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Archive for May, 2013

My boys. Thanks to my friend Chris Carola at the AP and Senator Little’s office for recognizing them while they were still with us.

2 NY vets of Edson’s Raiders recall WWII battles

By CHRIS CAROLA

— May. 26 3:38 PM EDT

In this Wednesday, May 22, 2013 photo, World War II veterans Bob Addison, left, and Jerry West pose for a photo, in Glens Falls, N.Y. Addison and West share more than a longtime friendship. They share some of the same memories of bloody battles fought on Pacific islands while serving with an elite Marine Corps unit that was the forerunnner of today's U.S. Special Forces. Living just miles apart, the two men are among the last surviving members of the original Marine Raider battalions that were the first American ground troops to attack Japanese-held territory. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

In this Wednesday, May 22, 2013 photo, World War II veterans Bob Addison, left, and Jerry West pose for a photo, in Glens Falls, N.Y. Addison and West share more than a longtime friendship. They share some of the same memories of bloody battles fought on Pacific islands while serving with an elite Marine Corps unit that was the forerunnner of today’s U.S. Special Forces. Living just miles apart, the two men are among the last surviving members of the original Marine Raider battalions that were the first American ground troops to attack Japanese-held territory. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Gerald West held the laminated sheet of paper fellow World War II combat veteran Robert Addison pulled from an old briefcase and perused the 300-plus names listed under the words, “Lest We Forget.”

“I knew quite a few of those guys,” said West, 93, who made the short drive to Addison’s home 45 miles north of Albany recently to reminisce about their wartime service with the legendary Edson’s Raiders, an elite Marine Corps unit that was the forerunnner of today’s U.S. Special Forces.

The document Addison keeps among his wartime mementos and literature lists the names of members of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who died while fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific. Addison and West are among the dwindling number of Edson’s Raiders still alive. Out of an original roster of about 900 men, fewer than 150 are believed to survive, according to Bruce Burlingham, historian for U.S. Marine Raider Association.

Dubbed Edson’s Raiders after their colorful, red-haired commander, Col. Merritt “Red Mike” Edson, the unit was the first U.S. ground force to attack Japan-held territory after Pearl Harbor. Landing on Tulagi in the Solomon Islands in August 1942, they beat the larger 1st Marine Division’s arrival on nearby Guadalcanal by an hour.

https://i2.wp.com/tsealey.net/thegunny/gfx/raiders.jpgThe 1st and 2nd Raider battalions, formed just days apart in February 1942, were the first commando-style units in the American military, predating the creation of the U.S. Army Rangers by four months. Trained in jungle warfare and hand-to-hand combat, the Raiders’ leatherneck pride paired with a pirate’s attitude was reflected in their distinctive battalion patch: a white death’s head skull in a red diamond, set against a blue background with five white stars representing the Southern Cross constellation.

Addison, an Alliance, Ohio, native, and West, who grew up outside Glens Falls, both fought at Tulagi and later on Guadalcanal, where Edson’s Raiders earned their vaunted place in American military lore for anchoring the thinly stretched Marine defenses that decimated Japanese forces during successive nighttime assaults in September 1942.

Fighting from positions separated by a few hundred yards along high ground near the island’s airfield, Addison and West helped defend what became known as Bloody Ridge _ but that the Marines called “Edson’s Ridge.” They wouldn’t learn until much later that the fight was considered a turning point that started the U.S. on its island-hopping road to victory in the Pacific.

“In combat, you only know what’s going on in your little world,” West said.

Edson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his front-line leadership during the battle, during which his Raiders suffered more than 250 killed and wounded. Bigger, bloodier battles awaited, but Edson’s Ridge and the Raiders hold a special place among leathernecks of all generations, according to Beth Crumley, a historian with the U.S. Marine Corps History Division.

“Anybody who has taken an interest in the history of the corps, they’re going to know the story about Edson and they’re going to know about the Raiders and know about the Battle of Edson’s Ridge,” she said.

After the Raiders’ next campaign on the island of New Georgia in the summer of 1943, Addison and West were sent back to the U.S. Addison was attending college as part of an officers program, and West was in Guam preparing for the invasion of Japan when the war ended.

