Archive for March, 2010

{As part of the conclusion to my USHMM Teacher Fellowship project, I  am posting the unfolding nature of the discovery of the camps as Allied troops closed in from the East and the West, sixty-five years to the day that the discovery/event occurred.}

March 21, 1945: Red Army troops enter the Pruszcz, Poland, camp near Stutthof. Only about 200 women prisoners, out of an original 1100, remain alive.

March 26, 1945 – American troops liberate the town of Hadamar, Germany.

March 29, 1945: The Red Army takes Danzig.

March 30, 1945: Jewish women being led to their deaths at the Ravensbrück, Germany, camp grapple with their SS guards. Nine of the women escape but are recaptured and murdered with the rest.

March 30, 1945: Soviet troops enter Austria.

Buses used to transport patients to Hadamar euthanasia center. The windows were painted to prevent people from seeing those inside. Germany, between May and September 1941. — Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden

March 31, 1945 – Members of the US 2d Infantry Division investigate the facilities of the Hadamar euthanasia killing institution after local inhabitants report the murder of thousands of people. The Americans find 550 patients still alive. Several members of the staff are arrested.

March 31, 1945– One source mentions that Anne Frank died at the age of 15 in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp.


Weber, Louis. The Holocaust Chronicle. Publications International Ltd., 2007. http://www.holocaustchronicle.org

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1945- The Year of Liberation. 1995.


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{As part of the conclusion to my USHMM Teacher Fellowship project, I  am posting the unfolding nature of the discovery of the camps as Allied troops closed in from the East and the West, sixty-five years to the day that the discovery/event occurred.}

March 19, 1945:

Adolf Hitler issues the Nero-Befehl (Nero Order), a scorched-earth directive intended to leave only a ruined Germany for advancing troops.
March 19, 1945:

Two hundred survivors out of 1000 Jewish women who began a forced march from the Neusalz, Poland, slave-labor camp on January 26 are evacuated by train to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, Germany; see this post.

Source(s): Weber, Louis. The Holocaust Chronicle. Publications International Ltd., 2007. http://www.holocaustchronicle.org

I recently received this email from the son of survivors:

Dear Mr. Rozell,

My mother was one of the 200 or so that survived that “death march”!  The survivors were transported to the camp at Bergen-Belsen, where my mother was ultimately liberated on April 15, 1945.

Many years ago, she did relate to me a wartime story of hers which I wrote up in 2006, and had published.

Here it is…

The Defining Moment

By Joseph H. Danziger

It happened more than sixty years ago- and not to me- but I cannot dislodge it from my mind’s eye.  My consciousness will not surrender the thought of what it must have been like for my mother, especially on one ominous day. I am a child of Holocaust survivors.

My parents, and thousands like the, each have personal stories of their incarceration in the various concentration camps that dotted Germany, Poland and neighboring countries during World War II.

My parents rarely shared with me their accounts of that desperate period of their lives. When prodded, they might offer an occasional vignette. Seeing the pain on their faces in talking of these experiences, however, I didn’t push for details. Those are memories they certainly preferred to have long forgotten.

Of the stories that were begrudgingly told to me, one shared by my mother will haunt me forever. The soul-searching decision with which she was confronted on that fateful day so long ago is unfathomable to me. As a result of the decision she made that say, I am here to tell the tale.

My mother spent the flower of her youth- ages 17 through 20- within the confines of a concentration camp in Neusalz, Poland. It was a women’s “slave-labor” camp where yarn was processed for the war effort. Although it was not one of the infamous “death” camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka or Sobibor, the distinction between these titles is hardly significant. In a death camp the aim was to kill as many and as quickly humanly possible. In a slave-labor camp the goal was, in effect, to work the laborers to death, with an ever-replenishing supply of labor. The death tolls in each were mind-boggling. The human skeletons who managed to survive all looked the same and had similar stories of deprivation, torture, depravity and the wanton taking of life.

In the midst of this living hell, an opportunity presented itself to my mother. She saw a possible means of escape. Despite knowing that if she got caught she would face certain death, she took the chance. She escaped, although she never explained exactly how.

Clad only in rags, she trudged through unfamiliar territory until she came to a house. She knocked on the door. She related her circumstance to the master of the house and pleaded for food and a place to hide. Although sympathetic to her plight, he told her he could not jeopardize his family. If found to have secreted a Jew, especially one who escaped from a nearby camp, he and his whole family would most likely be killed as a lesson to the community.

Yet, seeing my mother’s emaciated condition and dire need- and against his better judgment- he took pity on her. He invited her into his home, let her eat, bathe and sleep the night. Before the break of dawn, however, he said she must be gone. She thanked him and availed herself on his family’s kindness. For one night during a span of three years she had a full stomach, clean clothes and a restful night’s sleep.

She left before dawn, as promised. But where would she go? Only then did the truly desperate nature of her circumstance become apparent. For one such as she there was nowhere to go.

