Archive for April, 2013

  Monday, April 29, 2013
Frank this morning at the Museum - P. Fredlake

Frank this morning at the Museum – P. Fredlake

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Dachau. I also got this photo from Peter Fredlake, the director of National Outreach for Teacher Initiatives at the USHMM which he took this morning in Washington.  Big day for Frank!

WASHINGTON (AP) — Elderly survivors of the Holocaust and the veterans who helped liberate them are gathering for what could be their last big reunion at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Some 1,000 survivors and World War II vets are coming together with President Bill Clinton and Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust activist and writer, on Monday when the museum marks its 20th anniversary. Organizers chose not to wait for the 25th milestone because many survivors and vets may not be alive in another five years.

Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wiesel, who both dedicated the museum at its opening in 1993, will deliver keynote speeches. On Sunday night, the museum presented its highest honor to World War II veterans who ended the Holocaust. Susan Eisenhower accepted the award on behalf of her grandfather, U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and all veterans of the era.

The museum also launched a campaign to raise $540 million by 2018 to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and to combat anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and contemporary genocide. It has already secured gifts totaling $258.7 million. The campaign will double the size of the museum’s endowment by its 25th anniversary. Also, a $15 million gift from Holocaust survivors David and Fela Shapell will help build a new Collections and Conservation Center.

Museum Director Sara Bloomfield said organizers wanted to show Holocaust survivors, veterans and rescuers the effort will continue to honor the memory of 6 million murdered Jews, in part by saving lives and preventing genocide in the future.

“We felt it was important, while that generation is still with us in fairly substantial numbers, to bring them together,” Bloomfield said, “to not only honor them, but in their presence make a commitment to them that not only this institution but the people we reach will carry forward this legacy.”

The museum continues collecting objects, photographs and other evidence of the Holocaust from survivors, veterans and archives located as far away as China and Argentina. Curators expect the collection to double in size over the next decade.

This week, the museum is opening a special, long-term exhibit titled “Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity During the Holocaust.” It includes interviews with perpetrators that have never been shown before, as well as details of mass killings in the former Soviet Union that were only uncovered in more recent years.

Curator Susan Bachrach said the exhibit and its research challenge the idea that the Holocaust was primarily about Hitler and other Nazi leaders. Surveys at the museum show that’s what most visitors believe.

“That’s very comforting to people, because it puts distance between the visitors and who was involved,” Bachrach said.

So, the museum set out to look at ordinary people who looked on and were complicit in the killing and persecution of millions of Jews through greed, a desire for career advancement, peer pressure or other factors. It examines influences “beyond hatred and anti-Semitism,” Bachrach said.

Focusing only on fanatical Nazis would be a serious misunderstanding of the Holocaust, Bloomfield said.

“The Holocaust wouldn’t have been possible, first of all, without enormous indifference throughout Germany and German-occupied Europe, but also thousands of people who were, say, just doing their jobs,” she said, such as a tax official who collected special taxes levied against Jews.

In an opening film, some survivors recall being turned over to Nazi authorities in front of witnesses who did nothing. “The whole town was assembled … looking at the Jews leaving,” one survivor recalls.

Steven Fenves was a boy at the time. He recalled how in 1944, Hungary, allied with Nazi Germany, forced his family out of their apartment. The family was deported to Auschwitz, where Fenves’ mother was gassed.

“One of the nastiest memories I have is going on that journey and people were lined up, up the stairs, up to the door of the apartment, waiting to ransack whatever we left behind, cursing at us, yelling at us, spitting at us as we left,” he said in an interview with the museum.

The museum located images of bystanders looking on as Jews were detained, humiliated and taken away.

Non-Jews were also punished for violating German policies against the mixing of ethnic groups. For the first time, the museum is showing striking, rare footage of a ritualistic shaming of a Polish girl and a German boy for having a relationship. They are marched through the streets of a town in Poland, where the film was located in an attic. Dozens of people look on as Nazi officers cut the hair of the two teenagers. They are forced to look at their nearly bald heads in a mirror before their hair is burned.

“It’s hard not to focus on the cruelty that’s being perpetrated on this young couple,” Bachrach said. “But what we really want people to look at … is all the other people who are standing around watching this.”

Other items displayed include dozens of bullets excavated from the site of a mass grave in former Soviet territory and registration cards from city offices in Western and Southern Europe labeling people with a “J” for Jew.

The federally funded museum’s theme for its 20th anniversary is “Never Again: What You Do Matters.” The museum devotes part of its work and research to stopping current and preventing future genocides. A study released by the museum last month found that the longer the current conflict in Syria continues, the greater the danger that mass sectarian violence results in genocide.

Much more is still being learned about the Holocaust, as well, Bloomfield said. The museum is compiling an encyclopedia of all incarceration sites throughout Europe. When the project began, scholars expected to list 10,000 such sites. Now the number stands at 42,000.

The museum opened in 1993 as a living memorial to the Holocaust to inspire people worldwide to prevent genocide. A presidential commission called for such a museum in 1979. Since opening, it has counted more than 30 million visitors. The museum also provides resources for survivors. It has partnered with Ancestry.com to begin making the museum’s 170 million documents searchable online through the World Memory Project.

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As the museum turns 20, officials understand that the demise of those who survived the prison camps as children means looking backward in a different way.

30th ID Colors, Capitol Rotunda, April 11, 2013

30th ID Colors, Capitol Rotunda, April 11, 2013

Tonight is the Nation Tribute Dinner. Frank, Leslie and Elisabeth are there- two survivors and their actual liberator. Tomorrow they get interviewed near the 30th Infantry Division Flag, recently installed in the main foyer of the Museum as a liberating division. About time. I nearly cried when I saw it paraded into the Capitol Rotunda for the Days of Remembrance  commemoration this year. First time! I really think the project helped get the 30th on the recognition radar screen…here is a good article, found on USA Today.

WASHINGTON — The adult survivors of the Holocaust are mostly gone now, and those who survived as children — and were old enough at the time to remember their ordeals — are now in their 70s and 80s.

It won’t be long before no eyewitnesses remain.

That’s why, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum marks its 20th anniversary Monday with more than 750 survivors, museum officials are calling it one of the last large gatherings of those who managed to escape Hitler’s death machine.

For those who have dedicated themselves to teaching future generations about the Holocaust and its victims, the demise of the survivors means looking backward in a different way — a way that no longer includes people looking others straight in the face and recounting what they saw and what they lived.

You can read all the documentation of the Holocaust in the world, said Diane Saltzman, director of survivor affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, “but hearing somebody’s voice, sitting across the table or across the room from a human being, there’s no true substitute.”

Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, wants his classes to understand this.

“I tell my students annually that they have a special responsibility,” he said. “They are the last generation that will be able to say that they personally knew survivors of the Holocaust. It is a big change, just like it was when the last Civil War veteran passed from the scene.”

The Holocaust, now “perceived history,” will become “received” history, Sarna said. The challenge is that it doesn’t recede from memory.

Holocaust educators take heart in the many institutions and younger people committed to ensuring that future generations will know about the 6 million Jews who died; of the concentration camps, gas chambers and crematoria set up to carry out Hitler’s “Final Solution”; and of the 5 million Roma (Gypsies), gay people and others murdered because the Nazis deemed them, like the Jews, unworthy of life.

That’s the mission of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said Saltzman, which has hosted some 35 million visitors since it opened just off the National Mall in 1993. The institution is full of audio and video testimony from survivors, artifacts from their lives before and after they were sent to concentration camps, and films and diaries that document the genocide.

“The museum stands as that eyewitness going forward,” Saltzman said. “We are the repository of all that evidence, and all of those memories.”

From the Washington museum to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem to smaller museums around the world, these institutions preserve history that will soon no longer be passed on firsthand. So, too, does Holocaust literature, from Anne Frank’s famous diary to Night, by survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who will give the keynote speech at the Washington museum’s anniversary Monday, alongside former president Bill Clinton.

The Shoah Foundation, based at the University of Southern California, has videotaped testimony from more than 51,000 survivors since film director Steven Spielberg started the project in 1994, when there were about 350,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide.

