For the last few months I, along with many others in the community have attended many wonderful events held in conjunction with Chandler’s Centennial Celebration. This past month I was fortunate to attend an event where history was revisited and a historical moment for Chandler was created.
As part of the City’s Centennial Celebration and in commemoration of Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance), the East Valley Jewish Community Center (EVJCC) hosted a special speaking engagement by 89-year-old World War II Colonel Edward Shames. Col. Shames served as a member of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment and Easy Company. The name Easy Company may sound familiar to some as it was made famous by the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers.
At the event, Col. Shames — for the first time ever — opened up about his experiences at Germany’s oldest concentration camp, Dachau. The Dachau concentration camp was structured in 1933 on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory. Dachau served as a model for many camps that followed. During its first year, 4,800 prisoners had been held in the camp. Between 1933 and 1945, more than 188,000 people had been imprisoned at Dachau. U.S. Forces liberated the camp in April of 1945. Once in Dachau, U.S. forces discovered a series of railroad cars filled with bodies.
Prior to Col. Shames’ remarks, members of the public were given an opportunity to see such a car. The rare Holocaust-era rail car came from Macedonia and was the type used by Nazis as they would transport Holocaust victims to death camps. After traveling more than 11,000 miles, the rail car reached its permanent destination here in Chandler. The rail car, which is now being stored in a safe location, will serve as an exhibit at the future Holocaust and Tolerance Museum. This will undoubtedly become one of the most historical museum exhibits in the State.
In 2009, the East Valley Jewish Community Center announced plans to build the museum next to their existing building, which will be dedicated to educating the public about the Holocaust.
Being in the presence of one of only seven living members of this “Band of Brothers” was truly remarkable. The vivid images he shared have left a standing impression on me and will be something that I will not soon forget. Though these horrific events occurred close to 70 years ago, it is important to reflect on the past and acknowledge how much the world has changed since then.
I am honored to have been able to meet Col. Shames and welcome him to a community that people of different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds call home.
Jeff Weninger is vice mayor of the city of Chandler.