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New York, New York.


My brother recently completed his first New York City Marathon at the age of 59 in under 5 hours. It the city where we were both born, along with the sister who occupies the position between us in birth order [pictured below, Mary still lives there]. Here is a great article Ned shared with the world, and I want to share it here. You can find his books online; all of us Rozells (five of us) are writers, and he was the first published one with Walking My Dog, Jane. Read it after you dig his writing sample below. The Rozell family is very proud of him , and happy for him. It was never about just the race, it was about living life and enjoying humanity.


Alaska Science Forum

No. 2,619

November 10, 2022

A five-hour tour of the Big Apple

by Ned Rozell

A woman welcomes runners to Brooklyn during the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, 2022. Photo by Ned Rozell.

NEW YORK — A few days ago, along with 50,000 others, I covered 26.2 miles of this city on the worn soles of my running shoes.

Last March, New York City Marathon officials notified me that they had selected me in the random lottery; I should not be alarmed when my credit card was dinged for $295.

That was the steepest marathon fee I have ever paid, especially compared to the lifetime Equinox Marathon bib I purchased in the 1990s for $125 (which is the best investment I’ll ever make).

But, ya know, as I sit here at my sister’s house in Brooklyn with sore legs and a fuzzy head, the New York City Marathon seems worth more than money. When I search for one word, I keep coming back to joyous.

It started at 5 a.m. on Nov. 6, 2022, when my sister Mary volunteered to drive me from Brooklyn to the dock of the Staten Island Ferry in Manhattan. As we left her brownstone in the black of morning, I looked up and saw the Alaska flag in the sky: The Big Dipper pointing to the North Star. Good omen.

I packed onto the boat with hundreds of other people clad in running shoes and frumpy clothes they later would throw in donation boxes on Staten Island (worn to keep warm while waiting hours for their race to start). With no seats left, I stood and looked out the ferry window at the dark sea of New York Bay.

There, lit up and glowing green on her own island, was the Statue of Liberty. I choked up a bit, thinking of my grandmother Mary Liston, who was a friend of mine (we toured Ireland together when I was 22 and she 85). “Nanny” had sailed past Lady Liberty to Ellis Island in her 20s as an immigrant from Ireland. My grandfather Ned, who died a few years before I was named for him, shared that experience.

Maybe Nanny’s story and the recency of that side of my family becoming Americans has made me feel a pull to the big city, which is strange considering my life choices. Maybe that attraction is also due to newborn me belting out my first scream in Manhattan, where I was born before my parents moved to upstate New York.

From there I hightailed it 36 years ago to Alaska, where I have lived ever since. In that time, Nanny and both my parents have died, and my two brothers and two sisters have given me nieces and nephews. Most of those kids have grown up and fledged. It happened so fast.

Enabled by reasonable air travel prices for as long as I have lived in Alaska, I have tried to make it back once or twice a year. On one of those trips, in 2009, my wife Kristen ran the New York City Marathon.

Back then, squinting at the subway maps, our daughter Anna and I popped up in Brooklyn but never caught a glimpse of Kristen until after she finished in Manhattan and was wrapped in a shawl of foil.

In Brooklyn, Anna and I saw crowds yelling as if the Beatles were back in town. Since then, I have tried to enter the race by random lottery, which offers you a 2 percent chance of getting a bib. In 2022, my number got called.

Which is why on a warm November morning I was standing on the upper deck of Verrazano Narrows Bridge with thousands of other people. That suspension bridge at the pinch point between upper and lower New York bays carries 13 lanes of car and truck traffic on two levels between Staten Island and Brooklyn when the race is not happening.

At 10:20 a.m., Frank Sinatra sang “New York, New York.” A cannon stopped everyone’s heart for a second. We shuffled northward.

I imagined I could feel the deck bouncing as we left behind Staten Island, the smallest New York borough by population (about a half million). All those people live in the same space as Alaska’s Douglas Island near Juneau (home to about 5,000 people).

Five thousand is perhaps how many people were moving on the top tier of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge when my feet were on its asphalt Sunday. Not many of us looked alike. People chatted in some languages I could place, some not.

I turned and talked with Anna from Aruba, originally from Venezuela. Anna had braces on her teeth. Her teenage son spoke four languages.

“I am happy it is warm,” she said. “My training runs in Aruba are all at 27 degrees (Celsius, or 80 degrees Fahrenheit), so this feels good.”

“This is like the hottest day of Alaska’s summer,” I told Anna.

Cups that held sports drinks and water pile up on a Brooklyn Street during the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, 2022. Photo by Ned Rozell.

A temperature of 75F was recorded in Central Park on race day, a record for Nov. 6.

Heat is not a friend to most runners. When we overheat, mammals like us get tackled by lions — our cells don’t function well, our muscles cramp and we slow way down. I could feel my face getting red on the bridge, not yet into the second borough of the race and less than two miles into the day.

Approaching Brooklyn, we could hear it before we saw them: A soft, constant roar, like waves crashing the shore on the Lost Coast south of Yakutat.

We jogged off the bridge ramp and into Brooklyn. The din was people, lining the streets four deep behind a strip of blue plastic tape that resembled a thick finish line. They were cheering. Not for the two Kenyans who had passed a few hours earlier on their ways to winning the men’s and women’s races. But us, a multicolored mass oozing in slow motion compared to the elites.

Friends who had run the race told me to wear my name on my shirt, so people in the crowd can call it out. I instead chose a University of Alaska Fairbanks t-shirt where the ALASKA stood out in blue and gold.

And there, as I decelerated for the next few hours, I heard that word, which hit like a shot of electricity each time.

Ned Rozell pauses with his sister Mary in Brooklyn as he runs the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, 2022. Photo by Mary Rozell.

“Go Alaska!”

“You got this, Alaska!”

“I’m lookin’ at you, Alaska!”

I ran on the far right of 4th Avenue in Brooklyn (the shady side), slapping my sweaty hand into the palms of kids and adults of all sizes and races. Each thwack gave me a few free steps, floating on air. One guy almost popped my rotator cuff.

At one point, I turned to a woman next to me whose face was cherry red like mine. She was smiling at the din of cheers, and signs held up, each with a New York flair: I LOVE YOU, RANDOM STRANGER.

“I may pass out from heat stroke, but I’ll die happy,” I said to my new friend.

My aunt Fran — Nanny’s daughter — once pointed out to me that for all the billions of people in the world, no two faces are exactly alike. I saw hundreds of faces that day, making eye contact with kids whose hands I smacked and people who shouted Alaska. But my brain’s facial recognition software pinged with a positive match only once.

There was my sister Mary, standing on the steps of an ornate Baptist church one block from her house in Brooklyn. I stopped and picked her up for a hug. Joy.

On I went, bopping past rock bands playing at gas stations, recorded music blaring at eardrum-damaging volume on every corner, and pods of uniformed police who stood in the middle of cross streets.

I could tell from the increasing weight of my cotton Alaska shirt that the relative humidity was high. Every few kilometers, volunteers held out cups of sports drink and water. The streets around those stations were coated with crushed paper cups, trod to a watery pulp.

Fans of the New York City Marathon hold signs for some of the 50,000 runners who passed them on Nov. 6, 2022. Photo by Ned Rozell.

The course featured 400 port-a-potties for each mile, none of which was there the day before, nor the day after.

I sucked down both sports drink and water at every stop, happy for the chance to walk, which helped cool the engine.

Nearing the end of the 11 miles of Brooklyn, we runners moved through Williamsburg, one of the few silent places on the course besides the five bridges. Williamsburg is home to a large population of Hasidic Jews who seemed disinterested in the show. No one stood behind the blue tape.

Losing the cheers and the hand slaps there flipped me back to Alaska running, where most of the trail is covered alone and it helps to groove on the meditative repetition of one foot after another.

That Zen was harder to find in New York, but soon it was back to the cheering crowds and high rises of Queens, then over a bridge to Manhattan, then over another and a one-mile tour of the Bronx before re-entering Manhattan island from the north. Each borough felt a little different — Brooklyn was homey, the Bronx industrial and Manhattan had everything.

