Archive for September, 2007

The Blessed 743rd

From: Ern Kan
Sent: Sat 9/15/2007 8:09 PM
To: Rozell Matt
Subject: A train near Magdeburg

Dear Mr. Rozell:
My name is Ernest Kan .
I was tremendously pleased and excited to find your above titled history
I happened to be one of the Jewish concentration camp survivors who was
liberated by the blessed 743.U.S.Tank Battalion and 30.U.S.infantry
division in Magdeburg on that fateful day April 13. 1945.
In 2005 I was invited with Frank Towers,a former lieutenant of the 30.
by the Lord Mayor of the city of Magdeburg as guests of honor to
participate in the celebration of 60 years of the liberation of the city
by American troops and the 1200 year birthday of Magdeburg.
We were put up in the best hotel,THE MARITIME, and gave many speeches
and interviews with TV and newspaper coverage culminating in the signing
of the book of honor of the city,with the city fathers present and
cameras popping. In all it was a most successful trip telling our stories to many students
and the citizens of Magdeburg. Most everything was recorded on DVDs and videos.

I was liberated at the POLTE ammunition factory in Magdeburg where I was
a slave worker after having been brought there by freight train from
concentration camp
STUTTHOF near Danzig in the fall of 1944.
Odyssey began in Riga,Latvia where the Germans occupied our apartment on the first of July 1941.Shortly thereafter we were put into the Riga Ghetto.My mother was murdered with 27000 other Jews in the forest of Rumbula(see website Rumbula forest) November 30. and Dec 9. 1941.during the partial liquidation of the ghetto.The Ghetto was finally liquidated
in 1943 ,my dad was shipped to Auschwitz where he perished and I, who was 20 at the time was put into the concentration camp
With the approach of the Soviet army in 1944,
Kaiserwald was evacuated by
ship and we were shipped to
Stutthof concentration camp,after about a month to Polte in Magdeburg where I WAS LIBERATED.
You know the rest.

My personal story was also taped in Berlin Germany where I was kicked
out of my High school on Nov.11.1938 because I was Jewish.
I was invited by my former school in June 2003 where I gave the
commencement exercise address to the graduating class and received an
honorary diploma retroactively. My story is being shown in the Berlin school district as part of the Holocaust education program.

Again allow me to congratulate you and your students on your outstanding
educational project and If I can contribute any personal details ,do not
hesitate to contact me.
Best regards

Ernest Kan

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She is a survivor. He was a soldier…

Sent: Fri 9/14/2007 9:16 PM
To: Rozell Matt
Subject: WWII Living History project

Dear Mr. Rozell:

Quite serendipitously (to be explained at another time), my brother found out about and then forwarded me, to view your project’s website.

My mother Jean (nee’ Gusia Weinstock) was on that train near Magdeburg (from Bergen Belsen) and was liberated just as Lexie K. describes. She was brought to Hilerslaben and then went on to live in Brussels for 3 years before emigrating to the United States in 1948. She survived along with her parents and her only brother. At the time of her liberation, my mother was 15. She is now 77. I have been hearing this story my entire life.

Additionally, you will be surprised to know that my father (now 82)was in the American 1st Army 30th Infantry Division. At the time, I believe that he had already been wounded and was hospitalized in either Germany or England…but he can tell you more. Upon a post war trip home from visiting cousins in France, he met my Uncle on a Cunard ship…

My parents met in Brooklyn and married in June 1950.

They have many, many stories to tell…
My parents-Jean and Sol
Many thanks for your fantastic work and I hope to hear from you soon.

Best Regards,
Lisette Lazinger Tarragano

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Soldiers reunite with Nazi death train survivors
By OMAR AQUIJE, Glens Falls Post-Star

Friday, September 14, 2007 9:09 PM EDT

The audience stood, applauded and cheered after five men shook hands, smiled and faced the packed crowd.

What the audience witnessed was history — an unexpected chapter to an extraordinary tale that began 62 years ago in Germany, at the end of World War II, and continued Friday at Hudson Falls High School.

The experience was overwhelming for Carrol Walsh, who was among the five men on stage.
After all, it made him recall the events of April 13, 1945, when he and his tank battalion investigated a train that German troops had abandoned near Magdeburg, Germany.
The battalion discovered 2,500 Jews crammed in boxcars en route to a death camp.
The Jewish families had been held captive for two years, during which they survived the infamous concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen and were forced to live with little food in unsanitary conditions under German military watch.
But on that fateful, April day, they were liberated, thanks to Walsh, his buddy, Sgt. George Gross, and others in the battalion, which included two tanks.
If not for their help, Fred Spiegel, Micha Tomkiewicz and Peter Lantos may not have survived to see the end of the war, let alone the emotional connections made during Friday’s event.
“I feel very emotional about the meeting and the get-together, never having ever to imagine that I would meet anyone who was on that train,” said Walsh after the morning program. He is now a retired judge who moved to Hudson Falls in July after living in Johnstown.

