Archive for April, 2013

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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eisenhower at ushmmBy BRIDGET MURPHY, Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — Matthew Nash’s grandfather only mentioned the photographs to him once.

Twenty-five-years later, they are the subject of a new documentary on the Holocaust that Nash spent three years making after finding the pictures his grandfather took while serving as an Army medic in World War II.

Kept hidden from Nash and others in the family, the photos were not something Nash’s grandfather seemed to want to talk about with relatives. But they were something he could never forget.

Nash’s film — “16 Photographs at Ohrdruf” — tells of the first concentration camp that U.S. soldiers liberated in 1945.

The 72-minute film will have its first public screening Thursday evening at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., and also will be shown as part of the Boston International Film Festival on April 16 and the G.I. Film Festival in Washington in May.

The summer he was 12, Nash asked about his grandfather’s World War II service as the two were stacking wood in his grandparents’ barn in East Dorset, Vt.

“As I recall he got really quiet,” said Nash, now a 37-year-old photography professor at Lesley University. “I think he just said, ‘Yeah, we saw some really terrible things. When you get a little older, I’ll show you some pictures and you’ll understand.'”

But Donald Grant Johnson, a former Army lieutenant, died in 1991 without sharing the photos with his grandson. Family members only spoke of the pictures in whispers.

When Nash’s grandmother threatened to destroy them when the subject came up at Thanksgiving dinner in 1995, Nash and his sister felt compelled to secretly sift through their late grandfather’s belongings the following Christmas. That’s when they found an envelope marked “Holocaust” tucked away in a wooden trunk. Inside were a few letters and a series of snapshots of a war horror the 23-year-old Johnson encountered as a soldier in April 1945.

Johnson took most of the photos at Ohrdruf in Germany. Nash believes his grandfather may have treated survivors of the camp, which the Germans had formed as a sub-camp of Buchenwald.

On a personalized sheet of notepaper with “Don Johnson” printed at the top, the 65th Infantry Division Army veteran cataloged the photo collection as best he could.

“Lime Pit — effort to destroy bodies,” reads one handwritten caption. “Griddle used in (vain) attempt to incinerate bodies — note skull bottom center,” reads another. “Small stack of bodies,” says yet another.

Soldiers are on the outskirts of some of Johnson’s shots, standing together to view piles of emaciated and burned corpses. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted many witnesses to the Nazi atrocity so that reports of it couldn’t be dismissed as propaganda.

“He had as many units as possible come and see the camp,” said Geoffrey Megargee, a scholar from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum who appears in Nash’s film.

Johnson likely came to Ohrdruf within a few days of its liberation. He later returned home to become a banker, National Guard soldier, and a volunteer emergency-medical technician.

Some of Johnson’s photos show survivors, including what he described as a survivor being treated by two camp doctors. The skeletal-looking man is lying on a cot, with what appears to be an open wound on his hip, as the men stand beside him. In another, a bare-chested boy of about 14 looks toward the camera, with what appears to be prisoner barracks in the background.

Nash found 19 photos in all and used 16 in his film. His research showed his grandfather may have shot a few of the photos at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

The professor also discovered from letters his grandfather packed away with the pictures that he had wanted his photographs to become part of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He said in one letter that he had visited more than one concentration camp, but Ohrdruf was engraved in his memory.

“I keep the pictures close at hand and have made a point of looking at them frequently,” Johnson wrote. “And, during my years of National Guard service, I made a point of showing them to the personnel, hoping we could prevent any such disasters from happening again.”

Johnson died two years before the museum opened, and before he sent the pictures. Nash has since given the photos to the museum for its archives, and said he’s proud to have done that for his grandfather.

Nash made the documentary with about $5,000 and the help of friends in the film business.

Among film interviewees, Nash talked to veterans who served in the same infantry division as his grandfather, including Boston resident Edwin “Bud” Waite. The 87-year-old was an infantry soldier who wasn’t part of liberating concentration camps, but visited Dachau later. He said he sees value in Nash’s film effort.

“I think it’s very important because the younger people nowadays, they don’t really understand concentration camps back in World War II,” Waite said.

Megargee, who will give a lecture before Thursday’s screening, said Nash’s film opens up a personal window into what the Allies were fighting against in World War II.

“When you can personalize the history, especially for younger kids, it helps to get them interested. It’s one thing to talk about tens of thousands of camps. It’s another thing to bring it down to the level of one American soldier,” he said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Woodstock event remembers Holocaust

WOODSTOCK, N.Y. — A Yom Hashoah event that will remember the Holocaust will take place April 7 at 3 p.m. at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, 1682 Glasco Turnpike, Woodstock NY, 12498.

Synagogue Main Number (845) 679-2218
Email info@wjcshul.org
Persons of all faiths are welcome.

The Yom Hashoah  observance will include a candlelight memorial service, followed by an address by Matthew Rozell titled “Honoring the Hour of Liberation and Defeating the Legacy of Hitler.” Rozell is the founder of a project that has reunited survivors from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp with the U.S. soldiers who liberated them from a train transport during the closing days of World War II. To date, with the help of Varda Weisskopf and Frank Towers, more than 240 survivors worldwide have been located, and 10 reunions have taken place since 2007. Rozell is also a teaching fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and has spoken on behalf of its educational programs. His work can be seen at teachinghistorymatters.wordpress.com.

The ABC News video can be seen here.

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