Lessons of painful history recalled at Fort Sill observance
As the 72nd anniversary of the end of World War II nears, the speaker at Fort Sill's "Days of Remembrance" observance urged listeners to think about how they will ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are not forgotten 72 years from now.
Lance Janda, chairman of Cameron University's Department of History and Government, was introduced by Col. Janice Chen, commander of the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade that sponsored Thursday's luncheon.
"I am getting to that point where I'm old enough that I can assure you that what we want our children to remember, they will not remember if we don't consciously pass it on. You can't count on social institutions or even us history professors to always do that. There's simply not enough of us," Janda told the crowd.
The war in Europe ended in May 1945, but it was in April that Allied forces liberated many of the concentration camps in western Europe, particularly in Germany. U.S. troops from Oklahoma's own 45th Infantry Division liberated Dachau.
"Many of you may know that that was a National Guard unit before the war composed of troops from several states, but they mobilized and they trained here at Fort Sill before they shipped out and amassed one of the strongest, most celebrated fighting records of any infantry division in the Army. They sometimes get forgotten because they weren't paratroopers and they didn't go in on D-Day, but they're there from the beginning of the American effort North Africa, Sicily, Italy, southern France and then finally in southern Germany," Janda said.
Most Americans know the Holocaust was a deliberate attempt by Germany to eliminate Jews within Europe. Janda said he has seen estimates of the death toll range all the way from as low as 4 million all the way up to 9 or 10 million.
"The truth is we'll never know for sure, but by any measure, it is the most horrifying, deliberate genocide that we know of in human history," said Janda, noting that the word "genocide" did not exist before WWII it was coined to describe what happened in Europe. The Library of Congress has more than 16,000 books and countless films and documentaries on the Holocaust.
"The more we know, the more we can share with others," he said, urging people to take the time to ponder these events because the risk of quick study is oversimplification.
"It becomes easy to blame just the Nazis or certain individuals and not think about atrocities in the context of societal decay. Or to think about the idea that it's not individuals who commit atrocities, societies do. And it's not individuals that generally stop atrocities or genocide, societies have to do that. It was not the United States alone, it was the men and women of the free world who banded together to finally, after many years, combat the Holocaust and combat German aggression in Europe," Janda said.
The speaker provided a short bio of Adolph Hitler, who like many Germans sought to blame someone for his country's defeat in the First World War.
"I go back that far because we all need to remember that atrocities and genocide in particular almost never happen very quickly. There's a buildup to it. You can see it in the Sudan, ... in Darfur, ... in Rwanda. If you want to study the 1990s, you can see it in Bosnia-Herzegovina Ö There's a buildup of hatred, ... of division," Janda said.
There was already anti-Semitism throughout much of Europe, particularly in Germany, but it began to build in the 1920s and '30s because in the wake of WWI, Germans were humiliated, their economy was devastated, they lost their monarchy and they were trying to switch over to a democratic society. Living in a democracy can be difficult, because it's a reminder of differing views and of how, when the election is over, the electorate has to accept the results and get along with each other. This was not easy for a nation used to have one voice telling the populace what to do.
Germany experimented with the Weimar Republic. The punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles caused widespread unemployment and made its citizenry restless and angry. Instigated by Hitler, more and more people came to blame certain segments, particularly Jews, for all the sufferings.