Travis AFB honors Holocausts 6 million

"Remembering the Past for the Sake of the Future," clearly touched many of the nearly 200 people attending the May 24 program at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield.

"It's amazing to learn that 6 million Jews were killed and the gruesome acts that were done against them," 14-year-old Erich Kramer said after hearing the speakers. "It's important that we keep remembering so we don't lose sight of the significance of what happened, and so we understand how bad this was."

It's also important to remember the Holocaust, Kramer and his classmates learned, in order to prevent such an atrocity from ever re-occurring.

The memorial program, which took place in the base's officers' club, capped a weeklong Days of Remembrance commemoration during which a mobile pictorial, video and interactive CD-ROM presentation made its way around the base. An estimated 800 servicemen and women viewed the piece.

Last Thursday's presentation, something similar to which is held nearly every year at Travis, drew interested military personnel as well as civilians, including Kramer's eighth grade class from St. John's Lutheran School in Napa.

The class had been studying World War II, and got wind of the event through one student's father, who serves in the Air Force and often flies in and out of Travis.

Capt. Kleet Barclay, a chaplain and organizer of the event, said the chaplaincy tries to put together a meaningful Holocaust memorial every year, in compliance with a U.S. Congressional request in 1980 establishing a period of remembrance.

"The Department of Defense encourages (Holocaust Remembrance commemorations), so theoretically, all military installations should have this," Barclay said.

Holding the event on military bases, Barclay said, honors those who perished as well as those who survived the Nazi terror. He and Col. Jack F. Peters offered remarks during the hour-plus program, which was led by Capt. Jack Stanley, a chaplain.

Rabbi Stephen Vale of the Jewish Community of Solano County delivered the benediction.

Ret. Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Raful and his wife, Susy, a Holocaust survivor, lit six yahrzeit candles — each representing one million who perished.

Guest speaker Lucille Eichengreen of Kensington recalled her experiences as an 8-year-old Jew living in Germany when Hitler came to power. Soon after, she was sent to the Lodz Ghetto in Poland.

Born Lucille Landau, Eichengreen's purposeful memorizing of 42 German war criminal's names made her a valuable trial witness after the war. The author of "From Ashes to Life" and "Rumkowski and the Orphans of Lodz," Eichengreen frequently gives talks about the Holocaust to students throughout the United States.

The Travis audience reflected a variety of ethnicities, ages and lifestyles. While some arrived wearing dress uniforms and combat fatigues, suits and ties, dresses and high heals, others wore T-shirts and sneakers. They all sat silently throughout the program, and at its conclusion offered an extended standing ovation.

Most seemed to have taken to heart a prayer recited by Capt. Jack Stanley, a base chaplain. In his invocation, he asked God to help those assembled to "spiritually experience that which we hope never to physically experience."

Afterwards, Stanley said he found himself more "impassioned" than ever about the Holocaust, adding that he would have liked to see even more people in the audience.

Lt. Col. Gary Hart said he came for a couple reasons. "I've always been interested in the subject, and it's important we don't forget this kind of thing goes on because it's possible that it could happen again. There are revisionists who want to tell you it didn't happen, and you need to occasionally get a dose of reality."

1st Lt. Deborah Danyluk was there in part because she felt a connection to the Holocaust. "One of my great aunts actually hid Jews during World War II, and I think it's important that we remember so history won't repeat itself," she said.

The young students learned some important lessons.

"I didn't know it was that bad," said 13-year-old Kaela Olsen. "It was worse than I thought."

"It's just, like, unimaginably horrible," added Erika Schmid, 13. "How could anybody do that? It's just gross."

Eichengreen said she speaks at events like the one at Travis because she sees the Holocaust as something that "challenges our definitions of what it means to be human. It commands attention because it's an affront to the image we hold of ourselves as being human."

Several people asked questions following her remarks, including one woman who wanted to know why Eichengreen waited until her children turned 18 to tell them about her wartime experiences.

"I didn't want my children to worry about a German under the bed with a gun," she answered.

Eichengreen, who endured the horrors of several concentration camps, said she does not live with hate because you cannot live that way. But neither has she forgiven or forgotten.

"For me, that is not possible," she said. "My children will have to do that for me."

She also offered a response to Barclay's question, "What do we need to do to make the world a different place?"

Said Eichengreen: "You have to speak out. It's risky, but this is what the world failed to do in 1933."

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
Rachel Raskin-Zrihen

A wife and mother of two grown sons, Rachel Raskin-Zrihen is a longtime Bay Area journalist, columnist and co-author of the book "Jewish Community of Solano County."