Curriculum programs in schools introduce children in the U.S. and elsewhere to the Holocaust, and these programs will continue, even when survivors aren’t part of them anymore.

Norman Frajman, 83, thinks of that day. He was 10 years old when World War II began, and has sharp memories of life in the Warsaw Ghetto and of the Majdanek death camp in eastern Poland, where his mother and younger sister died. All told, he lost 126 members of his immediate and extended family.

“I probably wouldn’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I remember all that happened to me during the carnage,” said Frajman, who now lives in Boynton Beach, Fla., and has been sharing his testimony with schoolchildren for more than 30 years.

But not with young children. “The atrocities are indescribable. I can’t address anyone at the elementary school level,” he said. “It’s too graphic.”

For all the graphic details available from survivors, and primary and secondary texts and film, Holocaust denial still thrives on the Internet and in many parts of the world where anti-Semitism has strong roots.

Even in the presence of Holocaust survivors, there are people who insist the genocide never happened, Sarna said. The hope, when there are no more survivors, is that the museums and the video archives will make it “impossible for most people to accept the word of the deniers.”

In the meantime, as long as he is able, Frajman will tell his story and teach about the Holocaust in hopes of preventing another one. “Yesterday it was directed against the Jews. Tomorrow it could be against Christians, the next day against Muslims — unless people heed and listen,” he said.

But he is optimistic that his words and those of other survivors will resonate long after he is gone.

“Judging by today’s young people that I encounter when I go to schools to speak, we are in for a better tomorrow,” Frajman said. “They listen. They are very perceptive. They take it to heart.”

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Thanks to Alan Smason for a nice article. I have added some clarifying remarks in brackets for posterity and additional accuracy.

Soldiers, survivors converge in Louisville

April 19, 2013

By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN

Frank Towers remembers the day through the haze of 68 years, a footnote at the end of World War II. Matt Rozell was never there, but through his efforts and those of his students, he can dictate with amazing accuracy what happened in Farsleben, Germany those many years ago. Yet to the five Holocaust survivors who met with Towers and Rozell at a World War II reunion this past weekend in Louisville, KY, it was a day they will never forget. It was the day American forces gave them something they thought they would never see again: freedom!

30th Division U.S. Army Infantry Veterans executive secretary Frank Towers, center, welcomes Gideon Kornblum, left, and Kurt Bronner. (Photo by Alan Smason)

At 95 years, Towers is the last of the 30th Division of the United States Army Infantry members who can say he was there and had personal contact with this almost forgotten chapter of history. His testimony shows he was assigned the duty of dealing with what the Nazis regarded as human refuge on April 14, the day after the survivors, crammed into tiny freight cars, starving and in some cases dying, had been freed from their captors by members of the Tank Destroyer Batallion 743 [note: 743rd Tank Battalion. 823rd Tank Destroyer battalion assisted later in the day.]assigned to Tower’s 30th Division named for Andrew Jackson and fondly referred to as “Old Hickory.”

Rozell, a high school teacher in Hudson Falls, NY, is the conduit by which Towers and the remaining 30th Division members have connected to the Holocaust survivors, all now septgenarians or octogenarians, from the first of three trains sent out from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 6. It is through his “Teaching History Matters” website set up decades ago and fueled as part of his commitment to teaching his students the lessons of World War II that he has become heralded as an authority on an event that took place years before he was born.

It is through his efforts and the resources he and his students have placed on the Internet that reunions where veterans can meet with survivors have been possible. More than 200 survivors of what Towers calls “the death train” have been identified and contacted through Rozell’s networking efforts.The five survivors who traveled to Louisville to spend time with their families touring the Louisville Slugger plant and other city sites are part of a vast network of Holocaust train survivors now living throughout the United States, Canada, Israel, Europe and as far away as Australia. The manifest of the names of all those loaded on the train is now listed on Rozell’s site and linked with the United States Holocaust Museum and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

This year two train survivors, Ariel University emeritus math professor Gideon Kornblum from Jerusalem and retired graphics printer Kurt Bronner from Los Angeles, were new to the gathering. They joined with retired Duke University medical professor Dr. George Somjen from Durham, NC; Brooklyn College physics professor Micha Tomkiewicz from Brooklyn, NY; and Bruria Bodek Falik from Woodstock, NY, all of whom have attended reunions with the remaining veterans beginning in 2008 and continuing ever since.

Bergen-Belsen concentration camp survivors (from left) Micha Tomkiewicz, Bruria Falik and Kurt Bronner. (Photo by Alan Smason)

In every case these Holocaust survivors brought their wives, children and grandchildren with them to meet and socialize with the children and grandchildren of the men they consider the liberators of their families.

This year only 12 veterans were in attendance. Their number was lessened in December with the passing away in Florida of Carrol Walsh, a retired New York State Supreme Court judge, who was one of the two tank commanders that captured the train in question.

It was through Walsh’s grandson, a student in Rozell’s history class more than a decade ago, that Rozell first learned of what occurred on that date. Beginning in 2001, he heard first-hand in a series of interviews with Walsh how he and fellow tank commander George Gross happened onto the train and its human cargo.

Rozell explained how the train got there. On April 6 the Bergen-Belsen commander, fearing the approach of the Soviet Army [note: the British Army] and not wanting to let the world know of the savagery of the Third Reich and its “Final Solution,” dispatched three separate trains crammed full with prisoners to Theresienstadt concentration camp, also known by the name of its garrison city, Terezin. Of the three trains sent out that date [note: not all three trains were dispatched on same day], the first with 2,500 aboard encountered a series of mishaps that made it fall into the hands of the Americans on April 13. A second train with 1,700 prisoners aboard, using information it gleaned from the first train, eventually made it to Terezin on April 20, where most of its inhabitants were liberated on May 8 by the Soviet Army. The third train with 2,400 souls aboard also was liberated by Soviet troops on April 23 at Trobitz.

With laser pointer in hand, former 1st Lt. Frank Towers prepares to show audience members where the train was liberated at Farsleben. (Photo by Alan Smason)

Walsh and Gross were on a scouting mission along with members of the 119th regiment, having been dispatched from the recently captured town of Hillersleben by Major Clarence Benjamin. Benjamin had come upon several Jews who had escaped the train while it lay in wait. They had told him of the train’s existence and he instructed Walsh and Gross to accompany him.

Despite its holding a full head of steam, the train commanded by SS Captain Hugo Schlegel and its complement of a dozen guards or SS troops were contemplating orders from the German command. In front of them were the Allied forces, while behind them the Soviet troops were advancing. The orders were chilling. Either blow up the train there with explosives found in one of the freight cars or advance the train to the Elbe River, blow up a bridge there and plunge the train into the waters below, killing all aboard including the guards.

The train was standing at a spot so remote it was originally considered as Magdeburg by the World War II veterans who first began to tell their stories. Walsh and Gross saw several Jewish prisoners milling about, but when they pressed their tanks into service, the German guards threw their rifles down, ran away or disrobed, attempting to evade capture by donning the clothes of their captives. It was in vain, though, because their much better physical condition gave them away almost immediately.

Emeritus mathematics professor Gideon Kornblum traveled from Jerusalem to be a part of the reunion of the veterans and survivors. (Photo by Alan Smason)

Gross placed his tank in front of the train, while Walsh went back to the headquarters to alert them to their finding. With their Nazi captors away or arrested, the train’s doors were flung open and the wretched survivors  began to slowly vacate the compartments to which they had been confined.

“These freight cars were much smaller than the ones we see on our normal railroads, about half to two-thirds the size of our freight cars,” Towers recounted. “These freight cars were left over and remodeled after World War I and became known as ’40 and 8s.’ They could easily hold 40 men or eight horses, thus the nomenclature.”

“These cars that they encountered contained 75 to 80 men, women and children,” Towers continued. “They’d been in these cars for six days, stopping at night to get their daily ration, which basically was a kettle of water with some potato skins or lentils. That was their ration for six days.”

