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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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How a St. Louis Holocaust tribute reached military bases worldwide

For many years Kent Hirschfelder has met members of the military while serving as a volunteer with the USO at its facility at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. There he helps support the hundreds of recruits, soldier, sailors and Marines passing through St. Louis, many going to Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, Ill.

“I have also made numerous trips to Scott over the years on the USO mobile food units, serving meals to members of the military and their families,” said Hirschfelder. “The oft-used phrase ‘Thank you for your service’ resonates for me frequently and is really never enough.”

So, when the bases’ Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) reached out to the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum last March for assistance in hosting a “Holocaust remembrance” ceremony in May, Hirschfelder who also volunteers as a Museum tour guide and speaker, was quick to take on the task.

Kent Hirschfelder

Hirschfelder put together a program titled “Holocaust Remembrance: Behind Every Name a Story.” This event was a significant moment for the base and the military community, focusing on the importance of Holocaust education and remembrance.

“Cultural observances such as Holocaust Remembrance Day enhance cross-cultural awareness and promote harmony, pride and teamwork among SDDC’s diverse workforce,” said Kristina M. O’Brien, the Deputy to the Commanding General, the senior civilian at SDDC. “This event enabled members of the organization to gain historical context while building mutual respect and understanding.”

More than a local audience

Initially, Hirschfelder anticipated to have a modest in-person audience of about 200 Scott Air Force Base personnel, but the Air Force had bigger plans. The program was to be livestreamed and recorded for future viewing at military bases worldwide. These bases included locations in Germany, South Korea, Japan, Bahrain, Kuwait and multiple facilities in the United States.

“I was “blown away” when I learned that in addition to our live audience on the base, the program was being live-streamed around the world,” said Hirschfelder. “I have such a tremendous amount of respect for members of our military, men and women who put their lives on the line every day, sometimes in places we have never heard of.”

This extensive broadcast was facilitated by the SDDC’s global network, which provides deployment and distribution capabilities. The SDDC’s units involved included:

  • Headquarters SDDC and the Transportation Engineering Agency (TEA) at Scott AFB, IL.
  • Deployment Support Command (DSC) in Birmingham, AL.
  • The 595th Transportation Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
  • The 596th Transportation Brigade in Sunny Point, NC.
  • The 597th Transportation Brigade at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA.
  • The 598th Transportation Brigade in Sembach, Germany.
  • The 599th Transportation Brigade at Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii.
Remembrance candles.

The event underscored the SDDC’s commitment to Holocaust remembrance and education, aiming to foster resilience against hate-driven policies among its members.

“This event was special in that it enabled members of the SDDC team to actively participate by sharing survivor’s stories and displaying remembrance candles – it was very emotional and moving,” said O’Brien. “The event also sparked curiosity – many SDDC members have lived in Germany, and Mr. Hirschfelder’s presentation, which included stories about his family in Germany and their experience, was very informative and provided us a new, personal perspective.”

The program

Hirschfelder’s presentations often include his family’s history during the Holocaust, including the tragic stories of a great-uncle who committed suicide and another relative euthanized by the Nazis due to mental illness.

The program emphasized the necessity of remembering the Holocaust to strengthen individuals’ resilience against policies motivated by hate. It stated, “Remembering the victims, commemorating the Holocaust, and Holocaust education remain a universal necessity to strengthen individuals’ resilience to policies motivated by hate. Genocide does not come out of nowhere.”

The ceremony featured individual members of the military reading names of Holocaust victims and survivors while lighting candles. A poignant moment occurred when the name Gerda Weissman Klein, a well-known survivor whom Hirschfelder had met, was read.

Afterwards many attendees approached Hirschfelder with thanks and more questions.

Deputy Commanding General Kristina M. O’Brien, the senior civilian at SDDC and Kent Hirschfelder

“I had several people come up to me with questions about my family story and one person, who is a boy scout leader in Belleville, asked about bringing his troop to tour the museum,” said Hirschfelder. “A few days later I received an e-mail from a man whose family (and his wife’s) had German origins and he asked for my advice about where to begin a genealogy search for his family history. A topic I know a lot about.”

The success of the event was acknowledged by Marvin L. Perkins, secretary of the general staff at the SDDC, who praised the Hirschfelder presentation.

“The observance you planned and executed was one of the best I’ve attended, and you were the perfect speaker. I suspect you could have continued for the rest of the day and no one would have wanted to leave,” said Perkins.






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About the Contributor
Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer
Jordan worked at KSDK from 1995 to 2020. Jordan is a three-time Emmy award winner who produced every kind of show from news to specials during his tenure, creating Show Me St. Louis, The Cardinal Nation Show. He started ksdk.com in 2001 and won three Edward R. Murrow Awards for journalistic and website excellence in 2010, 2014 and 2020. Jordan has been married for 25 years and is the father of two college students. He is an avid biker, snowboarder, and beer lover. He created the blog drink314.com, focusing on the St. Louis beer community in 2015. Jordan has an incredible and vast knowledge of useless information and is the grandson of a Cleveland bootlegger.