This post was contributed by Christopher Cosentino, Associate Superintendent of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Associate Superintendent Christopher Cosentino with WWII Veteran and Buchenwald Camp Liberator Sol Goldstein keynote speaker at “Lessons of the Shoah” at John Carroll High School.
I can vaguely remember what I was doing when I was 18 years old. I am grateful that “back in the day” we didn’t have the type of social media my children are growing up using in their daily lives. Not that I was doing anything immoral or illegal, I was just acting like a typical 18 year old boy who thought he was smarter than he actually was at the time.
One person I had the distinct pleasure of meeting can vividly remember exactly what he was doing when he was 18 years old. It is a story so powerful, that I believe not only my children, but all young people need to hear it. I say that because this gentleman, and many others like him, helped to end an unthinkable and inhuman event in the course of history.
At the age of 93 years old, Mr. Sol Goldstein can tell you exactly what he was doing on Tuesday, June 6, 1944. Mr. Goldstein had just turned 18 years old and was in the midst of making history. He was one of the many brave souls who was a part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches of Normandy, France to bring about the liberation of occupied Europe and to eventually bring to light a horrific crime against humanity that many didn’t even know was occurring. He tells the story as if it had just happened. At the ripe age of 18 he was now in charge of his platoon because forty percent of the men had been killed in the time them to exit their boats and reach the beachhead.
Despite the horror he must have been witnessing, Mr. Goldstein and his platoon stuck to their duty and pressed on. After taking the beach, he and the men under his command marched deeper into Europe and continued their mission working to bring an end to the war. At one point the soldiers detected a terrible smell than none of them could explain. As they followed the stench they came across some type of camp. (They would later learn it was the concentration camp known as Buchenwald Camp). Entering the fenced area, as the soldier in charge, Mr. Goldstein broke away from the platoon and ventured ahead. He encountered men and women who in his words didn’t look human. They looked like skeletons with skin hanging off their bodies.
Having the ability to speak Yiddish, Mr. Goldstein was able to communicate with one of the people who approached the strangers who just entered the camp. The man, speaking in German, asked Mr. Goldstein who was he and was he American. Mr. Goldstein responded and said “I am not only an American, I am a Jew.” The man’s response, which still brought tears to Mr. Goldstein’s eyes as he shared this, said “what took you so long?”
This story is just one of many like it that we have heard told since the successful end of World War II. To this day it is difficult to fathom that over six million Jewish people were summarily executed because of their faith.
If Mr. Goldstein had returned to the states after his tour and done nothing else he would still rightfully so be considered a hero. That experience; however, inspired Mr. Goldstein to travel the world to assist persecuted people in need of help and rescue. As I shared earlier, Mr. Goldstein is a vibrant 93 years young. He will sadly though not live forever so at some point his story must be told by others. This is vital for us all. What occurred some seventy two years ago unfortunately still occurs in some parts of the world today. A fact not lost on Mr. Goldstein. It is our duty to listen to stories from Mr. Goldstein and others and take up the mantel and share their acts of heroism and social justice with everyone.
Programs like “Lessons of the Shoah”, hosted by The John Carroll School in Bel Air, MD where I heard Mr. Goldstein are truly a shining example of making sure these stories are never forgotten. And just as important, is that people like Mr. Goldstein and those he helped liberate are also remembered.
NCEA has partnered with the ADL to bring the Bearing Witness program to Catholic Educators across the country. This program provides an all-expense paid, intensive professional development experience to help teachers have a greater understanding of the historic anti-Semitism contributing to the Holocaust as well as an examination of the events from a Catholic perspective. To learn more about the Bearing Witness program or to apply to attend, you can find more information at www.adl.org/national-bearing-witness. NCEA is also offering a free webinar about the Echoes and Reflections Holocaust education curriculum. You can register for the webinar at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/rt/7400283175131242753. For more information about the program, contact NCEA Manager of Educational Resources Andrea Kopp at firstname.lastname@example.org.