Holocaust stories recalled, all end with 'never again!'

  • Published
  • By Bill Dowell
  • 505th Command and Control Wing Public Affairs
The last of three speakers, you could hear it in her voice, the cracking, the pausing and the deep breaths. From the base theater seats you could see the hard swallows choking back the tears. She'd told the stories before: stories of her parents, both Holocaust survivors, and being raised by them; stories of the trip she, her three daughters and her mother took to Poland, traveling with 100 Jewish chanters on a Holocaust memorial visit.

Yet, here stood Dr. Lori Ripps telling the stories again, choking back the sobs and echoing the words of the other speakers that day, "never again!"

During Hurlburt Field's annual Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony May 5, Dr. Ripps, Holocaust survivor Herman Snyder and Author Joseph Callewaert each offered rare, personal glimpses of the Nazi atrocities. Officials of the 505th Command and Control Wing hosted the event on behalf of Hurlburt's host unit, the 1st Special Operations Wing.

"We're here to honor those who came before us and to make sure their memories continue," Col. Mustafa Koprucu, 505th CCW commander, said in his opening remarks. "I had the distinct honor of visiting Israel to train and exchange with the Israeli Defense Force just last year. What an incredible event that was...but here's what really stuck in my memory, that every officer that I went to see, every general, every colonel, every major, had in their office a picture of their parents, or their grandparents, or someone in their family who had survived, or not survived, the Holocaust."

Colonel Koprucu said every one of them told him the same words that echoed during the Hurlburt ceremony: never again!  He said one of the incredible things about the Holocaust is there was unspeakable brutality, unspeakable inhumanity, unspeakable evil, but at the same time, in the midst of all of that, there were courageous men, women and children.

One of those courageous people was the day's first speaker, Joseph Callewaert. Born in Belgium, he was a young teenager and began a journal May 10, 1940, the day the Nazis attacked the West and invaded Belgium. Mr. Callewaert kept the journal until the liberation of Brussels in September 1944 and this became the basis for his book "Lights out for Freedom," a chronicle of the Nazi occupation of Belgium.

"I am not a survivor, but I am a witness, a witness looking from the outside of the electrified barbed wire of the Holocaust." Mr. Callewaert said.

He described how during the occupation he and many of his countrymen hid families, having to separate and "sprinkle" them throughout the 800,000 Belgium citizens, placing children in orphanages or boarding schools for girls. Of the 90,000 Jews living in Belgium, Mr. Callewaert said they saved about 60,000, but the "rest were sent to concentration camps."

The second speaker, Mr. Snyder, managed to avoid ending up in a concentration camp. He was born in Poland in 1921, spending his teenage years training as a carpenter. In September 1941, his family was forced into a Jewish ghetto. His mother pleaded with him to stay with his family, but he jumped the ghetto's walls and ran, never to see his family again. Not long after, the Nazis killed everyone from the town. He spent the next two years as a fugitive, surviving many close calls and living by his wits to avoid detection.

"After I left the ghetto we couldn't walk during the day. We always had to walk at night," Mr. Snyder said.

By 1943, he had made it to Russia where he worked making wooden boxes for bombs. After the war ended, he returned to Poland briefly before immigrating to the United States in 1949.

Earning a living as a carpenter, he built many of the homes in his Pittsburgh, Penn., neighborhood. He married and raised three children, one of whom serves in the U.S. Air Force here. Mr. Snyder is one of three Holocaust survivors featured in the Emmy Award-winning documentary released in 2006, "From Pittsburgh to Poland."

"There is continued evil in this world," Colonel Koprucu said, "and that is the reason we train, that is the reason we fight, that is the reason we are ready, when called upon, to never again let that kind of evil happen."