Benjamin Finesmith was born in Wilmington Delaware to Orthodox Jewish parents in 1917. During WWII he served in the 89th Battalion as photographer, documenting their liberation of concentration camps and acting as a Yiddish translator for his unit. This portrait was taken sometime between 1942 and 1946. (Courtesy of Libby Stortz)

During WWII, my father was in the 89th Battalion when he and his fellow infantrymen in the Engineering Corps were among the first group of soldiers to liberate Nazi concentration camps.

As a battalion photographer, he had access to camera equipment. He worried that there might be Holocaust minimizers and deniers, so decided to take photographs of some of the horror he saw during the liberation of four concentration camps. This traumatic experience affected him for the rest of his life.

I grew up in New York, seeing those photographs and film footage that other witnesses had taken. With this experience and their immigrant background, my parents stood up for civil rights for all.

At the start of the Civil War, the Confederacy stated quite clearly in the “Declaration of the Causes of the Seceding States” that their purpose was the perpetuation of slavery. Nazis and white nationalists are all about supremacy, subjugation and sometimes genocide. We should not honor or commemorate the destruction that lives at the heart of that movement.

As recently as the mid 1960s, there were still hotel signs on NY State that said, “No Jews, no dogs, no n – – – – – -.” People of color are targeted for poor treatment far more than any other group in our country – no matter their beliefs, ethnicity, economic or social status. Anyone with eyes can see this most everywhere in our country today.

As German Pastor Martin Niemöller, who stood up to Hitler and was subsequently sent to Dachau concentration camp, famously said: “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

And as George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Listen to Libby’s commentary here:

Downloadable audio.

We need to educate, remember and learn from all the hate-filled activity that our nation has engaged in since its inception. We have a serious problem in this country and if there is any chance of peace, we must acknowledge and learn from our history and face our current policies and behaviors – individual, organizational and political. The truth shines a light in the darkness.

See Benjamin Finesmith’s photography here.