Birmingham couple working to preserve memories, lessons from the Holocaust

Updated: Jan. 27, 2021 at 5:14 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - As the world pauses to remember the six million Jewish victims on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Birmingham couple is reminding us not to let the critical lessons of the Holocaust be lost.

“Memory is what we have to connect us to the past. Memory and remembrance,” says Ronne Hess.

That is why she and her husband are co-chairs of a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum event next month. Deep hatred led to the horrors committed and the Hess’ say remembering what happened is key to preventing history from repeating.

The atrocities committed by the Nazis throughout Europe in WWII are so horrible and hard to believe in terms of man’s ability to be so inhuman to other humans that it’s possible that over time we will forget these things,” says Donald Hess. “if we don’t remember we are more inclined to let them happen again. So we have to remember.”

It’s been 76 years since the Auschwitz concentration camps were liberated. The unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust haunting the soldiers the rest of their lives.

Ronne’s father was an Army captain at the time.

“My father was a liberator. Of Oohrdruf and Meissen. He wrote a letter home to his family about what he had seen. He was never really able to talk about it again, but those memories continued to haunt him for the rest of his life.” explains Ronne. “On his death bed at age 87 he was still crying about the soldiers and unfortunate people who were persecuted and murdered.”

The children who endured the horrors of concentration camps, are now in their 80s. The U.S. Holocaust Museum is working to make sure their memories, don’t die with them.

“It’s our responsibility to teach to future generations because the survivors are dwindling, there are so few left to tell the story that it’s incumbent on this next generation to continue to make sure that education exists for future generation so memory can exist and memory can persist,” says Ronne.

That is why the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Southeast is holding a Virtual Gala on February 11th.

It will be a time for reflection, and action to ensure that the critical lessons about the fragility of freedom, the nature of hate, and the consequences of indifference, are not lost, but instead applied to our lives as we move forward.

“Just teaching history is not good enough. We have to look at history and bring it forward to our own day and time that’s why its important that it happens in a classroom where a teacher can help a student see what happened in the 30s and 40s and how does it apply to our world today and how would we as individuals react to that,” says Donald.

Organizers saying that during this difficult and divided time in our nation, these lessons are even more important.

Hate in any form we need to be aware of where it can lead,” says Donald. “What is happening in the United States now and the difficult rhetoric between one side and another regardless of which side you are on makes it very hard. If we don’t respect one another and one another’s views it shows what it can lead to.”

The theme of the event is “What You Do Matters.” To remind us to do what is right, and not be indifferent or complicit in the face of hate.

“It takes a great deal of moral courage and strength to stand up for what’s right, and I like to feel that most people know the difference between right and wrong. It’s hard to put yourself in danger and stand up for what is right, but that is what is required by all of us,” says Ronne.

In light of recent events, several organizations are starting campaigns to stand up to hate.

This week, the World Jewish Congress launched its fifth annual #WeRemember campaign to combat antisemitism and all forms of hatred, genocide and xenophobia. The goal is to promote Holocaust education by inviting people to share pictures of themselves with signs that say “We Remember” on social media.

Facebook is teaming up with them too on a new initiative that will prompt Facebook users searching for terms associated with the Holocaust - or Holocaust denial - to visit, where they will be able to learn the facts.

The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center is offering a slew of digital resources as well, including profiling survivors who relocated to Alabama

“With the rise of anti-semitism, racism, whatever the -ism is that involves “othering” folks we want to understand what do we do to stop that, slow it down. I continue to believe that teaching the holocaust is one of the best ways to do that particularly where anti-semitism and any kind of hatred is concerned because it shows you what can happen from a tiny spark that can lead to 6 million (deaths).”

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