The race had its own smells: the musk of the subways beneath wafting from metal grates, clouds of skunky marijuana smoke, Vaseline, and salty sweat, buckets of it.

The last bridge crossing from the Bronx to Manhattan was 21 miles into the race. A good number of people were walking. The scene resembled a parade. The heat index was collecting its toll.

It was around there the male leader of the race, Daniel Do Nascimento of Brazil, had hours before collapsed and left the course after having sped to a two-minute lead for half the race. I jogged past people stopped on the pavement with grimaces on their faces, stretching their cramped legs. A woman I met a day later said she had vomited 12 times. Her finish time was an hour faster than mine.

The Manhattan crowds lined the route all the way to its finish in Central Park. The yelling was somehow louder than ever; my ears rang (and are still ringing).

Many people trotted past me in the last few miles. In Fairbanks’ Equinox, I would feel a burst of adrenaline when that happened. In New York I didn’t care. It was all about that lighthearted post-pandemic-humans-pressing-against-each-other atmosphere, which had enough emotional punch to mist my eyes in the last two miles.

A map shows Ned Rozell’s journey through the five boroughs during the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, 2022. Courtesy of TCS New York City Marathon.

There, I thought of 2020, when my brothers and sisters let me enter their homes when they didn’t know if my breath would kill them. And how this year, 2022, was the first year international runners were allowed back to compete in the New York Marathon since 2019, swelling the ranks from 30,000 to more than 50,000.

All those humans restored what I have always believed, but has wavered at times: Most people are good, and there is something in every human that every other human can relate to.

That day, thousands of our species were out there, standing and smiling and breathing each other in for a few hours.

As the crowd roared like I was Aston Kutcher or one of the other celebrities, I smacked a last few hands before a slight uphill when the finish line appeared. I crossed the mat near Tavern on the Green at the same time as three others. We tied for 26,033th place. Joyous.

Since the late 1970s, the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute has provided this column free in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell ned.rozell@alaska.edu is a science writer for the Geophysical Institute.


For Veterans Day.

I did a local talk last week to about 150 local veterans. I spoke about my latest book on the Pacific, the sacrifices, the fact that it was a war that many Americans did not, and do not, know much about, outside of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima.

My friend Ron took out a full page ad on Veterans Day to honor his father, a World War II veteran and survivor of the Bataan Death March. It was a reprint of a 1946 local newspaper article. John is in my first book, which was also on the Pacific.


THE POST-STAR, GLENS FALLS, N.Y.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 30, 1946
John Parsons, Local GI, Recounts Jap Tortures
Left for Year’s Hitch; Ended in Manchuria With Gen. Wainwright

By BURR PATTEN

“Just a year’s hitch in Uncle Sam’s army.”

That was the outlook March 24, 1941, when John E. Parsons, 22 Everetts Avenue, local hero, left Glens Falls with a quota of 17 draftees. But it was a far cry from just the year’s hitch. Instead, it included nearly three and one-half years as a prisoner under the Imperial Japanese Army, sharing with General Wainwright the rigors and tortures of Jap prison camps.
For Parsons it was just Army routine up until Dec. 8, 1941, when on a Sunday morning at Clark Field in the Philippines he sat on the steps of a barracks with some fellow soldiers watching an approaching flight of 56 planes which a passing officer described as a “Navy formation.” In a few minutes a thunderous crash of bombs began a nightmare of horror for Parsons which was to run from Japanese barbarism in the “Death March” through prison camps in an itinerary though Formosa, the Japanese homeland, Korea and into Manchuria.
On Christmas day in 1941 it became necessary to evacuate Clark field, and parsons, who was with the 803rd Aviation Engineers, tells of wasted energy put forth in the building of two airstrips in the retreat toward the tip of Bataan in the blind hope that American planes would someday come. Up until March the men who were building and trying to keep strip in repair in the day were doing guard duty on beach at night. By early April they were being used as infantry replacements in the line and soon went to line for full duty where they remained until the surrender.
Rations as such did not exist after the middle of February, even the Calvary horses having been eaten. A rice mill was being operated behind the lines and the food consisted almost entirely of plain boiled rice, small portions twice a day. Whole kernels of dried corn were sometimes boiled, but they were so hard as to be almost inedible. Finally malaria, dysentery and fatigue took their toll of troops running out of ammunition in the face of a foe growing stronger daily, and Bataan fell.

The “Death March”
Of the “Death March” Parsons says, “It just can’t be imagined.” The march was a distance of about 75 miles which was covered in around six days. For healthy troops that would not be exceptional, but for the sick and weak, as nearly all were, it was a cruel ordeal. It was not a continuous march, parade fashion, but rather continued over a period of about a week with groups of 500 being sent out each day. Parsons says they were forbidden to help anyone in any manner, even if he fell. To do so was to invite a rifle butt in the back. He saw three men bayoneted in the back at a rest period when they walked a few feet from their group and knelt over a puddle splashing water on their faces.
The Japanese way of feeding the prisoners, on those days when they did, was to place a bag of about 150 pounds of cooked rice at the head of the column and let them scramble for it. Those at the rear usually got nothing. More food was always promised “tomorrow.”
The termination of the march was at Camp O’Donnell where the most sadistic practices were routine. Prisoners were put in groups of ten, a policy which was in effect from then on, and in the event anyone man attempted to escape or made any move which might be construed as such, the other nine were put to death with him. When this did happen the ten condemned were made to dig their own graves the afternoon prior to their deaths. Then four stakes were driven around the pit and the man was tied hand and foot spread-eagle over the hole so he was forced to stare at his own grave all night. In the morning the entire camp was turned out to witness the executions and the condemned were offered a cigarette and a blindfold, the latter of which was usually refused.
A standing rule of the camp was that all prisoners bow to the guards. The guards would amuse themselves by hiding and jumping out unexpectedly when a prisoner came near. He would then be called to attention and slapped for not bowing. In the three years and five months that he was a prisoner Parsons does not know how many times he had been slapped or beaten but he states “30 would be a light guess.”


In a few days Parsons was transferred from Camp McDonnell to Bilibid Prison in Manila as part of a 12 man detail to work on the docks unloading ships. By this time his weight was down to 116 pounds from a normal of around 175 and his joints had begun to swell and sores were breaking out on him. After he was found too weak to carry even small cases he was he was allowed to report to American medical officers who though under close supervision, had a fairly free hand supervision at the prison. The fact that most of the prisoners there were used as laborers, explain this fairly decent treatment, Parsons reasons.
A combination of medical care and a diet supplanted by smuggled purchases from Filipinos did much toward restoring his health and he was considerably stronger when on Sept. 23 he was shipped to Formosa in a group made up largest of high ranking American, British, Australian and Dutch officers.
At Formosa, or Taiwan as the Japanese called it, he was sent to a Camp Korenko where he spent the next nine months. It was here that he met General Jonathan Wainwright and they remained in the same group until just prior to V-J Day. The Japanese wanted General Wainwright to sign a statement to the effect that they had volunteered to work for their captors. The general refused and forbid anyone else to sign such a statement. As a result the food ration was cut from a bowl of rice twice a day with an occasional bowl of seaweed soup.
It was here that their shoes were taken away from them, including General Wainwright. The fact that they refused to sign up for work did not mean that they were not worked. At this camp and Camp Shara Kowa, also on Formosa where the group spent 16 months, duties consisted of working in rice fields, growing sweet potatoes and making rope.


