Archive for April, 2008

Why It Matters…

This online journal was begun to chronicle the unfolding of something very special in my career that is, I think, profoundly affecting my life and the lives of others- the re-connection of a train transport full of 2500 Holocaust survivors with the American soldiers who liberated them on April 13th, 1945 near Magdeburg, Germany.

I am the history teacher from a small rural town in upstate New York, USA who is caught up in the middle of it all. My students and I don’t have a high profile website, but if you keep reading, you will see that several people’s lives have been changed by it.

On this web log you will find my posts. The first, “Remember”, was written years ago as a reaction to the “commercialization” of the American holiday of Memorial Day. It kind of describes how my World War II Living History Project came about, and I am proud of the fact that it began long before paying tribute to this generation or conducting oral history became fashionable. It’s about time Ken Burns caught up with us.

The second, “A Train near Magdeburg”, is a brief summary of this special story, showing how the power of the Internet is changing lives.

You will also find several news articles that describe the Holocaust survivor/liberator reunion our high school hosted on September 14th, 2007, as a byproduct of this educational project. The Associated Press article by Chris Carola was picked up and run either in print or on the Web by almost every major newspaper in the United States, and many abroad, including the Jerusalem Post. The CBS Evening News even did a story on it.

In short order I was hearing from survivors who were on that train transport from every “corner” of the globe. These conversations and emails were full of emotion, and I try to imagine the feelings as many of them contacted their actual liberators for the first time. Of course I can’t- only they can. Yet in speaking to many of them it is apparent that April 13th, 1945 was the day they were reborn. Some have actually discovered themselves in these amazing photographs taken on that day. The detail that many of them remember is amazing. And as one of them told me yesterday, the gratitude they feel is indescribable.

What follows is the unfolding of this story. I hope you will find them as moving as I have. Let me know what you think.

Matthew Rozell
Spring, 2008

Read Full Post »

“A Train Near Magdeburg”

NOTE: In 2001 my students and I began to post interviews that we had conducted with World War II veterans  at our school website, http://www.hfcsd.org/ww2/Two of our veterans had described this incident, and one of them had taken photographs of it. Four years went by, and we heard from a grandmother in a far away country who had been a seven year old girl aboard this train. Then more survivors began to contact us, and today we are aware of over 200 survivors who have now made contact with each other and their liberators through the efforts of this school project.

We have organized several reunions for them.

This story takes place in the closing days of World War II, asAmerican and British forces pushed into Germany from the west and the Soviet Red Army closed in from the east.

On the morning of Friday, April 13th, 1945, the US 9th Army was fighting its way eastward in the final drive through central Germany toward the Elbe River. A small task force was formed to investigate a train that had been hastily abandoned by German soldiers near the town of Magdeburg, Germany.The boxcars were filled with Jewish families that had survived the infamous concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen and were now being transported away from the advancing Allies to another death camp location.Scores of children were among the prisoners.

Two tank crews were charged with guarding these newly liberated people until the tanks could be relieved and the people could be properly cared for. By the afternoon of the 13th, one tank alone was responsible for safeguarding 2500 refugees. A small guard of emaciated Finnish soldiers who were also liberated that day set up the perimeter guard. The American tank commander had a small Kodak camera. He took several photographs that day of the newly freed men, women and children and spent some time talking to them through one of the survivors who spoke English. The following morning he was relieved, but the events of that day were never far from his thoughts. Later, he wrote them down for posterity, and filed them away with his photographs.

Sixty-plus years after the event, survivors all over the world who had been children aboard the death train are finding their rescuers’ narratives and photographs of the day of their liberation near Magdeburg in 1945 on an oral history website produced by a high school teacher, Matthew Rozell,and his students at Hudson Falls High School in upstate New York.

CBS Evening News Story

 ABC World News  Persons of the Week

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum film on our project

SUNY Geneseo magazine cover story

Read Full Post »

USHMM Teacher Fellowship Awarded

Liz Bishop of CBS 6 Albany came up to our school twice to interview me and the students. My school principal (who, along with Dr. Gross, wrote a letter of recommendation for me) told me on April 10th that I am one of 14 teachers in the nation who will be attending the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellowship Program this summer! The Museum called me later in the day to congratulate me.

Her interest was piqued by the AP article below that appeared on March 27th.

Local Survivors of Nazi death train to attend WWII vets’ NC reunion

Several Holocaust survivors plan to attend a reunion of the American army unit unit that liberated them from a Nazi death train 63 years ago.

And a high school history teacher from upstate New York played a key role in reuniting the survivors and the veterans. Teacher Matt Rozell’s class project on World War II led to a reunion at Hudson Falls High School last September between several survivors of the train and an upstate veteran who helped liberate them.

Rozell says news stories about the reunion have led about 20 other survivors to contact him and offer their stores for his school’s World War II Web site.

Rozell is headed to Fayetteville, North Carolina for Friday and Saturday’s reunion of the 30th Infantry Division. Members of the unit’s tank battalion liberated the 2,500 Jewish prisoners from the Nazi train.

Rozell says the train survivors attending the reunion include a man who emigrated to America and went on to serve as a U.S. Army Ranger.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Read Full Post »

30th Infantry Division, rear; Survivors, seated (Rob Miller Photo)

Written on the 63rd anniversary, to the survivors, and the liberators.

Two weekends ago about 15 surviving members of the 30th Infantry Division met in Fayetteville, NC with five of the survivors whom they had liberated, as well as all the families.

I went with my 10 year old son, Ned. As you can imagine it was pretty powerful.

Here are links to a North Carolina TV news video and news photographs that were taken. I am also sharing a few photos taken by Rob Miller who was at the gathering and shared them with me. Blessings to you and yours…I hope to meet you all someday. Matthew Rozell



Matthew A. Rozell
Teacher/NHS Adviser
Hudson Falls Senior High School

Hudson Falls, New York 12839

Read Full Post »