SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo --
The Schriever community had the opportunity to take part in Days of Remembrance events Aug. 7- 10.
While Days of Remembrance honors all genocide victims, this year, Schriever highlighted the Rwandan genocide, the Maori genocide and the Holocaust.
“The overall objective is to bring people’s stories to light and also show it hasn’t been eradicated,” said Tech. Sgt. Salvator Catanese, 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron Weapons and Tactics flight chief and point of contact for the event. “In today’s world, it’s easy to forget what the cost of freedom is and that not everybody has it. The way to progress forward is by remembering and learning from the past.”
Leading up to the main event, organizers shared posters and a Holocaust shoe display in the Building 210 atrium, a chalk footprint exhibit at the North Portals and a display of biographies from the Rwandan genocide in the Satellite DISH Dining Facility. The main event took place Aug. 10 in the base fitness center.
During the main event, Schriever members listened to Oscar Sladek, a Holocaust survivor, who spoke of what he and his family endured during those times.
Sladek’s story began in Czechoslovakia; he was born in 1935 and raised in a traditional Jewish home. After the beginning of World War II, Slovakia declared itself an independent state and they allied themselves with Nazi Germany. Sladek and his family were mandated to wear the yellow Star of David and he was prohibited from attending school. Shortly after, they were forced from their home and Christian friends of the family secretly housed them to allow them more time to plan their next move. At the age of eight, his parents decided to smuggle him out of Slovakia to live with family in Hungary.
“I spent one year in Kassa, Hungary with my aunt and cousins,” Sladek said. “The Nazi military occupied Hungary March 19, 1944. I witnessed the troops entering the town. After that, I told my family I couldn’t stay because I knew what was going to happen. I decided I wanted to go back to my parents who were still successfully hiding in Slovakia.”
Once he decided to reunite with his parents, his family knew they could not stay there for much longer. They made their way to the Tatra Mountains to hide with barely any food or supplies.
“We lived there for four months,” he said. “That was a very hard time for us. We were like fugitives in our own country; we were always going from one place to the other to survive. From a child’s perspective, I had moments where I was just pretending this was all a fantasy, but at the same time, I learned how to survive.”
Sladek added there were partisans, who were freedom fighters, living near them in the mountains. They kept them updated about the war and also protected them and other families hiding there.
“Going to the mountains nowadays is a pleasure,” he said. “We do it because it’s a feeling of freedom; however, hiding in the mountains during WWII was a different story. Years later, I read that it was the worst winter Europe ever had. It’s a miracle we survived. We were religious people and I always say ‘God helped us.’ I have no other explanation.”
In March 1945, they were liberated, and with help of the partisans, the families made their way back home.
After spending a few years in Slovakia, Sladek and his family decided to move to Israel.
“Starting a new life wasn’t easy,” Sladek said. “Europe was in disarray and there were no real laws. It was difficult to live in a country where people still hated you because you were a Jew. In 1949, I convinced my parents to move with me to Israel, since it was established as a Jewish country. I figured I was better off living in a country where I was totally free, and able to practice my traditions. After I moved there, my dignity was restored.”
Sladek made his way to Venezuela and then the United States after his time in Israel. He currently lives in Denver, Colorado, with his wife, Selma.
He said he is among the youngest of survivors who continue to tell their stories, which places even more importance to speak to younger generations.
A number of volunteers from the local and base community supported the event and several provided contextual period textiles, artifacts and memorabilia.
Col. Jennifer Grant, 50th Space Wing commander, furthered the message of the event’s importance for the Schriever community.
“On behalf of the 50th Space Wing, I would like thank Mr. Sladek for taking the time and being so candid, as well as all of you for being here,” Grant said. “May we never forget what the human spirit and resiliency looks like in the face of adversity.”
While the subject matter was solemn, the uplifting message of hope, freedom and gratitude was consistently relayed throughout the event.