Archive for January, 2008

This statement was read at the reunion by my good friend and comrade in arms, Tara Sano.

Dear Matt, George, Carrol, Teachers, Students and my fellow Survivors,

I will never forget the day when I opened the Website of the Hudson Falls High School ‘WW2 Living History Project’, and before my unbelieving eyes I was looking back to 1945 – more accurately to April 13th 1945 – the day of my Liberation by the 9th US Army.

The 11 photographs before me were taken when I was 6 1/2 years old (younger than either of my two little granddaughters). The Train had stopped at the siding of the small station Farsleben, some 16 km from Magdeburg. I had been on this train with my parents and some 2,500 people all from the Camp Bergen Belsen. I had been incarcerated there from July 15th 1943 till April 7th 1945. In the camp we had the unusual classification of ‘For Exchange to Palestine’, most were classified as ‘Jew’. I think that this is the only reason that we were kept together and survived as a family for nearly two years in the most horrific of circumstances.

So now some 61 years on in January 2006, in front of my computer at my home, I was confronted with photographs of the day of my Liberation. I found this experience so raw and emotional that I screamed and then burst into tears. I studied the photographs looking and searching for myself. I thought that I could be one of the little girls, sitting in the group photo – I dismissed this for I assumed my mother would be somewhere nearby, but I did not see her.

I looked at the bleak, miserable geography of the site, the horrible train carriages, the skeletal human shapes – fortunately my memory is still a blank. I do not remember being in the train for 6 days, I do not remember being hungry or thirsty. All I remember is being out of the train, standing on the ground and watching the German guards fleeing and dropping their guns. I picked up one of these guns and before I could do anything – it was snatched from my hands. That is my only memory of that day. However, the events of the day are documented visually and that is incredible to believe. For no written words could describe so vividly the happenings of that day as do these 11 photographs. It is a historical miracle that Major Benjamin and Tank Commander George Gross had their small Kodak camera – and that on that day there was film left to use and record the day.

With today’s incredible technology anyone on our planet can see this photographic evidence of my Liberation. It is the foresight of that other man of goodwill – your History Teacher Matt Rozell that these photographs were posted on Hudson Falls High School Internet Website – for all to access.

Following a series of events, I have developed a warm email relationship with Professor George Gross, with Judge Carrol Walsh and Carrol’s daughter. It is a great joy for me to hear about their lives today and of their family happenings. The fact that this connection was made some 61 years after the event is very difficult to believe possible. But it is so.

The friendship I have developed with these two wonderful men has helped me to bring some sort of closure to that unfortunate time in my childhood. The interest they, as well as Matt, have shown in wanting to know my story has given me the encouragement I needed to write about some of my experiences. I did do so, and my story will be published in an Anthology of some twenty stories of the members of my Child Survivors group here.

Thank you Matt Rozell, for teaching your students about tolerance and the evils of prejudice. I applaud and compliment you on your good work. You have touched the lives of your students and a growing number of Survivors. You have also I think affected the lives of the two Liberators – George and Carrol.

Your history course on this Train at Magdeburg is teaching your students the evil that was perpetrated by the Nazis during the Holocaust, against innocent people whose only sin was that they were Jews.

I hope one of the messages that your course has instilled in to the psyche of your students is that ‘Evil Happens When Good Men Do Nothing.’

I wish you all great success in your future endeavours.

Lexie September 2007


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This statement was read at the reunion by my good friend and esteemed colleague, Rene Roberge.

Sincere greetings to all of you gathered at this celebration of the indomitable spirit of mankind!

Greetings first to all the admirable survivors of the train near Magdeburg, and our thanks to you for proving Hitler wrong. You did not vanish from the face of the earth as he and his evil followers planned, but rather your survived, and grew, and became successful and contributing members of free countries, and you are adding your share of free offspring to those free societies. You have vowed that the world will never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, and you spread the message by giving interviews, visiting schools, writing memoirs, and publishing powerful books on the evil that infected Nazi Germany and threatens still to infect the world. I have met and enjoyed the company of Dr. Peter Lantos and Drs. Micha and Louise Tomkiewicz, and I carry on a rewarding conversation with Lexie Keston, Fred Spiegel, and Micha Tomkiewicz’s niece Elisabeth in France by E-mail. I am enriched by the friendship of such courageous people who somehow have maintained a healthy sense of humor and a desire to serve through all the evils inflicted upon you. I am very sorry that I am unable to meet with you today.

