Archive for March, 2012

I interviewed a Holocaust refugee and another liberator on Friday last… rolled into one! A special man. A German Jew whose father was mortally injured on Kristalnacht, Henry Birnbrey was sponsored and got out of Germany as a young teen and was given special permission from FDR to join the Army-previously classified “enemy alien” for his German birth- and stumbled upon the train as a forward artillery spotter scouting positions in the lead up to the final battle at Magdeburg.  Henry was in the 531st AAA of the 30th Infantry Division- Survivor Steve Barry mentions forward artillery spotters in his memoirs- and Henry was one of them. Much of what follows is his testimony as given to the Breman Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, interspersed with his memories as privately published in  his war memoirs.

I was born in Dortmund, Germany in 1923. During 1937 and 1938 my parents made applications for me to emigrate to Palestine, New Zealand and the USA. The USA visa came in first and an emergency visa was issued to me the week Hitler invaded Austria, as the various agencies feared that this invasion would be followed by war.

I left Germany on March 31, 1938, leaving my parents behind. In the meanwhile, my father had already been arrested. He was accused of having made statements against the government. He was released with the promise to abandon his business and livelihood. Consequently, we lived without income during the years 1937 and 1938. After I left Germany, my father was picked up again on Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) and he died a couple of months later from the wounds received when he was picked up and arrested. My mother died a few months later. The death certificate of my father stated the cause of death as “heart failure” and only in 1999 did I finally locate the documents that verified what happened in 1938, but too late to entitle me to compensation, which had been denied because their records showed a natural death.

The Birmingham Section of the council of Jewish Women sponsored my immigration to the US, and the social services were provided by the Jewish Children Service here in Atlanta. I moved to Atlanta in January 1939. In Birmingham and Atlanta I lived in foster homes.

I supported myself by working in a clothing store, later managing a shoe store, and in 1942 I went to work for a local accountant. In 1943 I joined the US Army. In 1944 I was with the Normandy invasion forces. During my service in the army, but towards the end of the war, I came across  a train of cattle cars full of Jewish concentration camp survivors and people who did not survive. We opened the cars and were shocked to see the condition of the occupants of these cattle cars. During this same week as we were advancing toward the Oder River, we passed ditches full of corpses of concentration camp inmates who had been marched to the West to escape the Russian advance. Around April 1945, I became a counter intelligence agent and interrogated German POWs and citizens.

After the war, I found out that most of my family had perished in the concentration camps. My mother was one of ten children, and out of that family, two first cousins survived. These cousins had made aliyah in 1937. My father was one of three brothers and again, two first cousins survived. One had made aliyah to Israel in 1938 and the other one survived behind the Iron Curtain. The rest of the family perished. I found documents in the Berlin archive that showed when these people were born and when they died. What I was not prepared for was the detail of information which included the place they were assembled, the number of the transport which took them to the concentration camp and all sort of sordid details.

Henry continues: During World War II, I wanted to get to our hometown but I could not because the British Army was over there and we were a little bit south of there, but my experience as a soldier I think is worth mentioning. First of all, we were in the neighborhood of Magdeburg on reconnaissance. And we had, we had this horrible odor. We didn’t know what was happening. And it turned out to be one of the freight trains full of Jews being shipped from one concentration camp to another. And therefore I was able to personally witness this terrible inhumanity that was taking place. And all of these were my fellow Jews and brothers and everything else. They were almost, they had been reduced to such a non-human state it was impossible to communicate with them. I mean, all we could do is to try to get them food and ask for help. There was nothing we could do. These people were half dead, half crazy. I mean they’d been locked in these cars, were lying on the floor. It was just a horrible thing to witness, and something I’ll never forget as long as I live.


