More than 150 marchers made their way to Kings Harbor, carrying signs that read “We will not be silent,” “Remembering, Reconciling, Taking A Stand,” and other messages of solidarity against antisemitism.

Upon arriving, they joined another 100 Holocaust survivor descendants and their supporters during the annual March of Remembrance event Sunday afternoon in Kingwood.

“This year’s march coincided with Genocide Awareness Month and March of Life events taking place in more than 20 nations and over 400 cities around the world,” said Rozalie Jerome, state director of the Holocaust Remembrance Association, which hosts the event. The theme was “Uprising Against Antisemitism” in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Jerome herself is the child of Holocaust survivors rescued by Christians in Hungary. Most of her family was murdered in Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, she said.

Jerome said the march and similar events were necessary to speak out against rising antisemitism.

A 2022 audit of antisemitic events published by the Anti-Defamation League reported 3,697 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States, a 36 increase from 2021.

“This is the third time in the past five years that the year-end total has been the highest number ever recorded,” the report shows. The league has been tracking antisemitic incidents since 1979.

Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany Kai Hennig, who was a guest speaker at the event, said antisemitism is also on the rise in Europe. In Germany, Hennig said, many of the incidents are hate speech related. He points to social media as a platform often used by those espousing antisemitism.

Conversations about the past reveal hidden family histories

Hennig said he’s spent most of his professional life working to right the wrongs of his home country.

“Ever since the end of the second World War, we have been trying to restitute, to commemorate, and to do the utmost that is possible to find a way to deal with our past,” he said.

His grandfather from his mother’s side was a member of the SA, or Sturmabteilung, a paramilitary organization that played a critical role in the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party and the precursors to the SS. His grandmother from the other side of the family was hiding a half-Jewish boy who later became his godfather.

“You will find a lot of these stories within German families and so it’s personal for me,” he said.

Hennig said the U.S.-created miniseries, “Holocaust”, in the 1970s created a stir across the pond. He was a teenager at the time but remembered how the show sparked discussion in German society.

He said people began to ask questions about their relatives and a change in school curricula evolved. Many began to discover some of their relatives were perpetrators.

Descendants share difficult stories to shed light on truth

Leading the march were German perpetrator descendants Frank and Bärbel Pfeiffer. The couple has had to deal with the reality of their ancestry.

“Family reunions always had the atmosphere of racism and antisemitism. I grew up with hatred against Jewish people that I didn’t even know. I didn’t know what it meant to be a Jew,” Frank Pfeiffer said regretfully.

As he grew older, he sought documents about his grandfather. He had always heard their family were victims of the Russians who invaded and took their grandfather’s home and money.

“I was shocked to hear he was an officer in the Waffen SS and in the Death Head Unit. They were responsible for war crimes, especially against Jewish people all over Europe,” he said.

Bärbel’s grandfather was responsible for putting up the barbed wire at Auschwitz and charging it with electricity.

“He also helped to build the gas chambers,” she said. She believes he was responsible for 1 million deaths. She has visited Auschwitz several times and said each trip was heartbreaking.

Since learning of their grandparents’ involvement, the couple has sought atonement by telling their story.

“We speak about it because it’s the truth,” Frank Pfeiffer said.

Officials warn history could repeat itself

The Consul General of Ukraine in Houston Vitalii Tarasiuk relayed a story to the crowd told by his own president in 2020 at an event in Israel commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

“He told a story about a family of four brothers; three of them were killed by the Nazis, victims of the Holocaust in Ukraine,” Tarasiuk said.

Two years after the war, the surviving brother had a son, and later a grandson.

“Forty years later, that grandson became the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky,” Tarasiuk said.

Tarasiuk drew a parallel between the war crimes of World War II and those occurring now in Ukraine. Over 78,000 alleged war crimes including unlawful killing, rape and torture have been reported in Ukraine during the Russian invasion, a Reuters article states. If atrocities are allowed to occur, he warns they are likely to be repeated.

The day after the march, construction work began on the Holocaust Garden Of Hope near King’s Harbor. The first phase is expected to finish in September.