JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - Holocaust survivor Halina Yasharoff Peabody brought her story of courage, faith and determination to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall April 24, 2015 as the installation observed Holocaust Remembrance Day at the community center on the Fort Myer portion of the joint base.
“We survivors are very grateful to know that our memories will not die with us and we know that everybody here is going to be a witness,” she said.
Calling her life “beautiful” before the outbreak of World War II, Peabody and her family lived a near idyllic existence in their native Poland. Her father, Izak, was a dentist; her mother, Olga, a championship swimmer. A younger sister, Ewa, completed the family.
Halina Yasharoff Peabody, a Holocaust survivor, speaks about genocide and her childhood experiences in Nazi-held Poland April 24, 2015 at the installation's community lounge during an event remembering the Holocaust. Peabody was 7 years old when the Germans carried out their first actions against Jewish civilians in her hometown of Krakow, Poland. (Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall PAO photo by Damien Salas)
“I had bicycles, tricycles and my favorite dog,” she said with a smile.
Life for the then 7-year-old Peabody changed forever when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939. Following the invasion, Izak fled to Romania because he feared he would be conscripted into the Soviet army. When he eventually returned to his family, Izak was accused by Soviet officials of espionage and sentenced to 20 years of hard labor in Siberia.
The family lost touch with Izak when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The Germans had also conquered the part of Poland where Peabody, her mother and sister were.
Eventually, the family was moved into what would become a ghetto.
“We were not allowed to go to school, we had a curfew and every Jewish person had to be working for the Germans. If they didn't have a job for us, they would make people just clean the sidewalks,” she recalled.
One day, Peabody said, the Germans said a large group was needed for work at a nearby military camp. That group was led away in the morning, and by nightfall, one man returned to the ghetto. His story was stark. When the group arrived at the camp, they were lined up over large graves and shot. The man survived because he was shot in the arm and not the heart, she said. He managed to pull himself out of the grave and made his way back to the ghetto, where he told his story.
“We knew things were not going to be good for us,” Peabody said.
The Germans began moving members of the remaining Jewish community around the area, and Olga soon devised a plan that she hoped would save the lives of her and her children. She purchased papers from a Catholic priest identifying them as non-Jewish. With those papers in hand, the three boarded a train to another part of Poland. But while they were on the train, they were pressured by a man into admitting they were Jewish. On the way to Gestapo headquarters, Olga talked the man out of turning them in.
When the war ended, Olga placed ads on the radio seeking Izak's whereabouts. A friend of the family heard the announcement and soon the family was back together. They settled in London, England. Peabody immigrated to the United States in 1968 and volunteers with the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
Peabody's story struck a chord with Marine Staff Sgt. Stevie Hagler, of Headquarters and Service Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps, Henderson Hall.
“To have experienced all of that and her as a young child having to say, ‘I don't want to die,' I don't know what I would have done,” Hagler said.
Col. Mike Henderson, JBM-HH commander, served as the host of the ceremony. He said this year's remembrance theme, Learning from the Holocaust: Choosing to Act commemorates the actions of ordinary people who through their actions became heroes.
“Victims had no control over or choice in their fate,” he said. “Rescuers, on the other hand, made choices. They choose to risk their own and their families lives and intervene to help those being persecuted.”
Also in attendance at the event were Headquarters and Service Batallion, Headquarters Marine Corps Henderson Hall Commanding Officer Col. Anthony S. Barnes; H & S Battalion Sgt. Maj. Robert W. Pullen and JBM-HH Command Sgt. Maj. Randall E. Woods.
By U.S. Marine Corps Julia LeDoux
Provided through DVIDS
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