My mother was confronted with an unimaginable predicament, a sort of Gordian knot. Should she hazard freedom in an unfamiliar countryside filled with anti-Semitism where peril and betrayal would be her constant companions? Or should she attempt the inconceivable- a stealth re-entry into the camp from which she had just risked her life to escape- hoping the guards had not noticed her absence? As least there she reasoned, she had the known quantity of a controlled environment offering minimal subsistence, albeit in a horrific setting and under subhuman conditions. She chose the latter. In her mind, that choice offered the best chance for survival. As remarkable as was her original escape, doubly remarkable was her ability to re-enter the camp, unnoticed, and return to her quarters before the morning roll call.

With the memory of nearly one full day of freedom, my mother persevered. Then, in January 1945, together with 1,000 other interned women, she was set on a one-and-a-half-month forced to march to the concentration camp at Flossenburg, Germany, some 200 miles to the southwest. This was one of many so-called “death marches” that occurred toward the end of the war, in a calculated maneuver by the Nazis to deceive the Allies about the vast network of fully functioning concentration camps in operation during the war years.

Along the way to Flossenburg, 800 women were beaten, shot or left to die when they collapsed in the harsh winter. Upon their arrival, the remaining 200 women were transported to the concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen. On April 15, 1945, the British and the Canadians liberated the scant number of those remaining. One of those was my mother. One year later, after surviving family members were reunited, she married my father.

I cannot imagine any other Holocaust survivor choosing a purposeful re-entry into a concentration camp after an earlier successful escape. The very idea is mind-numbing. But she chose wisely, for which her five children and six grandchildren are her testament. I will forever marvel at the immense resolve of this remarkable woman and her relentless insistence on survival.

My father passed away in 1981. My mother is now 82 and, other than having some memory troubles, is in good health and lives with one of my sisters in Virginia.

(Article first appeared in THE PHILADELPHIA LAWYER , SUMMER 2006. Retyped by student Jana Putzig. Used with permission.)

Contact the teacher, Matthew Rozell, at marozell@hfcsd.org

View Diane Sawyer’s Persons of the WeeK!

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March 5, 1945: The U.S. Ninth Army reaches the Rhine River south of Düsseldorf, Germany.

By Travis Loller, Associated Press Writer NASHVILLE, Tenn. Posted 3/5/2010 7:50 PM ET

— Nearly 65 years ago a group of American soldiers advancing through Germany came upon a train loaded with 2,500 starving Jewish prisoners. For Frank Towers, who was serving as the liaison officer in the 30th Infantry Division, the day he organized a convoy to take those people to freedom was just another day in the war. But several years ago, some of the Holocaust survivors, who were only children at the time, began contacting their liberators through the Internet. That was the beginning of a new focus at the 30th Infantry Division’s annual reunion, with survivors joining the veterans and telling their stories. At this year’s reunion in Nashville, Towers is reuniting with four of the people he rescued from that train. “We had read in Stars and Stripes about Jewish slave labor camps, but this was the first group we encountered,” the 92-year-old said in an interview at the reunion on Friday. “It was really beyond our imagination that any sector of the human race could do to these people what had happened.” Micha Tomkiewicz is now 70 and a professor of Physics and Environmental Studies at Brooklyn College in New York City. He was only five on April 13, 1945, when he was liberated. His memories of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where he had been held until the Nazis tried to evacuate him and the others to prevent their liberation, are few. One memory is of the rats, he said, and the time he woke up the whole barracks screaming that they were eating him. Although he knew he had been liberated by the American Army, he said, “throughout my life, they were always an abstract concept. Now suddenly they’ve got shape, voice, life.” “I just wanted to find the opportunity to really, really thank these guys,” he said. George Somjen, now 80 and a retired professor of Neurophysiology at Duke University, was 15 at the liberation, and remembers it better. “We were, of course, terribly happy,” he said, “but in that extremely emaciated state (I had lost 30 to 40 percent of my body weight), one has a very limited emotional scale. One doesn’t feel much except, ‘I am hungry.’ ‘I am thirsty.’ ‘I hurt.”‘ “For many years I never thought about this,” he said. Then, a few years ago he read a newspaper article that featured a fellow survivor and came to hear of the reunions. On Friday, while giving a presentation on his experiences, he recalled a 1997 trip to Germany where he revisited the town of Hillersleben, where the Americans first housed the survivors after they were taken from the train. His voice cracked as he told the group that his father, who had been with him on the train, died there, several days after the liberation. Tomkiewicz, Somjen and the other survivors would likely never have met their liberators if it hadn’t been for a high school history project. Several years ago, Hudson Falls (N.Y.) High School history teacher Matthew Rozell asked his students to collect the oral histories of local WWII veterans. Since those stories and pictures first went on the Internet, about 100 survivors who were on the train near Magdeburg and now live all over the world have contacted him and Towers. “It’s immensely satisfying to know that 65 years ago I had some part to play in the liberation … of these people and in setting them up on the road to a new life,” Towers said.

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