1 month ago

Alabama’s Holocaust Day of Remembrance observance to be April 11

American prisoner of war Roddie Edmonds stood in front of more than 1,200 fellow POWs, the commandant of a German Stalag holding a Luger to Edmonds’ head.

The day before, the commandant had demanded that all Jewish POWs among the 1,200-plus noncommissioned officers captured during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 present themselves outside their barracks the next morning. Edmonds, a master sergeant from Knoxville, Tennessee, was the group’s ranking officer. He ordered all the American POWs to stand in formation, like they did every morning.

The commandant was furious. “You can’t all be Jews!” he said. Edmonds replied, “We are all Jews here.”

That’s when the German drew his pistol and threatened to kill Edmonds. “You will order the Jews to step forward, or I will shoot you right now.”

Edmonds told the commandant he would have to shoot all the prisoners and that after the war, which was nearing its end with Germany losing, he would be prosecuted for war crimes. The commandant about-faced and walked away. Among the POWs were 200 Jewish GIs. Edmonds’ remarkable bravery while staring down death saved their lives.

Edmonds’ son, Chris, senior pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Maryville, Tennessee, will be the featured speaker Sunday, April 11, at 2 p.m. at Alabama’s Holocaust Day of Remembrance. The annual observance of Yom HaShoah honors the memory of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, and Alabama’s survivors and their families. The event will be livestreamed. Click here to register.

Chris Edmonds recently received the Righteous Among the Nations award from Israel and Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, on behalf of his father, who died in 1985. This story’s account of Roddie Edmonds’ heroism came from the classroom version of the award-winning documentary “Footsteps of My Father,” made by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous in 2018.

Alabama’s Holocaust event is organized by the Alabama Holocaust Commission, the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Birmingham Jewish Federation. The observance will include a rededication of the Anne Frank Tree in Kelly Ingram Park in downtown Birmingham.

In 2010, a group of Birmingham organizations planted a horse chestnut tree in the park to memorialize Frank, the young Jewish Holocaust victim who kept a diary of her experiences and could look out at a large horse chestnut tree in the garden as she and her family hid from the Nazis. The tree planted in Birmingham did not survive the Alabama climate. On April 11, the groups will rededicate an American beech that has replaced the horse chestnut tree.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey will make a proclamation at the event and Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, will speak. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin is part of the program, which includes music by violinist Niv Ashkenazi as part of the Violins of Hope, an artistic project of the restored instruments played by Jewish musicians in Holocaust camps. A candle-lighting ceremony will recognize Holocaust survivors and their families.

One of those survivors is Birmingham’s Dr. Robert May, who celebrated his 95th birthday in February. The retired OB-GYN counts himself extremely fortunate that he and his immediate family survived the Holocaust, although an aunt and uncle who helped them perished in Auschwitz.

“I have lived a long life. I’m 95 years old. It has been a fortuitous life. I have survived a disaster that happened to some of my family,” he said.

May was born in 1926 in Camberg, Germany, a small town about 50 miles from Frankfurt. He remembers playing soccer and marbles with other children in the park and living an “essentially normal” life – until Adolf Hitler rose to power in 1933 when May was 7.

“I was totally isolated after Hitler came to power,” he said. “Everyone knew everyone else, and knew we were Jewish. I was an outcast. By age 9, it became impossible for a kid to have a normal life because of isolation more than any physical harm.”

May remembers the indoctrination of his classmates into the Hitler Youth and being jealous of the fancy uniforms they wore.

“One of the episodes I remember vividly, I was chased by a couple of Nazi-uniformed kids in my class. They called me a dirty Jew. I escaped by way of a little entrance into our house in the back,” he said. “I told my father about it and that I called them a dirty Nazi back. My father said, ‘Don’t do that. There’s no need to aggravate them. Just run home and get away from them but don’t call them names.’

“That was the basic attitude of the Jews at the time,” May said. “’This will pass, we’ve been through worse.’ The attitude was, people will come to their senses.”

But they didn’t.

As things got worse for May, his Aunt Emma moved with him to Frankfurt in 1936, leaving behind his parents in Camberg. They lived in an apartment owned by his wealthy Uncle Siegmund, who had escaped Germany and lived in Holland. May’s uncle paid for him to attend the Philanthropin, a Jewish school that gave him an “extraordinary” education, until Kristallnacht in November 1938.

During Kristallnacht, or “Night of Broken Glass,” German mobs of paramilitary forces and civilians attacked and damaged or destroyed thousands of businesses and synagogues, killing at least 91 Jews, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Many others died after being arrested. Some 30,000 Jewish males from 16 to 60 were sent to concentration camps.

