Glimpsing the Nazi labor camp at Auschwitz for the first time, Samuel Spiegel thought to himself: “This is the end.”
That was in 1944. He was 20. He had arrived at the camp on a cramped cattle car with his sweetheart, Regina Gutman, 18, whom he had met in a slave labor camp for Jews in Pionki, Poland.
“The minute they got us out of the train, they separated us,” Regina said. “I thought that none of us will ever make it.”
Her quavering voice echoed under the cool, hexagonal dome of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Hall of Remembrance. She is now 77. Standing by her side, as always, was Samuel, 80, her husband of 57 years.
As visitors shuffled past to light candles, the Spiegels recalled the grim circumstances that brought them together and the human tragedy that inspired this somber memorial, which on Tuesday inaugurated a special month of programs commemorating its 10th anniversary.
Ted Koppel, host of ABC News’ “Nightline,” presided at the ceremony, which drew about 150 invited guests, nearly a dozen of whom were survivors. Educators, students, members of the military and Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey told how their lives, work and communities had been touched by the museum’s outreach programs. Since its dedication in 1993, the museum has welcomed more than 19 million visitors.
Koppel said the lessons of the Holocaust, and the museum’s mission, must extend beyond the Nazi era to support oppressed peoples ravaged by state-sponsored genocide -- in Bosnia, in Rwanda and, recently, in the Congo. “Lest we be too confident of what this institution has achieved ... there is more work to be done,” he said.
The Rev. Alvin Anderson Sr., pastor of the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Columbia, Tenn., told how the museum reached out to his community when it was scarred by a rash of church burnings in the mid-1990s. At that time, he was one of several African Americans invited to the museum to speak out about the hate crimes, giving him a window into a history of oppression that he hadn’t known much about.
Inspired by the museum’s universal message, he went home to start a Holocaust-literacy project, focusing on eliminating hatred and intolerance. It is now in eight Southeastern states and the District of Columbia.
“The Holocaust has given us a light,” Anderson said. “Wherever light is, darkness will flee.”
Donald McComb, a Gaithersburg, Md., chemistry teacher, took a second job so that his family could donate $50,000 to the museum. As an educator, he said, he felt an obligation to uphold the museum’s credo, “Never again,” by ensuring that the history of the Holocaust is passed on to younger generations.
Lee Ielpi, a retired New York City firefighter, said the museum is helping him come to terms with the loss of his firefighter son, who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center.
“We must never forget what happened some 60 years ago, and we must never forget what happened on Sept. 11,” he said. “Freedom is not free.”
Regina Spiegel, who lives in Rockville, Md., said it would be harder for her to stay away from the museum and the painful memories it houses than to visit it, as she does often as a volunteer.
“As survivors, it means everything to us,” she said. “We don’t want to dwell on the past, but we have to remember so that it will never happen again.”