In and around the abandoned line of freight cars milled some 2,500 emaciated and ragged Jewish prisoners from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. There were scores of children.
“They were just jammed, crammed in there,” said Walsh, a 24-year-old tank commander in April 1945.
On Friday, the now 86-year-old retired state Supreme Court judge reunited with three of the survivors of the Nazi death train his unit found near Magdeburg, about 50 miles southwest of Berlin. The train was on its way to another concentration camp.
The veteran and the survivors were to take part in a daylong program hosted at the high school in this Hudson River village north of Albany.
The reunion has its roots in a class project launched by Matthew Rozell, a history teacher at Hudson Falls High School. In the early 1990s, he created a special project to collect stories from local veterans and post them on a Web site.
One of Rozell’s students was Walsh’s grandson, who told the teacher about his grandfather’s wartime service. Several years ago, Rozell interviewed Walsh and George Gross, a fellow tank commander from Spring Valley, Calif.
Their account of the train liberation was posted on the project’s Web site, along with black-and-white photographs taken that day by Gross and the major leading their patrol.
That’s where some of the child survivors of the Nazi train, now in their 60s and 70s, found their story.
“All of this to a large degree came out of a high school project. This to me is fascinating,” said survivor Micha Tomkiewicz, a Polish Jew from Warsaw who was 6 when he and his mother and uncle were liberated.
Tomkiewicz had an earlier reunion with Gross and his family. He said he’s looking forward to meeting Walsh, and he credited Rozell for the reunions.
“It’s pretty humbling,” Rozell said.
Tomkiewicz was to be joined by fellow survivors Peter Lantos, a neurologist from London, and Fred Spiegel, an author from Howell, N.J.
Friday’s program includes a viewing of “A Train Near Magdeburg,” a 10-minute DVD produced by two of Rozell’s students, followed by talks from each of the three survivors.
For Walsh, it will be his first face-to-face meeting with anyone from the train since he came upon them on what turned out to be their lucky day — Friday the 13th, April, 1945.
“I had almost forgotten about the incident itself, really, over the years,” Walsh said. “It was almost like another day in combat. Nothing surprised me by then.”
~As a result of the worldwide publicity garnered by the attention to this story, eighteen more child survivors have contacted our school and their liberators since the reunion took place on September 14th, 2007. Read on… Special thanks to Chris Carola of the Associated Press for his interest in the story.