A neighbor had warned May and his Aunt Emma to leave their apartment, which rioters ransacked. The school and synagogue he attended were torched. Soon after, May, who was 12, traveled alone to Brighton, England, under the Kindertransport program. The rescue effort by the British government fed, educated and housed thousands of refugee children, most of them Jewish. Uncle Siegmund paid for May to attend a Jewish boarding school.

May’s parents, with only two suitcases, escaped to London two days before the war started in summer 1939, awaiting a visa to travel to the United States. May, his parents and his two older brothers, who had left Germany years earlier, ended up in New Orleans in 1940, where relatives lived. Meanwhile, Germany conquered much of Europe, including Holland, where May’s Aunt Emma had joined Uncle Siegmund.

“In 1940, when Hitler invaded Belgium and Holland and defeated France, they were overrun by the Germans in Amsterdam, deported in 1942 or 1943 and were killed in Auschwitz,” May said.

Fast-forward through May’s life to now: medical school in New Orleans, two years in the Air Force, marriage, moving to Birmingham in 1953 to start a medical practice, three children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren over the course of almost a half-century as a doctor and finally, retirement. His life, he said, could have happened “only in America.”

“I’m married to a young lady that I’ve been married to 67 or 68 years. We’re still living in the same house we’ve lived in for 55 years. I have no complaints,” May said.

He paused.

“I do remember my aunt and uncle and what happened to them. Without them, I would not be here.”

Holocaust education

One of May’s children is Ann Mollengarden, education director of the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center. Stories like her father’s help people understand the impact the Holocaust had at a personal level.

“The difficulty with this subject is the magnitude,” she said. “Because of the magnitude, it often becomes something that is unrelatable. So it needs to be drawn down to the individuals and to their experiences, which are really diverse.

“Instead of making it about 6 million (deaths), it’s putting a face to the events,” Mollengarden said.

With hate speech and the number of hate crimes growing and Holocaust deniers spewing their lies on the internet and social media, educating people about the Holocaust remains a critical mission of BHEC, with the goal of creating a “more just, humane and tolerant future.”

“This was a time when humanity really went awry, and it is a representative time for all groups of people as to what can go wrong when we don’t follow the norms of humanity,” Mollengarden said. “We should be studying about this and learning about this because it shows how we can go wrong, how democracy can fail, how human beings can fail, and what we are capable of doing.”

Zoe Weil, BHEC’s director of programs and outreach, notes that hate speech can lead to hate crimes and to something far worse, as events in Germany under the Third Reich proved.

“It didn’t start with the camps. It was an incremental, slow process,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons why a large population accepted it, or didn’t do as much as they should have because of those incremental laws of, oh, Jews can’t go to the park anymore. Jews can’t stay out past 7 anymore. No more Jewish businesses. Jews have to wear stars. Jews have to live in one area.”

Each of those steps, one after another, led to violence, to widespread killings and, ultimately, to state-sponsored, mass murder in concentration camps – not just 6 million Jews, but millions more people in other, targeted groups.

“That’s part of Holocaust education, learning the dangers of letting those ideas and thoughts and actions continue,” Weil said.

Not every Holocaust survivor endured the horrors of a concentration camp. Some fled, others went into hiding during the war.

“We define a survivor as anyone whose lives came under the Third Reich,” Mollengarden said.

BHEC continues working to document the stories of survivors who live or have lived in Alabama. With a founding board of directors that included Holocaust survivors, that’s one of the reasons for BHEC’s existence. “It was their hope that really spurred all of this because they want their stories to be told, and they wanted to assure that their stories would continue to be told,” Mollengarden said.

BHEC’s survivors’ archive includes more than 170 names, and Mollengarden invited the public to let BHEC know of survivors it has not documented or to provide additional information about the survivors listed. As the number of living survivors dwindles, the BHEC wants to do all it can to preserve and tell their stories – through the archive, through children of survivors telling their family’s stories, through others telling stories of survivors who have died.

“That is our goal, to continue to tell these stories because they won’t be around forever,” Mollengarden said. “These stories are so important.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

51 mins ago

The Saddle Guy carries on a family tradition of saddle making in Alabama

Kevin Parrish is a craftsman by birthright. At the age of 13, his father took him into the family garage workshop and started relaying the ins and outs of leather working and saddle making.

“I remember I was watching Saturday morning cartoons and he came and said, ‘Come on, it’s time to go to work,’ and from that point on, some nights during the week and every Saturday I would work with him, kicking and screaming the whole way.”