Before going out of work and before returning to the camp formations were held at the Americans were made to count off in Japanese, usually in groups of ten. To hesitate when it came time to see who would have charge of the groups present was more complicated and thus easier muff. In order to supplement the meager diet whenever possible, PW’s stole food. One day Parsons hid some sweet potatoes with the intention of taking them back to camp. A guard observed him and told him not to touch them. At the end of the day when he thought no one was watching him he again tried to pick them up. The same guard appeared from seemingly nowhere, and parsons today carries the scar of the bayonet wound in his right arm as a reminder of this incident.
The Japanese believed that Formosa would be invaded by our force so on Oct. 9, 1944 the group that Parsons was with was put aboard the Oyruko Maru, which was sunk in the Philippines on a later “voyage” 1600 American PWs. Only a few survived. The Oyruko Maru had considerable difficulty getting out of the Formosa harbor, in fact made three attempts but was driven back twice. Even before the first attempt, the harbor was bombed on Oct. 13, 14, and 15 by American planes with a result that it was about a week before any attempt was made to leave. When the bombing raids came the prisoners were locked in their compartment and timbers were wedged against the door, the hatches were all closed and the ventilation was shut off. One bomb struck so close that it killed 17 Jap soldiers on deck. The 286 men in the compartment had a double row of bare boards to sleep on as bunks which afforded everyone a place to lie down, though they would be shoulder to shoulder.
The first attempt to leave the harbor terminated when the Japs apparently detected a submarine the first night out and turned back laying over in the harbor for five more days. On the second attempt the PWs heard a terrific explosion which they later learned was caused by a torpedo missing the ship and exploding on the shoreline to which they were sailing parallel.
The third and successful attempt was made with an escort of two destroyers. The Japanese took a work detail on deck to wash dishes so these men kept the others in the hold informed of events. There was also a talkative interpreter from whom some information could be gained.


The ship successfully reached the seaport of Moji, on Kyushu, southernmost of the Japanese home islands. By this time the Japanese seemed to see the handwriting on the wall and treatment was generally better. At one time they were quartered for a time in a hotel where hot baths were available daily, something unheard of before.
After a comparatively short stay in the Japanese homeland they were transported to Korea where they went by rail to a camp North of Mukden in Manchuria. Later they were moved back to Mukden where they were when the war ended. The first inkling they had that the war was over was when they saw a B-29 flying low near the prison camp and saw 10 objects parachute out. Later they learned that there were four men and six bundles of supplies dropped. The four Americans were given a rough reception, according to Parsons, and thrown in the prison camp. The following day, August 16, they were liberated by the Russians who had arrived in the vicinity the previous day but because of some technicality had not liberated them.

Free At Last

Parson says that there was not a great deal of demonstrating when they at last learned that they were free. One of the first things they did was to put the japs personnel, from colonel down to guards in the stockade and soon a reversal of procedure took place.
Despite his experiences, if Parson had a burring hatred for the Japanese, he conceals it well. He shows a bitterness towards those of the enemy who participated in the “Death March” and for those responsible for one of the practices at a Formosa camp. That was when on rainy days, the camp would be called out and made to sit in a group on the wet ground facing mounted machine guns. They were told that in the event of an allied invasion 0f Formosa, this would be their fate. This took place about once a week, and having no source of news they never knew if it was the real thing or another rehearsal.
For some of his guards he has a good word. Some of them he says even stuck their necks out to help the prisoners. Oddly enough, the Jap who bayoneted him is one of these. He says, “After that, he acted as if he couldn’t do enough for me.” But, he adds, “For every good one, there were 20 that weren’t.”

Wainwright “Great Guy”
Parsons describes General Wainwright as “a great old guy.” He says that he kept up the morale of the men by talking to them. He told Parsons that he was familiar with the Glens Falls area, having at one time been a colonel at Plattsburg Barracks. Asked if the reports were true about the general having been slapped once by guards, Parsons smiles and answers, “Once?” One time the general was said to have cut his hand on a dish, at least that is what he reported when he sought medical aid. But the story got around camp that a guard had pointed a bayonet at him and the spunky general had pushed it aside with his bare hand.
General Sharp, the adjutant under General MacArthur in the Philippines who was also a prisoner, gave John a card in Formosa reading: “My thanks and regards to you Parsons- William F. Sharp, Major General.” Brigadier General Carl H. Seals wrote a letter to Parson’s mother last September from Walter Reid General Hospital reading in part, “For the past three years I have been a `prison mate’ of your son, John. We left the Philippines together on a Jap ship in September, 1942, and have been together in various prison camps ever since. Throughout prison life he has been a big help to me, doing chores that I was little able to do. In fact, he was always most kind and considerate of my wants, which I shall always appreciate.”


Parsons is the son of Mrs. Edward Parsons, 22 Everetts Avenue, is married, and lives with his wife and two children, a daughter, Gail, and a son, Royal, at that address. He held the rank of staff sergeant at the time of his discharge and is entitled to wear the American Defense Service Medal, American Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, with two clusters, Good Conduct Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, World War II Victory Medal. He was discharged at Fort Dix, N.J., last month after having been a patient at Rhoads General Hospital in Utica for a few weeks.


EPILOGUE

Here is more information from Mr. Parsons’ son.
3-1-2015
“The article from the Post Star’s interview of my dad is 100% true. Few of the men received purple hearts, medals for heroism, and had no medical records. It came back to haunt us years later when dad was denied VA benefits time after time.
Even if money were offered us it is a poor substitute. There was no fishing or camping with dad. My mom and I took care of him, he didn’t provide for us. He was destroyed because of it. There was no honor for him because his country abandoned him when he needed it.”

We have to do better.

Ron tracing his dad’s steps in the Philippines.

On August 30, 2022, first and second generation survivors and liberating families met to re-dedicate the monument at Farsleben which we visited and filmed at in April on the 77th anniversary, joined by the American successors the liberating soldiers, the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team. They were welcomed by German and Dutch citizens responsible for the monument.

This article appeared in Israel yesterday; this all started when I interviewed Red Walsh in July 2001. Twenty one years ago. His daughters Elizabeth and Sharon attended; and I think Elizabeth is quoted in the article.

“We thought we were going to die”: the survivors who were freed from the death train returned to [Farsleben]

Nearly eight decades after they were released, a group of Holocaust survivors returned to Germany, to the same point where the death train stopped and they were set free. The survivors met the descendants of the American soldiers who freed them: “Near the monument and the railroad tracks, we felt the victory over the Nazis.” On the memorial erected at the site, the word “liberation” was written in Hebrew.

Itamar Eichner, Ynet News, Israel

10 Sept. 2022

“Near the memorial and the train tracks, I felt the victory of us, the survivors, over the Nazis. With every child born to me, every grandchild and every great-grandson, I said – ‘From you, Hitler, may your name perish, there is nothing left'”: these words are told excitedly by Miriam Muller, a Holocaust survivor 81. She and six other survivors returned for the first time to the German town of [Farsleben], where they were liberated by American soldiers 77 years ago.

2,500 Jews were then on a train liberated by the American 30th Division. They were taken from the Bergen-Belsen camp towards Theresienstadt, a few days before the end of World War II. Recently, the survivors returned to inaugurate a memorial that was placed near the railroad tracks, and on which was written the word “liberation” in Hebrew.

Since all the fighters who freed the train are no longer alive, at the memorial dedication ceremony the survivors met representatives of the 30th Division of the US Army, as well as the children of some of the liberators who came especially. The meeting between the survivors and the representatives of the division and the children of the liberators was emotional and full of tears .

The survivors next to the monument

One of the soldiers shouted in Yiddish: “I’m Jewish too”

The day of the train’s release was April 13, 1945. The Germans on the train received an order that if they could not take the train to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, they must blow it up over the Elbe River – for all 2,500 of its passengers. After six days of travel, the train stopped near the village of [Farsleben] in Germany, near the city of Magdeburg.

The exciting meeting with the representatives of the 30th Division of the United States Army
The exciting meeting with the representatives of the 30th Division of the United States Army.
“We owe our lives to the American military”

Around four in the afternoon, an American patrol vehicle accompanied by a US Army tank arrived from the hill. These were soldiers from the 30th Division. The Nazis noticed the American tanks, and fled leaving behind 2,500 Jews, a third of them children, who thought they were being taken to their deaths.

While the Nazis were fleeing, some of the Jews – mainly women, girls and children – rose up and charged the American soldiers with shouts of joy. Only then did the soldiers notice the terrible sight of the passengers. George Gross, the American tank commander, told about the encounter: “Every one of them looked like a skeleton. They were hungry, sick on their faces. And there was something else: when they saw us they started laughing with joy, if you can call it laughter. It was More of an outburst of pure, almost hysterical relief.”

