Honor guard
By Rebecca Kaplan Boroson | Published 10/26/2006 | Editorial |

It’s a U.S. veteran’s congressionally granted right to be buried with an honor guard detail in attendance. There are different rites for different reasons, variously conducted by a two-person, nine-person, or 21-person detail. But in every case, taps is sounded and the American flag ceremonially folded and passed to the next of kin.

A solemn and moving ceremony, it reminds the mourners of that person’s worth, particularly of his or her valor.

Two men of valor died in recent days, Ben Meed and Sigmund Strochlitz. (See page 40.) They were not U.S. veterans but soldiers in a strange, sad, ultimately proud company, the survivors of the Shoah. Indeed, they were five-star generals. It is largely due to them and others on their worthy quest that the truth of the Holocaust is being told, in schools and colleges across many states and in museums and at gatherings the world over, including the national Yom HaShoah observance in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. Indeed, if they had done nothing else to raise awareness of the Shoah, to memorialize the dead, to give meaning to survivors’ lives, their efforts to create the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum there — a marvelous teaching instrument and a beacon against genocide — would have been enough.

Both men went through the living hell — a phrase that’s become trivialized by overuse but is in this instance an exact description — of the Shoah.

Meed lived in the Warsaw Ghetto until he joined the Underground. From the other side of the wall, he smuggled fighters out of the ghetto and hid them. After the war, he was a founder of the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization, commonly called WAGRO, the first organization to commemorate the Holocaust in America. He was also the founding president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants — and stayed at its helm until his death on Tuesday. He and his wife are blessed by many families for having founded the Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, an enormously useful tool to help people find — and find out about — family members lost in the Shoah.

Strochlitz was deported to Birkenau. His parents, sisters, and wife were killed, and he was sent on a series of death marches, the last one to Bergen-Belsen. It is he who devised the Rotunda Yom HaShoah observance and set the standard for its observance across the states.

What these men have done, together and individually, is worthy of the fullest panoply of an honor guard. Now the flag is folded and passed on to their kin — who are all of us.