Luckily, Parrish, who owns The Saddle Guy—a saddle making and repair shop in Baldwin County, Alabama—eventually developed a passion for the talent. After attending college for a couple of years at Auburn, he returned home to Montgomery to once again work in his father’s saddle shop. This time, though, something was different. “It just kind of clicked for me,” he remembers.

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Finally seeing a future in saddle making, Parrish spearheaded an expansion of his father’s homegrown business, renting a space in the Montgomery stockyards and slowly growing the business for the next three years. When his father passed away in 1999, he held on for a few years before closing down the shop and moving to Memphis to work at Tucker Saddlery. A short time later, Tucker Saddlery was bought by Circle Y out of Texas, and Parrish moved west.

“It was kind of like saddle college,” Parrish says. “I got to learn a lot about making techniques and work with a bunch of talented saddle makers and designers.”

When Parrish decided it was time to move home, the natural thing to do was reopen shop. He repeated history by first operating out of his garage. Once business picked up, her rented a space. In 2017, Parrish moved his business to Robertsdale, where he resides today.

There, Parrish and his team of five focus on three main areas of business: saddle making, saddle repair, and creating horse tack like bridles and breast straps. Over the years, business has steadily grown. Last year, the team produced 147 saddles, the year before it was 89, then 69, 33, and 13. This year, The Saddle Guy already has orders for 114 saddles from all over the country and expects to build around 224 total before December ends.

One of the Parrish’s main goals with The Saddle Guy is to uphold the integrity of craftsmanship his father created in their family name. He often gets saddles into the shop for repairs that he can tell his father worked on just by the quality of stitching. With every saddle or accessory his shop works on, Parrish says it’s not about perfection but rather about making something beautiful and durable out of the materials he has to work with.

“There’s just something about starting out with a table covered in material—hardware, a hide of leather, a piece of tree—and then taking all those components and fitting them together. It’s kind of like creating something out of nothing—or not nothing, but something complicated out of something simple.”

Thinking back on how he got to be “The Saddle Guy,” Parrish says, “It’s funny how things work out. I ended up following his footsteps and carrying on what he began, but it was never really intentional. So now we’re building a nice company that’s trying to keep that tradition, not only of my family but the tradition of saddle building and leather crafting, alive.”

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

2 hours ago

Alabama softball wins 2021 SEC Tournament

The University of Alabama shut out top-seeded Florida on Saturday night to win the 2021 SEC Softball Tournament Championship at Rhoads Stadium.

The 4-0 victory secured the sixth tournament title in program history and its first since 2012. The Crimson Tide remain the only program to win an SEC Tournament on its home field, now having done so this year and its previous title.

The latest win was the Bama softball’s 44th victory in an SEC Tournament, tying LSU for the most of any team all-time. Alabama achieved its shut-out behind another masterful performance from pitcher Montana Fouts (22-3), who went the distance with 11 strikeouts. The complete-game shutout is the first since Tennessee’s Monica Abbott in 2006. Fouts was named the SEC Tournament MVP, striking out a tournament-record 39 batters over her three appearances.

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“Winning the tournament at home means everything after all the adversity we’ve faced and the injuries we’ve overcome this year,” she commented. “To us, this win signifies that anything is possible and that we can accomplish anything. It feels great to be a part of this university and for our team to contribute our own SEC championship, but we aren’t done yet and we have bigger dreams.”

In addition to Fouts, Bailey Hemphill, Alexis Mack and Taylor Clark earned SEC All-Tournament accolades.

Alabama, ranked No. 3 nationally, is now 45-7 on the season and awaits is postseason draw with the NCAA Tournament selection show Sunday at 8:00 p.m. CT on ESPN2.

“The SEC was tough this year,” stated head coach Patrick Murphy. “I think everyone will realize just how great the SEC and the level of talent is when the All-American list gets released in a few weeks. There are so many great athletes throughout the SEC and in softball, specifically. I think softball, if not number one, is the second-best sport in the SEC. The championship tradition and coaches here at Alabama are a great fraternity to be in. I heard from so many other coaches last night wishing us good luck. It is a difficult job and we wanted to do the same thing and add to the success of our other sports. That’s why I love being a spring sport, it gives me an opportunity to learn from the fall and winter coaches. This team had grit and resiliency and it’s been a fun group to coach.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

ADOL Secretary Washington applauds Gov. Ivey for opting out of pandemic compensation programs; Credits her for brisk recovery

Earlier this week, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the state would end its participation in federal pandemic employment compensation programs effective June 19, 2021.

The announcement was welcomed by Alabama business owners who have been grappling with labor shortages, which some blame on the generous federal benefits doled out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During an appearance on Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on FM Talk 106.5, Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington applauded Ivey for her decision not to continue those benefits.