And from Henry’s memoirs…. skeptics note again a liberator describing “walking skeletons” ….We moved on to the Braunschweig (Brunswick) area. Here, along the highway, we encountered ditches full of dead concentration camp prisoners who had been marched from one camp to another and were shot before they had a chance to be liberated.
…In April of 1945 while on reconnaissance near Magdeburg we encountered a horrible odor. As we got closer we discovered an abandoned train of cattle cars. When we opened the cars they were filled with half dead and dead Jews being transported from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to another camp. The sub-human conditions to which these people were subjected to had reduced them to a very sorry state. We did not know how long they had been in those cars, they looked like walking skeletons and could barely speak. Unfortunately we had no food to share with them, which gave us a very helpless feeling. When headquarters was notified, someone evacuated all German civilians from a nearby village, Hillersleben and turned this village into a hospital. Unfortunately we could not stay around to learn more, to speak to and encourage these people or perform other deeds of human kindness…I was reminded of the words of the prophet Ezekiel-”He took me down in the spirit of G-d and set me down in the valley. It was full of bones.”

…and this is where I (MR) am trying to put the pieces of the story together….


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Haunting cover image from Boder’s groundbreaking interview book.

Today I was visiting links on the Internet related to oral history projects. The description I found below intrigued me-interviews recorded in the summer of 1946.

“Voices of the Holocaust – Online repository that contains audio clips and transcripts of interviews done by Dr. David Boder of Holocaust survivors in 1946. The mission of Voices of the Holocaust project is to provide a permanent digital archive of digitized, restored, transcribed, and translated interviews with Holocaust survivors conducted by Dr. Boder in 1946, so that they can be experienced by a global audience of students, researchers, historians, and the general public.”

I went to the site at the  Paul V. Galvin Library at the Illinois Institute of Technology. I then clicked on places in Europe that Dr. Boder went to record his interviews, displaced persons camps or transit areas as survivors sorted out their lives and tried to plan their future. On the actual pages you can not only read the transcription, but also hear the actual recordings…. and he encouraged several survivors to sing for him on tape. Amazing.

Well, I saw some names that I thought I recognized from survivors I have met or from the manifest list provided by the Bergen Belsen Memorial. Sure enough, several of these survivors were liberated on our train near MagdeburgBelow I have the complete transcript, taken from the site, of a 24 year old Greek Jew who lost both of his parents upon liberation. If you go to the link, you can actually listen to his testimony from 1946! Below, I have taken the liberty of emphasizing his liberation story in bold print.

Dr. Alan Rosen recently published a book on this fascinating subject, and you can read his bio of Dr. Boder here. Dr. Rosen reports that his actual name is Mene Mizrahi.


