Archive for February, 2011

I had lunch today with this lovely lady and her companion. Helen Sperling, 90, nursing a broken hip, traveled 4 hours round trip with her delightful companion to have lunch with me and two of my children in Saratoga.  She and Marsha found our story on the Internet and were anxious to make my acquaintance! How honored and blessed I am.This gracious survivor came to meet ME!!!

Our common message- remember the dead, honor the survivors who have rebuilt their lives and their families, but most of all, teach people,  young and old,  to never take anything for granted, and honor the liberators while they are still with us. Amen.

Sweet dreams Helen, and I hope that tonight does not belong to Hitler. I’ll see you again in a few months!

By Ryan Smith, Colgate Maroon News

First published October 29, 2009  http://www.maroon-news.com/news/sperling-shares-holocaust-memories-1.856855

Since the 1970s, Holocaust survivor Dr. Helen Sperling has been speaking to the Colgate community about her experiences during World War II. As in years past, Sperling, who received an honorary doctorate from Colgate in 2000, spoke to a group so tightly packed  that many of the attendees willingly stood through the whole lecture. Sperling’s speech was sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program, the English Department and CORE 151.
Sperling spoke of her childhood, growing up on the outskirts of Warsaw, Poland as a “well-loved, spoiled, independent child.” Her town was more of a familial community, where “birthdays, holidays, everything” were about a broader togetherness.
Before the Germans came, Sperling recalled the “ignorance” that ran rampant among the Jewish members of her small town. They had heard of the Germans, but most thought along the lines of Sperling’s father, “that Germany was the most civilized society in the world,” and it, whatever it may be, could not happen to them.
Thus, when the Germans marched in with their “ugly, ugly shiny black boots,” the populace was completely unaware of the evil that was to come. Willingly, according to Sperling, “Jews registered in the labor office for ‘protection,'” though from what, they did not know.
Sperling’s family did not awaken to their reality until they began to see “neighbors hanging from balconies.” Quickly the community that had celebrated birthdays and holidays together was selling each other out to the Germans: “He is a Jew; she is a Jew.” With such a breakdown in community, it became unclear who the “real enemy” was.
Eventually, the Germans began propagating the idea that Jews were “dirty and lazy.” Soon after, Sperling’s family home was seized by the Germans simply because the commander “liked the house.” When leaving the home her father had built with his bare hands, not a tear was shed. They left behind their valuables, furniture, clothing and her father’s beautiful lilac trees that peppered the property. Not until weeks later, when her father heard his lilac trees were dug up and sent to Germany did the family begin to break.
“It was the first time I saw my father cry,” Sperling said.
Sperling recalled how she felt at that traumatic, memorable moment.
“It was the beginning of six years of utter helplessness,” Sperling said.
The family was moved into the ghetto, which was enclosed by barbed wire, and were forced to either comply with curfew or face death. Initially, death was an individual risk but soon “violating the Germans meant they would kill your whole family.” Regardless, Sperling escaped the ghetto one night to wish her best friend, a Gentile, a happy birthday as they had always done. When the other line picked up, her friend answered: “You dirty Jew, how dare you call me?”
Sperling, to this day feels “something dreadful happened to my soul.” She has avoided returning to Poland out of fear that she may see that same friend on the street over 50 years later.
At times, Sperling had the audience laughing, as she offered to cook for the many standees in attendance. After all, if she could not “give them seats, as a Jewish grandmother, I could cook you something.”
The latter half of her talk focused on her experiences at the concentration camps of Ravensbruck and Buchenwald. There, Jews, prostitutes, gypsies and homosexuals were shaved, numbered and systematically abused and starved.
Sperling recalled for the audience the last time she saw her parents before they were sent to the “showers.”
“When I tell you 6 million people were killed, that means nothing. But they are not numbers; they are mine,” Sperling said, holding up the only pictures she has of them.
Over the next several years, Sperling endured beatings and dehumanization that made her look and feel “sub-human.” At one point, she spoke of an SS soldier that had to strangle a prisoner every night in order to fall asleep. After weeks of hearing the screams, Sperling and the other prisoners “got mad at the victim for keeping them awake.”
The small victories, togetherness and luck kept her alive. She spoke of sabotaging German bombshells in the munitions factory, refusing to accept German food with which they taunted her and caring for each other when the worst of times got worse. As long as she resisted becoming “a slave” she had her mind and there was hope.
Allied Forces eventually liberated Sperling. She spent three years in a hospital during which time her liver was removed and she battled cancer. Years later, an American sponsored her immigration to New York where she married a survivor and raised a family.
To this day she has come a long way in coping with the barbaric evils she faced as a child, but sadly told the audience that although “the days are mine, the nights are still Hitler’s.”
Sperling stressed the importance of awareness and remembrance, echoing the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller:
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Sperling closed by saying that if there is one piece of advice to be had, it is that “there is no survival without love.”
“So, go to it,” Sperling said. “The world needs saving.”

