Members of the Augusta Jewish Community Center in Evans celebrated Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Wednesday by hearing the stories of a man who endured the attempted extermination of Jews by the Nazis.
Herbert Kohn, 81, of Atlanta, is a survivor of the Holocaust. He escaped with his parents and brother to England, then to America, before the "final solution" phase of the Nazi plan that resulted in the deaths of about 11 million people, including about 6 million Jews.
"The reason we talk about it is so it doesn't happen again. Crimes against humanity are still going on every day," Kohn said.
"We have to learn and the lesson of the Holocaust is to learn not to be bystanders in an appropriate way, non-confrontational, to learn to prevent these crimes against humanity."
Kohn told the crowded room at the Jewish community center off Furys Ferry Road about how it started for him when he was kicked out of his first-grade classroom in 1933.
"The teacher said, 'Get your things together and go home. Jews are not allowed in public schools in Germany any more,'" Kohn said. "Everything in Germany changed fast, quickly and according to a plan. It was total segregation."
Kohn said he remembers the night of Nov. 9, 1938, later known as Kristallnacht, or the "Night of Broken Glass."
"I remember that night very well," Kohn said, recalling the Khaki-clad Nazi soldier wearing leather boots, belt and straps pushing his mother down and arresting his father, who ended up in the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar.
"My father did come back," Kohn said. "He came back only three weeks later. ... I didn't recognize him."
Thanks to distant family members, Kohn's family fled to England in 1940.
At 17, Kohn volunteered for early induction into the U.S. Army and returned to Germany to fight the Nazis just two days before the end of the war.
"The war was over and everybody celebrated and I cried," Kohn said. "I was only 18 years old. I saw the masses come out of the camps. It was very emotional."
During the past 35 years, Kohn said he's spoken about his Holocaust experiences about 40 times a year in an effort to educate younger generations. That education combined with action might prevent another holocaust, he believes.
Mark Gottlieb, chairman of the Holocaust Remembrance Committee, agreed that an important lesson can be taken from the Holocaust.
"We cannot sit passively by and watch the world deteriorate. We can never let it happen again," he said. "The knowledge of our past should not go in vain. We can't forget that the Holocaust could never have happened if people like you and I and our neighbors had not let it happen."
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