The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) is deeply thankful to the South Dakota National Guard for hosting the Transfer of Memory exhibit at the Joint Force Headquarters of Camp Rapid in Rapid City. Transfer of Memory is an exhibit of color photographic portraits of Minnesota Holocaust survivors and written vignettes of their lives.
2020 will mark the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany and the commencement of the first Nuremberg war crimes trial in May and October, respectively. We thank Adj. Gen. Jeffrey Marlette and Chaplain (Col.) Lynn Wilson for their leadership in Holocaust education as these somber commemorations approach.
This may be the last iconic, numerical anniversary in which there are significant numbers of Allied military personnel and Holocaust survivors remaining in our midst.
We keep in mind it was the Allied armed forces which ultimately ended the Holocaust and the extermination of the Roma people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the disabled by destroying the military of the Third Reich.
We recall—in this proudly patriotic state home to critically important installations of national defense—the sacrifices of South Dakotans in World War II. Sixty-eight thousand served in the United States military. Some 2,200 sacrificed their lives.
As the World War II Memorial on the grounds of the state Capitol reflects about South Dakota’s role in the “Arsenal of Democracy,” the state’s vital contribution to the war effort also included important support of the USO and Red Cross; agricultural production to feed the country and our military personnel; and schools and teachers preparing students for their national and military service.
South Dakotans were also witnesses to the horrors of the concentration camps. As told in "Testimonies from the Midwest," 1st Sgt. Edgar G. Pedersen enlisted in the Army in February 1941 and was discharged in October 1945, when he returned to farm in Kingsbury County. As a member of the 912 Field Artillery, 87th Infantry Division, Sgt. Pedersen participated in the liberation of the Ohrdruf concentration camp—a sub camp of Buchenwald.
On April 12, 1945, General Dwight Eisenhower—Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe—and Generals Bradley and Patton visited Ohrdruf. After the visit, Gen. Eisenhower cabled Gen. George C. Marshall—Chief of Staff of the United States Army:
“The things I saw beggar description...I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give firsthand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’”
Three quarters of a century after the bravery of Sgt. Pedersen and leadership of Gen. Eisenhower, two-thirds of American millennials cannot identify what Auschwitz is according to an April 2018 survey released by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
The single best teachers of the Holocaust our are precious survivors. There are fewer in our midst each year. David Sherman’s photography and Lili Chester’s vignettes present a glimpse of a pre-war world largely destroyed: often near-miraculous stories of indomitable will to live; and the stories of making new lives in the upper Midwest. Thus, their lives in Berlin, Vienna, and Warsaw are linked to exhibit visitors from Rapid City, Hot Springs, and Spearfish.
The great Holocaust scholar and teacher Deborah Lipstadt has expressed ruefully that “never again” has meant again and again when it comes to the recurrence of atrocities in the aftermath World War II. As we commemorate the Holocaust in the presence of the Transfer of Memory exhibit, we should continually absorb its lessons so all can participate in a meaningful way to the prevention of genocide anywhere in the world.
The Transfer of Memory exhibit will be on display Sept. 9-27 at the Joint Forces Headquarters Drill Floor, Camp Rapid. The exhibit can be viewed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Steve Hunegs is the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
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