Archive for June, 2011

Click here to download pdf file (10 MB) photos and narrative of trip to Israel May 2011.

Israel May 2011 narrative Liberator and tank commander Carrol Walsh wrote a beautiful letter to the gathering that we hope to post here soon.

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Matthew Rozell speaks to survivors and families, 5-18-2011. Credit Miri Levy Lavi.

I wait for my turn to speak. Tears feel hot behind my eyes, but do not fall.  I have traveled 8,000 miles, and 500 persons who might not be alive today but for the message I am about to deliver are seated behind my seat in the audience.

I can hear a woman softly sobbing behind me. That almost does it.

Still, I am able to deliver my words.

Honored survivors, families, Frank, Varda, Ambassador Cunningham, Colonel Cyril, General [Rabbi] Peretz, Minister Hershkovitz, representatives of the Bergen Belsen  Memorial,

Ten years ago this coming July, a high school history teacher sat down with an “old soldier” to record his memories of the Second World War. Carrol Walsh, a retired New York State Supreme Court justice, regaled me with stories of battles and close calls, of days of extreme discomfort and boredom, interspersed with tales of exhaustion and moments of sheer terror that included times when he was sure that he was about to die, trapped inside of a small Sherman light tank. Suffering in the freezing temperatures during the battle of the Bulge, and now in the first weeks of April, 1945 moving into Germany to fight for 18 hour days, he thought he had seen it all. And then, he came upon a curious thing: deep into Germany on Friday the 13th, a train transport was stopped by the side of the tracks. Some human figures were milling about, listlessly; others were still sealed in boxcars.

His fellow commander in the other tank sent to investigate this train, Sergeant George C. Gross, was equally perplexed. Then, as the famished occupants of that train now gazed upon the two tanks and the jeep of the commanding officer, the emblem of the white star emblazoned on the vehicles signaled to them that perhaps they were safe, that perhaps now they were free. Abandoned by their German guards, delivered from death, from the group arose “a hysterical cry of relief”. Sergeant Gross took out his small camera and began snapping photographs as he spoke with the people. He stayed with his tank at the train for 24 hours, Major Benjamin having declared the train and its captives ‘free members of society under the protection of the United States Army” as represented by these two light tanks, to let any stray German soldiers know that it was part of the free world, and not to be bothered again.

Enter First Lieutenant Frank W. Towers, liaison officer of the 30th Infantry Division, who was now charged with removing these survivors to relative safety behind the lines to the abandoned Luftwaffe base at Hilersleben. Expertly navigating the back roads, skirting the blown bridges and other war torn obstacles, Lt. Towers safely delivered his precious charges, children, women and men, where many were nursed slowly back to health. Sadly, as many here in this room can attest, it was too late for over one hundred who succumbed to trials of their ordeal at the hands of the Nazis.

Today, however, as we look about this room, we see the legacy of these soldiers’ actions on April 13th, 1945, soldiers who, though they were being shot at, and many of whom indeed would not live to see the final victory, nevertheless made the moral choice to stop and to restore a semblance of humanity amidst the insanity of war. You proud survivors and your descendants now number in the thousands and are the glorious, incontrovertible proof that Hitler did not win. And as a teacher, I am proud to remember with my students, to promote the legacy of these soldiers, to help the world heal, and spur others to positive action by promoting their example. You may know that I have begun writing a book about my experiences and these stories which have resonated so deeply with all who have heard them.

I will close with the poetic words of liberator George C. Gross, the former English professor whom we lost on Feb. 1, 2009. Dr. Gross and I struck up a warm friendship, and I was also able to interview him before his passing. In this note, he shares his feelings of what his late life encounters with you survivors meant to him:

Greetings …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 you 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. Some of you have found yourselves among those pictured children [whom I photographed], 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 am grateful to Mr. Rozell for leading several of you to me, bringing added joy to my retiring years. 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…

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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