They went their separate ways and didn’t get reacquainted until the early 1960s, when Addison moved to Glens Falls to become athletic director at a new community college. He ran into West at a Sears store where West was working, and they’ve remained close friends ever since.

“They were America’s first elite force unit and showed future units like the U.S. Army Special Forces what could be done with a handful of determined, well-trained, well-armed troops against a determined enemy,” said Robert A. Buerlein, co-author of “Our Kind of War: Illustrated Saga of the U.S. Marine Raiders of World War II.

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/2-ny-vets-edsons-raiders-recall-wwii-battles

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Gerry West and Bob Addison, U.S. Marine “Edson’s Raiders” World War II veterans, honored in Albany

By Betty Little
Posted by Betty Little on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Gerry West and Bob Addison, World War II veterans who served in the same elite U.S. Marines unit and have remained lifelong friends, were inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Albany today.

Gerry West and Bob Addison, World War II veterans who served in the same elite U.S. Marines unit and have remained lifelong friends, were inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Albany today.

Senator Betty Little nominated Addison of Glens Falls and West of Fort Edward.

“These two soldiers were among the first Americans to engage the Japanese in combat less than a year after Pearl Harbor,” said Senator Little.  “They were specially selected and trained to serve in the First Marine Raider Battalion, called Edson’s Raiders, and fought in critical and victorious battles on Guadalcanal.

“After the war, they returned home, started families and careers, but never lost touch and remained lifelong friends.  They are among the few remaining Edson’s Raiders and their bond is unique.  It was a wonderful honor for me to have them here today, along with their family and friends, to share their story and see them receive this well-deserved recognition.”

West and Addison were suggested to Senator Little by Hudson Falls history teacher Matthew Rozell.  Rozell is in the process of writing a series of articles on World War II, based on class archives of interviews, for the Washington County Historical Society Journal.  The following are excerpts from a part of the series entitled “Recording the Voices of World War II – From Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay”:

On September 14th, 1942, first light at Guadalcanal revealed over a thousand Japanese dead on the ridge.  Outnumbered five to one, for two nights the Raiders held on against Japanese shelling by sea and Imperial troops, and the battle became legendary in Marine Corps history.

            West recalls: “Most of us just refer to it as Bloody Ridge.  We had 50% casualties that night…two men in our battalion received the Congressional Medal of Honor and there were thirteen Navy Crosses awarded to men in our battalion just for that one battle, which is unheard of.”

            Suppressed from the public at the time, more than 7,000 U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors would die in the six month Guadalcanal campaign.  Japanese losses were much higher.

            Bob Addison: “They called it Hell Island, the Japanese, because they had to live out in the jungles…They had lost over 26,000 men.”

            Only a handful of the original Marine Raiders are left.  Addison and West survived to return home, marry, and raise children.  Seventy one years later, their friendship endures.

The New York State Veterans’ Hall of Fame was created to honor and recognize outstanding veterans from the Empire State who have distinguished themselves both in military and civilian life.  The Hall of Fame can be accessed online at www.nysenate.gov/honoring-our-veterans .

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By OMAR RICARDO AQUIJE- Glens Falls Post Star

HUDSON FALLS —Fred Spiegel was asked if he felt resentment toward the Nazis.

“Yes, to the Nazis, but not the Germans,” Spiegel said.

The question came from a student at Hudson Falls High School, at which Spiegel was invited Friday to discuss his life during the Holocaust.

On April 13, 1945, a train traveled across Germany, carrying 2,500 Jews en route to a concentration camp.

Spiegel was among them. He was 13.

Holocaust survivor Fred Spiegel sells and autographs copies of his book, "Once the Acacias Bloomed," for students at Hudson Falls High School on Friday, May 24. Spiegel, who was liberated by U.S. troops as a young boy during World War II, spoke about his experiences and answered students' questions. (Jason McKibben -

Holocaust survivor Fred Spiegel sells and autographs copies of his book, “Once the Acacias Bloomed,” for students at Hudson Falls High School on Friday, May 24. Spiegel, who was liberated by U.S. troops as a young boy during World War II, spoke about his experiences and answered students’ questions. (Jason McKibben –

Spiegel, 81, visits schools to talk about how he survived. He brings copies of his book, “Once The Acacias Bloomed,” which explains his life as a Nazi prisoner.

