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.
George C. Gross