When Walsh returned with backup troops, they came face to face with the horrors of the Holocaust, none of which they had seen in their march towards the heart of Germany.

Kurt Bronner, at his first reunion of the 30th Division of the U.S. Army Infantry, gives his thanks to the veterans, (Photo by Alan Smason)

“They had very little sanitary facilities. They were dirty, stinking, flea-infested and lice-infested and put into these cattle cars,” Towers recalled. “When they opened the doors of these cars, many of the victims just fell out to the ground. Some of our men just had to turn and throw up; the stench was so bad. This was inhumane. This was what the Germans were giving them: nothing. They were treated lower than animals.”

Rozell concurred, but gave an interesting sidenote. The German guards had radios and had informed the prisoners of the death less than 24 hours before of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Warm Springs, GA. Many of the U.S. soldiers were so busy fighting battles that they first found out about his death through the freed Holocaust survivors. [note: the reporter may have heard this from someone, but it was not me. I indicated what the soldiers told me- that the column was stopped and they were notified by their own commanders. Shocked, they went on to liberate the train the next day.] The prisoners were fearful at first because the Germans had told them the Americans would shoot them when they found them.

“There was one soldier, an individual I hear many soldiers talk about,” Rozell remembered. “Apparently, he came down from the hill and he said in Yiddish ‘I’m a Jew. I’m Jewish.’ He was from Brooklyn and I’ve heard it from at least a half-dozen people because it does make an impression.”

When 1st Lt. Towers was ordered to the train the following day he had several concerns. “The first thing we wanted to do was get these people medical care,” Towers stated.

“We were sort of in the middle of a no man’s land. We had to get these people out of there,” he noted. “So it fell in my lap to get transportation to get those people out of there and to remove them back to a previous town that had been liberated the day before at Hillersleben.”

Sadly, 30 of the victims on the train had already died of organ failure or starvation and were buried immediately at Farsleben, according to Towers.  Over the course of the next two weeks, nearly another two dozen weakened survivors contracted typhus and died. They were buried in a cemetery in Hillersleben, some five miles away. One of these was Somjen’s father.[note: the number is over 100.]

Little did Towers know, but the interaction he had with transporting the victims of the Holocaust was to be short-lived. Within a few days of arranging their transportation and care by private citizens and for the sick to a nearby German field hospital, he and other segments of the 30th Division were moving out to fight the Germans in what turned out to be their final assault at Magdeburg. Within days the war was over for Towers and the entire 30th Division.

For the survivors they had liberated, most of whom were Hungarian Jews, there were many years of living in displaced persons camps, moving back to their hometowns to attempt to find parents or loved ones and, eventually, emigration to more welcoming countries as Communism gripped the Slavic states.

For Kornblum, who was only five at the end of the war and who was then an orphan, much of the story of his past was brought to life at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, near where he now resides with his wife Annette. Although several previous attendees had come in from European cities or like Falik had lived in Israel for a time, Kornblum is the first resident of the Jewish state to travel expressly [note: others have travelled to the USA to reunions from Israel] to a 30th Division reunion.

“Originally people gave me the impression that I was aboard the train headed for Tobitz. I was very happy to learn that I was in the so-called Magdeburg train liberated near Farsleben,” Kornblum confessed. He remembers some childhood memories such as celebrating Shabbat with his grandfather on Friday evenings in addition to the slaying of his mother at the hands of the Nazis and the death of his father at Bergen-Belsen. “But I have very little recollection,” he admitted.

Bronner, who was 18 at the time of liberation, had far more vivid memories of that day, even though he spoke no English at that time. “The first  words in English I ever learned was (sic) ‘One only,’” he said. “That was when I went to the bathroom and I closed the door. Having the privacy to be by myself: that was freedom!”

Rozell first became aware of the impact his website was making in 2006, when he was contacted via email by an elderly [note: a grandmother, but not my idea of elderly] woman in Australia who was only seven at the time of the liberation of the train. She was amazed at the images displayed on the site captured on the day of her liberation by Benjamin and Gross. Thus began countless emails and telephone calls to many excited survivors with Rozell’s website as their focus.

When Rozell contacted the archivist at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, he received more material, such as the manifest list of passengers, which enabled him to do outreach with other survivors, who now were scattered across the globe. Rozell, Tomkiewicz and his wife [note: Rozell, Towers and Varda Wiesskopf] have now contacted approximately 240 survivors, all 18 years or under at the time of their liberation [note: a few were older].

Rozell has held several reunions with his high school class in Hudson Falls and has had Towers and Walsh meet with the survivors of the train, beginning in 2007. He has had oral histories recorded on video and transcribed for insertion on his website. Since 2008 the 30th Division members, led by executive secretary Towers, have invited the Holocaust train survivors to be included in their reunion activities as guests. The veterans and their families have joined with the Holocaust victims and their families to ensure that this small event at the end of World War II will always be remembered.

Crescent City Jewish News

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 In April  2008 I was accepted into the  United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellowship Program. I was called out of my classroom to the principal’s office-wondering if I was in trouble, I was relieved and excited to learn that he had just received a phone call from Peter Fredlake, the museum official in charge of educational outreach, and that I and 13 other teachers from across the country would be heading to Washington DC for a week that coming summer.

dsc024721I cannot fathom that it was only 5 years ago. How my life has changed.

Since then I have been honored by the Museum director, had a Museum film made about me, and spoken on behalf of its educational program. I’ve helped to gather artifacts for donation to the Museum, and recently helped facilitate the transfer of the liberation photographs to the Museum photo archivist. And next week, I will be proud as the 30th Infantry Division flag is installed in entryway to the Museum, now formally recognized as a liberating division. I’ll probably cry when I return to the Museum this summer and see for myself that it has taken its rightful place.

It all begins with an idea, a vision, though no one knows what doors will be gone through to get there.

As the Museum commemorates it 20th anniversary this month, I’d like to share Michael Berenbaum’s piece below.

April 3, 2013

How the  U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum changed my life

By Michael Berenbaum


My daughter, Ilana, then a young college student, asked if she could go with me to the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, on April 22, 1993 (the date was tied to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising’s 50th anniversary). I said: “I will be leaving very early.” She responded: “I’ll be up.”

I couldn’t wait to get to the museum that morning. First of all, my home was in chaos. My sister and brother-in-law were in from Israel for the occasion. My mother came up from Florida. A couple of days before, they’d had an automobile accident, and, as a result, my mother was in a wheelchair. More importantly, the opening of the museum, which once seemed so far away, had finally arrived. I felt like a bridegroom on his wedding day or an expectant father after 14 years of gestation, filled with joy and anticipation, anxiety and excitement, even a bit of fear.

Ilana, for her part, was normally allergic to mornings. In those days, the only way she would be up at 6 a.m. was if she had pulled an all-nighter. But true to her word, she was ready to go. Then, no sooner had she gotten into the car, she turned to me and said: “It is time to quit.”

I was stunned. “Give me time to enjoy the opening,” I replied lamely.


I had been involved with the creation of the museum on and off for some 14 years. I began my professional life as a young academic teaching at Wesleyan University and serving as university Jewish chaplain when something rather unexpected happened. I was invited by Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg to head Zachor, the Holocaust Remembrance Institute of the National Jewish Conference Center, which he had founded. Then, just after I began my work there, President Jimmy Carter turned to Elie Wiesel to chair the President’s Commission on the Holocaust. Wiesel, in turn, asked Greenberg to be its director. Greenberg had just left City College to direct the Conference Center and was deeply committed there, so he accepted this unprecedented challenge with the understanding that he would not have to move to Washington and would serve only in a part-time capacity. He turned to me to move with my family to Washington, in January 1979, to serve as deputy director for the commission, which in reality meant leading a two-, then later, a three-person staff. We had just moved into a new home in Connecticut, my son, Lev, had been born the spring before, and Ilana had just started kindergarten, but opportunities like that do not come along often, so off we went to Washington.

