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Archive for April, 2012

743rd S-3 After Action journal report- the moment of liberation

{67 years ago today, on Friday the 13th of April, the 743rd Tank Battalion overran the train near Magdeburg, Germany. Shortly  thereafter, other attached units of the 30th Infantry Division, notably the 105th Medical Detachment and the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, also arrived at the liberation site and immediately set to work trying to handle this unexpected encounter. What will follow over the course of the next few days is the account of T4 (Technician Fourth Grade) Wilson  Rice as he reports on the disposition of the survivors and the soldiers in this combat zone. The days of the week are falling on the dates of the month for this, the 67th anniversary. This account was uncovered and transcribed by Frank Towers, Historian of the 30th Infantry Veterans of World War II and a participant in this incident, as noted many times on this website.}

30th Division Medical Detachment Diary & Log

(105th Medical Battalion)

By

T/4 Wilson Rice

April 13, 1945

            At Letzlingen, Germany, we pulled off of the road to wait.  Here Major Lowell, Major Huff and Tommy met us.  They had gone back to Brunswick to see about getting the soldiers of ours out of the German hospitals, and to see some other hospitals.  Col. Treherne also met us there.  While we were parked here the Forward CP [command post] came along.  I went out to one of the trucks to talk to some of the fellows from Hq. co. [headquarterscompany] They had a German on the truck and he was most unhappy.  He was one of the few who ran before he was captured, and before he was caught, he tore off all of his markings and insignia off of his uniform.  Nasty little Nazi.  They couldn’t find a place to get rid of him, so Paul Huff and I put him on the hood of our jeep and took him into town to the PW [prisoner of war]cage.  On our way back, we passed another walking down the road, but we were in a hurry.  He was smiling and just as happy about the whole thing.  We just merely pointed the direction, and everybody went merrily on their way about their business.

When Major Lowell, Major Huff and Cardwell left this area, I went with them.  Col. Treherne and Meyers were in front of us.  Soon we caught up with the Forward CP convoy as they were stopped along side of the road.  We looked out across the field and we saw deer grazing.  It was a small herd, but through the binoculars, one could see them very clearly.  Farther on down the road, when the convoy was halted again, Major Marsh from the Military Government, drove up to Col. Treherne’s jeep.  He told him about a train of civilians that were prisoners of the Germans.  Our jeep pulled out from the convoy and went to Farsleben, Germany, where the train was located.

Also in this town was the CP of the 823rd T.D. Bn., and we stopped there to pick up Capt. Baranov, the 823rd Bn. Surgeon.  He took us down there, and it was something that you’ve read about, but couldn’t believe.  They were people that looked of being very refined and cultured.  It is said that among the people, was the French Consul to Germany.  Some great minds were among these people. There were two doctors that were members of the train, and they were caring for the people the best they could without any equipment.  Capt. Baranov’s men came up with a few drugs bandages, etc. to use until they could get more.  It was about the same as nothing, but it was to go to the women and children first.  About 75% of the members of this train were Jews so the drugs etc., were given to the two doctors and the Rabbi for distribution.  Major Lowell and Major Huff told them to get all of the contagious and seriously sick to be segregated into cars by themselves.  These cars that they were traveling in were box cars.  Sanitation was terrible and the people had been traveling in them for eight days and nights, without food or water.  Most of the sickness was due to malnutrition.  There were only two typhus cases.

As all of the business was being transacted, a beautiful little girl, about eight years of age, came up to my side.  She was very sweet and her complexion was very clear.  I looked at her, smiled and patted her on the head, and she smiled back.  As Tommy and I were standing there, I soon felt a little hand slip through my arm.  As I looked around, a big lump came in my throat.

As we were leaving, a man came up to our jeep.  He was one of the American citizens and was from Detroit, Mich.  He was taken prisoner two years ago in Warsaw, and his family is still now in Detroit.  He was a sick man, but there was nothing we could do for him, as we were not prepared for such things.  Military Government is taking care of things as fast as they can.  This is what I mean when I say that warfare such as this, was not planned for by the Army.  Things are going too fast.  This man told us about the 33 American citizens.  He went on to say that he knew our circumstances, knew we had to take care of the troops first, knew that everything possible will be done for them as fast as possible, and went on to say,  “We know how busy you guys are, what you will do for us, maybe one week maybe two weeks, but even if nothing else is done, there is one thing we truly and dearly thank you for, and that is for our Liberty”  There was a break in this man’s voice, and I knew how he felt.  There was a lump in my throat.

We went on to Wolmirstedt after giving the people what cigarettes and “K” rations that we had, and found the Clearing Station.  It was set up in a Nazi finance office records building.  Where the enlisted men of our office are sleeping, is in the living room of the head of the Nazi organization’s quarters. He was truly Nazi and had beautiful things.