David Boder: [In English] This is Spool 9-43B. The interviewee is Mr. Mizrachi and he speaks English. November the 21st 1950. Boder.
David Boder: This is Spool 43 continued. The interviewee is Señor Manis Mizrachi or Mr. Manis Mizrachi. Born in Greece, how old are you Mr. Mizrachi?
Manis Mizrachi: I am twenty-four years old.
David Boder: He’s twenty-four years old. He speaks good English and we will have his report in English. Also Mr. Mizrachi would you tell us again what is your full name where were you born?
Manis Mizrachi: My name is Mizrachi Mimi I have been born in Salonika.
David Boder: Yes. Your last name is really Mizrachi so we . . .
Manis Mizrachi: . . . Mizrachi, yes
David Boder: . . . call you in America “Minis Mizrachi.”
Manis Mizrachi: . . . Mizrachi, yes
David Boder: You were born where?
Manis Mizrachi: In Salonika, 1922.
David Boder: In 1922, yes.
Manis Mizrachi: The 17th of January.
David Boder: Yeah, and tell me, who were your parents and what was their business.
Manis Mizrachi: My parents – my father was Oscar Mizrachi and he was . . . he saled articles which he brought from every country and he was a representative of several firms.
David Boder: Ah! He was an importer?
Manis Mizrachi: importer yes.
David Boder: Yes, for instance what kind of articles was he selling?
Manis Mizrachi: He was selling clothing and paper, he brought paper and several other things what he could make.
David Boder: Now tell me how many people were in your family?
Manis Mizrachi: We’re three people.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: My father, mother and me.
David Boder: You were the only son?
Manis Mizrachi: The only son.
David Boder: Yes, and now tell me where were you and what happened to your family when the Germans came to Greece?
Manis Mizrachi: Before the Germans came to Greece since my father was a freemason, we . . . were afraid for the Germans, them not to take him away from us. That for we made it up to go to Athens, the capital of Greece, since it is a very big country so we could . . .
David Boder: [speaking over each other] Big city you mean . . .
Manis Mizrachi: Big city, yes,
David Boder: So you could be better protected . . .
Manis Mizrachi: Better protected.
David Boder: Tell me what citizenship did your father have? Greece or Spanish?
Manis Mizrachi: My father was Spanish
David Boder: And your mother?
Manis Mizrachi: My mother was Turkish.
David Boder: Turkish? And you were considered what?
Manis Mizrachi: I have been considered Spanish.
David Boder: Because your father was Spanish. Have you lived in Spain?
Manis Mizrachi: Never, I have never in Spain.
David Boder: Yes, all right, and so you went to AthensManis Mizrachi: And so we went to Athens but anyhow the Germans took us because although the Consul of Spain has certifies us that we have no reason to be afraid that the Germans will take us and but for this obliged us not to leave and not to hide ourselves and so the Germans came one night at two o’clock and got us [the whole family, they beat us firstly] and afterwards they put us into the Greek jail.
David Boder: All right, now . . . Tell me this . . . [mutters] All right, tell me this: Were other Jews then arrested already and deported?
Manis Mizrachi: A lot of Jews, Spanish Jews, were arrested and [spread?] with our family together.
David Boder: Yes, and what was it a kind of a raid at that time or what?
Manis Mizrachi: It was a raid, it was a raid for whole Spanish in order not to leave them the time to hide themselves because one day before they arrested all Greek citizens, Jews of course.
David Boder: They arrested the Greeks citizens that were Jews. And now they began to arrest the Spanish citizens . . . well didn’t you show your papers from the Consul?
Manis Mizrachi: We showed our papers from the Consul but it [laughing a little] helped nothing.
David Boder: All right, so then what did they do with the family, go slowly step-by-step.
Manis Mizrachi: Then they put us in cars and brought us in the Greek jail where we were obliged to sleep down without any help . . . they give us no things to eat, nothing. We’re made whole day without any thing . . .
David Boder: [interrupting] Was the family together?
Manis Mizrachi: The family was together firstly; afterwards, they ordered us the men to go separately and the women from the other side. So we remained there in the jail about fifteen days and the first of April we were obliged to leave the jail and they put us into trains . . . of beasts.
David Boder: Why do you call it “trains of beasts?” They were . . .
Manis Mizrachi: Because they were closed trains were they are putting the [laughing a little] . . . horses and . . . the pigs
