JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- Base personnel came together for a Days of Remembrance event to reflect on the tragedy of the Holocaust at the Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS Jax) Flight Line Cafe April 18.
The event began as Miriam Gallet, master of ceremonies and NAS Jax public affairs officer, welcomed the group and introduced Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of the Jacksonville Jewish Center who gave the benediction.
"I find it particularly meaningful that a military base is holding a Holocaust remembrance event and we pay tribute to the men and women who are putting their lives on the line to ensure that something as devastating as the Holocaust never happens again to people of any faith," said Olitzky before giving the blessing. "This day is a reminder of how fragile life is and how easily with the gift of free will the world can turn to evil and sin."
Olitzky also lit a candle in remembrance of those who perished in the Holocaust. "This candle memorializes the 11 million people brutally killed by the Nazis. May the flicker of this flame unite a flame within all of us to remember all those who perished."
NAS Jax Executive Officer Capt. Roy Undersander also welcomed the guests and introduced guest speaker Holocaust survivor Morris Bendit.
"It is an honor for us to host the first National Days of Remembrance event at NAS Jacksonville," said Undersander. "It is important for us to remember events such as the Holocaust. It is a powerful lesson in fragility of freedom and reinforces the need for us to be engaged abroad."
As Bendit took the podium he thanked the military members for their service. "I salute you for all the effort you put in to keeping our nation safe. Coming here, reminds me that we have something in common - I was in the Israeli navy many years ago working on weapons on destroyers and frigates," he said.
"Not long ago, we entered the 21st century. We will always remember the 20th century as the best and the worst in history. It was know as the best for the technology, ingenuity, science and medical advances. All of these great advances by humans were also used for evil. Many dictators used the same science and technology to carry out mass killings. In the past 100 years, more than 120 million people were killed," Bendit continued. "I hope and pray that in this new century we will learn from the past.
"Sixteen years ago when my mother passed away, I realized that the World War II generation is disappearing fast and very soon there will not be anyone left to tell about the atrocities that took place from 1939-45. The Holocaust was the systematic, industrialized annihilation of six million Jews by the Nazis," Bendit said. "But until recently, many people only heard about the Nazis. However there were others - the Ukrainians and Romanians. There will be wars between tribes and between nations but never on such a large scale as World War II."
Bendit then told his personal story of how he was born in Chernovitz, Ukraine in 1941 as the Germans were teaming up with the Romanians to oust Jews from the city.
"During this time, my father was forced to enlist into the Russian Army to fight the Germans. During a transport, his train was attacked by German bombers and he was killed. In July 1941, the Romanians began killing Jews and moved them into a ghetto. By October, 50,000 Jews were taken from their homes and herded into the ghetto. From the ghetto they were transported by cattle cars to a large territory called Transnistria that was designated for the annihilation of Jews. Many were killed on the way.
"My family including my maternal grandparents, paternal grandmother, mother, four uncles and an aunt stayed together. There were no barracks or gas chambers - just fields, killing fields. During the day, we were forced to march from village to village. My mother and grandmother carried me. At night, we looked for some place to sleep in the bitter cold. Many people died from the cold and starvation if they weren't shot," he stated. "I have no idea how I survived. Before my fourth birthday, I suffered from typhus, malaria and scarlet fever. My only nourishment was nursing from my starving mother."
In 1944, the survivors in Transistria were liberated by the Russian Army. By then, the only surviving members of Bendit's family were his mother, maternal grandmother and his aunt. Of the Jews who had been deported to Transnistria, a total of 150,000, approximately 90,000 perished there. Out of the 300,000 local Ukrainian Jews, 185,000 were murdered.
Bendit's remaining family members returned to their home in Chernovitz. A year later, the family took what they could and moved to Romania in hopes of going to Israel. Four years later in 1949, they were given permission to immigrate to the new State of Israel.
Bendit soon joined the Israeli navy at the age of 17.
Shortly after finishing his military service as a staff sergeant, he moved to Montreal, Canada.
In 1965, he immigrated to the United States and moved to New York where he met his wife, Hanna. They have three daughters and five granddaughters and have lived in Jacksonville for the past 27 years. He spends his time with his family and speaks at various functions about the Holocaust.
"For many years, the older generation who survived the Holocaust did not talk about the past," said Bendit. "I believe it should be told. Never forget because history always repeats itself. And, we cannot let those deniers win, they know what happened but they are persuading others to believe it never happened. We cannot fix the past, but we can improve the future. Living in the past is not healthy but remembering the past is essential."
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