Casualties to date:

Division——24,650

Civilian                  947

Enemy             2,076

Other Units     3,579  

31,252

POSTSCRIPT. In 2007 I received this email from a survivor. May not be the girl mentioned, but a counterpoint to T4 Rice’s account above.

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Whitwell, Tennessee.

Not much cultural diversity. 50% free and reduced lunch. Industry supporting then devastating the community, then leaving town. Home of the Tigers… sound familiar, Hudson Falls?

Last fall Hudson Falls kids and I had the pleasure of getting to know Joe Fab, the major moving force behind the film  Paper Clips, when he came to our town to speak.On Tuesday morning this week, a few educators and I  loaded into  cars for a pleasant drive from Nashville to Whitwell, to visit the middle school where it all began, and their Children’s Holocaust Memorial, a cattle car from Germany that was used to carry human beings to the killing centers.

The middle school is in  a new building that also houses a special Holocaust Memorial library, which is thought to be the largest single collection in the state, many volumes donated by survivors and congregations worldwide. Every letter they ever received is archived there, including the negative ones that arrived with the paper clips twisted into swastikas. Imagine. Middle school kids not picking and choosing what to save, but archiving like historians for the future.

Linda Hooper, the former principal, greeted the nine of us, and gave us a private talk about the impact of the project and the unbelievable ripple effect it has had on people’s lives across the world. Sandy Roberts told us how the project unfolded in her after school class, when a child raised his hand to say, “Mrs. Roberts, excuse me, but I don’t know what six million is.” Because they took the time to investigate together, students and parents reflected together in a meaningful way on the impact of learning about the Holocaust on their lives. And that is how this project was born.

Before we move to criticize the project as just another counting activity, the collecting and counting of objects to symbolize human life, come to Whitwell and meet the people. Read the letters from the survivors who send in a paper clip, or dozens, and reach out to these children who have touched them enough to tell their families’ stories.

No one can fathom six million plus. But read the letters to feel for yourself individual stories of the millions who were lost. Come to Whitwell and see for yourself the power of a small community excited about learning, and its impact on the world, because they wanted to care about other human beings.

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Israeli educational psychologist Haim Ginott writes about a letter that teachers would receive from their principal each year:

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates.

So, I am suspicious of education.

My request is this:  Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

This has become the mission statement and educational philosophy of some Holocaust education institutions and it really sums up what my mission as  a teacher is all about. But please note  below that I did not intend it that way. At all.

Today I will be a special guest for the Tennessee Days of Remembrance Ceremony at the State Capitol in Nashville with legislative members, the governor and the lieutenant governor. This evening I will give my first address to fellow Holocaust educators.

How does a kid from a small town with no experience in Holocaust education go on to add a new chapters to the stories of thousands of persons’ lives? To become a regarded figure in Holocaust and History education circles, nationwide?

The honest answer is, I just don’t know.

My dad in the classroom. Around the time that I puffed out my chest and claimed I certainly would not be a teacher.

But it happened. This from a kid who distinctly remembers the purposeful slight given to his dad. Dad was a history teacher in Glens Falls, the next town over. He was good, and he loved the students. Everyday he came home happy and sometimes even humming a tune. Who delivered the purposeful slight? His first born son.

Our relationship,  as I grew into the teenage years, was a bit strained. So when he asked me, as a junior or senior,  in the car riding home from school one day down Main Street, the MAIN STREET of the town that produced him, what I would like to do someday after I graduated from high school, I told him, “I don’t know, but I won’t be in HUDSON FALLS anymore, and I SURE WON’T BE A TEACHER…..”- the desired effect was achieved by the angry teen, the wound deep, the twist of the knife distinct…

Yet there I was, eight years later, living in the room out back of the family homestead on that Main Street, fending my way on the other side of the desk in the classroom of my alma mater, and not just any classroom- a history classroom, teaching the exact same subject as the old man…

What if I had never come home, as planned? What if I had not gone back to school for a teaching certificate, after graduating with that “unmarketable” history degree? What if I had landed that job in the college town I called my new home, instead if coming in 2nd for it? I would have never met the tank commanders. Then, what if Walsh’s daughter had not said, after two exhausting hours of combat tales, just as we were about to turn the camera off,   “Dad, did you tell Mr. Rozell about the train?

Things happen for a reason. I think there are no coincidences.

In the words of a former  principal of mine, we are here “to make human beings out of them” (not that they were not before, but you get his point-the exact same point of the speaker noted above.)

I am suspicious of those who will dictate to me from ” on high” what I should be doing in the classroom. Perhaps Dr.  Ginott would have agreed.

 

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