by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — It was dark, but the headlights of the Nazi soldiers’ trucks shining onto the town’s soccer field allowed 11-year-old Jack Adler to see the thousands of Jewish people who awaited their fate.
People had been divided into two groups – one deemed strong enough to live, the other group was deemed weak and disposable.
Mr. Adler, one sister and his father were deemed strong enough to live. His nine-year-old sister ended up on the other side of the field.
That night, Mr. Adler volunteered to pick up trash and the belongings people had left behind. The German soldiers gave him a baby buggy to collect the items. In a low voice, almost a whisper, Mr. Adler called out his little sister’s name.
“To my surprise, she was still there,” said Mr. Adler, who spoke April 22 on Peterson AFB for Days of Remembrance, a national day set aside to remember the people who died in the holocaust during World War II. “She came running toward me.”
Mr. Adler hid his sister in the baby buggy, covering her with the debris and items he was charged to collect. He moved her to the other side of the field. She lived for two more years.
In the Peterson chapel, on the Days of Remembrance, there were three empty chairs at the alter, draped with a black cloth. The chairs were for the people including Mr. Adler’s family, “who cannot speak and must be remembered,” said Louis Steinberg, Peterson chapel Jewish-Lay leader. The chairs were for those who died in the holocaust, the victims of genocide and the victims of terrorism.
“Hope lives when we remember the ones who have lost their lives,” Mr. Steinberg said.
For years Mr. Adler wouldn’t speak about his childhood experience in the German concentration camps, not even to his own children. In 1985, when he moved to Denver, he was encouraged by friends to tell his story. Now, he estimates he speaks to about 45,000 people a year, including school-aged children.
“I speak to you as an eyewitness to the darkest days in world history of man’s inhumanity to man,” he said.
Mr. Adler’s sisters, brother, and parents all died in the holocaust. Nearly all of his extended family, more than 80, were dead at the war’s end. Estimates vary, but there are between 200,000 and 350,000 living survivors of the holocaust, most of them would have been children living in the camps.
Mr. Adler was 10 years old when he was removed from his home in 1939 and relocated into the “Jewish Quarter” of Pabianice, Poland. Thousands of people died of malnutrition and disease in the ghettos, including his mother and brother.
In 1944, he was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
“Once again, the old, the sick and young, including my little sister who I had saved for two years, were ordered to move to the right,” Mr. Adler said.
The entire group was gassed to death and then cremated. Mr. Adler and his father were moved to a new camp and worked construction, 12-hours a day. If he didn’t move fast enough he was beaten. He still has the scar on his neck from being hit by the guard’s trademark broomstick with protruding nail.
Later, Mr. Adler was moved again, this time alone, to Dachau concentration camp in Germany.
In Dachau, an SS colonel (the Schutzstaffel was a major Nazi organization under Adolf Hitler) left wrapped bread for him in the ashes of the fireplace he cleaned each evening. Mr. Adler managed to survive and credits the colonel for providing scraps of food. He weighed 65 pounds when he was liberated on May 1, 1945. He was 16.
He was taken to the the United States as a war orphan and lived with a foster family. He went to night school, high school and then college. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He married, had children and now has grandchildren.
“They are my miracle family,” he said.
The United States is the best there is, especially in its welcoming of diversity, Mr. Adler said. However, in the U.S., hate groups exist, he said.
“It’s up to us to never let them succeed,” he said. “We don’t need to love each other, but we should respect each other. Mutual respect is the key to the survival of humanity. Without it, mankind, I’m sorry to say, will continue to destroy each other.”
Peterson’s Days of Remembrance committee vowed not to forget the lives lost. In a grassy area, behind the Peak View Park on Stewart Avenue, they planted a small purple ash tree as a memorial to the holocaust victims, said Staff Sgt. Lafe Hernandez, aerospace medical technician craftsman who chaired the Days of Remembrance committee.
“This area, in the future, we will turn into a memorial site for the victims of the holocaust where hopefully we can put in some benches,” Sergeant Hernandez said.
Col. Jim Jennings, 21st Space Wing vice commander and host of the day’s events, said he looked forward the completion of the park.
“We are only here a short time on earth,” he said. “But, this park and monument that we build will outlast all of us and serve as a reminder to everyone who does come out here to remember those atrocities that did occur.”