The commission made three basic decisions in the first nine months of its work. President Carter had charged it with recommending an “appropriate national memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.” And the commission decided upon a “living memorial,” a museum to tell the story of the Holocaust, an educational institution but also an academic research institute, library and archives to teach the Holocaust and its lessons, to enhance scholarship and learning as well as a “Committee on Conscience” to warn of any impending genocide and arouse the conscience of the nation and of world leadership to combat genocide.

Banners commemorating the 20th anniversary hang on the 14th Street entrance to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Second, the museum also would be built in Washington, where it would have to address the American experience as well as the national ethos. Some had argued for New York, then as now, the city with the largest Jewish population in the country. But since museums are always in dialogue with their visitors, the choice of Washington was to prove defining.

Third, the museum would be a public private-partnership, built on public land with private funds and gifted to the American people. At the time, we were in the middle of an energy crisis, a period of high inflation and high debt — or what seemed high at the time — and President Carter, in particular, was not anxious to undertake new expenditures. Working from January to September 1979 we submitted a report to the president, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Council was launched early the next year, first as a presidential initiative and later by a unanimous act of Congress, but not before there was a major struggle between the chairman and the president over the definition of the Holocaust.

At issue was whether the term Holocaust applied only to the 6 million Jews who were murdered, or to the 6 million Jews and the non-Jews who were victimized by the Nazis. President Carter wanted a broad definition, and Wiesel, who had dedicated his distinguished career to preserving the Jewishness of the Holocaust, would not work under the Carter definition. Wiesel had solved the problem of how to deal with non-Jewish victims of Nazism, with language: “While not all the victims were Jews, all Jews were victims.” and. “The uniqueness of the Holocaust is its universality.”

I was caught in the middle, between the president and the chairman, and was summarily fired. Disappointed, I thought that I would never have the opportunity to help build the museum that had just been conceived. I taught, I wrote, I directed the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington.

I began to write about several of the issues that had been central to the commission’s concerns on the Americanization and later the nativization of the Holocaust — the clash between the stories retold on American soil and those which predominate in Israel and elsewhere, and the authentic and inappropriate ways in which past recollections are used to justify the present and to construct a future. And I continue focus much of my writing on this very same issue today, more than three decades later. I also wrote on commemorating the Holocaust and on the issue of the uniqueness and universality of the Holocaust, contending that only by including non-Jewish victims of Nazism could we understand the singularity of Jewish victimization during the Holocaust.


Many people falsely presume that to compare two events — genocides, in this case — is to equate them. In reality, only in comparison can we understand what is distinct about each. We must compare and contrast in order to understand.

Seven years elapsed, and Wiesel resigned as chairman on the eve of his departure to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In the interim, the council had been through several directors and several plans — none successful. I had remained close to the survivors with whom I had always had a special affinity — none more so than Miles Lerman and Benjamin Meed, and I was invited to rejoin the project to preserve its neshama (spirit), first as a consultant and later as project director.

My writings served me well, because I had been struggling with the question central to the museum’s mission: How do you move the audience of that time back 50 years and introduce them to a European event in the heart of the U.S. capital, the locus of the American national experience? How do you transmit an understanding of the Holocaust to the American people so that it resonates with the American narrative while still doing justice to the event? Would Jews — the prime creators of the museum — be courageous enough to bring a Judeo-centric story to the center of American life, and would the American people be interested or dismiss the museum as parochial?

I drew upon everything in my own life experience as a postwar child, born to American parents but taught by refugees and survivors, and attending an Orthodox synagogue established by people who had fled Frankfurt and Antwerp just after Kristallnacht, rebuilding their lives and re-creating the world they had left behind in Europe on American soil in the freedom of the new world.

The museum had been given prime land adjacent to the United States Mint — indeed, a crematorium had once been on the site, where dollars going out of circulation had been burned — and adjacent to the National Mall. Situated at the intersection between the museums of Washington, and the monuments of Washington, the site is also within blocks of the White House and Capitol Hill.

“By the Waters of Babylon we sat and we wept as we remembered Zion,” the Psalmist said.

The place from which you remember an event shapes how the event is remembered.

By its very nature, however, the museum would have to stand in contrast to its surroundings. Everywhere else, Washington’s museums celebrate human achievements in art, science, history, technology, scholarship and learning. The monuments pay homage to the great men (and, soon, women) of history — Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. And governmental Washington is power personified. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum would demonstrate what could happen when human genius and technology, when men of history and the power of government are let loose without the restraints of “checks and balances,” without an appreciation for the “inalienable rights” of all, without separation of powers, without appreciating that all men are created equal.

After several false starts, we had a building replete with symbolism, created by master architect James Ingo Freed. The design included three floors of exhibition space, so the story of the Holocaust would have to be told in three chapters, leading to the question: Does one rise and then descend, or does one climb stairs from floor to floor? As we decided on descent, it became clear that the transition between the National Mall and the Holocaust experience would need to begin in the elevator. Three floors meant three acts to the drama: the World Before and the Rise of Nazism 1933-1939; the Holocaust 1940-1945; and then Resistance and Rescue, Liberation, the Nuremberg Trials and the survivors rebuilding their lives, first in the displaced-person camps and then in the United States and Israel. There were large exhibition spaces and bridges leading to four square rooms, followed by stairs. To fit an exhibition inside such a building, the bridges would serve as transition spaces, the sequential exhibition spaces that followed would lead to a story in four segments. The stairs would mark a descent deeper into the story, more engrossed in the Holocaust narrative.


Still, there was no exhibition.

We created a team. No single individual can create a museum; it takes a village of lay people, donors and professionals, historians and curators, fundraisers and institutional builders working together, despite differences, toward one unified goal. Jeshajahu “Shaike” Weinberg, who had created Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv, came in first as a consultant and later as director to build the museum’s infrastructure to give us the benefit of his wisdom and of his experience. Martin Smith, a distinguished documentary filmmaker, also came on board and was joined by Ralph Appelbaum as the museum’s brilliant designer. I was the scholar of the team and most often the public face to the community, scholars, educators and donors, and we worked so closely that our ideas became enmeshed and often we cannot recall who first advanced the concept.

We knew the museum must become a storytelling institution. The two most powerful means of contemporary storytelling are novels and movies. But while film has a captive audience and moving imagery, a museum is just the opposite; its audience moves, its imagery is captive. (Those who have been to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles can see a hybrid of the two, as that museum uses light and sound to keep its audience walking through its exhibits.) We believed that if we got the narrative right, if we made the story compelling, we could encourage the audience to walk through the exhibition at their own pace and still get the story.

But the story had to be personalized. Six million is a statistic. One person’s experience is a story. We decided that visitors would get an identification card so the events they were to see would be encountered through the lens of the victim whose story they carried with them.

Still, however smart you may think yourself to be, you are much better off if you are also lucky, and the museum has a piece of unbelievable luck. Communism was falling, the Soviet Union was in a steep and inexorable decline, and communist officialdom was looking to turn toward the West and away from Moscow. The museum project came along seeking to obtain artifacts just at a time when contact with Washington was welcomed — and here was a U.S. government project on a Jewish theme. Due to the political skill of Miles Lerman, then chair of the museum’s International Relations Committee, who spoke the native languages and could navigate his way about Eastern Europe — a former partisan, he could drink with the best of them, and that was so necessary in Eastern Europe — we were able to obtain on loan or as a gift many of the thousands of artifacts that comprise the museum, including the railcar of the type that was used to transport Jews from ghettos to death camps and the authentic barracks from Birkenau in which we depict the experience of the death camps. We also obtained one of the two milk cans that Emanuel Ringelblum used to bury the Oneg Shabbes archives in Warsaw; and 5,000 shoes, a dissecting table and a crematorium door from Majdanek, which shape the visitors’ understanding of gassing. Because of the plethora of artifacts, we were able to give the visitors a sense that a story lies behind each artifact.

And even Weinberg, who had pioneered the idea of an artifactless museum, had to change his ideology and help create an evidentiary-based, artifact-grounded exhibition.