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“On Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey announced Alabama would opt out of its participation in the federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation program,” Washington said. “There are four programs that make up those federal benefits. One program is called the federal pandemic unemployment compensation program, which provides an additional $300 weekly payment to recipients of unemployment compensation. The second program is the pandemic unemployment assistance program, which provides benefits for those who would not usually qualify — as such as self-employed, gig-economy workers and part-time workers. The third program pandemic emergency unemployment compensation program, which provides an additional extension of benefits once regular benefits have been exhausted. And then the final program is called the mixed-earner unemployment compensation program, which provides an additional $100 benefit for certain people with mixed incomes.”

“So, it was announced by Gov. Kay Ivey that we would be opting out of those programs,” he continued. “I certainly applaud the Governor for being the fourth governor out of 16 states to make this decision. Again, this decision was made in an effort to speed up economic recovery and get more Alabamians back to work.”

Washington also credited the Governor for the expeditious recovery, which has exceeded expectations and the pace of neighboring states.

“We’re really encouraged how our economy is turning in the right direction,” he said. “As mentioned, our state unemployment rate for March is at 3.8% compared to the national rate, which is 6.1%. And, in fact, Alabama has the lowest unemployment rate for two consecutive months — more than the neighboring southeastern states.”

“I attributed that to Governor Ivey and our administration,” Washington said. “I think she has a really good strong plan in terms of rallying everybody together and having everybody sing off of one accord in terms of what the opportunities are for people to wrap up our economy.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

3 hours ago

UAH alumna Dr. Kimberly Robinson named U.S. Space & Rocket Center CEO

Dr. Kimberly Robinson, an alumna of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), part of The University of Alabama System, has been named Executive Director and CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (USSRC). The hiring was announced by the Alabama Space Science Exhibition Commission, which oversees the operation of the center.

Dr. Robinson earned her M.S. and Ph.D. from UAH in Engineering Management and Systems Engineering and is a 31-year veteran of NASA. She is also the recipient of numerous NASA performance awards, including an Exceptional Achievement Medal and the Silver Snoopy.

She began her career at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in 1989 as a Project Engineer in the Propulsion Laboratory, became an astronaut trainer, served as an Executive Intern to the Center Director, was the Project Integration Manager for the Ares 1-X test flight, served as the Payload Mission Manager for Artemis 1 (the first integrated flight test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft) and most recently led Utilization for all Artemis missions for NASA HQs/Advanced Exploration Systems.

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Needless to say, the decision to make such a pivotal move at this time in her career is an intriguing one, fraught with change and challenges. “This was a major change to my life plan,” she says, smiling. “I had never planned to leave NASA prior to retirement and wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do while I was still building my NASA career. But now that it’s happened, it totally makes sense to me.”

One only needs to spend a few minutes with Dr. Robinson to feel the energy, enthusiasm and drive she is ready to throw at any obstacle in her way. “I know that I have a lot to learn, and I’m very upfront about that,” she says. “It goes beyond STEM education and space exploration. There are other roles that come along with this position: we run a museum, gift shop, restaurants and a large number of camp programs under Space Camp. Those areas are all new for me, and it’s fun for me to learn.”

Dr. Robinson’s background makes her particularly well-suited for her new role in ways beyond her technical qualifications. The alumna is fully versed in sharing the future of human space exploration with the public through her work in various NASA posts, such as SLS Strategic Communications Manager at MSFC.

“You have to be able to communicate, talk to the public and your team, explain where we are going, and how we will get there,” she says.

It doesn’t take complicated analysis to determine the source of many of the challenges she is facing. “The Center came to a screeching halt due to the pandemic,” notes Pat Ammons, the Senior Director of Communications at USSRC. But Dr. Robinson is walking into this job with her eyes wide open and a finely honed sense of how to help an organization surmount the difficulties it is facing to get back on track.

The most pressing need to be addressed would almost certainly be the financial impact brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.

“It would have been easier to step into this role had the Rocket Center been in a better financial situation rather than in a recovery mode after the pandemic,” the new CEO says. “But it wouldn’t have appealed to the part of me that enjoys the challenge. I had a mentor at NASA who said if you want to be valuable to an organization, you go to where they need you. You don’t go where you want to go or go for the best pay or the best title; you go where someone needs you, and do the best job that you can – that’s how you prove your value.”

Officially on the job since February 15, Dr. Robinson has hit the ground running, anxious to put her personal philosophy to work reshaping USSRC operations.

