Archive for August, 2011

Another honored speaker for our Sept. 2009 and 2011 reunion…

Holocaust survivor Leslie Meisels addresses his liberators for the first time.

“Please allow me to express my utmost gratitude for the gentlemen who liberated us, those brave American soldiers, who were saying that they didn’t do anything heroic, that they just did their jobs. But in doing their job, they gave us back our lives. And for that, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart…”

In part II, Leslie gives a harrowing description of how he narrowly escaped death a few days before liberation.

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Ariela’s American Angels.

I am reposting this. Ariela called me tonight to tell me that she is coming to the reunion with her cousin, who is also a survivor. This footage is from the 2009 conference. On the phone this evening she told me that I felt like a son to her. What she does not know is that she and my mom, who passed away five years ago, share the same birthyear…

I was born in Poland, where I spent time in the ghetto and a prison. I then spent two years in Bergen-Belsen.
When told to prepare ourselves for the departure in the train I was already very weak and sick. Two weeks prior I had very high fever. I was with my aunt, my father’s sister, as by then I had lost my entire family.
The Germans let us know that all those who could not walk would have to stay behind. My aunt wanted to stay because she knew that I was already very weak; however, I insisted on going. I said to my aunt, “You know that they kill the weak and the sick. We will go with the healthy people.” Although I was only 11½ years old, my aunt listened to me. I probably had a very strong will to live.
Although this might not be relevant, I would like to tell it anyway:
Before we left, they gave each of us a raw potato, and somehow we managed to bake them over wood. My aunt then said to me, “You know that now is the Passover holiday” – we barely remembered what day of the week it was, let alone the date. “On Passover, according to the story, our forefather Moses took us out of Egypt. Maybe G-d is bringing us to freedom, and maybe we will live.”
We walked a few kilometres to the train, and out of weakness we dropped most of the things that we still had with us. We reached the first car in the train, and there were a few women who saved us a spot. The train slowly moved but stopped every few kilometres because the tracks were destroyed from the bombings.
In one of the stations we saw a cargo train carrying beets. A good friend of mine convinced me to go steal the beets, and with my last strength I went. (I am actually still in touch with her today. Her and her brother are in the same picture as me, and she is the one who confirmed that I am the girl sitting on my knees on the right side of the picture). The beets tasted like the Garden of Eden, and my aunt said they tasted like melon. Of course, I didn’t remember how melon tasted.
The train continued to some place and stopped – on one side there was a forest and on the other side the Elba River. I remember the place exactly as it looks in Dr. Gross’s photograph.
After awhile, some Germans rode by on bicycles, and when they heard it was a train full of Jews they ordered the German guards to kill us. In the meantime, American planes flew low above us and apparently took pictures that showed people and children. The German guards that were still there to watch over us started to shoot with machine guns at the planes. Our people asked them to stop shooting, but they refused. We got off the train and hid under the wheels.
I would now like to add something personal. My aunt sat with me under the wheels and took out a little notebook that contained the names and addresses of our relatives in America. She told me to learn all of this by heart because you never know who the bullet will hit – and when the war would end I should contact these relatives and ask them to take me in. I listened to her and learned everything by heart. Until today, I remember some of these names and addresses.
As you know, the Germans didn’t get a chance to kill us, and you, the American angels, came on time. The children started to run to the small village to ask for food, and again my good friend dragged me with her and we managed to get some milk and bread.
After a day or two, the American army asked us to get on trucks and go to a village called Hillersleben. We were all afraid because we had learned from the past that every transport means death. In the end, they found a Jewish American soldier who announced in Yiddish over the loudspeaker that we had nothing to be afraid of and that we would be moving to nice and clean houses. And this is how the chapter of the train ended. But for me, on a personal note, my story continued…
I want to point out that in 1995 I went with my husband to Bergen-Belsen for the 50th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. From there we went to Hillersleben. The place looked very different from what I remembered, probably as a result of the Russian influence for 50 years. We managed to find a Jewish monument in the yard of a church. On it was written: In memory of 138 Jewish survivors of Bergen-Belsen.