We integrated films into the museum experience; 70 audio programs and three major films — one on anti-Semitism and one on the Nazi rise to power. Because the museum is situated in Washington, it had to tell the governmental story: What did America and the West know?  When did it know it? And, most importantly, what did it do with such knowledge? So the visitor pauses in the middle of telling a European story to tell the American story. Twice, the visitor has the choice of seeing any one or all of five short films on pre-World War II American policy on the top floor, and on the bottom floor of the exhibition, the wartime record of the American government. There was no pressure of museum staff or officials to soften the story and make the U.S. government look good. We felt compelled to tell the truth as we knew it, the whole truth as best we could.

We wrestled with the question of how to end the museum; our initial thoughts were trite, and an important story must have a significant ending. We came to the realization that the only ones who could bridge that world with our world would be those who have actually lived in both worlds. The museum could only end with the voices of survivors telling us their stories, brief glimpses into the concentration camp universe, specific understandings of the choiceless choices they were forced to make, moments where they felt some dignity and times when they felt the full measure of their defeat, of their loss. Those who were there were allowed to speak, and they reminded us that for every story that we heard there were 6 million stories that could not be told.

Some wanted an uplifting ending. After all, Americans like it when people live happily after. But although there are many uplifting stories told, in those 90 minutes we experience the whole of humanity — evil incarnate, goodness personified, courage without end, and the most craven of cowardice and everything in between.

The day the museum opened was the coldest April day in the history of Washington. The field beyond the museum, which would hold the massive crowds attending the opening — the survivors and their children and grandchildren, liberators and their families, donors and their descendants who were so very proud of what they had enabled to rise, as well as ordinary Americans who would form the core of the museum’s visitors — held knee-deep mud. The heads of state were there — presidents and prime ministers from many of the countries occupied by the Germans. The invitation to Franjo Tuđjman, the Holocaust-denying president of Croatia, had caused the museum considerable embarrassment. We had followed the advice of the State Department not to create an international incident. We should have remembered that we answered to a higher authority.

More than one survivor said that this was not ordinary rain: “The heavens were crying.” Perhaps they were. The Museum of Tolerance and New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust opened in rainstorms; Yad Vashem opened on a frigidly cold evening, so rare in May.

Menachem Rosensaft, child of Holocaust survivors, put it ever so wisely: “Every once in a while you learn that there is a God. No one should have enjoyed this event, and they couldn’t. And the presidents of Romania and Hungary, France and Germany —and even the president of the United States — were chilled to their bones at this ceremony, as they damn well should be.”


We had a dream that if we built it, they would come.

The farmer from Iowa and the factory worker from Detroit, schoolchildren from Maine to Florida, from Oregon to Texas, teachers and scholars, soldiers and policemen, heads of states and ordinary citizens — in the days and years that followed, the number of visitors exceeded even our most exalted of dreams in quantity — we dreamed of 1 million; we averaged almost twice that number — and, more importantly, in quality. Jews and non-Jews, Americans of all races and creeds, ages and educational backgrounds. Museums in Washington tend to be white institutions — not so the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I turned to my daughter that morning with tears in my eyes. I understood that we had all paid a price, a steep price for the creation of this institution. I had worked on it 24/6 for many long years while raising my children, and having them in my sole custody. I had gone from youth to middle age. I had lost my father. I had divorced. My children had endured my absence and at times my distracted presence. They had grown up surrounded by ongoing discussions of death and destruction. Ilana had written her college essay on growing up with Zyklon B in the garage, just behind her tennis racket and skis. This was my life, and I chose it, but because of that choice it became theirs. I asked her indulgence: “Allow me to enjoy the opening,” I pleaded. And so she did.

Was it worth it? Surely it was.

Was the price to be paid steep? Yes. Would I do it again? In a minute; yet, hopefully, differently.

Still, my daughter intuited something I did not then know. I was soon to face an existential problem: What do you do after you have done everything you wanted to do? I was in my mid-40s, too young and too poor to retire. And stuck in the notion that for some of us, there is more challenge in creating something than in managing it.

Ilana and I spoke deeply that day. I told her that I could now die. Now she was stunned. I reassured her, seeing the look on her face: “Don’t worry, hopefully I won’t; and I have much, so much, to live for — but I could die and face my Maker saying that what I had done with the talents and the opportunities that I was given was worthy of a life. That feeling has never left me.

What do you do with the rest of your life? I now answer that day by day through new challenges, and wonderful and important opportunities to serve, grow, learn and contribute.

 http://www.jewishjournal.com/ yom_hashoah/article/how_the_u.s._holocaust_memorial_museum_changed_my_life/

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Today is the 68th anniversary of the liberation of the train. We’ll have 80 for the final banquet tonight.

I am here in Louisville, KY at the reunion of 12 WW2 soldiers of the 30th Infantry Division and 5 Holocaust survivors who were given new life by these guys 68 years ago. And lots of 2nd generation and 3rd generation-sons and daughters, children and grandchildren, many here meeting their liberators for the first time.

In many ways it is a spiritual event.

Frank gave the introduction and described his role in transporting the prisoners from the train to safety. I spoke on how there were too many random “quirks of fate” to attribute this present gathering to coincidence. Had my wishes come true, and had I never returned to my hometown as I had hoped when I left it for college, the room would have been half empty. I would have never interviewed the tank commander who told me his story. None of these survivors would have known the rest of the story, so to speak; perhaps the soldiers too-

John D. thanked me afterward, describing his time carrying his rifle across Europe as a combat infantryman nearly seventy years ago. He told me now he knows, after meeting the survivors that he helped to liberate, what the true meaning of FREEDOM is, and what he fought for. He thanked me, a teacher. I resisted. He insisted. That about blew me away.

There was more to come.

Kurt and Gideon, “new” survivors, gave testimony for the first time to their liberators. Emotional. True freedom. Kurt remarked that he felt it when the Americans uttered “One Only” as nearly two dozen survivors were shown a clean room after liberation and proceed to attempt to occupy it. To be able to close the door when entering a bathroom, alone.

Eve, Kurt’s daughter, remarked through tears how she knew emotions would overwhelm, but she carried on and read fellow 2nd Generation survivor Sandy’s poem “I am a Survivor”.

She spoke of how difficult it was to grow up, with her two loving parents, knowing what they had been through-how do you, as a teen,  issue the normal teenage complaints when your parents had had it so much worse when they were your age? She ends beaming at her audience through wet eyes, the soldiers of World War II and their families who are returning the love in spades over this weekend.

Later I was very moved at Friday dinner when Gideon’s daughter gathered the children and others in the front, after calling our attention, and thanking God for these soldiers coming into their lives on April 13, 1945 and again now. Candles were lit, prayers were said, and Shabbat was ushered in, and we broke bread together, Gentile and Jew, survivor and soldier, sharing laughter and tears.

More later. For now would like to leave you with an account of the liberation by survivor Aliza Vitis-Shomron, who was recently featured in an AP article about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. She, too, was a teen in the spring of 1945…


In Bergen Belsen

It is spring outside. The news we get from the older German soldiers who treat us humanely is that the end is approaching. Beyond the fence of the Dutch camp there is an open field. The wind brings in a horrible smell from there. In the distance we can see circles of smoke rising, and dark figures busy round the fire. What are they carrying? They are corpses for which there is no room in the crematorium, they are burning them on the ground one by one. Their ashes mingle with the soil, the rain creates human mud.

“All are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” – said the Lord.

Maybe that is God’s will – if He exists at all.

Human beings: beautiful, with black eyes, blue eyes; writers, teachers, students, disappointed lovers, proud, cowardly, selling fish on the market, fathers and mothers and those who had not yet tasted love. “The Chosen Jewish People” burnt like dung in the field.

At the beginning of 1945 the winter was hard. What may have saved us from starvation and death were the Red Cross parcels that arrived in March.

At the beginning of spring 1945 the cannons thundered. We felt that the end for the Germans was near, and there were many indications that it was so. The main one was that they stopped giving us food. Every day we stood at the fence along the main road, waiting for the soup which came late, often only in the evening.