Greetings also to the dedicated teacher whose efforts have brought us all together through the classes he has taught on World War 2 and the web site he maintains at the cost of hours of time not easily found in his duty as a high school teacher. I know that several of you found your quest for knowledge of your past rewarded by the interviews and pictures Matt Rozell and his classes have gathered and maintained. Selfishly, I am grateful to Mr. Rozell for leading several of you to me, bringing added joy to my retiring years.

My grateful greetings and thanks, too, to the administration of Hudson Falls High School, who have allowed Mr. Rozell the latitude to teach special classes and maintain the web site that has been so important to the survivors gathered here and to the message they bring to the world. Greetings also to all the faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends of the school at which this important gathering takes place. Thank you for your interest in the survivors of the Holocaust and their message.

And special greetings also to my old Army buddy, Judge Carrol Walsh, and his great family. Carrol fought many battles beside me, saved my life and sanity, and resuscitated my sense of humor often. We had just finished a grueling three weeks of fighting across Germany, moving twenty or more hours per day, rushing on to reach the Elbe River. Carrol and I were again side by side as we came up to the train with Major Benjamin, chased the remaining German guards away, and declared the train and its captives free members of society under the protection of the United States Army as represented by two light tanks. Unfortunately, Carrol was soon ordered back to the column on its way to Magdeburg while, luckily for me, I was assigned to stay overnight with the train, to let any stray German soldiers know that it was part of the free world and not to be bothered again.

Carrol missed much heartbreaking and heartwarming experience as I met the people of the train. I was shocked to see the half-starved bodies of young children and their mothers and old men—all sent by the Nazis on their way to extermination. I was honored to shake the hands of the large numbers who spontaneously lined up in orderly single file to introduce themselves and greet me in a ritual that seemed to satisfy their need to declare their return to honored membership in the free society of humanity. I was heartbroken that I could do nothing to satisfy their need for food that night, but I was assured that other units were taking care of that and the problem of housing so many free people. Sixty years later, I was pleased to hear that the Army did well in caring for their new colleagues in the battle for freedom. I saw many mothers protecting their little ones as best they could, and pushing them out, as proud mothers will, to be photographed. I was surprised and please by the smiles I saw on so many young faces. Some of you have found yourselves among those pictured children, and you have proved that you still have those smiles. I was terribly upset at the proof of man’s inhumanity to man, but I was profoundly uplifted by the dignity and courage shown by you indomitable survivors. I have since been further rewarded to learn what successful, giving lives you have lived since April 13, 1945.

I wish I could be with you in person at this celebration, as I am with you in spirit. I hope you enjoy meeting each other and getting to know Matt Rozell and Carrol Walsh. I look forward to seeing again my friends whom I have met and to meeting the rest of you either in person or by E-mail. My experience at the train was rich and moving, and it has remained so, locked quietly in my heart until sixty years later, when the appearance of you survivors began to brighten up a sedate retirement. You have blessed me, friends, and I thank you deeply. May your lives, in turn, bring you the great blessings you so richly deserve.

Fondly yours,

George C. Gross

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Ariela-the American Angels

From: Avital P.
Sent: Sunday, January 13, 2008 5:00 PM
To: Rozell Matt
Subject: A Train Near Magdeburg

Hi Mr. Rozell,

First, on behalf of my mother Ariela Rojek, I would like to wish you and your family a very Happy and Healthy New Year….

Several weeks ago my mother received a copy of your DVD and we all sat down to watch it with her. I must tell you we had chills up and down our spines. It is mind boggling to even imagine what transpires in our survivors’ and liberators’ minds when such a reunion takes place.