Most of the schools he visits are in New Jersey, where he lives. The farthest he travels is Hudson Falls, a school he visited a few times in recent years, a school he included in his book because it was here an important moment in his life occurred.

“They invited me,” Spiegel said of his reason for returning to Hudson Falls. “How can I say no?”

During Friday’s presentation, Spiegel often said he was lucky to be alive.

Other trains carrying Jewish prisoners made it to their destination. His did not.

His train suddenly stopped near Magdeburg. Spiegel said the train’s engineer and Nazi soldiers fled for fear of capture. U.S. troops was cutting across Germany.

Then, a few U.S. soldiers on tanks found the train and freed the captives. The soldiers included Carroll Walsh, of the 743rd Tank Battalion.

Spiegel was later reunited with his family. It was 65 years later when the unexpected happened: He was invited to Hudson Falls to meet others who were prisoners on the train.

He also got to meet some of the liberators, including Walsh, who was living in Hudson Falls at the time.

Matt Rozell, a Hudson Falls history teacher, organized the reunion. He met Walsh in 2001. He interviewed the former soldier, and learned about the train near Magdeburg.

Walsh died in December. He was 91 and a former state judge.

Spiegel, a native of Germany, said people have shown more interest in the Holocaust over the years.

During Friday’s visit to Hudson Falls, he spoke to about 30 sophomores. Some of them had copies of Spiegel’s book. Others bought the book after the presentation.

Armand Ryther, a student, approached Spiegel to shake his hand.

“I find it very interesting that he could survive what he did,” Ryther said.

Ryther said he read Spiegel’s book.

Jamie Hughes, a fellow sophomore, said it was interesting to hear about Spiegel’s experiences.

“I think it’s really amazing that he would want to share his experiences with everybody,” she said.

Tara Sano, a Hudson Falls history teacher, said the event was planned near Memorial Day so students can reflect on the efforts of veterans.

“My hope is that when you are taking your three-day weekend, you think about why you have a three-day weekend,” she told students at the start of the presentation.

http://poststar.com/news/local/article_00a9219c-c648-11e2-ae69-001a4bcf887a.html

See Fred meet his liberator for the first time.

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Gerald West
Born: 1919
Served: U.S. Marines 1940-1957
U.S. Army 1957-1962
Residence: Fort Edward, New York
Nominated by Matthew Rozell, History teacher

Robert Addison
Born: 1922
Served: U.S. Marines 1942-1946; 1950-51
Residence: Glens Falls, New York
Nominated by Matthew Rozell, History teacher

Photo Credit: Robert H. Miller Gerry West and Bob Addison, Spring, 2011.

Photo Credit: Robert H. Miller
Gerry West and Bob Addison, Spring, 2011.

On May 21, 2013, local World War II veterans Gerald West and Robert Addison will be honored in a ceremony for the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame. They were nominated by Senator Betty Little at the suggestion of Hudson Falls history teacher Matthew Rozell, whose students had interviewed these men several times.

Mr. Rozell is in the process of writing a series of articles on World War II for the Washington County Historical Society Journal utilizing the class archives of interviews. The following narrative is condensed from the upcoming Fall release of the Journal, which will publish Part II  (of 4) in the Pacific series entitled “Recording the Voices of World War II-From Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay.”

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 In this installment of an ongoing series, my students and I have pieced together narrative voices of local residents and their friends that show the enthusiasm for the war effort.  Maybe more importantly, their recollections amplify other points essential to an understanding of World War II, but often overlooked.  In the study of this war, we are tempted to both teach and learn the history as if the way things turned out was somehow preordained − as if, from the outset, it was a foregone conclusion the Allies would win the war.  Because we know how events turned out, we read the history with a sense of inevitability (as several historians have pointed out[1]).  Nothing could be further from the truth.