Evacuation from Bergen-Belsen

Allied planes fly above us making a dull sound and there is nothing to stop them. A few days ago there was an air battle between English and German planes, right above the camp. I hid with the others under the bunks, not that I was afraid, but a shrewd thought was on my mind: Now, just before liberation and the end of the war, I could be killed by an allied bullet or bomb…

I am sure there is no God, only chance rules my life. There is no one to pray to, no one to beg – maybe my lucky star that has protected me until now will continue to do so… Will I manage to survive? A sweet feeling of revenge fills me as I realize that our murderers are also suffering and being killed! My strength        has waned, my feet are swollen from hunger, I have become apathetic to my surroundings.

On the 8th [7th] April, an unexpected order came to prepare for evacuation. We heard the thunder of cannons in the distance, they said that the city of Hanover was in the hands of the allied armies. And they are approaching the little town of Celle. Evacuation? Where? To the gas chambers?

There was a terrible smell in the air. I was hardened, cynical, no longer capable of feeling anything. After the terrible murders in Block Ten, adjacent to us, nothing could move me. I remembered I had to survive to tell the world about my friends. I hugged my mother and sister. They mustn’t separate us!

Mother consults uncle Leon Melamed. Aunt Irena, practical as usual, is already packing the most important things. “There is nothing we can do,” she says with typical decisiveness. “We have no choice. There is no point in staying in a camp that is no longer getting supplies of food. We’ll starve before they come to liberate us.” We agree with her. We get into a long line, men, women and the children who are with us, hundreds of Jews from various blocks.

The people’s faces mainly express uncertainty and acceptance of the situation. We again pass by the piles of skeletons, new ones every day. In the huge concentration camp on the other side of the road we see shadowy figures moving.

Mother and I take the few remaining clothes, the notes I have written in the camp and on the Aryan side, and a passport photo of father. We have no personal documents, nothing reminiscent of our previous life. Mother has only a silver fruit knife that she took with us when we went to the “selektzia” in Warsaw. My legs won’t carry me. We have to go eight kilometers to the railway station in Celle. The road seems endless, the body is weak and not used to moving. Every step calls for an inhuman effort. We crawl along slowly.

Gavriela is carrying her five-year-old brother on her back. Her face is red with the effort. The child has no strength left, he is apathetic. Their mother walks beside them and slaps him gently on his face. Her legs are also swollen from hunger. I walk on. I can’t help them, I have no strength left.

Suddenly a man walks up to me. I recognize him: It is my neighbor, from the next bunk. Without a word he puts his arms under my armpits and drags me along. I lean on him with all the weight of my body. I didn’t get to know him, although we “lived next door”; and now he is helping me!

Who can understand the depths of good and evil in the hearts of men! This small deed, the hand held out in support at a critical moment, imbued me with hope and strength to continue on my own.

People begin to drop their belongings. We also stop every fifteen minutes and sadly throw down a few things. At the end of the march my backpack only holds a little food and two or three items of underclothes.

This experience has affected my life-long attitude to things. Losing things or parting with them means nothing to me, causes me no sorrow. They certainly have no value in themselves, only if they are connected to some precious memory.

My legs are swollen and hurt. I can’t feel them any longer. I long to sit down, to rest, to close my eyes and disappear… I struggle constantly against this urge. Mother is dragging herself along, but walks erect, as always. Mirka walks along well. Suddenly we see railway carriages. Surprisingly, they are normal “pullmans”, not freight cars. The exhausted people lie down on the platform. At the station we are given a little food and water. The journey has begun.

The most precious turnips

We traveled by train for eight days. The train moved little, it remained standing a great deal. The frontline was everywhere and chaos all around us. German families flee with their belongings in all directions in carts and on foot. Have they been encircled? What a cheerful thought! Our leaders and various oracles, experts in solving riddles and interpreting rumors, say that the Germans want to use us as hostages. Besides our group, hundreds of Dutch, Greek and Hungarian Jews are with us on the train, all supposed to be exchanged, from the special camps in Bergen-Belsen. In the meantime the most important thing is to get hold of food.

During one of the stops I saw people jumping from the train and rolling down. I also wanted to do so, but my sister was quicker and out already. I joined her. We rolled down the high embankment to a wonderful pile of animal feed, yellow turnips. I filled up my dress feverishly, grabbing as much as I could carry and hop – climbed back. But at the moment when all the children and youth began climbing up, guards on the roof of the train opened fire on us. The Germans were apparently surprised and reacted late. I ran and lost my sister. I didn’t see a thing, but I was determined to get the turnips into the carriage. The bullets whistled around us, but I didn’t drop the turnips. I didn’t even look back to see who fell and who survived. Only on reaching the top, under cover, did I look back in great fear, in search of Mirka. She stood up next to me, trembling but smiling. We had food for the rest of the journey.

The danger is not over yet…

After a six-day journey we approached the frontline. We realized that we were apparently traveling southeast. The “experts” say that we are approaching a large city in central Germany, Magdeburg, on the banks of the Elbe.

One day the officer commanding the military escort called our representatives. He was well-mannered and received them politely. Hela Schüpper wrote in her book: “The commander took off his military cap and turned to the Jews in fear: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the end of the war is near. What shall we do?’

Engineer Solovieczyk advised him to surrender to the Allies and put up a white flag on the roof of the train.” Our representatives came back and described the amazing meeting excitedly: The German asked the Jews for advice! Maybe he’ll also ask them for help? That’s a good sign.

In the night the whole escort team fled, using the locomotive. What will happen now, to us? We were alone. Slowly, people started leaving the carriages, the train was standing in the middle of a field. I also got off, with my faithful friend Tusia (Rina Altbecker). We saw a small pond not far away, and “our people” were catching little fish there. Those among them with initiative found a tin, made a fire and cooked the fish. We joined in, glad to share the job.

We breathe fresh air, the sky is clear, it is spring. Although we are weak, exhausted by hunger, hope is reflected in all the faces. Of course, there are also some “ravens”, prophesying that the Germans will not give up as long as they can harm us, but who listens to them? Mother is also pessimistic.

Visiting a village

Mirka and I join the stream of people going to the nearby village of Ferstleben [Farsleben]. The village houses are pretty, clean, surrounded by gardens with fruit trees. We entered a garden in fulllbloom. I knocked on the door of the house. A woman wearing a big apron came out. Her face expressed amazement at the two figures facing her. Evidently we looked like ghosts.

“Kartofel, Kartofel, bitte,” (Potatoes, potatoes, please) I whispered. At that moment the woman started to scream. I didn’t understand a word. She pushed us out. I ran to the trees and began to shake them, so the blossoms fell off the branches. A large stone flew at me. We ran away.

That was the first and last time I asked for food. I felt ashamed. Mirka and I decided not to tell mother about it.

The fate of the certificates

That night we were right in the frontline. We spent the night lying under the carriages. We did not dare flee from there, there was nowhere to go. To hide in the German village? They’ll chase us away like dogs and hand us over to the authorities. We had no choice but to remain in the carriages and underneath them. Whatever happens to the others will also happen to us. Cannon shells flew above us with a terrifying noise. They may have aimed at the train… It was a miracle that we survived till the next morning.

Before dawn the locomotive returned with our escort. People who got out of the carriages in the morning were amazed to see lots of pieces of paper floating on the small pond. They looked strange, and they had not been there on the previous day. When they went to look at them, they were devastated: these were our certificates and other papers protecting us! So we did have such papers. It wasn’t just a deception by the Germans!

{After the war the mystery was solved: as I wrote, at the end of 1944 a group of two thousand Hungarian Jews from Budapest came to Bergen-Belsen, on their way to Switzerland. Our leaders gave them a list of our names, and they passed it on to the Swiss and Jewish institutions in Palestine, trying to save Jews. Apparently it was only then that they sent us the certificates; now at the end of the war, the Germans found them useless.}

But the Germans escorting us had a different plan for getting rid of us. They didn’t want to let the birds in their hands escape, even though the Allies had already encircled them on all sides.


Suddenly someone ran from carriage to carriage, screaming in terror: “The Germans want to drown the train in the river Elbe. Save yourselves!”

At the height of the panic, when we heard shots in the distance, we ran outside. People burst out of the carriages. Suddenly someone shouted:

“The Americans are coming!”