My mother was inspired to put her memories down on paper regarding the liberation and I have attached it in this e-mail. She has also asked me to include a couple of pictures that she took when she went back to visit the site a few years ago. Please add her story to the few that you already have and if you would like to share with the rest of the group you may go ahead.

Please continue to stay in touch and send us any other news that you may have in the future.

Thanks again for the great work that you have done.


Avital P., on behalf of Ariela Rojek

Dear Mr. Rozell,
After speaking with you in October and watching the reunion DVD, I decided to write down some of my memories and send them to you. I hope that they will contribute to the research that you have done.
I was born in Poland, where I spent time in the ghetto and a prison. I then spent two years in Bergen-Belsen.
When told to prepare ourselves for the departure in the train I was already very weak and sick. Two weeks prior I had very high fever. I was with my aunt, my father’s sister, as by then I had lost my entire family.
The Germans let us know that all those who could not walk would have to stay behind. My aunt wanted to stay because she knew that I was already very weak; however, I insisted on going. I said to my aunt, “You know that they kill the weak and the sick. We will go with the healthy people.” Although I was only 11½ years old, my aunt listened to me. I probably had a very strong will to live.
Although this might not be relevant, I would like to tell it anyway:
Before we left, they gave each of us a raw potato, and somehow we managed to bake them over wood. My aunt then said to me, “You know that now is the Passover holiday” – we barely remembered what day of the week it was, let alone the date. “On Passover, according to the story, our forefather Moses took us out of Egypt. Maybe G-d is bringing us to freedom, and maybe we will live.”
We walked a few kilometres to the train, and out of weakness we dropped most of the things that we still had with us. We reached the first car in the train, and there were a few women who saved us a spot. The train slowly moved but stopped every few kilometres because the tracks were destroyed from the bombings.
In one of the stations we saw a cargo train carrying beets. A good friend of mine convinced me to go steal the beets, and with my last strength I went. (I am actually still in touch with her today. Her and her brother are in the same picture as me, and she is the one who confirmed that I am the girl sitting on my knees on the right side of the picture). The beets tasted like the Garden of Eden, and my aunt said they tasted like melon. Of course, I didn’t remember how melon tasted.
The train continued to some place and stopped – on one side there was a forest and on the other side the Elba River. I remember the place exactly as it looks in Dr. Gross’s photograph.
After awhile, some Germans rode by on bicycles, and when they heard it was a train full of Jews they ordered the German guards to kill us. In the meantime, American planes flew low above us and apparently took pictures that showed people and children. The German guards that were still there to watch over us started to shoot with machine guns at the planes. Our people asked them to stop shooting, but they refused. We got off the train and hid under the wheels.
I would now like to add something personal. My aunt sat with me under the wheels and took out a little notebook that contained the names and addresses of our relatives in America. She told me to learn all of this by heart because you never know who the bullet will hit – and when the war would end I should contact these relatives and ask them to take me in. I listened to her and learned everything by heart. Until today, I remember some of these names and addresses.
As you know, the Germans didn’t get a chance to kill us, and you, the American angels, came on time. The children started to run to the small village to ask for food, and again my good friend dragged me with her and we managed to get some milk and bread.
After a day or two, the American army asked us to get on trucks and go to a village called Hillersleben. We were all afraid because we had learned from the past that every transport means death. In the end, they found a Jewish American soldier who announced in Yiddish over the loudspeaker that we had nothing to be afraid of and that we would be moving to nice and clean houses. And this is how the chapter of the train ended. But for me, on a personal note, my story continued…
I want to point out that in 1995 I went with my husband to Bergen-Belsen for the 50th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. From there we went to Hillersleben. The place looked very different from what I remembered, probably as a result of the Russian influence for 50 years. We managed to find a Jewish monument in the yard of a church. On it was written: In memory of 138 Jewish survivors of Bergen-Belsen.

With regards,

Ariela Rojek
Toronto, Ontario

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