Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day Soviet troops over ran Auschwitz in 1945. This week I received a note from an Israeli survivor friend, shortly after the passing of one of her liberators, Carrol Walsh. Sara lost over 60 of her family there- and her immediate family was saved only because the day they arrived at Auschwitz, the death machinations were working at full capacity and her transport was rerouted to Belsen. She was liberated on 13 April on the evacuation transport near Farsleben, known here as the Train Near Magdeburg…
In her letter she asks important questions of me. I have responded the best that I could, below.
We were very sad to hear that Carrol Walsh passed away. Only lately did I get to know him, and he risked his life in order to save ours. It is a pity we did not get to meet more.
I can’t express in words the loving feelings for the young tank commander that for sure always had a smile on his face, and never stopped smiling after we met- 65 years after the victory. I am sure Carrol Walsh made the best out of his life; I was fulfilled to know him and his beautiful family.
I read about his profession in the years of his life. It was interesting to see how much meeting with us affected him.
I thank you for your unusual courage to initiate the exciting meeting [reunion].
I suppose you were very excited for the event you had initiated. Did the idea come in different parts? I am trying to understand the development of your thinking.
When you first wrote to me about the meeting [invitation to the proposed reunion], it was on the day we were released- the 13th of April. I got home after meeting my brothers and celebrating the release [liberation]day. I couldn’t relax, I immediately told all my brothers. I was so happy, as if it was happening again.
The meeting completed a missing part in the picture for me, after all the horrifying things we went through we couldn’t even dream of a miracle like that coming out of the blue.
I cannot go back more to the extermination camps and escort groups because I don’t have the physical nor mental power to do that anymore.
There are questions that bother me.
Are you able to answer them?
Why shouldn’t the world forget and let this be over?
A. So, some people do want to forget. Others will say that it did not happen. For those reasons, it must never be forgotten. This is the biggest crime in the history of the world.
As Walsh states, how could humanity have stood by and let that happen?
Does my work, the hard work I do, do anything against the forgetting?
A.The most impressionable minds in the world are those of the youth. It is they who the Nazis “educated”; it made it easier for the crimes to be committed. This is why they must hear now.
The work that you, and I do, has an impression. I hope to continue this work after you must slow down. Please remember that.
You are a historian, should the memory be kept?
A.The memory must be kept. As educators it is our duty to keep it alive. We must fight those who trivialize or denigrate its importance.
Is there a proper way to keep the memory?
A.There is no one way except to be open to the discussion of humanity and how humans could do this to one another. We must also bear in mind however, that the soldiers who helped the suffering to new life bore their own pains in doing so, yet also made a choice to redeem humanity. Some did not sleep soundly for years.
I think this is so, and also must not be forgotten. The war brought out the most evil in the world. But I think it also revealed some goodness in the form of the soldiers who liberated or otherwise cared for the victims.
Who should be documenting everything, the “victim” or the “aggressor”?
A.The aggressor fades from memory. New generations asks questions. It is true that some are bothered by the questions. But the young will always be curious and want to know- is this a stain on the German people? I know some Germans today who work very hard to keep the memory alive, as you also do.
The victims give the testimony. This is all they can do. But it is the evidence of the crime, and one that new generations must work with. That is why your work is so important.
Who is in charge of making the conclusions?
A.I would say that institutions such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem are the world leaders in this area. I have been trained, well, I should hope, by the USHMM. I do not know enough about the German institutions but I hope to raise enough funds to travel to the camps and study there this summer.