David Boder: . . . the trains with the openings? Because animals they transport . . .
Manis Mizrachi: No, they were closed but they were with wires.
David Boder: [Talking over each other] Where were the wires?
Manis Mizrachi: The wires were at the windows. Little window was there, very high, although they were afraid us not to look from what happened around and so they put us there and they locked us, the door so we couldn’t get out for any necessary . . .
David Boder: For any necessary? Were you men and women together . . .
Manis Mizrachi: We were men and women together. Sixty-four people in a wagon, it was very difficult to take air and to eat, we had nothing to eat.
David Boder: Didn’t they tell you to take your things?
Manis Mizrachi: No, they didn’t give – they gave us only some carrots and bottle of water and place . . .
David Boder: What do you mean a bottle of water for all or what?
Manis Mizrachi: It was . . . two big bottles
David Boder: Two big bottles of water.
Manis Mizrachi: . . . bottles of water.
David Boder: What do you think? How many liters was there in each one?
Manis Mizrachi: Twenty-five liters about.
David Boder: You mean twenty-five liters to the bottle?
Manis Mizrachi: Yes, and it was very hard we couldn’t have water enough because we had children with us and we couldn’t wash ourselves we were very dirty . . .
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: . . . and after the tenth day of traveling
David Boder: [astonished] . . . wait you mean you were ten days, ten days in the car?
Manis Mizrachi: In all we were fourteen days but after the tenth day they opened – they got out the wires so we could look outwards but we were without shaving ourselves and were like beasts.
David Boder: Now tell me what kind of toilet facilities did you have?
Manis Mizrachi: No one. Every two days they opened us the doors in order to get out things that . . . we couldn’t keep anymore in our leavings[?]
David Boder: Did you have a pocket for it?
Manis Mizrachi: No, it was in a piece of papers what they gave us specially for that.
David Boder: And women and men together in this . . .
Manis Mizrachi: Women and men together . . .
David Boder: . . . and children
Manis Mizrachi: . . . it was awful
David Boder: And so?
Manis Mizrachi: And so, until we arrived at six in the morning—six o’clock in the morning and the town of Celle which is some kilometers far from the camp, real camp of Bergen-Belsen. And so we went there, we were obliged to go—to step seven or eight kilometers.
David Boder: To walk?
Manis Mizrachi: To walk there with our grandfathers, with our fathers, sisters, sick women, with our children and however it was very difficult for us and this one who couldn’t walk he was beaten by the Germans, soldiers, by the capos . . . were the leaders.
David Boder: What is capos?
Manis Mizrachi: Capos were the leaders.
David Boder: Were they prisoners?
Manis Mizrachi: They were prisoners but who . . . somewhere . . . collaborated with the Germans together. And they beat us awfully we were not accustomed to this kind of manner and they were laughing at us when we made strange figures.
David Boder: Strange faces you mean?
Manis Mizrachi: Strange faces, yes.
David Boder: And well, and so how long did it last to walk these eight kilometers?
Manis Mizrachi: This eight kilometers took us about . . . one hour and a half.
David Boder: [after a pause] That’s very fast walking.
Manis Mizrachi: Yes! We were obliged to run.
David Boder: Well you had no things to carry
Manis Mizrachi: No things to carry, nothing.
David Boder: Well then . . .
Manis Mizrachi: Because we had some things we could keep with us but we were obliged to leave it in the way in order to go very fast because it was a Polish capo behind and he was beating you.
David Boder: A Polish capo?
Manis Mizrachi: A Polish, yes.
David Boder: All right, but you were together with your father and mother?
Manis Mizrachi: No I wasn’t even with my father, and my mother had been put in another range [?].
David Boder: Oh, your mother was put in another what?
Manis Mizrachi: In other file.
David Boder: In another file, all right. But she was marching the same way with you?
Manis Mizrachi: Yes, much in the same way.
David Boder: All right.
Manis Mizrachi: Afterwards we went to the camp they . . . were obliged to stay there for l’appel.
David Boder: What is the name of the camp?
Manis Mizrachi: The camp Bergen-Belsen.
David Boder: Yes
Manis Mizrachi: We were obliged to stay there about two hours waiting until the German come and ask our names . . .
David Boder: Yes . . .
Manis Mizrachi: . . . conforming to the list that he could have in Athens when he put us into the train
