, for the effect on my life, it’s World War II. With this week marking another anniversary of D-Day Invasion, it’s good timing for this post.

It’s hard to imagine 16 million Americans serving in the Armed Forces at that time – let alone over 400,000 deaths. Then add to that the number of serving the Allies from other countries, and those too that died. Top that off with the huge effort at home. Simply wow!

The survivors became what journalist Tom Brokow called The Greatest Generation – the hard workers, respectful citizens, community leaders, and business leaders that built the success of the post-war America. We baby boomers grew up around these men, and lived a life because of them.

Personally, my dad fought in WW II as an 18 year old who left high school to serve – and he re-enlisted in the 1950s. In 2008, I took him to what would be his last reunion with his friends, and I later wrote about my weekend with the Greatest Generation, a post most of my current readers haven’t seen. (John, you will like it.)

Because WW II was such a defining moment for this country and the world, I’m amazed that the U.S. didn’t have a national monument for the effort until 2004. Then again, perhaps that is because of the humble nature of these men and those times that we didn’t understand until later.

My dad passed away several years ago at age 84, yet he never saw the National WW II Memorial – I now understand that I should have taken him. Honor Flight is an organization with a mission of taking surviving veterans to this worthy memorial in Washington – and doing so free of charge. I encourage readers to consider a donation to this cause.

When Dad passed away, a dinner group friend asked me about making a donation in his memory – and I suggested Honor Flight. Last week that friend sent me a link with an article and a video while saying, “I thought of your dad when I saw this.” Needless to say, and after two years, I was touched and cried for a variety of reason. Enjoy the video.

On a Day of Elevens

November 11, 2011 – 11/11/11 – and then we can expand this to include the 11th second of the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month of the 11th year in the century. We also know that 11 is the lowest positive number with three syllables, but I have not knowingly encountered an 11-sided polygon (which happens to called a hendecagon or undecagon).

Today is much more important than a post about elevens, and important enough to forego my normal Friday feature of Opinions in the Shorts – today is Veteran’s Day.

As I looked ahead to this day earlier in the week, I was thinking about my dad, who passed away in September 2010. As an eighteen year old, he left high school early to join the army during WW II. Obviously, he was one of the younger soldiers. Being that he would have turned 85 in a few weeks serves as a reminder that the number of surviving WW II veterans is rapidly dwindling. Besides, 2011 is the year of the passing of the last surviving WW I veteran – Frank Buckles.

We baby boomers grew up in a time with that war fresh in the minds of many. Who knows how many movies, television shows, and documentaries we watched during our youth. We didn’t live that war – yet the effects of that time. We lived a good life because of the efforts of many – and led by those who Tom Brokow called The Greatest Generation.

Although a day will come when the last WW II veteran is no longer physically with us, we have memorials throughout the land that are designed as a reminder to the living.

On this Veteran’s Day, we celebrate all veterans who served in our armed forces at any time in any war and in time of peace, but a special tip of the hat to those WW II soldiers – those who fell in combat, those who have passed on, and those who still are alive.

On POWs in America

We baby boomers grew up in a time when many televised movies were westerns or World War II films. I also loved Hogan Heroes, the television series about allied POWs who were operating an espionage unit within Stalag 13, a POW camp run by bumbling Germans. Yet, it was not until 2010 that I learned that the allies had POW camps here in America.

Although over 400,000 WWII POWs were in America. The camps were small and scattered across the country. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, and that is where I first learned about not only all the German POWs, but also the ones held at what was then known as Wright Field.

These prisoners worked on the base in base mess halls and warehouses, as well as maintaining the grounds. Apparently, since some of them had artistic abilities, they painted several murals on mess hall walls depicting German folklore. Evidence indicates that the German POWs painted three murals, yet only one remains today – standing quietly in an unsuspecting building as a part of the base’s history. I’m glad I got to see them, otherwise I may have never known about WWII POWs in America – even those not all that far away.

On Several Connections

This is particular day started as any normal day, and even turned out to be a normal day. Yet, this day had brought forth two strange connections: one odd and one historical.

At handbell practice two of our members revealed their recent discovered they were second cousins as their grandfathers were brothers. It started with one telling the other that he looked like her uncle, and it went from there. A simple oddity of two people at the same church not only not knowing, they first met each other in late August.

The other oddity involved our opening our mail earlier the same day. My dad passed away in September, and one of his requests is that we notify out-of-towners listed in his address book; so, I wrote a two-page story of his life, and we started the process. Since then, my sister and I have received many thoughtful responses – but none was more interesting that the one I received on this day.

This particular one also told a story of Angelo, whom my dad met in 1995 when he returned to Austria as part of the 50th Anniversary of VE day. They remained in contact since that day. Coincidentally, Angelo had died around the time our letter arrived, so this letter was from his surviving wife of 59 years. I can only imagine the tears in her eyes as she wrote the letter.

Angelo was a factory laborer in Italy. Due to the difficult conditions caused by the war, workers had strikes in 1943 and 1944. In early 1944, authorities arrested Angelo and then deported him to Mauthausen-Gusen, a Nazi concentration camp. In May 1945, the US Army, of which my dad was a member, liberated the camps. Angelo’s widow wrote, “For the rest of his life he devoted himself to transit the memory to the younger generations, asking those who listened, not to allow a future recurrence of similar barbarism.”

Although we Baby Boomers not only grew up in the WW II shadows, we didn’t experience the world war first hand. Yet, our connection to that time is closer than we think. Meanwhile, I hope Angelo and Dad have reconnected.

On Some Random Tidbits

With the recent passing of my father, a simple “Thank You” to all who thought about our family.

My father was a WW II veteran, thus had taps played at the cemetery. I heard that some military services use an electronic bugle for taps. Our trumpet player (who I’ve known since my high school days) said, “The enemy didn’t use fake bullets, so these guys don’t deserve a fake bugle.”

My dad was in WW II at age 18. Given the fact that he was 84 tells us that there aren’t many WW II veterans left. If any reader wants to make a worthwhile donation, donate to Honor Flight, a nonprofit group that takes WW II veterans to DC to see their memorial. Here’s the website, plus see the video at the end of this post.

Attending the Bearcat game against Oklahoma was a good distraction for me. Amazingly, UC not only stayed in the game, they had a chance to win late in the game. At least they made progress, but I surely hope that don’t stumble against local rival Miami Redhawks in two weeks.

Reading about the passing of NFL star George Blanda brought back memories. He signed with the Bears in 1949, yet I recall him as a QB (Houston Oilers) in the early 1960s and his 1970 season (Oakland Raiders) that had unbelievable moments. Rest in peace to the NFL’s Grand Old Man.

I hope to get back on the writing saddle soon!

Honor Flight Video