To our great surprise, a tank came slowly down the hill opposite, followed by another one. I ran towards the tank, laughing hysterically. It stopped. I embraced the wheels, kissed the iron plates.

The amazed soldier who came out called his friends and they immediately started throwing chocolate to us. They smiled in embarrassment and didn’t know what to do. We had won the war!

It was the 13th April 1945.

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Several survivors of a Nazi train transporting concentration camp inmates are being reunited with some of the US Army veterans who liberated them during World War II.

Five survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp are taking part in a three-day reunion starting Wednesday at the Hotel Crowne Plaza, Louisville, KY from April 11-13, 2013.

They were among some 2,500 Jewish men, women and children aboard a Nazi train that had departed the concentration camp ahead of advancing Allied troops in April 1945. They were liberated near Magdeburg, Germany by units of the 30th Infantry Division. In 2007, a high school  in upstate New York began a series of reunions to bring liberators and survivors together.

This week’s reunion includes 2 survivors who are meeting their liberators for the first time. One is traveling from Israel for the event.

Please visit teachinghistorymatters.wordpress.com for a schedule and contact information.

Schedule below.


From Frank Towers, Secretary of the 30th Infantry Division Veterans of WWII:

As most of you already know, men of the 743rd Tk. Bn., and 30th Infantry Division, liberated over 2.500 victims of the Holocaust from Bergen-Belsen on 13 April 1945.

We will be honored to have some of these Survivors join with us again at Louisville. Two of them have never been with us before, so they will give a resume of their life history, so be sure to come to hear these stories that have never been told before.

Two of these Survivors are coming all of the way from Jerusalem, Israel, one of which is joining with other members of his family, to meet his Liberators for the first time. Another Survivor will be coming from San Diego, CA with his daughter, also to meet for the very first time with some of his liberators.

To make it clear, each of you veterans were “Liberators” of this group of victims. Although you may not have had any personal hands-on experience with them at the time of their liberation, You were doing your job which was supporting the action in the local vicinity of this tremendous discovery and the release of these frail humans to Freedom.

Join with us on this occasion to meet these Survivors that you helped to liberate 68 years ago !!

This will be an Historic event !! 68 years to the exact date of their Liberation !!!

Tentative Program

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Early Arrivals

No Activities All Day “On Own”

Hospitality Room Open

Thursday 11 April 2013

Arrivals all day

Hospitality Room Open


` Welcoming Reception – 7:00 PM

Hospitality Room Open for Visiting

Friday 12 April 2013

Breakfast 7-8:30 AM

Louisville Slugger Museum 9 – 12 AM

Lunch (Place TBA)

PM Program TBA


Saturday 13 April 2013

Breakfast 7 – 8:30 AM

Annual Meeting 9:00 AM

Memorial Service 11:00 AM

Lunch 12:00 Noon

Holocaust Survivors Program 1:00 – 5:00 PM

Banquet 7:00 PM




Departures for Home

Those staying over – All on Own

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Marc Silver

National Geographic News

Published April 8, 2013

 Note: This is from National Geographic. As the nations commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Week, I’ll be flying to Louisville for the annual 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World war II reunion to take part in the reuniting of 5 survivors with the division that liberated them. The 30th will also be honored with a flag in the annual national ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda. In April 2010 I was honored to be in attendance at the Rotunda ceremony with 121 liberators and dozens of survivors.

I will post more about these events later. In the meantime, if you have not read the news below, it is a staggering development.

The map of the Third Reich is being dramatically redrawn.

Thirteen years ago, when he started digging into the past to document the number and nature of Nazi-era ghettos and camps, scholar Geoffrey Megargee expected to identify perhaps 7,000 sites. He vastly underestimated his task. More than 42,200 sites will be named in the planned seven-volume encyclopedia that he is editing: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945.

This week is Holocaust remembrance week in the United States, with an official ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on April 11 at 11 a.m. For the latest insights into the Nazi era, we spoke with Megargee and Martin Dean, editor of volume two of the encyclopedia: Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe.

“To document this on a map and see how the Holocaust affected every single community throughout Europe makes quite clear the scope of the Nazi regime’s murder campaign,” says Dean.

Investigating the Sites

To be included in the encyclopedia, a site had to have housed at least 20 people and have been in existence for at least a month. In addition, it had to have been identified on a map—not the easiest thing to do when some towns in question have changed their names several times since  World War II ended.

The scholars drew upon past research and interviews with survivors but also sought records that have “disappeared into archives in a dozen different countries,” says Megargee. Many of the archives were behind the Iron Curtain until the 1990s, off limits to outside scholars. Even now some are restricted.

The sites include the extermination camps where gas chambers were built for “the final solution” of murdering the Jewish people. But that’s only part of the project’s scope.

“We’re not just looking at sites directly involved with the Holocaust,” says Megargee, “but [also] with the entire range of persecutory facilities that the Nazis and their allies ran.”

Forced Laborers Everywhere

Each listing has a careful yet hair-raising description of the site, drawing from records as well as survivor testimony. Many of the encyclopedia entries were forced labor camps.

“Think of what life was like in Germany,” Megargee says. “There were foreign forced laborers in every conceivable kind of business: farms, factories, retail shops, hospitals, railroads. You couldn’t go anywhere in Germany without encountering people being held against their will and forced to work. Their rights were being violated.”

And it would have been no secret to German citizens that these laborers were in their midst. “Even in a large city, you know who lives in your neighborhood—and who doesn’t,” Megargee says. “And you could see barracks where these forced laborers lived.”

Workers thought to be shirking their duties were sent to work education camps. They faced up to eight weeks of very hard labor along with beatings and possibly solitary confinement. If there was evidence of a change in behavior, the worker could go back to the forced labor camp. If not, he or she might be sent to a concentration camp.

The Work Education Camp Watenstedt-Salzgitter, established “in some woods just to the northeast of Hallendorf” in Germany, could hold about 800 female prisoners and 1,000 males at a time. The Encyclopedia entry mentions 492 documented deaths there in 1942 attributed to “weak heart” or “shot while trying to escape.” A survivor of the camp recalls an SS man “who beat the prisoners on their way to breakfast.” (There were Jewish inmates at this camp, but in most forced labor and work education camps in Germany, the internees were typically non-Jewish Europeans.)

Staggering Death Rate

Megargee says some of the categories of sites he found were “particularly surprising or horrible.” The so-called Care Facilities for Foreign Women and Their Children were essentially holding pens for female workers, typically from Eastern Europe, who had become pregnant. At an earlier stage in the Nazi regime, these women would have been sent home to have the child. After 1943, they were sent to the Care Facilities, where “the baby was either aborted or, after birth, would be killed by slow starvation,” says Megargee.

European Jews were first confined to ghettos. When the ghettos were shut down, most Jews were killed; only a few were selected for work and sent to forced labor and concentration camps, where they again were periodically selected to continue working or to be killed. The death rate for European Jews in the camps and ghettos was a “staggering” 90 percent, compared with 10 percent for the foreign workers held in German forced labor camps, Dean notes.

The Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos pays tribute to those many millions imprisoned and slaughtered by the Nazis by its memorialization of all the site names. On its pages a reader will find camps that few people have heard of, like the work camp at St. Martin’s Cemetery in Poznan, Poland, where Jews had to excavate Polish graves to look for gold teeth, jewelry, or brass, and even smash up the headstones for the Nazi war effort. And there are the infamous names etched in the world’s memory, like Auschwitz-Birkenau with its gas chambers.

“This is giving recognition to all of the thousands of places where people suffered and died,” says Martin, “that would otherwise fade from people’s consciousness.”


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I just got home from a Yom Hashoah event, Holocaust Remembrance, that was pretty intense.

Three American candles.You know that when folks come up after you speak and squeeze your hands that you have made a favorable impression. Teachers in the audience come up to say they feel inspired.

But  they know that it is not about me.

I let the liberator and the survivor do the talking (see link below), then spoke about our obligations as the new witnesses to carry on the story.