David Boder: Do you have a tattoo number?
Manis Mizrachi: No, in Bergen-Belsen there was no tattoo number.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: My account number was one thousand four hundred sixty two.
David Boder: Uh-huh, all right
Manis Mizrachi: . . . It was my account number
David Boder: One thousand . . .
Manis Mizrachi: One thousand four hundred sixty two.
David Boder: ..sixty two. And so . . .
Manis Mizrachi: And so we have been put in big barrack . . .
David Boder: You with your father?
Manis Mizrachi: With my father and with my mother in separate barrack. And around us was the wires—electric . . .
David Boder: Oh, electric wires. Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: . . . have been charged. And we couldn’t go out firstly until the doctor came in order to see whether we’re ill or not.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: And afterwards we could be with our mother and with every friend and so on because of our citizenship.
David Boder: Oh, because you were Spanish.
Manis Mizrachi: Spanish, yes. The only thing which we had. As Spanish people.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: Of course, firstly we couldn’t eat what they gave us. It were carrots in boiled water. This was our eating. And we gave it to other brothers of us—other Jews—of Greece. And Polish people too who were with us in the camp. And we were obliged after one week to eat because we starved. And so we carried everything—everything green that we saw on the earth we took it out from there and we started to eat it without caring if it was dirty or clean.
David Boder: Uh-huh, without cooking?
Manis Mizrachi: Without cooking . . .
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: . . . like beasts.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: And so they started to put us in this category of prisoners that starved to eat and wore closed and we had no rights to go out – to work – we were obliged to stay.
David Boder: Well, because the Spanish . . .
Manis Mizrachi: Because Spanish citizenship.
David Boder: . . . we were not supposed to work
Manis Mizrachi: We were not supposed to work but this was bad because the others who were out they were working at the transport of food, of legumes . . .
David Boder: Of vegetables.
Manis Mizrachi: Of vegetables. And they could have some profit in taking some of them. But for us it was impossible. And so we were obliged to live on only those things that we received from Germans.
David Boder: Did the Red Cross help in any way.
Manis Mizrachi: We had no help of the Red Cross. Never we got help from the Red Cross. Only our capos they had . . . many profits who unfortunately they put only for themselves and they never helped the others
David Boder: Were the capos Jews?
Manis Mizrachi: They were the Jews with us from Greece they came with us. And they started making friendship with the Polish capos, the old ones who were there and so they had a lot of . . .
David Boder: Polish Jewish?
Manis Mizrachi: Polish Jewish. I speak always from Jewish
David Boder: And so?
Manis Mizrachi: And so they made friendship with them and so they had everything for their own families. They had special room to live and they ate separately. We were not to see what they were eating, we smelled only the meat and everything else that they got . . . from the Germans.
David Boder: From the Germans?
Manis Mizrachi: From the Germans. And, unfortunately, our people—the people who didn’t want to beat and to collaborate with the Germans—starved and had only his home in back.
David Boder: Yes
Manis Mizrachi: This is all [slightly laughing].
David Boder: Well, and that was in . . . Auschwitz?
Manis Mizrachi: That was in Bergen-Belsen.
David Boder: In Bergen-Belsen . . .
Manis Mizrachi: Bergen-Belsen.
David Boder: Well . . . did you hear about . . . All right, so how long were you in Bergen-Belsen?
Manis Mizrachi: I have been there about eighteen months—one year and six months.
David Boder: And then, where were you taken from?
Manis Mizrachi: Then I have been taken—we have been put into a big train in order to be transported to Theresienstadt. In the last days—two days before the English came, the British troops came in Bergen-Belsen.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: Um, this train was a big train of sixty-four wagons.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: And have been put in, again in . . . beasts-cars . . .
David Boder: Cattle-wagons?
Manis Mizrachi: Cattle-wagons. Sixty-four to seventy people in a car and started of course many ‘spense [?] . . . many sick . . .
David Boder: Many sick people.
Manis Mizrachi: . . . many sick people. We started then with the Typhus.
