“A Train Near Magdeburg”
NOTE: In 2001 my students and I began to post interviews that we had conducted with World War II veterans at our school website, http://www.hfcsd.org/ww2/Two of our veterans had described this incident, and one of them had taken photographs of it. Four years went by, and we heard from a grandmother in a far away country who had been a seven year old girl aboard this train. Then more survivors began to contact us, and today we are aware of over 200 survivors who have now made contact with each other and their liberators through the efforts of this school project.
We have organized several reunions for them.
This story takes place in the closing days of World War II, asAmerican and British forces pushed into Germany from the west and the Soviet Red Army closed in from the east.
On the morning of Friday, April 13th, 1945, the US 9th Army was fighting its way eastward in the final drive through central Germany toward the Elbe River. A small task force was formed to investigate a train that had been hastily abandoned by German soldiers near the town of Magdeburg, Germany.The boxcars were filled with Jewish families that had survived the infamous concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen and were now being transported away from the advancing Allies to another death camp location.Scores of children were among the prisoners.
Two tank crews were charged with guarding these newly liberated people until the tanks could be relieved and the people could be properly cared for. By the afternoon of the 13th, one tank alone was responsible for safeguarding 2500 refugees. A small guard of emaciated Finnish soldiers who were also liberated that day set up the perimeter guard. The American tank commander had a small Kodak camera. He took several photographs that day of the newly freed men, women and children and spent some time talking to them through one of the survivors who spoke English. The following morning he was relieved, but the events of that day were never far from his thoughts. Later, he wrote them down for posterity, and filed them away with his photographs.
Sixty-plus years after the event, survivors all over the world who had been children aboard the death train are finding their rescuers’ narratives and photographs of the day of their liberation near Magdeburg in 1945 on an oral history website produced by a high school teacher, Matthew Rozell,and his students at Hudson Falls High School in upstate New York.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum film on our project
SUNY Geneseo magazine cover story