Those freed from the train near Preslavn in 1945
Those freed from the train near [Farsleben] in 1945.
“We thought we were going to death”

The survivors said that when they saw the Americans they hugged them and cried with happiness. One of the American soldiers, Avraham Cohen, yelled at the terrified prisoners: “Ich bin ochut a-yed” (“I am also a Jew” in Yiddish), and showed them the Star of David that was hanging around his neck.

Miriam Muller, one of the freed – then a 4-year-old girl – was on the train with her family members. “These American soldiers were our angels,” she says. “When they opened the train doors, the Jewish prisoners fell out of the cars like sardines from a can. We knew we were not going to freedom. Why would the Germans send us to freedom?”

Those freed from the train near Preslavn in 1945
The release of the train on April 13, 1945, after the Nazis had fled

“We didn’t know where we were going, whether to Auschwitz or Dachau. They didn’t tell us anything,” she says. “We were pushed like animals, with dogs barking all around. We thought we were going to death. I was on that train with my father, mother, grandfather, grandmother and uncle. I’m the last one left alive.”

“The survivors were the real heroes”

At the ceremony, Mueller tearfully hugged American officers who represented the 30th Division. She even met the two children of the American tank commander, Carol Walsh, who rescued them. Of the 2,500 survivors of the train, only a few remained alive, mainly those who were small children at the time of liberation. Carol Walsh’s daughter said: “My father always said that they were just doing their job and were not heroes. The survivors were the real heroes.”

The new monument with the word "liberation"
The new monument with the word “liberation”

Ron [Chaulet], an American-[Dutch] businessman, initiated the construction of the monument on the site. “We owe our lives to the American army,” said the survivors at the ceremony. “We are grateful that the US military saved us from a horrible death.”

Varda Weiskopf, whose father was a 15-year-old boy on the train, helped organize the ceremony. “Among the survivors of the train, few remain alive today, and it is important that this story be remembered forever,” she said. “We are happy about the initiative to erect a monument at the place of liberation, which will remind future generations of the incredible human heroism of the American army. My father passed away in December 2016, and I am sad that he did not get to see this monument.”

SOURCE: https://www.ynet.co.il/judaism/article/b1kbaf5es

The representatives of the 30th division at the event
The representatives of the 30th division at the event

Additional photos below posted by 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team. “On August 30, a group of 30th Citizen Soldiers led by Hickory 6 attended a dedication ceremony near Farsleben, Germany to commemorate the liberation of over 2500 Holocaust Survivors by elements of the 30th on April 13, 1945- they joined survivors, their families, descendants of the liberators and the local community who made this monument a reality along with other German and Dutch Citizens.”

At the end of July, I was the featured speaker at the 30th Infantry Division Association reunion. There I met Sarah ‘Hardman’ Giachino, whose father was in the 30th, and she had this encounter to share. -MR

This weekend was meaningful beyond words. I met a special Gold Star family-the daughter of PVT Edward J. Conelly,  30 DIV 117 INF, who served with my dad. Peggy Conelly Remington and her family attended their first 30 INF DIV Association Reunion to honor her father. 

Sarah ‘Hardman’ Giachino, Peggy Conelly Remington and her family, July 2022.

 PVT Conelly was killed on July 10, 1944 and recently, I discovered this memory and quote, written in my dad’s notes:

“PVT Conelly was a replacement I selected as my runner since my last one was a casualty. I took a real liking to him and after I explained his duties, he never failed to be by my side. He said something to me I”ll never forget, but indicated that he was the type of man I could depend on, ‘Lieutenant, I’ll go anywhere you go, but please be careful where you go.’

One sunny day in Normandy, we were attacking across an open field between hedgerows when about halfway across he took a bullet in the midsection. I was unhurt.”

Dad goes on to say that he administered all the morphine and bandages from both of their kits. Conelly knew he was dying and was calling for his mother. The medics soon came in, and my dad found out the next day that he died. He concludes in his notes, “You can’t imagine awful this experience was for me, especially when he was calling for his mother. The cost of war is beyond belief.”

Dad was haunted by this, and I remember him telling us about this incident all of my life. He couldn’t shake off hearing him call for his mother.  Dad felt that he easily could have been hit and Connelly happen to be running with him across the field in when he was in the line of fire and they fell into each other. 

I thought this was very important information and wondered, it’s been 78 years, could I possibly find PVT Conelly’s family?

I posted this information on a 30th INF DIV Facebook page. Thanks to Vincent Heggen in Belgium and Rene Bonatti in France, maps showing the location in Normandy, a Morning Report of July 10, location of his grave in Coal City PA, was sent to me.  But still I had no information on his family until Shawn McGreevy, a genealogist and friend, found his daughter Peggy and granddaughter Shellie. 

Through social media, we arranged a phone call and during a very meaningful and emotional conversation, Peggy said she was a baby when her father deployed. “He was over there for only a couple of days. Her mother and aunt never talked about her father’s death.” She added, “We tried to find out what happened but couldn’t find out anything.”

Private Edward J. Conelly took the hit that spared my dad’s life, and meeting his daughter and her family was an indescribable moment.

~Sarah ‘Hardman’ Giachino

We Remember.

I spoke yesterday to the 30th Infantry Division Association at the invitation of Col. Wes Morrison, after a two year pandemic delay. It was wonderful to meet with the veterans, active duty soldiers, and their families and other invited guests, including a Gold Star family who just learned of their father’s association with the 30th, which, as you know, went on to save the train with their attached armored battalions.

I love the graphic above, designed for this 76th annual gathering. Yesterday they learned more about their legacy, and I’m sure it will inspire.

Ron Parsons was a senior in my father’s history class in Glens Falls High in 1965. He and Billy Nemeyer decided to join the Marines after passing notes back and forth in Dad’s class. Ron’s dad was ill; Bill left first and Ron went to boot camp six months later with Jim Bates and Butch Barlow.

They met later in-country. They talked of home, about Jimmy Bates and the others who had been killed; they both knew that more than likely they would be killed too, that it was likely their last meeting, and no one would ever know how much they gave.

Ron introduced me to his fathers story, which I included in my first book on the War in the Pacific. Like many sons of World War II combat veterans, Ron was robbed of fatherly companionship due to the war; no fishing, no camping excursions for Ron.

I have heard from literally hundreds of children of combat veterans. The common refrain is, my dad did not speak of the war. Fact is, no one much wanted to hear about it when they came home. Compound that with the trauma, and guilt maybe, of having friends killed.

I found that the veterans of WWII began to open up to my students and others as they realized that if they did not share their stories, their friends would die with them, again and maybe forever. Now add to that combat veteran experience the despicable treatment our Vietnam veterans received when they came home. But like their fathers’ generation, they don’t want the Jimmy Bates they loved to just fade away, forgotten. When they speak, people will listen.

This article is by my friend Gretta Hochsprung, and appeared in the Glens Falls Post Star on May 29, 2022.


GLENS FALLS — Ronald A. Parsons hiked up his pant leg and rubbed his fingers over the bumps just under the skin.

“A lot of the scars,” he said, “they heal over.”

The Glens Falls native served in Vietnam, where he was twice injured and awarded two Purple Hearts. Parsons was born in 1946, 11 months after his father, John E. Parsons, returned from World War II, where his father was a Japanese prisoner of war and survived the Bataan Death March.

His father was considered a local hero when he returned to Glens Falls. In fact, every newspaper article about the son’s injuries and medals mentions his heroic father.

But life wasn’t all ticker-tape parades for the Parsons when the elder returned from World War II. He was injured and unable to work.

So the son started working at age 16 to help out the family. He took the dirty clothes to the laundromat. He shopped for groceries.

“That was my youth,” Parsons said. “Everybody says they went to the prom and they went to basketball games and football games and baseball games. Not me. I couldn’t. But you didn’t miss them, because you don’t miss what you don’t have.”

Vietnam veteran Ron Parsons thumbs through research at his home in Glens Falls. Parsons’ father was a prisoner of war in World War II and a survivor of the Bataan Death March. 

A father goes to war

John E. Parsons figured he was just signing up for a “year’s hitch” in Uncle Sam’s Army when he was drafted on March 24, 1941. That year turned into more than four years — three-and-a-half as a prisoner of war under the Imperial Japanese Army and being tortured in a Japanese prison camp, according to a 1946 article in The Post-Star.