David Boder: Oh yes.
Manis Mizrachi: It was then when I lost my two parents. Unfortunately, at the last days. I lost them—my father . . .
David Boder: What do you mean—in Bergen-Belsen?
Manis Mizrachi: In the train—the big train—they caught there Typhus
David Boder: Oh, in the train. About how many days before liberation?
Manis Mizrachi: The first died . . . at just at the same . . . at the moment of the liberation and my mother which was looking for [after] my father died ten days afterwards . . .
David Boder: After the liberation
Manis Mizrachi: And I got it too . . .
David Boder: You got it?
Manis Mizrachi: . . . because I was obliged to see . . . to look for [after] for my mother.
David Boder: You had to look for your mother, yes? And?
Manis Mizrachi: And so I got it also—”I meant thirty in one days”[?]
David Boder: What typhus was it? Ricket . . . Ricket . . . Spotted typhus?
Manis Mizrachi: Spotted typhus, yes.
David Boder: So then you lost your parents.
David Boder: [speaking over each other] .. of liberation. And you remained alone.
Manis Mizrachi: I remained quite alone without any help. Quite alone.
David Boder: All right, so where did you go then?
Manis Mizrachi: I was student and then the American troops were very kind with us—they helped us.
David Boder: Well, which camp were you freed or were you freed from the train?
Manis Mizrachi: From the train directly because it was an air attack.
David Boder: Oh, yes.
Manis Mizrachi: Attack of the air force.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: British Air force.
David Boder: And so?
Manis Mizrachi: And so the machine . . . had been in damage.
David Boder: The, yes, the machine was damaged.
Manis Mizrachi: . . . was damaged.
David Boder: Yes, and the train couldn’t continue.
Manis Mizrachi: . . . couldn’t continue. And . . . we made some activity there we got prisoners, the Germans, the SS . . .
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: . . . and we waited until the American tanks.
David Boder: . . . came.
Manis Mizrachi: Came. Yes, it was ninth army. The ninth American army.
David Boder: Uh-huh.
Manis Mizrachi: . . . Which liberated us.
David Boder: Yes, so then you took the SS prisoners? Why didn’t you kill them?
Manis Mizrachi: [slightly laughing] We had no right to kill them . . .
David Boder: Why?
Manis Mizrachi: Because the capos—the chiefs . . .
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: . . . who directed this movement told us not to do anything until the American troops arrived.
David Boder: Yes
David Boder: And then what did the Americans do with them?
Manis Mizrachi: The Americans took their arms and they took them away, we don’t know what happened.
David Boder: They took them prisoners?
Manis Mizrachi: Prisoners, yes.
David Boder: All right, and then you were in the train,
Manis Mizrachi: And then . . .
David Boder: . . . where were you taken from there?
Manis Mizrachi: And at once, the officers, the American officers went to the village—the German village of Farsleben.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: There. And he gave the order to every person to take us in, to take several families into his house.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: And so, we got the place for some days.
David Boder: Uh-huh, and who was feeding you?
Manis Mizrachi: The Germans were obliged to feed us.
David Boder: Uh-huh.
Manis Mizrachi: They had a lot to feed us.
David Boder: And what did the Germans then say?
Manis Mizrachi: The Germans said that they never knew every- . . . something that happened to Jews and out of Germany and that they behaved something so ill with the Jews in the concentration camps that they let them starve and that they killed them. They didn’t know anything about those things. And whenever they knew, of course, they wouldn’t leave it . . . let the Germans . . .
David Boder: [finishing the thought] . . . they wouldn’t have let them do such things.
Manis Mizrachi: Yes.
David Boder: Uh-huh and then, where did you go and how did you go?
Manis Mizrachi: Then I was where, I got ill and I went at Hillersleben.
David Boder: Yes
Manis Mizrachi: Hillersleben is not far from them, some ten kilometers.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: And then I meant the hospital, hospital El Melwani [?] there were three hospitals.
David Boder: Did you get typhus too?
Manis Mizrachi: I got Typhus too.
David Boder: So when they took you from the train did you have typhus already?
Manis Mizrachi: No I didn’t have.
David Boder: Oh, you didn’t have . . .
Manis Mizrachi: I was looking for [after] my mother.
David Boder: You were taking care of your mother?