“At NASA I learned important lessons, like how to manage risk and how to make decisions with people’s lives depending on it. Here we are having to adjust and adapt and assess as the situations unfold. For example, we made a decision that we would only operate Space Camp at 50% capacity this summer to safely maintain distance and follow the health guidelines. We had to make that decision early on in order to stabilize our planning. To try to switch on a dime would not provide the quality experience that we want to give our visitors here.”

Dr. Robinson is quick to point out that one of the most important factors in supporting her vision for the Center is the people behind it all. “It’s mostly about team building. That’s what I enjoy, and what I did at NASA – developing a plan, executing the plan, keeping the team safe and secure, motivated and challenged. I believe I can do almost anything with the right motivated team, solve any problem, move any mountain. That’s how we landed on the Moon!”

One important part of leading is helping the team define and share a vision. To this end, Dr. Robinson is working with the Executive Team to develop a Strategic Plan for the Space & Rocket Center to outline the strategic goals of the Center for the next three to five years.

Originally from Birmingham, Dr. Robinson has always been fascinated by the space program. “I loved the space program, airplanes and space ships – but I never knew that was anything I could be a part of. That was for test pilots and German rocket scientists. It wasn’t until I received an award from the Society of Women Engineers presented to me by a female NASA astronaut that I learned it was something I could do too. It felt like the world opened up to me.”

In what has become a kind of lifelong modus operandi for the UAH alumna, it soon became evident, however, that she would have to knock down quite a few barriers to accomplish her goals.

“From that time on, I wanted to work at NASA, wanted to be an engineer and preferably an astronaut. I was a senior in high school, and I started interviewing everywhere for scholarships. I sometimes had people say, ‘You’re a woman, you won’t last as an engineer!’ One interviewer questioned why I deserved a scholarship, when I would probably just get married and leave school after the first year! Well, I stayed with it and now I have a real passion for encouraging women to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). I want them to know that if it interests you, don’t let anyone tell you you don’t belong.”

The choice to come to UAH to further her education was an easy one. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Robinson moved to Huntsville to work at NASA while pursuing an advanced degree at night. “I took one class at UAH, loved it, and said this is the place for me! It’s a wonderful university,” she says.

Now that she has had time to settle in, how does she feel about her first six weeks as head of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center?

The alumna grins. “I must look like a drowned rat, because it’s like drinking from a firehose! But just coming in the door, it was love at first sight. The team is wonderful, the mission is solid and appealing, and everything about it has felt right. It’s rewarding, fulfilling, challenging and exhausting, all at the same time.”

Lastly, Dr. Robinson fully understands the importance of helping this cherished Huntsville landmark thrive once more.

“It is a solemn responsibility that I take seriously. It is human nature to explore the unknown and push the boundaries, and space exploration is one way we have done that to a magnificent degree. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center showcases those human achievements that have expanded technologies, opened new frontiers and discovered new worlds. The story itself is the compelling narrative, and we’re here to make sure it shines in a way that connects to each visitor who walks in the door.”

(Courtesy of The University of Alabama in Huntsville)

4 hours ago

Anglers are hooked on Smith Lake’s new weigh-in pavilion

Anglers, tournament staff and community leaders are thrilled with their new shaded place on Lewis Smith Lake in Walker County to host fishing tournament weigh-ins.

Many of them gathered May 8 to share their appreciation for the weigh-in pavilion during a dedication ceremony prior to weigh-in at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open. The pavilion provides shade for fish-holding tanks during tournament weigh-ins, which reduces stress and increases survival rates of the fish.

“It’s particularly important for community events and smaller tournaments to provide better fish care,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “They’ll come in the pavilion, bring their fish, keep them in the shade, keep in the water until they weigh them. It provides a great way to take better care of the fish to get them back in the water so they can grow up and we can catch them a little bit bigger each time.”

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New weigh-in pavilion dedicated on Smith Lake from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The pavilion, constructed in 2020, was funded through a partnership between B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power, built with the help of volunteers from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.

“It took some funds available, used some donated organized labor, and just came up with a great pavilion,” said Casey Shelton, business manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council U-19. “This has been a great partnership to see come together and will benefit the local community for years to come.”

The new pavilion is the latest in a growing list of amenities offered at Alabama Power’s 65 public recreation sites. It is the second pavilion Alabama Power and B.A.S.S. have worked together to build. In 2014, B.A.S.S., Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Shelby County and volunteers from Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation teamed to open a similar weigh-in pavilion at Beeswax Landing on Lay Lake.

“We are happy to be a part of this project and to continue to partner with B.A.S.S. and others to bring these tournaments to the communities we serve,” said Alabama Power Western Division Vice President Mark Crews. “These partnerships help enhance access points to the beautiful natural resources that our state has to offer.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)