By talking to persons who lived through these troubled times, my students and I gained insight into the urgent, uncertain, confused way many events actually unfolded.   We confronted particularly – through the stories of local men and women − the nation’s unpreparedness in the first years of the Pacific War, beginning with the initial limited response to the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Guam, and the Philippines.  While military planners in Washington debated, numbers of local men would fight to survive in vicious jungle fighting.  Indeed, it was the incredible actions of these men, against overwhelming odds, which would shape events and force policymakers in Washington, D. C., to take notice.

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 Six months after Pearl Harbor, American naval forces won a decisive engagement at the Battle of Midway (June 4−7, 1942) At this time, advance elements of General Alexander Vandegrift’s 1st Marine Division were gathering in New Zealand, with no American offensive action planned until early 1943.  However, soon after Midway, intelligence showed a Japanese air base under construction at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.  If finished, the Japanese noose encircling Australia would be complete and any Allied counteroffensive very difficult.  A U. S. amphibious landing was needed immediately, and on a scale not attempted since the World War I Allied debacle at Gallipoli (1915) − and with much less time to plan.  “I could not believe it,” General Vandegrift would later say of this plan.[2]

Vandegrift had within his command a special unit, under formation only since February 1942, the “1st Marine Raider Battalion,” which would play a key role in the ultimate U. S. success at Guadalcanal.  Schooled by veterans of Marine operations of the 1920s and 1930s in Central America and China, 900 specially selected young men formed a lightly-armed, mobile commando unit able to operate in sub-equatorial jungle − the vanguard for larger troop landings to follow.  Named “Edson’s Raiders” after their Colonel “Red Mike” Edson, the unit would earn combat honors unparalleled in Marine Corps history[3] in 18 weeks of violent engagements at Guadalcanal.

Of the 900 original Raiders, two local veterans interviewed by our class belonged to this elite group and currently reside in  Senator Little’s 45th Senate District.

Gerry West (R) shown training with Marine Gunner Angus H. Goss(L). When Japanese holed up in caves, the demolition platoon attached TNT charges to ends of poles and fashioned the techniques needed to root out the remaining defenders on the island of Tulagi in the first American ground offensive against Japanese troops in WW II. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 55268

Gerry West (R) shown training with Marine Gunner Angus H. Goss (L). When Japanese holed up in caves, the demolition platoon attached TNT charges to ends of poles and fashioned the techniques needed to root out the remaining defenders on the island of Tulagi in the first American ground offensive against Japanese troops in WW II. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 55268

Gerry West grew up in Fort Anne, and like many other during the Depression, decided to enlist in the Marine Corps following high school, and would remain in the military until 1962. In fact, he was already a Marine when he heard the news of Pearl Harbor. “I’ll never forget it. I was sitting in a barracks in Quantico, Virginia. I had the duty that weekend, and there were about ten of us there listening to the Washington Redskins football game which had just started…and something like 1:05 they broke in with the announcement saying that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.” Robert Addison of Glens Falls, originally from Ohio, spent 29 years as Athletic Director of Adirondack Community College.  He also recalls the day: “The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on my nineteenth birthday. A month later I found myself in the Marine Corps in a time compressed boot camp…When I was just about ready to finish boot camp, they were filling up and forming this Raider battalion.”

Addison made the cut and was interviewed by a Marine captain who told him the Raiders would be the cream of the Marine Corps, but also warned their mission would likely be “first in and last out.”[4]  Addison accepted the challenge and was assigned to a mortar squad in the fledgling Raiders.  More training followed.  Some days they marched, fully equipped, dozens of miles in the day, only to turn around and re-navigate the same terrain, in the dark, through swamps and across rivers.