With regards,

Ariela R.
Toronto, Ontario

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Oscar Muller, who was held in three different concentration camps during World War II, sailed from Belgium to the U.S. after he was liberated in 1945. New York City is pictured in the background.

This article appeared in the GF Post Star on August 22. Mr. Muller was liberated on this train near Magdeburg. Ironically one of his liberators, Carrol Walsh,  lived 5 minutes away, but they were never able to meet. What are the odds, but then, there are no coincidences. I’ll post more on his life later.

BY Meg Hagerty, Features writer

As a young man, Oscar Muller knew when trouble was brewing in the Janowska concentration camp in the Lvov ghetto of Poland. Whenever the Nazis planned to round up Jews and lead them to their death as part of a “selection,” Oscar was forewarned by a premonition — the screech of a train whistle that blared in his head.

He’d frantically seek refuge by holing up in a nearby attic or cellar, or fleeing over a fence until the danger had passed. Then he’d go about foraging for scraps of food.

It was all part of just trying to survive during the horrific years of the Holocaust.

Oscar, of Glens Falls, died July 31 at the age of 103.

The youngest of eight children, he was studying architecture in his native Poland in 1939 when the Soviets forced him and his family out of their spacious apartment. As bad as it was to be occupied by the Russians, life for the Jews became worse when the Germans invaded.

The terror started in 1942, Oscar stated in a diary about his life during the Nazi occupation.

“The old and sick were taken to the outskirts of the city, killed and burned to make room for more,” he wrote. “Women and children were sent to Belzec where elaborate places were built to kill them by pumping gas. This made it possible to kill lots of people quickly.”

Joy Muller-McCoola, Oscar’s daughter, said her father watched most of his family, save for one brother, be murdered by the Germans.

Oscar, however, never doubted he would be able to survive the atrocities.

“He was incredibly optimistic,” Joy said.

Oscar was imprisoned at three different death camps and did what was necessary to stay useful to his captors, but would never submit to being a “policeman” for the Nazis, mornitoring the movements of other Jews.

At Bergen-Belsen in northwestern Germany, Oscar reported to an “oberstrumfuhrer,” who ordered that he keep track of the prisoners who were either sick or dead.

Joy believed it was because her father had training in architectural lettering and numbering that he was kept alive.

Oscar also tried to keep peace among the 100 starving prisoners held in the crude barracks at Bergen-Belsen by cobbling together a scale out of two pieces of cardboard, string and a piece of wood to weigh out the one slice of bread allowed per person each day.

A young boy who was held at the concentration camp remembered Oscar making the scale and later, when Martin Spett became an adult and made his way to the United States, he became an artist who painted vivid memories from the Holocaust, One work in Martin’s “Reflections of the Soul” — a collection of his pieces — shows a man cutting a very thin slice of bread surrounded by a gaunt-looking crowd of prisoners. Oscar was the younger man weighing the bread on the primitive scale.

To keep the prisoners’ minds active, Oscar made a chess set out of scraps of wood.

He also scrounged for food to feed a starving rabbi, making off with scraps while carrying kettles back to the kitchen. Joy said at first her father felt guilty for having stolen, but the rabbi convinced him otherwise.

“They stole our lives from us; we’re just doing what we can to get those back,” Joy said her father was told. “Afterward, he was proud to have done that.”

Not surprisingly, Oscar’s life was forever shaped by the events of the Holocaust, as were the lives of his children and grandchildren.

Oscar was a gifted photographer who appreciated beauty, said his son, Dan; he was also known as “the man with the golden hands,” replicating anything after looking at it just once.

After Oscar was freed from the concentration camps, he sailed to New York from Belgium in 1949. He regularly rode the subway into Manhattan looking for work and met someone who made handbags. He went to a couple of interviews, saw what the designers were doing and drew up a portfolio, which he then turned into a long career as a one-of-a-kind handbag designer.

Oscar crafted furniture for himself and his wife, Lily, in their Bronx apartment, including cupboards with broomstick handles and a daybed with storage compartments.

“He knew how to design things to stuff things away in a very small place,” Dan said. “Everything he designed, even though it was to store tools or to put linens in, they always had beautiful lines.”

