An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

E-Holocaust: Get Connected

  • Published
  • By Col Michael J. Underkofler
  • Commander, 514th Air Mobility Wing
I take solace in knowing that young Americans want to be connected to the past. They proudly post pictures on social media sites of the life and service of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives. They similarly seem to enjoy connecting to more than once-removed family members they have never met. Through online geology sites, if they look hard enough, many, like me, will find a connection to a holocaust victim, survivor, or death camp liberator.

Unlike earlier generations who relied on information written in old bibles, on tombstones, or in court house records, today's novice genealogists have wide and immediate access to family data. Online it's possible to locate and collaborate on the detective work of others, showing family tree branches that often include the cultural and ethnic identities of relatives not previously known. The world seems to have gotten smaller and more interconnected as new familial associations are learned. Distant cousins are embraced. Differences of opinions or practices that once separated families are relegated to the past.

I too, have enjoyed the emergence of internet genealogy. My surname forefather came to the United States in 1739. Through marriage I'm related to earlier settlers as well as former U.S. presidents, inventors, and the well-heeled. Hundreds of cousins living here and in Germanic countries, even though by centuries, have been discovered and met. These familial revelations haven't changed my social or economic condition, but they serve as touchstones to the past. Truth has replaced family legend and connections to others have grown exponentially.

My maternal side is composed of more recent immigrants from Eastern Europe; there aren't many American cousins. But despite generational proximity, I've yet to locate any maternal European cousins. Not long ago, I finally had to acknowledge that it wasn't so much that I wasn't searching hard enough, but during the Holocaust, hatred and war pruned many of the family tree branches.

Starting first as name calling and harassment, European Jews were quickly rounded up and subjected to the worst genocide the world has ever known. Hitler was close to his "Final Solution," the complete elimination of Jews in Europe. Killed along with the six million Jews in the Holocaust were five million others - those who challenged the Nazis. Clergy, dissenting political and social party leaders met their death by execution or mass murder. Also included were those the Nazis deemed inferior such as Jehovah Witnesses, homosexuals, the Roma (or gypsies), and those mentally and physically challenged.

Over the years I have tried to help the military community remember those who perished in the Holocaust and honor those who helped liberate the death camps during the annual Days of Remembrance. This year we focus our remembrance efforts from April 27 - May 4. But as I've gotten older, I've worried that in communities where there is an absence of riveting first-person stories the citizenry might have forgotten the evilness that took place. Within a decade, few survivors and liberators will be alive. Will we collectively, as a nation, forget or diminish what happened when they are gone?

In Israel during the remembrance week there will be many memorial events. Sirens will also sound everywhere for two minutes starting at 10:00 a.m. on April 28th, which is Yom HaShoah, the day of remembrance of the Holocaust. For these two minutes, citizens are asked to quietly reflect on the horrors of the past. All humanity suffered by what happened in wretched cesspools of hatred, indifference and bigotry. Maybe we should have our nation's sirens blast for two minutes and together pause and remember too.

In America, we honor and hold in high esteem individuals and families who settled the country, fought for its independence, held a nation together, or insisted on social justice and equality. Equal respect should be afforded to those who perished in the Holocaust, liberated the camps, documented the atrocities, or sought justice for what happened. By supporting genealogy efforts that bring out the truth of the Holocaust, maybe future generations will see how they are connected to this dark past. It might help them to have the fortitude to stand up to tolerance, indifference, and other atrocities against humanity.