Bob Addison: “When we got into the Raider Battalion, then we really got into the force.  On a Saturday morning, we would go on a 22-mile, full-pack, forced march − you know, in the morning − and then they give us liberty in the afternoon . . . And Edson was known for getting people in good physical condition.  He was the type of guy you would follow him anyplace, because what he would do when we were on these forced marches, he would stop and watch everybody go by, and he would walkie-talkie [to the head of the column], and they would hold up, and he would start [jogging past the men] double-time up [to the head of the column] . . .  When we came in, at the barracks, he would stand there and watch every man go by and give compliments to us − you know, “good job, good job.” That’s the type of leader he was.  Everybody practically worshipped him.  He was quite a leader.”[5]

The Raiders embarked on a cross-country train journey and were then, for two weeks, carried by reconverted World War I destroyers across the South Pacific to Samoa. There, in conditions of hot, muggy weather and frequent rain, training continued with cross-country hikes in a mountain terrain of steep ridges and slippery trails, often at night.  Sometimes pushed from 5:00 A. M. until 10:00 or 12:00 P. M., the men survived on skimpy rations, while also completing a training schedule that included practice landings in inflatable boats, Judo, bayonet combat, first aid, stalking, and demolition.[6]

Eight months after Pearl Harbor to the day, the Marines landed in combat. To secure Guadalcanal, the Raiders were assigned to take the neighboring island of Tulagi, where they would be up against the best of the Japanese combat forces, the Rikusentai  or Japanese “Special Naval Landing Forces.”  Coming in on Higgins Boats in the morning hours of August 7, 1942, the Raiders would clash for three days in vicious fighting, encountering hitherto-unknown Japanese cave bunkers plus their enemies’ sniper actions, night-fighting, and willingness to fight to the death.  The Raiders then conducted raids on Japanese camps on Guadalcanal, as enemy forces ere being reinforced at night, every night, while the US Navy left the scene.

From Addison scrapbook. Bob is at far left. ((Derek Pruitt/Post Star.)

From Addison scrapbook. Bob is at far left. ((Derek Pruitt/Post Star.)

Addison was trained as a mortar man and West was a demotions expert and tapped as a machine-gunner in the critical battles at Guadalcanal, where the Japanese were developing an airfield to support their attack on Australia. The Marines captured the airfield and the Raiders pulled back to high ground overlooking it to defend it. If the Ridge fell, Guadalcanal would fall; and if the ‘Canal fell, Australia might be next. A vicious battle for the high ground would ensue.

West recalls: “They did not get through us, if they had gotten through, they would’ve had the airstrip back. Most of us just refer to it as Bloody Ridge. We had 50% casualties that night…”

On September 14th, 1942, first light at Guadalcanal revealed over a thousand Japanese dead on the ridge.  Outnumbered five to one, for two nights the Raiders held on against Japanese shelling by sea and Imperial troops, and the battle has become legendary in Marine Corps history.

Battle of Edson's Ridge Painting by USMC artist who was at Guadalcanal.

Battle of Edson’s Ridge Painting by USMC artist who was at Guadalcanal.

West continues: “It was probably the decisive battle of the whole campaign. In the Battle of Bloody Ridge, just to give you an idea, two men in our battalion received the Congressional Medal of Honor and there were thirteen Navy Crosses awarded to men in our battalion just for that one battle, which is unheard of.”

Suppressed from the public at the time, more than 7000 U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors would die in the six month Guadalcanal campaign. Japanese losses were much higher. By the time the last starving and dispirited Japanese troops left in Feb. 1943, further Japanese expansion into the South Pacific was halted.

Bob Addison: “They called it Hell Island, the Japanese, because they had to live out in the jungles… They had lost over 26,000 men. A lot of them died of starvation and diseases… When they left, they left 26,000 behind.”

Only a handful of the original Marine Raiders are left. Addison and West survived to return home, marry, and raise children. Seventy one years later, their friendship endures.

Condensed from the forthcoming Washington County Historical Society Journal.

The Washington County Historical Society Journal is an annual 96 page print publication of the WCHS. The Journal seeks to publish new research into any aspect of the County’s history, and this includes reminiscences and interesting unpublished source materials. All members of the WCHS receive it; for membership information, please visit their website at www.wchs-ny.org.

For more information contact Mr. Rozell at his website, http://teachinghistorymatters.com


[1] William Manchester, Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War (Boston: Little Brown, 1987) p. 167.

[2] Geoffrey C. Ward & Ken Burns, The War: An Intimate History (NYC: Knopf, 2007) pp. 47−49.

