ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS)-- In honor of Holocaust Days of Remembrance, which is observed April 24 to May 1, the Department of the Air Force hosted a discussion April 19, featuring U.S. Army Chaplain (Col.) Laurence Bazer and retired U.S. Navy Chaplain (Capt.) Irving Elson on the theme of “Past Reflections for an Inclusive Future.”
Bazer is the Army National Guard Director of Religious Affairs and the Deputy Director of the Joint Chaplain’s Office of the National Guard Bureau. He is the senior-ranking Jewish Chaplain in the United States Armed Forces. Elson is the director of the Jewish Chaplains Council and heads the Armed Forces and Veterans Services Committee, both part of the Jewish Welfare Board, and was also formerly the highest-ranking Jewish chaplain in the U.S. armed forces.
“Today’s event and next week’s official Days of Remembrance are an opportunity for everyone to find ways to get involved in both their communities and in coming together to learn more about victims of genocide, to honor and support survivors in those communities, to reflect on and honor the memories of those loved ones lost, and to forge a future where these tragedies can no longer take place,” said Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Randall Kitchens, the DAF’s chief of chaplains, in his introduction of the event.
The DAF’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (SAF/DI) sponsored the event as an opportunity to encourage thought and discussion among military and civilian personnel about exclusionary views and behaviors that can lead to atrocities if left unchallenged, said Lt. Col. Kimberly Champagne, chief of the Education and Training Directorate of SAF/DI, and the moderator for the event.
“These leaders were the ideal individuals to have the discussion we wanted to have during this observance event,” Champagne said. “Their different experiences and depth of knowledge in both the Jewish community and the Department of Defense faith communities helped us to have an engaging and meaningful conversation about how understanding the past can make us all better at leading those around us in creating a brighter future for our local communities, our nation, and our world.”
Bazer shared in his intro that he fears active forgetfulness, and he called for those who travel today to be new eyewitnesses for what happened during the Holocaust.
“Our task is to remember, to learn, to hear and to share,” Bazer said. “When that time comes of the obituary of the last witness to the horrors of the holocaust, a new generation will come up and say, ‘No, I may not have been there, but I will remember, and I will actively seek for good that we should never forget.’”
He further shared some of the story of Rena Finder, a former congregant of the Rabbi, who was one of those individuals saved by Oskar Schindler’s list and sent her story in a letter along with Jewish youth and adults who would take a pilgrimage to Kraków, Poland.
“Stop and see. Be a new eyewitness, and share what you saw for a new generation. The conversation must continue; we must actively remember, to bring hope for people,” Bazer added.
During the talk, and in discussing the need for interfaith understanding, Elson gave an example of a friend and colleague chaplain serving with a marine expeditionary unit in Beirut when this friend and two other chaplains were among those coming under rocket fire. The three chaplains, a Jewish chaplain, Catholic chaplain, and Protestant chaplain all took cover together in a foxhole. Elson quoted his friend in saying, “This is probably the first interfaith foxhole in all the Middle East. If we had more interfaith foxholes, probably there wouldn’t be a need for foxholes all together.”
To view the talk in its entirety, click here. To learn more about the Holocaust or the annual Days of Remembrance, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum site is an available reference.