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2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient – Gerda Weissmann Klein

“Gerda Weissmann Klein is a Jewish Holocaust survivor. When Klein was fifteen, Nazi Germany took over Poland. In 1942, Klein was separated from both her parents, who were separately sent to Auschwitz; she was sent to the Dulag (Durchgangslager, a transit camp) and later was sent to a series of labor camps. In 1945, the inmates at Klein’s work camp were sent on a 350-mile death march to avoid the advance of Allied forces. She was one of the very few who survived the forced journey. In 1998, the Kleins started the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation, which promotes tolerance, respect, and empowerment of students through education and community service.”


Gerda, I hope to meet you someday. Matt


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I am re-posting this today on the anniversary of Dr. Gross’ death.
Yesterday my son turned 11. And at about 11 pm yesterday on the West Coast, Dr. Gross died at home with his family around him.

I just found out. More than anyone else, he is the one responsible for this website and the hundreds of lives changed because of it.

You see, he took the photo that you may not really notice in the heading above, along with 9 other photographs that forever imprint the evidence not only of man’s inhumanity to man, but of the affirmation, hope and promise of mankind. It was he who wrote the prose that led me to the survivors, and vice versa. And it was he who cultivated a deep friendship with me via his wonderful writings and telephone conversation. How amazed and happy he seemed to be to hear from all the survivors.

In the summer of 2001, I did an interview with his comrade in arms, army buddy Carrol Walsh. Judge Walsh put me in touch with Dr. Gross. If you go back through the archives you know the rest of the story. It has changed my life and the lives of my students in that we are now trying to rescue the evidence, the testimony of the Holocaust and the World War Two veterans, for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. And today I received in the mail a bulletin from this Museum, reaffirming the mission that Dr. Gross had everything to do with setting me on.

He came into my life during a dark time for me- we had just lost our father (who thankfully, like Dr. Gross, passed on from his own bed at home), and our mother was battling the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia, or whatever that nightmare was called…. we began a conversation that has yielded so much fruit.

Lately, I knew he wasn’t well. I actually had looked into flights across the country before Christmas for my son and I to pay a visit, but we just couldn’t seem to swing it financially, with Christmas bills coming in and holiday fares going up. My back up plan, in my head, was to go out in February, when fares were half the cost… Well, February arrived yesterday and now it is too late, I never got to shake the hand of a man who helped reshape my own life, and the lives of so many others.george-gross-1945

His 8×10 liberation photos are mounted in the front of my classroom, with his captions for all to see. So I see George and just one of the noteworthy products of his life, everyday. The captions that he wrote for each are mounted below each print, a testament to his humanity and to his graciousness.

I know it is selfish to feel so bad about the fact that I was not able to literally reach out and touch him. I’m just so damned disappointed.  Right now it’s another dark day for Matt, but I am comforted that he was surely welcomed by his beloved wife, parents, and maybe even my folks as well.

From his statement read at the occasion of the first reunion, September 14th, 2007. Please feel free to add your own comments or tributes. Matt

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 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.


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.


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

September, 2007


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