Manis Mizrachi: Yes, taking care of her until she died.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: Afterwards . . .
David Boder: Did you see your father dying?
Manis Mizrachi: I . . . . My father died on my hands.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: I buried him with two other Jewish comrades.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: . . . in Farsleben. And my mother died in Hillersleben.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: They are seven kilometers away. I didn’t see my mother died – dead – because I was very ill at this moment. I was with 41.4 Centigrade . . .
David Boder: Temperature. Already with typhus?
Manis Mizrachi: With Typhus yes.
David Boder: And so when the freedom came . . . ?
Manis Mizrachi: When the freedom came, I was quite alone I remained quite alone . . .
David Boder: Did they take you to a hospital?
Manis Mizrachi: Yes.
David Boder: You were taken to a hospital?
Manis Mizrachi: I have been taken to a hospital.
David Boder: . . . and nurse to help?
Manis Mizrachi: Nurse help, German nurse. And they were not bad but they always tried to make sabotage.
David Boder: The Germans?
Manis Mizrachi: The Germans.
David Boder: In what way?
Manis Mizrachi: In what way . . . because they were throwing away the medicaments and whenever we were calling them but they didn’t come—only when the Brit- [corrects] an American soldier was present.
David Boder: . . . and then he would take . . .
Manis Mizrachi: . . . but not, they never took care of us.
David Boder: All right, and when you got well what happened then?
Manis Mizrachi: Then I took some days in order to get . . . stronger then because I couldn’t walk. I had forty-two kilograms.
David Boder: And where did you spend those days—in the hospital?
Manis Mizrachi: In the hospital.
David Boder: Yes.
Manis Mizrachi: And afterwards I have been taken by the American army and I said that I had parents in France. And that for they brought . . .
David Boder: You said that you had parents in France?
Manis Mizrachi: Yes, I had. I had.
David Boder: Relatives you mean?
Manis Mizrachi: I have relatives, yes. Relatives.
David Boder: Apart from your father and mother.
Manis Mizrachi: Relatives, yes. Relatives in France.
David Boder: And so they took you?
Manis Mizrachi: So they took me here and . . . unfortunately they had been displaced too. Deported and they didn’t come back.
David Boder: They did come back?
Manis Mizrachi: They did not come back.
David Boder: So you didn’t find relatives?
Manis Mizrachi: I did find. And I remained here.
David Boder: Yes. And for what are you working now?
Manis Mizrachi: Now I am working for the AJDC.
David Boder: For the American join . . .
Manis Mizrachi: [finishing] . . . distribution committee.
David Boder: What are you doing?
Manis Mizrachi: I am in the accounting department.
David Boder: Where did you learn English?
Manis Mizrachi: I learned English alone because I finished the German school . . .
David Boder: Where? Greece?
Manis Mizrachi: In Salonika, yes.
David Boder: You finished the German school where you learned Greek [corrects] where you learned English?
Manis Mizrachi: German. German and French and since I liked very much to learn English I learned it quite alone.
David Boder: with . . . [speaking over each other]
Manis Mizrachi: Just alone, myself.
David Boder: By which method? Shocked that haven’t got a better [ununintelligible] that you had to go to school?
Manis Mizrachi: No, I learned it quite alone. There was a friend of mine who went to the school . . . and I learned . . .
David Boder: And learned it alone. Now what do you plan to do in the future?
Manis Mizrachi: I am studying now; I am studying radio.
David Boder: Where, at the ORT?
Manis Mizrachi: No, quite alone, I am training myself.
David Boder: All right.
David Boder: You are studying radio and then you want to do what?
Manis Mizrachi: Then I hope to work in radio..
David Boder: Where?
Manis Mizrachi: I don’t know yet, perhaps I can go to the country I would be very satisfied.
David Boder: Which country?
Manis Mizrachi: I don’t know where to . . . the States? [Break in tape]
David Boder: . . . relatives in America?
Manis Mizrachi: . . . unfortunately, I have no one.
David Boder: You have no one.
Manis Mizrachi: No one.
David Boder: . . . Well this concludes Mr. .Mizrachi’s report. Taken on the- . . . on August the 12th at the offices of the American Joint Distribution Committee . . . recording of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Also note that the USHMM is looking for Mr. Mizrachi and several others who were interviewed that summer by Dr. Boder. For more information, click here.