He was sent to the Philippines in September 1941. He was at Clark Field in the Philippines, sitting on the steps of a barracks with fellow soldiers on Dec. 8, 1941, when 56 planes approached from above.

“In a few minutes, a thunderous crash of bombs began a nightmare of horror for Parsons, which was to run from Japanese barbarism in the ‘Death March,’ through prison camps in an itinerary through Formosa, the Japanese homeland, Korea and into Manchuria,” the article explains.

Soldiers evacuated Clark Field on Christmas Day in 1941 and focused on building two air strips in the retreat toward the tip of Bataan “in the blind hope that American planes would some day come,” the article says.

They ran out of rations by February, and eventually Bataan fell.

After the April 9, 1942, surrender of the Bataan Peninsula, approximately 75,000 Filipino and American troops on Bataan were forced to make a 65-mile march to prison camps. It became known as the Bataan Death March.

“It was not a continuous march, parade fashion, but rather continued over a period of about a week with groups of 500 being sent out each day,” according to The Post-Star article. “Parsons says they were forbidden to help anyone in any manner, even if they fell. To do so was to invite a rifle butt in the back. He saw three men bayoneted in the back at a rest period when they walked a few feet from their group and knelt over a puddle splashing water on their faces.”

The march ended at Camp O’Donnell, where their shoes were taken away — even the shoes of Gen. Jonathan Wainwright.

“Prisoners were put in groups of ten, a policy which was in effect from then on, and in the event any one man attempted to escape or made any move which might be construed as such, the other nine were to be put to death with him,” the article explains.

Parsons took a bayonet to his right arm when he tried to sneak some sweet potatoes back to camp.

John Parsons.

In early January of 1943, Parsons’ parents in Glens Falls received letters from around the country that their son’s voice was heard on the “Prisoner’s Hour” from a radio station in Tokyo and that he was being held prisoner by the Japanese, and that he was in “the best of health.”

The messages were the first word the parents had received of their son since war broke out, a Jan. 14, 1943 Post-Star article said.

The Japanese believed that Formosa would be invaded, so on Oct. 9, 1944, the group that Parsons was with was put aboard the Japanese passenger ship Oyruko Maru, which was bombed on Oct. 13, 14 and 15 by American planes.

“When the bombing raids came, the prisoners were locked in their compartment and timbers were wedged against the door, the hatches were all closed and ventilation was shut off,” the 1946 article explained.

The ship eventually reached the seaport of Moji, on Kyushu, southernmost of the Japanese home islands. The prisoners were quartered for a time in a hotel, where hot baths were available daily.

But the stay was short, and the prisoners were transferred to Korea, where they went by rail to a camp north of Mukden in Manchuria. Later they were moved back to Mukden, where they were when the war ended. The prisoners were liberated on Aug. 16 by the Russians.

Parsons held the rank of staff sergeant when he was discharged and earned the American Defense Service Medal, American Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, with two clusters, Good Conduct Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

He was discharged at Fort Dix in New Jersey in December 1945 after recovering at Rhoads General Hospital in Utica for a few weeks.

John Parsons died Oct. 4, 1965, after a long illness at the age of 53. He is buried in Glens Falls Cemetery.

A son goes to war

Ron Parsons was born during the baby boom that followed World War II. He graduated from Glens Falls High School just months before his father died.

“My marks from high school were so bad that even if I had the money, I couldn’t get in to any college,” said Parsons, who worked all throughout high school because his father couldn’t. “They laughed at me when I submitted my stuff.”

He was playing pool with his friend Jimmy Bates at the Olympia Billiard Lounge on Ridge Street in Glens Falls in 1966 when his mother called to tell him he had been drafted into the Army. Jimmy persuaded him to instead volunteer with him for the Marine Corps so they could go to boot camp on the buddy system.

Parsons enlisted in the Marines in February 1966. They were both sent to fight in Vietnam.

“Two weeks in Vietnam and I realized we were going to lose the war,” Parsons said.

There was no way to stop the North Vietnamese.

“It was like trying to stop the air,” he said.

Ron Parsons.

Parsons was injured the first time on Sept. 23, 1966, when grenade fragments punctured through his knee. Just a few months later in Okinawa, Jimmy Bates was injured.

“He had a bone sticking right through his skin,” Parsons recalled. “And I said to him, ‘How the hell can they send you back to Vietnam like that?’”

Bates was sent back but was promised convoy duty. Parsons tried to persuade him not to go.

“So he went to Vietnam and two months later, he got shot right in the heart while he was on convoy duty,” Parsons said. “Got shot right in the heart and killed.”

Cpl. James J. Bates, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bates of 30 Baldwin Ave., Glens Falls, was awarded the Purple Heart while serving with K Company in Vietnam and was also selected as the outstanding recruit of Platoon 246. He was killed Sunday, March 19, 1967, while leading a squad on patrol in action against the hostile forces south of Da Nang, according to a Post-Star article.

Parsons’ second injury on May 26, 1967, was more severe.

Cpl. Parsons was on patrol with Marines from Company L, Third Battalion, 9th Marines. They were taking a hill 2 miles outside of Con Thien.

Another company was going through their base bragging that they were going to clear a path to make the DMZ safe for Parsons’ company.

“Three hours later, they hit the shit really bad and they were dragging their wounded and their dead through our position,” Parsons said.

The next morning, Parsons’ company was ordered to assault the hill. His best friend, Tommy Goodrich of Cortland, told him, “I’m going to die today.”

Strangely, Parsons awoke that day with a sense of peace. He felt like he was handed a ticket home.

“So I’m not really sure what happened, but the Chinese Communist Claymore mine detonated,” Parsons said. “It was about 20 pounds of TNT and it was probably about 20 feet from me. … The people on both sides were all killed and I was not.”

Parsons’ torso, arms, hands and legs, however, were pelleted with hundreds of pieces of shrapnel. His buddies on both sides of him died and 14 were wounded.

Parsons remembers being blown up in the air and coming down in a foxhole next to the corpse of a North Vietnamese soldier with a gunshot wound to the head. As he backed out of the hole, he was throwing his 10 grenades.

“I was just throwing the grenades all over because I was afraid one of them would cook off because the grenade is four-and-a-half seconds,” he said. “So I was kind of counting to myself as I was throwing the grenades into the hole.”

After 15 to 20 seconds, he started to assess his injuries and realized he was hurt.

“My left leg was open from the knee to the ankle, and you could see the bone, and the artery and things like that in there,” he said. “I had a lot of other open wounds all over. I have shrapnel through my fingers, through my hands, everyplace, through my chest. I got the biggest pieces in my left leg and the groin area.”

A circling helicopter loaded the injured, including Parsons and Tommy Goodrich.

“He died,” Parsons said. “He was right next to me.”

Parsons spent seven weeks at St. Albans Naval Hospital on Long Island. He wasn’t supposed to attend Tommy Goodrich’s funeral because he still had open wounds.

He put Vaseline and plastic over the wounds, wrapped them in bandages, loaded himself full of pain medication and was able to say goodbye to his friend.

While he was in Vietnam, he often dreamed about returning home to Glens Falls. He longed to spend his day fishing off the docks in the village of Lake George.

“That’s one of the problems that you have when you return home, because your dreams are all perfect,” he said. “The girl that you used to date, she’s just perfect, and your home is just perfect and everything is just perfect. But when you get home, they’re not perfect. And a lot of people are just so disappointed.”

When he got home he borrowed his mother’s car and hobbled on crutches up to the head of Lake George to fish. But his day was ruined when a man in a black BMW drove up and they started chatting.

The man’s father in Thailand owned the hotel Parsons stayed at when he was on R&R.

“So his family’s making a fortune off the war, while Americans are dying in the war,” said Parsons, who took his lines out of the lake and left.

For future generations

“When my dad came home, just like me, I just wanted to fit in,” Parsons said. “I didn’t want to be anything special. My dad felt his service was normal. His service was normal service. I kind of felt that way about my service too.”

Parsons never felt he needed to live up to his father’s legacy as a decorated war hero. His father didn’t talk much about his time in war, but he did raise his son to be prepared to fight.