[3] Among them, 24 U. S. Navy ships would be named in honor of individual members of the Battalion before the war was over.  See Col. Joseph H. Alexander, Edson’s Raiders: The First Marine Raider Battalion in World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000) p. 49.

[4] Alexander, op.cit., p. 32.

[5] Merritt “Red Mike” Edson was born just over the border from Washington Co. in Rutland, VT, in 1897. Retiring as a USMC Brigadier General, he returned to Vermont and became the first Commissioner of the Vermont State Police.

[6] Alexander, pp. 60−63.

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From YNN News…

Bob and Jerry 5-21-13. YNN News, Albany, NY

Bob and Jerry 5-21-13. YNN News, Albany, NY

ALBANY, N.Y. — The souls who carry heavy memories from war were thanked in Albany on Tuesday for bearing the burden of our freedom.

World War II Veteran and Newburgh resident Warren Craig described, “We got hit 57 times. And I ended up jumping into the ocean at 12 o’clock at night, swimming with the sharks and the enemy.”

Craig enlisted when he was 17-years-old.

Fifty-four men and women have been added to the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame for what they’ve done and kept doing over the years.

Senator Greg Ball explained, “Their heart never took the uniform off. And they continue to serve for the rest of their life.”

These men and women’s lives would then never be the same. Among them are Capt. Gerry West and Sgt. Robert Addison, who both served in the United States Marine Corp. during World War II. The two were part of the Edson’s Raiders, the original 900 members of a commando unit, and survived the battles of the Pacific Theater after Pearl Harbor.

“The bloody ridge on Guadalcanal. We were both there. It brings back a lot of memories,” said Addison, who now lives in Glens Falls.

West said, “The bad battles, like Bloody Ridge. You never forget something like that. We still talk about it and things we never forget.”

West resides in Fort Edward now.

“We’ve known each other for 71 years. Since February of ’42, so what would that be? 71 years,” he confirmed.

Now neighbors in the North Country, the two Edson’s Raiders are still right by each others’ side.

“Well, I just live down the road from him, so we’ve kept in touch all the time,” said Addison.

These legacies are once again being remembered and passed onto the younger generation.

“I grab a hold of fellas that don’t know what to do and take them with me, to get them started,” said Craig. “There’s so much opportunity out there.”

Troy native Daniel Honsinger, a veteran of the Vietnam War, said, “God bless America, that’s all.”

For more information on the Veterans’ Hall of Fame, visit www.nysenate.gov .

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Two Toronto Holocaust survivors meet their liberators 65 years later
Two survivors of a death train out of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp finally link up with American soldiers who freed them in 1945.

A WWII-era booklet still possessed by Leslie Meisels documents his liberation as a young boy from a train destined for a death camp. Meisels, who eventually ended in Toronto, met a few of the surviving soldiers who freed him and 2,500 prisoners on the train.

A WWII-era booklet still possessed by Leslie Meisels documents his liberation as a young boy from a train destined for a death camp. Meisels, who eventually ended in Toronto, met a few of the surviving soldiers who freed him and 2,500 prisoners on the train.

Leslie Meisels is 86.

Leslie Meisels turned 68 last month.

Every April, since he was 18, Meisels has celebrated his rebirth. Sixty-eight years ago he was on the cusp of death, packed into a cattle car in a freight train with some 2,500 other skeletal Jewish prisoners. He weighed only 75 pounds.

Then a miracle. That train, which had set off from a concentration camp, was liberated by 12 shocked American soldiers in two tanks and an army jeep near Farsleben, Germany.

Up until then, the American GIs had assumed the gruesome stories they had heard about German death camps were just Allied propaganda devised to make them fight harder. But as they unlocked the boxcar doors, they witnessed humanity’s true capacity for evil.

They called it the death train. For Meisels, it was a train of life.

This past week marked the 68th anniversary of V-E Day, the end of the Second World War in Europe. It’s a good moment to tell the story of that train from Bergen-Belsen.

I heard about it last month in an email from a history teacher in upstate New York. He put me in touch with Meisels and Paul Arato: two Holocaust survivors from Hungary who in 1956 escaped their homeland, by then under Communist rule, and settled in North York.

