Units at Camp Zama are called upon to plan community events for various observances each year celebrating ethnic diversity and history, but some commemorations take a little extra creativity to arrange.

“Some of [the events] have been harder to get involvement from the community,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jacqueline Chatman, U.S. Army Japan Equal Opportunity adviser who tasks units with organizing the events throughout the year. The Day of Remembrance, she said, “is not a celebration like the others.”

Staff Sgt. Jacqueline Smith, from USARJ’s Headquarters Headquarters Company, took that as a personal challenge. She spent weeks searching to find something with more meaning than a photo display. “Normally we just show some pictures and do a little brief,” Smith said. “I wanted something different.”

After being assigned the task a year ago of creating an observance, she began researching and eventually came upon the Holocaust Memorial Center in Washington state, which recommends speakers.

Thomas Blatt, an animated 77-year-old who helped lead an uprising in a concentration camp and later wrote two books and produced a documentary on his experience, responded immediately to an e-mail from Smith.

Smith’s unit pitched in for his airfare, and Blatt agreed to come to Camp Zama for free.

Blatt’s story goes farther than a firsthand account of history. At 15, he and others in the Sobibor death camp overpowered their guards and escaped from the camp.

The leaders of the uprising, Blatt told Smith, vowed that whoever survived should never let the world forget what happened. By coming to Zama, and later to Guam and South Korea, Blatt will continue that mission.

When Smith told Chatman she had a Holocaust survivor coming to speak for Zama’s Remembrance Day observance, Chatman was amazed.

“I was like, ‘you’re kidding.’ I was totally astonished,” Chatman said. “She’s been out there trying to come up with ideas. She really worked hard.”

The planning opened her to the experiences of those persecuted by the Nazis and taught her how important commemorations are to the community, she said.

“That’s why this is special,” Chatman said. “It’s not every day that we can hear something firsthand. I really think we’re going to have a great turnout.”

Day of Remembrance observance

Friday April 15, 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Camp Zama Community Club.

Holocaust survivor Thomas Blatt, who led a concentration camp revolt in 1943, will speak about his experiences and about racism, intolerance and social injustice.

The free program is open to all status-of-forces ID card holders.

The date of the official Day of Remembrance changes every year — in the Jewish calendar it falls on the 27th day of the month of Nisan. This year, the official Day of Remembrance is May 6.

— Stars and Stripes

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