Of course the event is about those who perished. But we must listen while we can to the survivors and become the new witnesses.

For those of you who came out, I re-post the narrative here-scroll down to the bottom for the NPR story, in 3 parts, from You Tube.   To those of you who may be curious, do it. You don’t even have to watch, just turn it up and listen. Set aside a few moments of time to recall, together, the moment of liberation and the aftermath.

But also remember that if we let the liberator’s final message go by the wayside [part 3], then we have learned nothing. Our kids, our students deserve better. Trust me, if you are an educator, or an educational administrator {my emphasis} puzzled with how to get kids to DO ANYTHING for you, they will respond for you with this, if presented correctly.

And as a final aside, the three candles pictured above, Red, White, and Blue, are for

Major Clarence Benjamin,

Dr. (SGT) George C. Gross, tank commander,

and Judge (SGT) Carrol S. Walsh, tank commander.

I kept alive their stories tonight.

Thanks to survivor Bruria Falik for thinking of this, in addition to the six candles for the millions lost and the candle for the 2nd generation. It was my honor to explain their significance. To those of you who offered your support and feedback, in person or on line, thank you. It is what I kind of need sometimes to know that I am making a difference.

Feel free to leave response!


April 7, 2013

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Holocaust Remembrance Day Schedule

Jewish Federation of Ulster County
Sunday, April 7, 2013

Please enter quietly, take a card, light a candle, and then take a seat

Music composed by MARJORIE BERMAN and sung by the WJC YOUTH CHOIR

 Welcome by HARRIET MILLER, President of Ulster County Jewish Federation and
BRURIA FALIK, member of the Board of the Ulster County Jewish Federation

 Lighting of the 6 Memorial candles

Poem: I am a survivor, written BY SANDY FALK, and read by DANNY FALK, children of Bruria Falik


Candle lighting honoring the memory of liberators MAJOR CLARENCE BENJAMIN,

 JULIA INDICHOVA will read a Memorial Poem

RUTH HIRSCH will speak briefly

Survivors will briefly share their experiences

MATTHEW ROZELL will present “Honoring the Hours of Liberation and Defeating the Legacy of Hitler”

MR. ROZELL is responsible for reuniting Holocaust survivors of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp with the actual American solders who liberated them from a train transport in the closing days of World War II. To date, over 240 survivors have been located around the world, and ten reunions have been held since 2007 with the soldiers who freed them.

Mr. Rozell and his students were named ABC World News “Person of the Week” in September, 2009. He is also a Teaching Fellow of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and has spoken on behalf of their educational programs. The museum maintains a national corps of skilled secondary teachers who serve as leaders in Holocaust education.

Matthew Rozell is also a history teacher from Hudson Falls, NY, and the 2012 recipient of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution Founders’ Medal for Education. For the past twenty years he has worked with high school students in preserving the narrative history of the World War II generation. Mr. Rozell was recently selected to travel to Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland for three weeks this summer to study the Holocaust with the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers’ Program. His work can be seen at teachinghistorymatters.wordpress.com.

Refreshments will be served following the program.

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USS Thresher Sinking: Impacts of Deadliest Submarine Disaster In U.S. History Remembered 50 Years Later

By David Sharp 04/05/13 02:47 AM ET EDT Associated Press

Note: Another somber anniversary. My friend Ted, a Cold War submariner, is in New Hampshire today to attend a reunion and also the ceremonies, to pay his respects.

KITTERY, Maine — The first sign of trouble for the USS Thresher was a garbled message about a “minor difficulty” after the nuclear-powered submarine descended to about 1,000 feet on what was supposed to be a routine test dive off Cape Cod.

Minutes later, the crew of a rescue ship made out the ominous words “exceeding test depth” and listened as the sub disintegrated under the crushing pressure of the sea. Just like that, the Thresher was gone, along with 129 men.

Fifty years ago, the deadliest submarine disaster in U.S. history delivered a blow to national pride during the Cold War and became the impetus for safety improvements. To this day, some designers and maintenance personnel listen to an audio recording of a submarine disintegrating to underscore the importance of safety.

“We can never, ever let that happen again,” said Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, an engineer and former submariner who now serves as commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C.

This weekend, hundreds who lost loved ones when the Thresher sank will gather at memorial events in Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Maine.

Built at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, and based in Groton, Conn., the first-in-class Thresher was the world’s most advanced fast attack submarine when it was commissioned in 1961.

Featuring a cigar-shaped hull and nuclear propulsion, the 278-foot-long submarine could travel underwater for unlimited distances. It could dive deeper than earlier submarines, enduring pressure at unforgiving depths. It was designed to be quieter, to avoid detection.

On April 10, 1963, the submarine already had undergone initial sea trials and was back in the ocean about 220 miles off Cape Cod, Mass., for deep-dive testing. Some submariners are baffled by the initial message about a minor difficulty because it’s believed a brazed joint on an interior pipe had burst – a problem anything but minor.

The Navy believes sea water sprayed onto an electrical panel, shorting it out and causing an emergency shutdown of the nuclear reactor.

The submarine alerted the USS Skylark, a rescue ship trailing it, that it was attempting to surface by emptying its ballast tanks. But that system failed, and the sub descended below crush depth.

Understanding their dire situation, Navy crew members and civilian technicians would have scrambled to close valves to try to stem the flooding, struggled with a ballast system disabled by ice, and worked to restore propulsion by restarting the reactor, a 20-minute process.

Their deaths would have been instant because of the force of the violent implosion. The sub’s remnants came to a rest on the ocean floor at a depth of 8,500 feet.

There was nothing the divers on the Skylark could do.

“It’s one of those times when there’s silence,” recalled Danny Miller, one of the Skylark divers, now 70 and living in Farmington, Mo. “You don’t know what to say. You don’t know how to feel. You just know something tragic has happened.”

The Thresher wreckage covers a mile of ocean floor, according to University of Rhode Island oceanographer Robert Ballard, who used his 1985 discovery of RMS Titanic as a Cold War cover for the fact that he had surveyed the Thresher on the same mission.

“It was like someone put the submarine in a shredding machine,” Ballard said in a recent interview. “It was breathtaking. There were only a couple of parts that looked like a submarine.”

Word of the disaster spread quickly.

Paul O’Connor, now a union president at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, remembers seeing the bulletin on TV. He was 6. Barbara Currier, whose husband, Paul, was a civilian worker on the Thresher, was shopping with her daughters when she heard the news on the radio in a store.

What followed was a blur of activity for families. Navy officers in dress whites showed up on doorsteps. Friends and neighbors brought food.

After the submarine was declared sunk, President John F. Kennedy ordered the nation’s flags lowered to half-staff. International leaders sent condolences.

“The men, they were heroes. Most of them were doing what they wanted to do for their country to keep the country safe,” said Currier, 86, who never remarried and still lives in the same house in Exeter, N.H. “They were pushing things to the limit.”

For the families, the silver lining is that subs are now safer. The Navy accelerated safety improvements and created a program called “SUBSAFE,” an extensive series of design modifications, training and other improvements.

People involved in the SUBSAFE program are required to watch a documentary about the Thresher that ends with an actual underwater recording featuring the eerie sounds of metal creaking and bending as a U.S. Navy submarine breaks apart with the loss of all hands.

“Every job we do, we need to have in the back of our minds that we have the lives of the sailors in our hands. It’s that critical and it’s that literal,” said O’Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council.

Hundreds of family and friends of the Thresher’s crew, along with sailors who previously served on the submarine, will gather Saturday for a memorial service in Portsmouth, N.H. A day later, neighboring Kittery will dedicate a flagpole that stretches 129 feet high in remembrance of the number of lives lost.

Because of their tender ages, and the lack of a body or proper grave site, children like Vivian Lindstrom, who lost her father, Samuel Dabruzzi, a Navy electronics technician, were unable to grieve properly.

Thanks to the reunions, they at least know they’re not alone, said Lindstrom, of Glenwood City, Wis.

“We’ve experienced the same things, felt the same things,” she said. “We feel like family. We call ourselves the Thresher family.”

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