Their stories are remarkably parallel. They grew up in nearby towns in eastern Hungary, they were both imprisoned by the Nazis in 1944, and they were sent first to Austrian farms as slave labourers and then to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany.

Have you ever seen the horrifying Holocaust photos of dead, naked bodies being pushed by a bulldozer into open pits? That was Bergen-Belsen. Some 70,000 people were murdered there, including Anne Frank. They weren’t killed in gas chambers, like at Auschwitz. Instead the Nazis used starvation, sadism and disease here.

Meisels remembers mostly the hunger. They were given only watery turnip soup and a piece of bread each day. In four months, he lost 100 pounds.

Arato, just 6 then, remembers the rattling cold and twice-daily roll calls that often lasted hours. He and his older brother Oscar had to hold their mother upright, she was so weak from typhus. One day a boy in their line smiled because it was his birthday. As his “present,” an SS guard shot him dead. It was Oscar’s birthday the next day.

The horror is ungraspable.

By April 1945, the Nazis were retreating as both the Allied and Soviet armies advanced. One morning, both Meisels and Arato were awakened by guards and told to march. “We dragged our bodies over five kilometres,” says Meisels, “back to the train.”

Trains in Nazi Germany usually led to death. This one was no different. It was destined for another concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, but the guards also had orders to execute passengers. Meisels remembers one afternoon when all males 12 and older were ordered out of the packed boxcars and lined up in front of machine guns. They stood there two hours before being herded back into the putrid cars.

Over six days, the train progressed only 135 kilometres.

Arato remembers peering through between the wooden boxcar slats and seeing the SS guards drop their weapons and start running. Then he glimpsed a tank with a star on it.

The door slid open shortly and they were greeted by stunned American soldiers.

“It was hard for us to believe what we were actually seeing,” says one of those soldiers, Frank Towers, on the phone from Brooker, Fla. “We weren’t prepared for it. We were there to fight a war. We weren’t humanitarians. We didn’t know what to do.”

Says Meisels: “We cried, ‘Oh God, we are going to be free. We are going to be human beings again.’ ”

Towers, who was serving in the 30th Infantry Division, spent a day those taken off the train to convalescence homes and a hospital nearby before he had to push on with his battalion.

Meisels and Arato spent five months recovering in Germany before they could finally return to Hungary to search for the rest of their families. Eleven years later, they escaped Hungary and started their lives for a second time: getting married, building careers, having children, then grandchildren. Decades went by.

Then, a few years ago, their paths crossed at a business meeting. Arato, since retired, was an industrial designer. Meisels ran a family company making plastic moulds. At the end of the meeting, the topic of the Holocaust was raised. They discovered, to their shock, they had both been on that train from Bergen-Belsen.

Around the same time, that high school history teacher in New York named Matt Rozell stumbled upon the story.

To bring Second World War history alive, he’d instructed his Grade 10 students to interview their grandparents about the war. One summer, he visited one of his students’ grandfather: Carrol Walsh, a veteran turned New York State Supreme Court judge.

“After two hours, when the interview was ending, his daughter elbowed him and told him to tell me about the train,” Rozell says.

He learned Walsh had been in one of those tanks that chased away the SS soldiers and liberated the train.

Rozell posted the story on his website, Teaching History Matters, and a few years later a survivor from that train contacted him from Australia. Since then, 240 more have been located.

In 2007, Rozell hosted his first symposium on the train, bringing together survivors and liberators. Arato’s son came across a story about the reunion on the Internet by chance.

Arato told Meisels about it, and two years later they both traveled down to Hudson Falls, N.Y., for the second symposium. There they met Walsh and Towers.

That moment was a second liberation for Arato, now 74.

“A blanket was pulled from me,” he says. “I was always very lonesome. I didn’t share my stories with anybody. I grew up and spent all my years being angry. This meant I don’t have to be angry anymore.”

His wife, Rona, has just published a book about his story called The Last Train: A Holocaust Story.

Meisels visits schools around Toronto to speak about the Holocaust every week.

His message? “Hatred is something we have to fight against. When you hear a derogatory comment, say out loud that it is not right. When you are silent, you are not neutral. You are supporting the oppressor.”

