NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) -- It's been 73 years since the Axis powers surrendered to the western Allies, ending World War II. While many look fondly on that hard-won victory, it is important that we never forget those events that are forever etched in our history.
"As we move further and further away in time from the atrocities that were put upon the Jewish people of Europe during World War II, it becomes more necessary to never forget," said Cmdr. Philip Bagrow, the command chaplain of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). "The Holocaust is not the only genocide known in modern times, but it can serve as a reminder that all people groups are welcome on this Earth. No groups should ever be singled out and decimated by men and women in power."
George Washington's Heritage Committee held a Holocaust remembrance ceremony on the floating accommodation facility (FAF) mess decks, April 30.
The ceremony opened up with the singing of the national anthem by Yeoman 3rd Class Lynnett Evans, from Columbus, Georgia, followed by the invocation, led by Bagrow. Operations Specialist 1st Class Rita Dennison, from Kernersville, North Carolina, stood as the master of ceremonies for the event.
"These events are difficult to discuss, but it is extremely important for us to never forget the great atrocities of which mankind is capable," said Dennison.
According to the National Archives website, the Holocaust was the systematic persecution and murder of six million European Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.
The National Archives also said that in 1933, the Jewish population of Europe stood at over nine million. Most European Jews lived in countries, Poland in particular, that Nazi Germany would eventually occupy during World War II. By 1945, nearly two thirds of European Jews were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators as part of the "Final Solution," which was the Nazi policy to wipe out the Jewish population of Europe.
According to the National Archives website, the Nazi government established concentration camps to incarcerate their victims of ethnic and racial hatred. To concentrate and monitor the Jewish population, the Germans and their collaborators created ghettos, transit camps and forced-labor camps for Jews during the war. The Germans also created forced-labor camps for non-Jews whose labor the Germans wanted to exploit, including Polish and Soviet civilians. These individuals worked, and several died, under inhumane conditions.
Between 1941 and 1944, Nazi German authorities deported millions of Jews from to ghettos and killing centers, often called extermination camps, where they were murdered in specially developed gas chambers.
The National Archives website said that, as the Allied forces mounted offensives against Germany across Europe, they began encountering and liberating concentration camp prisoners. In the final months of the war, inmates were transported by train or put on forced marches, which were often called "death marches," to try and prevent the liberation of prisoners. Marches continued until May 7, 1945, the day the German armed forces surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.
Those who attended the ceremony had historical details of the Holocaust recounted to them as they watched a clip from the movie "Schindler's List," depicting the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto.
"These events are difficult to watch," said Dennison. "Over 8,000 Jews were sent from the Krakow ghetto to forced-labor camps, while the Jews that were deemed unfit for work were either killed in the streets or sent to concentration camps."
The ceremony served as a chilling reminder of the cruelties humanity is capable of, and why we must take lessons from these events to honor the dead by remembering their hardships.
"As we move further away from the time of the Holocaust, it becomes more and more of a lesson for the history books, and less and less something we can feel as human beings," said Bagrow. "At the same time though, we see the inhumanity with which human beings were treating other human beings, and we're not ignorant enough not to understand that atrocities like this still go on in many parts of the world today. Part of the solution for any problem is first being aware of what the problem is. We must never be afraid to speak out against evil, and always stand up for our neighbor in need."
It can be difficult to reflect on the darker parts of our history, but by learning and remembering the Holocaust, future generations can pave the way toward a future where such cruelties will not go unnoticed.
To learn more information about the Holocaust, visit the National Archives website at www.archives.gov, or visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website at ushmm.org.
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