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Colorado lawmakers pause to commemorate Holocaust

State Sen. Joyce Foster, foreground, and Sen. President Brandon Shaffer. (Gerald Mellman)

By Samantha Bernstein

THE Colorado State Senate and House on April 29 heard a resolution proclaiming Holocaust Awareness Week, May 1-7.

The resolution, sponsored by State Senators Bob Bacon (D) and Brandon Shaffer (D) and Representatives Carole Murray (R) and Claire Levy (D), declares, “The people of Colorado should use these days to teach and remember the great injustices and genocides in the past, and to commit to preventing such tragedies in the future.”

The bustling and lively atmosphere in the Senate, where the resolution passed first, quickly turned to a standstill as Bacon took to the floor and spoke of the responsibilities citizens have to educate themselves, and others, on genocide.

For the past 15 years, the Holocaust Awareness Week Resolution has been passed in both the Senate and the House.

Before his election, Bacon was a history teacher who used the process of value clarification to spark thoughts among his students such as:

“Who am I?”

“What ought I do?”

“Who ought I be?”

He began his introduction of the resolution by sharing his disheartening feeling every time Cesar Chavez is presented as the spokesperson for the Latino community, MLK for the African American community, or Holocaust survivors for the Jewish people. He notes that they are more than worthy role models, but it should not be in the hands of just three people to unite humanity.

Bacon used English poet, John Donne, to expand on his desire for people to stop sticking up just for those exactly like themselves.

“No man is an island” comes full circle when Bacon expresses his thoughts of humanity as a land mass. We don’t have to float alone if we could only join together.

Bacon quoted Stanley Kramer’s film, “Judgment at Nuremburg,” specifically the famous exchange between Spencer Tracy and Burt Lancaster.

“Those people, those millions of people, I never knew it would come to this,” to which Tracy replies, “It came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”

Bacon’s introduction was followed by State Senator Irene Aguilar’s tribute to the murder of the disabled during the Holocaust.

Aguilar pointed out the continued mistreatment of the disabled by society, marked by the recent acquittal of a father in Canada accused of murdering his special needs daughter due to “understandable circumstance.”

ELIORA Horst, a 2010 IST participant and winner of the CAJE Poland Reflection Contest, was also present at the resolution.

Her words left a tangible feeling of sadness as her account was told. Because of protocol, she was not allowed to read the essay herself. State Senator Evie Hudak (D) read her words.

Horst’s reflections upon visiting the too tourist-like Auschwitz and the horrifyingly real Majdanek concentration camp brought Hudak to tears.

After both readings of the essay in the Colorado State Senate and House, numerous members got up to shake the hands of Horst and her family as they were so touched by her experience — and by her ability to do the right thing in a tough situation.

Horst recounts a time in school when one of her friends made a joke about Hitler being the best Jewish cook; courageously, she was able to take a stand and denounce the ill joke, but she admits that it was a hard thing to do at her age.

Immediately following Horst’s essay reading was an account ?from Holocaust survivor Sam Fireman.

Due to the same regulations, he did not read his story himself, but his words were delivered by State Senator Joyce Foster.

Fireman stood through the whole account and brought many solemn faces to the crowd as his heart-wrenching story was delivered.

Born Aug. 20, 1914, in Garjike, Poland, Fireman said he had a “simple life” until 1939.

That year, Fireman experienced anti-Semitism in his service in the Polish cavalry. He was court-marshaled for hitting an officer who provoked him by calling him a dirty Jew.

He met his wife, Helen Wiesman, in Pionki, and started a business with her selling gutters.

In 1940, a gentile client of his, Mr. Kramer, was unable to make the necessary payments for his purchase due to the bad economy. In an act of grace that would later be crucial to his survival, Fireman excused Kramer from his payments until it was possible for him to pay him.

Shortly thereafter, Fireman was loaded onto a train headed to Cracow. As they approached, Fireman made a fleeting decision to jump the train and head back home. He found his life literally turned upside down, as he discovered his parents’ home in ruins.

He was ordered to report to German headquarters and was mercilessly beaten until he heard a voice yelling at the SS officer. The voice was none other than Mr. Kramer’s, who had not forgotten the kindness showed to him by Fireman.

Kramer made sure Fireman had a good job and plenty of food, but could not protect him when the Lodz Ghetto was liquidated in 1944.

Fireman was sent to Auschwitz.

The most horrific aspect of Fireman’s story was his first-hand account of Dr. Mengele’s “patients.” Fireman transported dead, tortured bodies to the crematorium and witnessed the horrors of the medical testing in the camps.

Fireman’s brother, Aaron, was part of the underground uprising and told Fireman the day before his death to “stay alive and tell the world what happened here.”

Miraculously, Fireman escaped Auschwitz by sneaking on to a train to Landsberg, another camp.

It was there that he began the death march to Dachau.

On one of the countless days of marching, the prisoners were told to lie in a ditch. Fireman was sure “we would be killed” and decided to wander off into a fitful sleep.

When he awoke, they were liberated.

He was then transported to Munich where he was reunited with his wife, and the two came to the US in 1949.

Fireman said it was like going from “hell to heaven.”

The room became most emotional when Fireman said that they continue to live their lives never taking a single breath or moment for granted.

The advice he passes on to anyone who hears his story is to “learn to forgive but never to forget.”

STATE Senator Bill Cadman (R) gave yet another testimony as to why a resolution such as this one is so important for humanity’s sake.

On a tour of Auschwitz, he observed a letter that was found buried in the crematorium. “Dear finder of these notes,” it said.

“I have one request.That my days of hell serve some purpose in the future.”

Bacon resumed the podium and recognized participating agencies: JCRC, Mountain States ADL, CAJE, Allied Jewish Federation, AJC, Colorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness and Action, and the DU Holocaust Awareness Institute.

He concluded by announcing both his and other members’ commitment, to stand for justice, truth, and the value of one human being.

The program continued in the House with Rep. Carole Murray’s suggestion of society’s need for identifying the “other.”

Murray points out that although humanity has transformed this innate tendency of human beings to classify themselves into something less harmful through media such as sport rivalry, it is something people must still strive to conquer.

Rep. Claire Levy brought the issue close to home when she explored the idea of financial uncertainty leading people to act on their irrational and agitated behavior.

Levy remarked that it was something to “keep in mind” as we deal with the economic downturn.

Rep. David Balmer (R) offered outstanding support for the State of Israel. Balmer said he was “proud of the friendship between America and Israel” and is aware of ?the power Israel has in the Middle East.

As the program concluded, Rep. Sue Schafer (D) recalled other victims of the Holocaust by wearing a pink triangle pinned to her jacket, a symbol of the persecution homosexuals endured during the Holocaust.

Rep. Daniel Kagan (D) ended by offering gratitude to the righteous gentiles during the time of the Holocaust. “The resolution should not just be for those who suffered, but also for those who saved others from suffering.”

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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