“To see these people in the flesh is simply an overwhelming, emotional experience,” he said.

Tomkiewicz, who is now the director of environmental studies at the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, could only remember pieces of his liberation because he was a child at the time. Therefore, he and other survivors started searching for more details to fill in the blanks.
But the information he obtained left him with a broad and abstract image of the past — until Friday.
“Suddenly, we have names. We can shake hands. We can put our own background in a context we couldn’t put before,” Tomkiewicz said after the morning program. “Suddenly you have an event that crystallizes that scenario.”

The fifth man on stage was Matthew Rozell, not a passenger on the train, but rather a Hudson Falls High School history teacher who created a World War II history project in the 1980s to generate student interest in that war. The project has since evolved into a detailed Web site that chronicles war stories from local military veterans.

One of his students was Walsh’s grandson, which is what led Rozell to interview Walsh in 2001. During the interview, Walsh’s daughter suggested he tell Rozell about the train.
Afterward, Walsh put Rozell in contact with Gross, who lived in California.
Gross provided photos and narratives of the liberation for Rozell to post on the project Web site.
Four years later, Rozell received an e-mail from Lexie Keston, a Holocaust survivor who was on the same train. She was 6 at the time.
The Web site, located at http://www.hfcsd.org/ww2, also led Tomkiewicz, Spiegel and Lantos to Rozell, and ultimately spawned Friday’s reunion.
Lantos, an emeritus professor of neuropathology at the University of London, traveled from England to attend Friday’s event, while Spiegel, an author and lecturer, came from New Jersey.
“It’s really a humbling experience,” Rozell said after the morning program. “To be able to share it with the school and the students — for me, that’s where the gratification is.”
The two-part reunion included speeches from the three survivors. Spiegel and Lantos each spoke about the books they wrote on their Holocaust experiences.
Dr. Gross, an emeritus professor of English who lives in San Diego, was unable to attend the reunion because of health reasons. He did, though, provide a letter that was read to the gathering by English teacher Rene Roberge. The reunion was recorded, and a copy of the recording will be sent to Gross.
Ms. Keston, who lives in Sydney, Australia, also was unable to attend, but she also wrote a letter that was read aloud by history teacher Mrs. Tara Sano at the gathering.
“I found the experience so raw and emotional that I screamed and burst into tears,” she wrote of her reaction on finding the liberation photos on Rozell’s Web site.
The morning program included the showing of “A Train Near Magdeburg,” a DVD by seniors Troy Belden and Eric Roman, that included the photos and narratives by the liberators of the train scene.
The dozen photos showed families leaving the train and some children smiling at the camera despite being weakened from starvation. The project really had an impact on the students who worked in it. “Meeting these people that came from the worst of the worst, and they just have the most positive attitude about it,” said Hudson Falls senior Troy Belden.
Later on, Lantos and Spiegel sold copies of their books outside the auditorium. Hudson Falls senior Adam Armstrong, who bought a book, was surprised his school could play a role in Holocaust history.
“I still can’t believe that our school — that not a lot of people will know about because we are a small town — can do this much for history itself, that we can be history in the making,” Armstrong said. Those involved in the event said the chance meeting has changed them as well.
“Sixty-two years ago, as those events happened, I never in my wildest imagination thought I would ever meet anyone from that train again,” said Walsh.
Though the photos and narratives have been on the Web for four years, more people have been viewing them recently, Rozell said. He expects more soldiers and survivors will come forward with their own stories of the Magdeburg train as the reunion gains publicity, he said.
Tomkiewicz said he is trying to convince the education department at his school to invite Rozell for a presentation.
“When he started the project, he had no idea where it was going to lead to,” Tomkiewicz said of Rozell. “It is an excellent manifestation of what education can do.”

Thanks to Omar Aquije and the Glens Falls Post-Star for permission to use this story, as well as Albany, NY’s Capital News 9’s Kaitlyn Ross for filling in some detail.
The 800 students of HFHS set the standards of respectfulness and decorum at this important occasion.-MR 12-3-07

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"Holocaust survivors reunite with vet"

World War II veteran Carrol Walsh talks to a history class at Hudson Falls High School in Hudson Falls, N.Y., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2007. The retired state Supreme Court judge will be reunited with three of the survivors of the Nazi death train Walsh’s unit liberated near Magdeburg, on the Elbe River about 50 miles southwest of Berlin. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

HUDSON FALLS, N.Y. — Carrol “Red” Walsh didn’t know what to expect when his patrol came across a train stopped along a hillside during the U.S. Army’s dash across northern Germany in the final, chaotic days of World War II.

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.

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