PASCAGOULA, Miss. – Sailors from precommissioning unit (PCU) Makin Island (LHD 8) gathered at a command observance April 22 to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.
The guest speaker for the “Day of Remembrance” ceremony was Agnes Tennenbaum, a Holocaust survivor and a former Jewish prisoner of Auschwitz, Nazi Germany’s largest concentration camp.
Makin Island’s Commanding Officer Capt. Robert Kopas introduced Tennenbaum to the 250 crew members present and noted that although the Holocaust happened during World War II, LHD 8 and other commands must be ready to fight such atrocities today.
“Take what she says to heart,” Kopas told his crew as he handed Tennenbaum the microphone.
Tennenbaum, originally from Hungary, recalled her arrival at Auschwitz, where she was stripped, shaved and separated from her mother. Her father and first husband were also taken by the Nazis. She also read “When the Magic Was Gone,” a short essay she wrote describing suicidal thoughts she had of grabbing Auschwitz’s electric perimeter fence.
“It felt like the end of the world,” she said. “I did not speak about what happened to anyone for years. The first time I spoke to a group was 25 years ago in Phoenix.”
Tennenbaum, 85, now speaks regularly at schools and religious organizations in nearby Mobile, Ala. However, Makin Island’s Holocaust observance was her first time sharing her experience with service members.
“It was thrilling to speak to the military, it was absolutely thrilling,” said Tennenbaum. “I was so excited when I was asked; I could hardly sleep last night.”
Her audience was just as thrilled. Makin Island’s weapons officer Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Forbes said Tennenbaum’s experience “reminded me why I joined. It drives the point home of why we’re here.”