“Any of those pieces could have been in the Museum of Modern Art’s design collection and it would have looked fine because that’s what he did,” Joy added.

Oscar also worked through some of the “damage” from his death camp experience with his three-dimensional art. One particular piece hangs on the wall in Joy’s Glens Falls home.

It is a square picture with cage-like bars made of nails around the perimeter, and a broken eggshell and human eyeball painted in the center. Dan and Joy interpreted the art to mean that their spunky father watched himself build a new life after breaking free of the bonds that once held him.

“He was resilient,” Joy said.

Copyright 2011 The Post-Star. All rights reserved.
Read more: http://poststar.com/news/local/after-surviving-holocaust-glens-falls-man-lived-to/article_3b24d02c-cc3b-11e0-8978-001cc4c03286.html#ixzz1Vo24LOzL

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2011 American Soldiers-Holocaust Survivors Symposium and Reunion

Hudson Falls High School, Hudson Falls, New York

September 20-23, 2011

Three weeks before the end of World War II in Europe, on the morning of Friday, April 13th, 1945, the 30th Infantry Division and attached units were fighting their 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 weeks later, Soviet troops liberated a second train transport from Belsen.

In 2001, as part of a class project collecting the testimony of World War II veterans, Mr. Matthew Rozell, a teacher at Hudson Falls High School, interviewed one of his student’s grandparents, a tank commander who told him this story. This long forgotten event was about to spring to life. Holocaust survivors all over the world who had been children aboard the death train began to find their rescuers’ narratives and even the photographs of the day of their liberation near Magdeburg in 1945 on this oral history website, www.hfcsd.org/ww2, produced by Mr. Rozell and his students. Mr. Rozell created a second website, www.teachinghistorymatters.com, devoted to collecting these testimonies and recording the unfolding organic nature of this reconnection of survivors and liberators.

Today, over 200 living survivors of this train have been located, and now have the opportunity to get together with the soldiers who freed them 66 years ago.

Our 2011 theme is “Repairing the World”. The trauma of the Holocaust and of World War II left its mark on the survivors and soldiers of WWII; this will also be an occasion to remember the sacrifices of the veterans of all wars.   In sharing stories, participants have the opportunity to help heal the world, in the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam. The primary focus of the conference will be on education; it will be witnessed by as many as 1500 students and thousands more via a live feed on our school website, and it will be recorded for educational purposes. In 2009, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Bergen Belsen Memorial in Germany sent representatives, and this year will be invited again; researchers from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans may be here as well.

In addition, a book fair and photographic exhibition will be held with several authors in attendance, speaking and signing their books.  Major news organizations are expected to cover the event, and it is hoped that a documentary film crew will also be here.

Our high school facilities are “state of the art”, and our auditorium is air conditioned, just a scenic 15-20 minute ride away from hotels at the most beautiful time of the year.

Tuesday, the welcoming reception and dinner will be held at the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge Resort (www.sixflagsgreatescapelodge.com). On Wednesday morning, we will have a welcoming breakfast for you with students and school officials at a restaurant near the school. Lunches will be catered between programs at the school, on Wednesday evening, the Lake George Steamboat Company (www.lakegeorgesteamboat.com) has again generously agreed to custom charter a welcoming dinner cruise for our students, soldiers and survivors and our sponsors. Following Thursday’s school program, dinner will be held at the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge Resort; the concluding activity after Friday’s school program will be the final banquet at the Dunham’s Bay Resort (http://www.dunhamsbay.com).

The Adirondack Balloon Festival (www.adirondackballoonfest.org) is the same week, and should also provide quite a spectacle.

You may email me at marozell@gmail.com for a reunion registration form and a hotel reservation information sheet. Shuttle service is available to and from Albany International Airport (ALB), about an hour south just down I-87, the Adirondack Northway. It is highly recommended that you make your reservations as soon as possible to guarantee your places; rooms now being held will be released after 8/20.  With the ADK Balloon Festival the same week, hotels are filling fast; cancellations can be made later, if necessary.

Please join us for this final reunion/educational symposium.

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