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February 20, 2017 5:53 pm

In 2012 Speech, Incoming National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster Emphasized Importance of Remembering the Holocaust

avatar by Barney Breen-Portnoy

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Lt. Gen. H.R. McMasters. Photo: US Army Public Affairs via Wikimedia Commons.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. Photo: US Army Public Affairs via Wikimedia Commons.

US President Donald Trump announced on Monday that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster has been chosen to serve as his next national security adviser, replacing Michael Flynn, who resigned last week less than a month into the job.

McMaster, 54, is a 1984 West Point graduate who served overseas in both Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of a decorated three-decade military career.

“He is a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience,” Trump said on Monday of McMaster. “I watched and read a lot over the last two days. He is highly respected by everybody in the military, and we’re very honored to have him.”

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On August 26, 2012, McMaster spoke at the dedication of a new Holocaust exhibit at the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning in Georgia. The transcript of his remarks — in which he talked about the importance of remembering the Holocaust — was unearthed by The Algemeiner on Monday and can be read below:

Good afternoon.

It an honor to represent the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning at this opening of the National Infantry Museum exhibit dedicated to victims of the Holocaust and in memory of Colonel Aaron Cohn, soldier, fellow Brave Rifles cavalry trooper, public servant, example for all of us.

Members of the Cohn family, community leaders, leaders of the National Infantry Foundation and the National Infantry Museum, fellow soldiers, Fort Benning civilians and family members, distinguished guests:

In the Germany of the 1920s and 30s, humanity was eroded by xenophobia in general and anti-Semitism in particular – and then in the 1940s, gave way completely. The scale of the human toll, the suffering during the holocaust, is really unimaginable — six million Jews, five million others systematically murdered.

On a recent trip to Israel, I made my third visit to the Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. One enters the memorial and is immediately gripped by a sense of foreboding. It is Europe in the early 1930s. Grey granite walls narrow toward the ceiling and squeeze out the light as one walks downward, descending as humanity descended during a period when good men did nothing.

By the time one reaches the lowest point in the memorial, knees are weak. The mass murder of Jews, prisoners of war, homosexuals, people with certain disabilities, had already begun. But Germany’s colossal genocidal project grew in scale in the beginning of 1942 when the SS took the lead. The criminals who led the SS quickly determined that mass shooting, although it would remain a significant element in their “process” did not work with the speed and efficiency they desired. They began to use gas vans which they first tried out on Russian prisoners. They then decided to reverse the approach they adopted in the summer of 1941; instead of bringing the murderers to the victims, they would bring the victims to the murderers. Large shipments of German Jews began on October 15, 1941. At the Wannsee conference in December of that year, leaders and bureaucrats of government agencies deliberately planned the implementation of the program to kill all the Jews of Europe. Their plans included not only all Jews in German-controlled and influenced areas, but those — like the ones in England, Spain, Sweden, and Portugal — which it was assumed would soon also be under Nazi domination.

It was around this time that The United States entered the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. America mobilized. The war involved all of America. The U.S. Army grew from an army of 190,000 to an army of almost 8.5 million — a 44 fold increase. A total of 16 million Americans served in uniform in WWII; virtually every family had someone in harm’s way, virtually every American had an emotional investment in our Army. That WWII army of 8.5 million existed in a country of about 130 million; by comparison, today we have an army of roughly 500,000 in a country of 307 million.

It is when that American Army, alongside British forces crossed the English Channel in June 1944 that the floor at the Yad Vashem memorial begins to slope upward toward sunlight streaming in through the window at the far end of the memorial.

Hitler’s and Nazi Germany’s genocidal campaign would continue until soldiers liberated the concentration camps and Hitler’s murderous regime was defeated.

Mass murderers had to be stopped physically. Their inhuman, fascist ideology of hatred and violence and murder also had to be defeated. And, ultimately, it would fall of the shoulders of American soldiers to stop these mass murders and defeat their ideology — soldiers like Colonel Aaron Cohn of the 3rd United States Cavalry who led his troopers into the concentration camp at Ebensee, Austria on 9 May 1945. What he and his troopers found was deplorable. The 25 Ebensee barracks had been designed to hold 100 prisoners each; each of them held over 700 emaciated men. In the weeks prior to liberation, the crematorium was of course unable to keep pace with those who were murdered or starved to death; the death rate had reached about 350 per day. Naked bodies lay stacked up outside the blocks and the crematorium itself. American soldiers found a ditch outside the camp where bodies were flung into quicklime.

We should celebrate the end of this horror — it was a real victory for our nation and for all of humankind. A victory won by men like Judge Cohn. But this memorial and this museum also reminds us that victory in war is only possible through sacrifice. In World War II, the U.S. military sustained almost 300,000 battle deaths and about 100,000 deaths from other causes. The war lasted 2,174 days and claimed an average of 27,600 lives every day, or 1,150 an hour, or 19 a minute, or one death every three seconds.

The human toll of World War II and the Holocaust is hard to imagine. But we must not be numbed by statistics and remember the singularity of every death.

At the end of Yad Vashem’s historical narrative is the Hall of Names — a repository for the Pages of Testimony of millions of Holocaust victims. A memorial that helps bring home the singularity of those who perished. As our fellow citizens enter this wonderful museum and come to this spot, I hope that they realize that the vast host memorialized here, the victims of the Holocaust — died one by one. And I hope that they also realize that the American soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines who gave their lives to defeat Nazi Germany and end the Holocaust gave their lives one by one and that they died for all of us and all of humanity. We must, as author Rick Atkinson has said so well, remember that every death was as unique as a snowflake or a fingerprint.

As President Obama observed in Oslo on 10 December 2009, “To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.” He observed that “a non-violent movement could not have stopped Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.” America, he observed, has used its military power “because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.”

Our Army is a living historical community. That is why this memorial and this museum are important to us. The American soldiers memorialized in this great Infantry Museum and those serving today are both warriors and humanitarians. Colonel Judge Aaron Cohn was a warrior and humanitarian.

Proverbs 22:1 says that a good name is to be valued more than riches. We come together to commemorate the human tragedy of the holocaust. And we also come together at this memorial and in this great Infantry Museum to celebrate two good names — Colonel Aaron Cohn and the American soldier.

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  • rabbimfriedman@yahoo.com

    Gen. McMaster should have been the Sec., of Defense.

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