“When I was born, I was left-handed,” he explained. “My dad switched me over because he said if you’re left-handed, when you’re inducted into the military, the rifle round when you shoot it will eject in your face, so you have to switch over to be right-handed. So I did, and it probably saved my life.”

His father shared wartime secrets with his son, like how to slip out if your hands are ever tied together or how to survive with no water.

“If you ever get into a place like that, you put a small pebble underneath your tongue and it will help salivate your mouth,” he said, “and it did.”

When Parsons’ father returned from World War II, he buried his story.

“We were in a survival mode, and I wish I had sat and talked with my father more about it. I really do, because a lot of people who did so wrote books about it.”

Parsons wants his children to have a news article to show future generations of his family. Vietnam veterans didn’t talk about their time in the controversial war when they returned.

“Nobody wanted to hear it,” Parsons said, “but we didn’t really want to tell it either.”

But when Marines go to reunions, the stories fly, because people who weren’t there, don’t understand.

“They shouldn’t understand it,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why we don’t tell them, was because they would be much better off for it if they don’t know.”

In 2005, Parsons visited the Philippines and walked the last 2 kilometers of the Bataan Death March with survivors.

Vietnam veteran Ronald Parsons, whose father was part of the Bataan Death March as a prisoner of war during World War II, walked the same path when he visited the Philippines in 2005. 

“Nobody talked,” he said. “It was quiet. Nobody talked. Nobody said anything. It was like walking in a graveyard.”

Parsons wanted to share his story and his father’s story with The Post-Star for Memorial Day. In fact, he purchased an advertisement in today’s Post-Star to reprint the Jan. 30, 1946, article in The Post-Star about his father’s time as a prisoner of war. 

Parsons has been working on his family tree and realized the only way to find his family’s information was through obituaries and articles in The Post-Star.

“This is going to be a documentation,” he said. “My great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren are going to see this.”

***

Local author Matthew Rozell included the elder Parsons’ story in his first book on the War in the Pacific.

Coincidentally, Ron Parsons was in Rozell’s father’s history class at Glens Falls High School in 1965.

“I have heard from literally hundreds of children of combat veterans,” Rozell said. “The common refrain is, ‘My dad did not speak of the war.’ Fact is, no one much wanted to hear about it when they came home. Compound that with the trauma, and guilt maybe, of having friends killed.”

World War II veterans opened up to Rozell and his students when he started the Hudson Falls High School World War II Living History Project in the 1990s. The veterans realized if they did not share their stories, they would die with them, Rozell said.

“Now add to that combat veteran experience the despicable treatment our Vietnam veterans received when they came home,” Rozell said. “But like their fathers’ generation, they don’t want the Jimmy Bates they loved to just fade away, forgotten. When they speak, people will listen.”

THE SEVENTY-EIGHTH ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY is upon us.

Thirty-eight years ago, I watched as the American president honored the fallen, and the living, at the Normandy American Cemetery for the fortieth anniversary. Just out of college, something stirred inside me. Something was awoken.

Those thirty-eight years have passed. I began by writing letters to the newspaper. Veterans of the war saw my interest; several reached out to me, and I began to interview D-Day veterans and others. I began to collect stories—not relics, prizes, or artifacts. I really had little interest in captured Nazi flags or samurai swords.

Monument to the boys from Bedford, Va.

I wanted to talk to the men who were there. That path that lead to a rewarding teaching career also resulted in one of the largest high school collections of World War II oral history in the state, now housed at the New York State Military Museum. It led to my book series. It led to the discovery of the story of the train. But the men are nearly all gone now. And I had never been to Normandy until a month ago, until the final leg of our European trip to make the documentary about my book A Train to Magdeburg: the events and aftermath took us from Germany to Normandy, France — to Omaha Beach and to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France, located in Colleville-sur-Mer.

We were there to document the beaches I had been studying, teaching and writing about for those past 40 years — the place where the liberators I wrote about in A Train to Magdeburg came ashore, some on D-Day and some later.

Ten months after holding off desperate German counterattacks meant to push them back into the sea, our then-battle-hardened soldiers, rescuing a train of would-be Holocaust victims, would be shocked by the reality of industrial scale genocide; indeed, they would realize what they were fighting for.

Most impactful was our visit to the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.

Mike Edwards photos.

Marble headstones at Normandy

Just two days after the beginning of the D-Day invasion, the first American dead were laid to rest in a makeshift cemetery just off the beach.

A few years later, the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach would become the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.

Today, nearly 9,400 Americans lay at rest on more than 170 acres of sanctified ground meticulously maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, watched over by the 22-foot-tall bronze statue, ‘Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.’

We had called ahead to secure permission to film. I was stunned at the serene beauty and peacefulness of the site, and the dedication of the staff who gave us the white glove treatment, allowing us to enter roped-off sections, past row after row of marble headstones.

I tried to touch the top of each one.

Small crowds of tourists gathered and craned in curiosity as I was shown photographs and told personal stories of the young soldiers by ABMC staff: A student here. A schoolteacher there. Lawyer. Farmboy. Mechanic. Shopkeeper. Playboy. Young father. Brother. Son.

I also paused at General McNair’s grave. At 62 he was the oldest person buried here, as well as at the resting place of General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. — the highest-ranking officer to come ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day, who was felled by a heart attack six days later.

It’s a moving place.

Remembering their efforts

About a third of the World War II families with loved ones killed overseas opted not to repatriate their remains after the war, knowing they will be cared for and rest perpetually with their fallen comrades in arms.

Our day ended with us being allowed to film the flag lowering ceremony at 5 p.m.

Back at the hotel, a teenage American student sat with us in the sitting room, listening in as we debriefed ourselves on our trip.

We talked about what following in the footsteps of the American soldier-liberators and the Holocaust survivors they rescued meant to us. For me, it added an almost spiritual dimension to this story of World War II that reveals mankind at its absolute worst, but also at its shining best.

We can’t risk forgetting how the murder of six million began with words, with neighbors and friends turning away.

We hope our film will offer up what happens when “ordinary” people put themselves in harm’s way to exemplify the greatness that human beings are capable of.

Humbled at Omaha Beach

We had told our expert guides, two British expats living in France, we wanted to see the exact locations of the landing of elements of the 743 Tank Battalion on June 6, 1944, 10 minutes before H-Hour on D-Day.

Of the five Allied beachheads established that day along 35 miles of the Normandy coastline, Omaha Beach was the bloodiest. Our guide Nigel wanted us to get there early, when the tides would be similar to what Allied planners were hoping to encounter.

It was a cool overcast morning, not unlike in 1944, when Nigel led us down to this westernmost section of Omaha Beach where the soldiers had  struggled ashore.

The tide was rushing in fast, rising 12 feet in a matter of minutes. It would have hidden beach obstacles and pole mounted mines quickly. Many soldiers, weighted down, drowned.

After filming a while, we lost sight of our cameramen Josh for an hour.

The water was rushing in so fast that I was actively scanning the surf, worried that he, in walking backward while looking down into the camera lens, may have lost his footing. He turned up just as we considered sounding the alarm, having walked midway down the five-mile-long Omaha Beach.

Nigel told us more stories of the men, the heroism, the tragedy of that day. Just before where we were standing, 100 men out of a company of 150 were killed.

It was humbling to be here.

A small airfield

Later, deeper into the countryside, we found the small airfield where filmmaker Mike Edward’s grandfather served in the summer of 1944, supporting fighter planes that followed the troops.

These hundreds of makeshift grass airstrips throughout northern France.  had typically reverted to agricultural use immediately after the battles.

It was an emotional moment for Mike, to be in the spot where his grampa had served.

‘Liberated the heck out of it’

I asked our other guide, Sean, to see where Operation Cobra was launched, a planned breakout, where men of our tank battalion in support of the 30th Infantry Division and others  would race in to encircle German forces. As planned, heavy bombers of the Eighth Air Force flying out of England would pound the enemy.

Unfortunately, many dropped their bomb loads early, on US troops, resulting in hundreds of casualties from friendly fire, including General McNair, the top American general killed in the European Theater, who was observing the action with the 30th Infantry Division.