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Matthew Rozell, 30th Infantry Veterans of WWII, Holocaust survivors at Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, March 2, 2012.

Ned and I are here in Savannah GA enjoying the hospitality of Carol Thompson and Jack  Sullivan as they host the annual 30th Infantry Division Veterans of WW2 reunion. At the reception desk I am greeted by Frank and Mary Towers, who are marking their sixty ninth anniversary together at the desk. There are at least a  dozen 30th Infantry Division soldiers here with us, and about as half as many Holocaust survivors.

Friday we headed out to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum for a tour and the memorial service; later I  gave my presentation to the group. The Savannah Morning News had this story after the presentation. Later in the evening, Larry and Claudia interviewed several of the veterans on camera; I joined to listen to the stories and share the tears  and the laughs as these guys relived events of 67 years ago.

World War II vets, Holocaust survivors convene in Savannah

By Corey Dickstein

March 3, 2012 – 12:33am

World War II vets, Holocaust survivors convene in Savannah

It was a single moment in time that occurred almost 67 years ago.

But for a group of people gathered in Savannah this weekend, it’s a moment that will forever link their lives.

Bruria Falik, Stephen Gross, Alex Larys, Micha Tomkiewicz and George Somjen were only children when they were incarcerated at the Nazi’s Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in northwestern Germany. In early April 1945, they were among 2,500 Jewish prisoners placed by the Nazis on a southbound train as Allied troops moved in on the camp.

While two trains carrying prisoners before theirs had made their way to other concentration camps, the train carrying Falik, Gross, Larys, Tomkiewicz and Somjen was abandoned by German soldiers near Magdeburg, Germany.

That’s where tank crews from the 743rd Tank Battalion — a unit attached to the 30th Infantry Division that had fought its way through France and into Germany in the months before — discovered the train and its human cargo on April 13.

At the time, 27-year-old Army 1st Lt. Frank Towers was among the American officers sent to liberate the Jews aboard the train.

“This was in the middle of a battle zone with German artillery coming in and American artillery falling short,” said the 94-year-old Towers on Friday. “It was determined that we had to get these people out of the area as quickly as possible.

“That was the job that was delegated to me — get transportation and move these 2,500 people to a town we had liberated the day before at Hillersleben.”

The soldiers moved the people — who were starving, filthy and on the brink of death — to a hospital in that town.

“I made two round trips to get all of these people moved back to Hillersleben,” he said. “At that point I virtually said goodbye to them — told them they’re in good hands and left.”

Decades went by before Towers even thought about the event. It was a war, he said, it wasn’t something he wanted to dwell on. But in 2005, Towers — who is currently the president of the 30th Infantry Division Association — was introduced to a website run by Matt Rozell, a history teacher in upstate New York, called TeachingHistoryMatters.com. There, Towers discovered accounts of his own story of liberating the train full of Jewish prisoners.

“That’s my story,” Towers said of finding the website. “It wasn’t exactly my story, really. But my story ran parallel to that. From that point on Matt and I started collaborating to locate more and more of the survivors.”

During a reunion for World War II veterans from the United States Army's 30th Infantry Division Friday evening in Savannah, three Holocaust survivors and a former soldier speak about their experiences during the war. Pictured, from left to right, are Bruria Falik, Micha Tomkiewicz, Frank Towers and Alex Larys. Towers was a 1st Lieutenant in the Army's 30th Infantry Division that on April 13, 1944 liberated a train that carried all three of the picture survivors. Corey Dickstein/Savannah Morning News

To date, Towers said he’s met about 60 of the survivors — he estimates there could be up to 250 still living[editor’s note-Frank said 225 have been located] — including the five who joined 13 surviving members of the 30th Infantry Division — a National Guard unit of soldiers from Georgia, North and South Carolina and Tennessee that served in both World Wars before being deactivated in November 1945 — in Savannah Friday.

“It’s a rewarding experience to talk to these people,” Towers said. “It’s been astounding. To think I had a small part to play in their liberation and getting them started on a new road to life — to see them today, where they are, that’s been my reward.”

And, said the survivors, it’s equally as rewarding for them to get the chance to say “thank you” to the men who saved their lives.

“For me it’s fascinating,” said Tomkiewicz, now 72 and living in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I knew that American soldiers saved us from the train, but for almost 60 years that was all I knew.

“Suddenly the whole thing has converted to real faces, to real people, to drinking buddies, very pleasant people. And now we are actually like family; what a great opportunity.”

Without the soldiers like Towers, said Falik, now 80 years old and living in Woodstock, N.Y., she and the other survivors would not be alive today.

“It’s such a focal point in my life because I have two wonderful children,” Falik said. “They are here because of the veterans who saved us. I will never forget that.”


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