The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support held a virtual Holocaust observance program April 14 in remembrance of the atrocities that took place during World War II.
In his opening remarks, Brig. Gen. Gavin Lawrence, DLA Troop Support Commander, said that events like these are an important part of keeping history from repeating itself and combating the hate that stems from extremism.
“As time widens the divide between those heinous events and the present, and our physical connections to the past dwindle in numbers, the need to acknowledge, preserve and honor the history and stories of the Holocaust becomes more and more imperative,” he said. “The memory serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of unchecked hatred, complacency and the fragility of societies.”
Keynote speaker and Holocaust survivor Danny Goldsmith talked about his family’s experiences during the war and the importance of sharing stories of the Holocaust with new generations.
“It’s extremely important that it never be forgotten, and it’s extremely important that it doesn’t happen again. Therefore we must always act against evil, intolerance, prejudice, antisemitism and hatred,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith was eight years old, living in Antwerp, Belgium, with his middle-class parents and newborn sister when World War II broke out.
After the Germans invaded Belgium in May 1940, Goldsmith said life for his family and other Jews in the city began to change.
“My parents tried to reestablish a normal life, but it lasted a very short time. Because very soon after [the occupation] they started to issue anti-Jewish decrees and regulations,” he said.
The decrees began with a Jewish registry and became more restrictive as time passed, banning Jews from holding public positions, requiring Jewish business owners to display signs, implementing a Jewish curfew, banning Jews from public places and expelling Jewish children from schools. On May 27, 1942, all Jews were forced to wear yellow stars to identify themselves.
“I remember wearing my yellow star on my lapel,” Goldsmith said.
Soon afterwards, Goldsmith’s father boarded a train and was taken to a forced labor camp in northern France.
“My father was young, only 39 years old, and he was in very good health,” Goldsmith said. “He felt like he could survive a labor camp. What my parents didn’t know at that particular time was that two things were happening. One was the initiation of the final solution, which was the total destruction of the Jewish population in Europe. They also didn’t know about the existence of the concentration camps. Many survivors only found out about them after the war had ended.”
One night in September 1942, the Nazis raided Goldsmith’s street, arresting Jewish families. Goldsmith’s mother hid them on the roof to escape. Afterward, she confided in a friend who was in the resistance movement, and with their help, hid the children in a Catholic convent.
From there, Goldsmith was moved to an orphanage with false baptismal papers and a new name: Willy Peters.
“In May 1944, the orphanage was raided by the Nazis and I was caught,” he said. “Since it was a boy’s orphanage, they made us get naked and only the Jewish boys were circumcised. That’s how I was caught and how I found out there were five other Jewish boys there. They had kept our identities very secret while we were there.”
Goldsmith and the other boys were taken to the first of a string of prison camps he would spend time in.
One night, the Nazis put him and other Jewish children onto a freight train.
“It didn’t have any windows, it didn’t have any seats. It was a wooden boxcar that carried animals and freight. That’s what they put us on,” he said.
The boys were able to escape the boxcar by prying away enough wood slats to jump out as the train slowed at a sharp bend. Luckily, they only endured cuts and sprains from the jump. They hid in the nearby woods.
“After a while, things started to get very bad,” Goldsmith said, “We had no water. We had no food. Cuts were becoming infected and the sprains were getting worse.”
The boys decided to go to a rectory in the nearby village of Perwez, Belgium, to seek solace. The priest placed each child with a separate family in the town.
Goldsmith was hidden in the attic of a house, where he stayed during day, only going into their backyard at night for fresh air.
In September 1944, he was liberated and reunited with his mother, who had lost a leg during an air raid, and his sister, who had been hiding with a Catholic family.
“It was a fabulous moment,” he said. “Even though my mother was very sick, she was alive. I was alive. My sister was alive. All we had to do was to wait for the war to end in Europe, my father to come back and we would be a family again.”
Goldsmith’s father never returned. He later found out that he had died in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
In April 1948, with the help of an American uncle, Goldsmith and his family relocated to New York.
Goldsmith said there was one thing people could do to help keep events like the Holocaust from happening again.
“I’m urging all of you: please do not hate,” he said. “It causes all kinds of bad things. It starts out small with subtle bias, and then bullying, and then prejudice, and then bigotry, and then discrimination, and then violence and then finally genocide. So please do not hate.”