Today, the approximate site of his demise is recently plowed farm fields. With my archaeological training it was easy to spot metal fragments littering the area.

Stopping quickly to visit the 800-year-old reconstructed cathedral in the City of Saint-Lô, we saw a shell still protruding from the wall and recalled the lore: How one dumfounded GI said, as troops entered the destroyed town: “We sure liberated the hell out of this place!”

At Hill 314, an emotional visit

At Mortain, we visited the site of a climactic week-long battle where the men of the 30th held the high ground against overwhelming forces, and saved the Allied breakout — but fewer than half the 700 survived.

We did more interviews and filmed up on this ancient hilltop, with glimpses of the famous cathedral Mont Saint-Michel shimmering in the distance.

The hill known for a thousand years as Mont Joie is now remembered by the US Army appellation ‘Hill 314’ in Normandy.

Between takes, in the spring sun I closed my eyes. The breeze rose and murmured through the pines, where I later learned bodies had been laid — after being searched desperately for food or weapons — while their vastly outnumbered brothers staved off a siege of evil in August 1944.

An elderly couple walking a dog spoke to me when they noticed the cameras.

I told them what we were doing, and the man’s eyes welled as he gripped my arm and thanked me for caring. It seems he takes care of the local memorials to the American fallen.

What they did mattered

In 2020, the 30th Infantry Division finally received the Presidential Unit Citation in honor of its heroism here.

What they did mattered, and their actions are lessons that will make us better if we remember, and teach the world what they did.

Some of our local news outlets have shown interest in this story. One ran today. We hope to have the film ready by Quarter 4 next year. I’ve edited a couple sentences/ photos for clarity on my part, but I think Ms. Hochsprung nailed it. Next up, Toronto in June to visit with Ariela!


After two-year delay, author Matthew Rozell visits Magdeburg, Germany

by Gretta Hochsprung, Glens Falls Post Star

May 24, 2022

Retired Hudson Falls history teacher and author Matthew Rozell stands in front of the railroad tracks in Farsleben, near Magdeburg, Germany, in April — 77 years after a train filled with 2,500 Jews was liberated by American soldiers. Rozell recounted the story in his second book.

HARTFORD, NEW YORK — The story started in his classroom.

History teacher Matthew Rozell and his students interviewed World War II veterans for the Hudson Falls High School World War II Living History Project he started in the 1990s.

A 2001 interview with retired U.S. Army Sgt. Carrol “Red” Walsh of Johnstown unearthed the story of the liberation of a train near Magdeburg, Germany — a story that turned into a book and an upcoming documentary film.

On April 13, 1945, near the end of World War II, Army Sgt. George Gross and Walsh were deep in the heart of Nazi Germany, part of the U.S. 30th Infantry Division and the 743rd Tank Battalion, when they spotted a train sitting on the tracks.

On April 13, 1945, near the end of World War II, American soldiers liberated a train containing 2,500 Jews in Farsleben, near Magdeburg, Germany.
Liberation photo has gone viral many times over. Social media post, France.

The train contained 2,500 Jews being taken from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to the Theresienstadt Ghetto, a Nazi concentration camp in the Czech Republic. The American soldiers found the train deserted on the tracks and liberated the Jewish prisoners, saving them from extermination.

Rozell shared photos of the liberation on the school’s website and eventually turned the story into his second book, “A Train Near Magdeburg — The Holocaust, the survivors, and the American soldiers who saved them.”

A dedicated Dutch-American organizer, a passionate local historian, the town’s museum coordinator, and, importantly, the local school’s world history teacher and her group of high school students near Magdeburg found Rozell’s photographs and started the “Stranded Train Committee” to raise money to build a monument to remember the day of the liberation, a subject the German students formally didn’t learn much about.

History teacher Matt Rozell, right, stands with filmmaker Mike Edwards near the railroad tracks in Farsleben, near Magdeburg, Germany, in April.

Rozell and filmmaker Mike Edwards were planning to capture the monument dedication ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation in Germany in 2020.

But the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, a lone red-headed high school student named Johanna Mücke placed a bouquet of flowers at the site.

Over Easter, Rozell finally made the long-awaited trip to Magdeburg, a central German city on the Elbe River, to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the liberation — two years later than expected. He brought along a film crew to conduct interviews and film the dedication ceremony.

“After that first gig got canceled, we kind of decided we didn’t need to film all the hoopla,” Rozell said, “we wanted to go and interview people. Unfortunately in the last two years, I lost like four or five survivors that we never got on film.”

Rozell and the film crew shot scenes at Bergen-Belsen, which is where Anne Frank and her sister died. There is an exhibit there based on Rozell’s book.

The place now looks like a park with mass graves, Rozell said. The British liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945.

Bergen-Belsen. “Here Rest 5000 dead”.

“When the British got there on the 15th, there were 60,000 people there and a lot of them were sick and dying,” Rozell said. “Eight hundred of them died the day the British arrived. So it was a nightmare. There were close to 10,000 corpses piled up.”

Rozell walked the route taken by the American soldiers who liberated the train. He met up with now-20-year-old Johanna Mücke, who acted as their tour guide and translator and took them directly to the liberation site.

“I’d never met her before, and I’d never been to Magdeburg before, and I’d never been to the liberation site before,” Rozell said. “This is what I’ve been doing with my life for the past 20 years.”

Rozell and a cameraman hiked down a ravine to the railroad tracks where the famous liberation picture was taken in 1945. When he arrived at the tracks — still a very active train route — a train rushed by, giving Rozell chills.

Seventy-seven years to the day, on a beautiful spring day, Walsh and Gross liberated that train.

Rozell is most impressed with the German students who have asked questions and learned about a past that many Germans want to forget. Many of the students had never met a Jewish person. They hadn’t learned much about the Holocaust in school.

“Nobody knew, even though it was in their backyard, about this story,” Rozell said.

Rozell took home rocks to remember his travels. He picked up a rock at the train site.

“It’s actually a piece of that place that’s with me forever,” said Rozell, who remarked upon the details of a trip 20 years in the making.

The story has come full circle, he said, but the chapters are not yet complete.

“Just when you think it’s over, the phone rings or the email chimes and there’s a new survivor — quote unquote new — somebody who had never known the story before,” Rozell said, “and the book and the film is helping these people heal.”

“Stranded Train Committee” Monument dedication. Due to fluctuating Covid conditions, a smaller dedication ceremony went ahead on the 77th anniversary at the liberation site. Johanna Mücke, German legislator, Anette Pilz, Ron Chaulet, Matthew Rozell, 2nd Gen survivors from Israel spoke.

Johanna Mücke and her German classmates were part of the team that formed “Stranded Train Committee” and raised money to erect a monument in memory of the liberation of the train near Magdeburg. Ron Chaulet of the Netherlands (pictured above) was instrumental in setting up the foundation.

Local father and son historians Daniel and Klaus-Peter Keweloh of Hillersleben were instrumental in educating people near the liberation site about the train. (Magdeburg was formerly behind the Iron Curtain in E. Germany). It was Daniel who had written to me in 2008 from the German town of Hillersleben, some 15 or so km from the liberation site. He now conducts informal tours where the hospital was located and the Jewish cemetery for 136 souls rest (after passing following their liberation), in his ‘backyard’. He stated that growing up, he learned little about the Holocaust; all of the rhetoric was placed on the sacrifices of the Soviet Union in World War II, almost nothing of the horrors of the industrial scale genocide perpetrated on the Jewish people. He is passionate about educating his fellow Germans and bringing Jewish families to this resting place.

“It’s bringing together the new generations with the ones that are leaving us,” Rozell continued. “It’s bringing together former enemies, these dedicated German historians, who now dedicate their lives to helping these Jewish families get a sense of closure. So the whole experience has been one of healing, and it’s healing for the soldiers and the families of the guys who fought in combat.”

https://poststar.com/news/local/after-two-year-delay-author-matthew-rozell-visits-magdeburg-germany/article_4c00d9f2-da9b-11ec-9cfc-f7526f2a8e77.html

For Walter.

On April 15, we were in Germany and visited the site of one of former medic Walter Gantz’s recurring nightmares. Walter passed about six months after Mike Edwards, the director of the upcoming film A Train Near Magdeburg, took this photo at his final interview with us in his hometown of Scranton, PA. I wrote the post shortly after; our Easter Saturday visit to the cemetery: I hope somehow there was a measure of closure for him, in talking to this German student, and for us to find her resting spot.

“I used to work a twelve-hour shift, from eight in the evening to eight in the morning. In the wee hours of the morning, this young girl died. For some reason, I wrapped her up in a blanket and I carried her down the stairs and I was crying.

From the new exhibition at the Wolmirstedt Museum.

We had a war tent that was used as a makeshift morgue. I placed her in there. I wonder why I would do that; I must have liked her for some reason. I didn’t have to do that, because we had a team that took care of those who died, and placed them in the morgue.

I spent seven weeks with these people. Most of us spent seven weeks, and during our so-called watch, 106 people died… God, it was tough. [This girl] was actually fifteen years old. Her name was Eva, and you might say, ‘How was it possible that he could carry her?’ She probably weighed 60 pounds, maybe. I thought about that many times, and I must have been attracted to her for some reason. That haunted me, really. It really haunted me.”


Easter Saturday was grey, cold and overcast, occasionally spitting rain. We picked up Johanna, our now-established translator, and headed to Hillersleben, to meet Daniel Keweloh and his family, to conduct interviews with Germans who were alive when the train was liberated and remembered the soldiers, the Jewish victims, and the hospital at Hillersleben where Walter Gantz and other GIs cared for them. About 150 died here in the next month, and were buried here, including a 15-year-old girl who Walter had become attached to. When she died five weeks later, he carried her body out to the morgue tent.

This greatly affected him the rest of his life.

In 2018, when she was 16, Johanna wrote to me to ask if there were any soldiers still alive. I responded with Walter’s contact information, and she reached out to him. They carried on a warm relationship by mail over the next year, just before his death; I know on a special level that this helped heal the trauma that he could not speak about for most of his life.

Daniel K. and his father Klaus-Peter took us to the now practically abandoned cemetery, surrounded by a sea of solar panels where the hospital and garrison complex had been-first German, then Soviet occupation until the end of the Cold War. No individual graves were individually marked, as they were buried in an old air raid shelter outside of the hospital.

There, with Johanna present, we found Eva’s name on the wall…

The now torn down hospital at Hillersleben. Where solar panel farm is today.
We found her name…

Josh films the cemetery…

DAY 4. Today, Thursday, we interviewed German students in their former school near the liberation site. They discuss the responsibility of keeping history alive, and the worldwide impact of this important story that unfolded in their literal backyard.

We arrived at the school and met Johanna, and were let in by a custodian, as the students and teachers are on their Easter spring break. I toured the school with her as the guys set up the set, set up in the former classroom of her former history teacher, Karin P. at the end of a long corridor.

Johanna was interviewed there, as were some of her former schoolmates.

One of the sets in the school. Mike, Joe, Josh.

Their history teacher had attended a lecture in the spring of 2018 by local Hillersleben father and son historians Daniel and Klaus-Peter Keweloh in Farsleben. If you recall, Farsleben is where the train had stopped, stranded, with the Holocaust prisoners awaiting their fate uneasily, some younger ones entering the village to look or beg for food, others going to the small lake or pond near the tracks on April 12th. After the liberation by the tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion on the 13th, more troops of the 30th Infantry Division and the attached 95th Medical Gas Battalion arrived to evacuate the sick and emaciated people to the newly captured garrison town and hospitals at Hillersleben. The 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion had by then also arrived to take over the town of Farsleben, where its commander had placed his service weapon to the head of the mayor of the town to quietly assure him that he expected his orders to provide for the survivors that Friday be carried out with immediate assistance of food and shelter; bakeries cooked all the night and local farmers were ordered to bring in food supplies as well.

Johanna and Mike the director.

So today we talked to theses schoolkids, and teacher, later, at her home. The English of the students ranged from quite acceptable to outstanding, they actually begin language studies quite young, with the emphasis in the fifth through 12th grade on English. Interesting, and naturally, their parents learned Russian, but you have to remember that six weeks after the Americans took this area, the terms of the Yalta Agreement kicked in, and the Soviet Red Army moved in, Soviet control lasting until the fall of the USSR in1991, and Russian occupation until 1994.


These kids spoke first without their teacher present. They all attested to her fire, her passion for history—like me, a thirty-year veteran of the classroom. Johanna especially recounted her interest in modern European and world history taking off with the introduction of things like the French Revolution, World War I and World War II in the tenth level or grade, the exact age group that I also taught it in the United States, to 15 and 16-year-olds. I felt like I was back in the classroom myself, with my own interested students. I told them that, and that their history teacher sounded a lot like me in her delivery of the material to be learned; you don’t just tell the kids to ‘open up to page 142 and read aloud’. You teach them real facts, for sure, but then you probe further into motivations, opposing perspectives and viewpoints; you ask them to delve into sections that others might dismiss or move right along over. You guide them to question their own processes, emotions, and to use newly practiced skills of reasoning, writing and detective work in their own lives. Sometimes, a teacher is presented with an opportunity to ‘do history’ in a very big way. And most of those times, this involves taking big risks, stepping out of traditional comfort zones, putting one’s self on the line, one’s ‘money where one’s mouth’ is, ‘walking the talk’. But have you ever had a fire within burning, expressed it in a special setting, and seen it jump to others? Because it will take on a life of its own, and you get to witness new ideas and concrete happenings that never existed being created before your eyes. It is the most exciting feeling, like falling in love for the first time. And it spontaneously grows almost out of your original control, but you also realize that had it not been for your passion, and later your patient nurturing, it might not have even ever existed. And that is a humbling thing to be lucky enough to realize.


So this is what I saw these students describing about their teacher. To myself, I thought that when Karin does see the competed film, with their testimony we recorded today, she will be one of the lucky ones, the teacher who can see what her passion wrought outside of the classroom, with out having it come out only 30 or 40 years later when people remember you fondly at your own funeral.

The other thing that struck me today was what the teacher felt when she learned of this story in 2018 from the historians, and saw was the photographs and soldier and survivor testimony [from this website and the Hudson Falls school one that preceded it], about what was really a lost event that linked their two small hamlets.

“How could I not know about this?”

So she put out all call for interested students to join her at a meeting after school, and a core group got involved the next fall school term. They learned of a local woman who remembered the incident, and who had one of the Greek Jews boarding at her home, where they did become close. Johanna learned that indeed, some of the local families did express compassion, kindness; others, of course, were fearful, wary of these thousand of persons now on the outside of the town. Who are they? Where did they come from?

They teamed up with the local museum to create an exhibit, and met survivors who traveled once again to the town of their liberation as children. Ron Chaulet set up a foundation in the Netherlands to collect donations for a proper, permanent memorial.

Teenagers got to meet the first Jewish persons they ever encountered. They entered this project in a history competition and won a prize. And they wanted to learn more about the Holocaust. They organized a trip to Bergen Belsen. The came face to face with the horrors inflicted upon their world by a government that existed for twelve years in their own country— one their own grandparents and great grandparents lived in.

Karin P. and director Mike at her home after tea and coffee.

The teacher was brave to introduce her students to this history, to go forth with this project. Some of the students got subtle pushback when reaction to their project was publicized; a fatigue of sorts by ordinary Germans being called to account for the crimes of their grandparents generation, at home and abroad.

That’s not what the project was about, though as Johanna noted in one of her recorded statements, it is about feeling responsibility for keeping the knowledge of the Holocaust, and what happened in her backyard, in the front of people’s minds. For Karin, it was about doing the right thing not only as a teacher, but as a human being. Since the publication of the liberator photographs on my website and now others, and my 2016 book, survivors have been coming here to see where their parents, and in some cases, they themselves as children, were liberated, or where parents or grandparents succumbed and were buried. How could there be nothing at the liberation site to recall, honor, and remember?

Josh F. pans the permanent exhibition at Wolmirstedt Museum directed by Anette Pilz. Wonderful, accurate, necessary fruition of this project.