He and Towers went to Washington, D.C. last month to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Holocaust Museum there. Towers, now 96, is the last living U.S. veteran who liberated that train. Walsh died last December.

“We hugged,” Meisels says. “Whenever we are together, I am so overwhelmed by gratitude and joy.”

Truth can be more horrifying and wonderful than fiction. Every life is precious.

CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY OF ANOTHER TORONTO RESIDENT WHO FOUND HERSELF IN THE 1945 PHOTOGRAPHS

 

by Catherine Porter 

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/05/10/two_toronto_holocaust_survivors_meet_their_liberators_65_years_later_porter.html

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I don’t know Leo but when I saw the headline I thought they were writing about my friends on this site. God Bless, Mr. Hymas.
By Julie Muhlstein, Herald Columnist

Students crowded around the speaker as his talk ended at Everett Community College. They lingered, asking if they could take pictures and posing with him to capture the moment.tudents crowded around the speaker as his talk ended at Everett Community College. They lingered, asking if they could take pictures and posing with him to capture the moment.

Leo Hymas is no hip-hop artist or reality TV star. At 87, the U.S. Army veteran is a keeper of history and a bearer of truth.

“Those who say it didn’t happen are wrong,” said Hymas, who spoke Wednesday as part of the college’s Holocaust Survivor Forums.

He lives on Whidbey Island with his wife, Amy, and is a speaker with the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center.

His audience was rapt, hanging on every word, as Hymas shared memories with Joyce Walker’s Humanities 150D class. This is the 14th year Walker has presented the Holocaust series, which is open to the public. Most speakers have been Holocaust survivors, or lost ancestors during Nazi Germany’s systematic murder of 6 million Jews.

Hymas is not Jewish. His Holocaust story is from the point of view of an American soldier during World War II, a 19-year-old fresh off his family’s Utah dairy farm.

He was with the 97th Infantry Division, H Company, part of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army. In the spring of 1945, they marched through a nearly defeated Germany. “We fought our way across Germany, village to village — sometimes man to man,” Hymas said.

They were preparing to attack Weimar, a picturesque German town, when they came upon a wire enclosure. Hymas recalls the fence, topped by barbed wire mounted on electric insulators. There was a brick building with a tall chimney, and a guard tower. The guards were gone.

The place was Buchenwald, a concentration camp near Weimar. What the liberation forces found there is seared in Hymas’ memory.

“I have seen hundreds and hundreds of naked, rotting bodies stacked like cord wood,” he said. “The smell, I cannot describe. It was burning human flesh.”

There was no fighting. “Suddenly, our fighting force became a humanitarian force,” Hymas said. “You’ve seen the pictures. The people were so emaciated, just skin and bones.

“An order came to touch nothing, but help if you can,” he said. Three generals came to the death camp with their staffs — Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and Patton. Hymas said troops had nicknamed Patton “Old Blood and Guts — his guts, our blood.”

From camp survivors, Hymas heard horror stories of torture, of subsisting on a half-cup of turnip soup mixed with sawdust each day, and of dogs trained to go for the throat.

The Allied forces made townspeople from Weimar carry bodies from the camp to a common grave. “They told us, ‘I’m not a Nazi,'” Hymas said.

Kathleen Bergin is the speakers bureau coordinator for the Seattle-based Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center. While most speakers are Jewish, she said, “Leo offers another perspective. He is one of our most prolific speakers.”

He also is among a dwindling number of people still alive to tell what they saw of the Holocaust firsthand.

“The survivors are elderly, and the liberators tend to be even more so,” Bergin said. “We do have videotaped accounts, but a big part of Holocaust education is preparing for when there aren’t survivors. We have to make this real to kids. When there’s not proof of it standing right in front of them, it’s a challenge.”

Hymas was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for valor. He said he helped capture 91 Germans, “most sent to Nuremberg for war crimes.”

Near the end of his talk, he asked for volunteers. Audience members Terry Myer and Cory Palmieri came forward. First, they held up a Nazi banner, bright red with a huge swastika on it.

“It’s a symbol of the worst evil we have record of,” Hymas said, then asked the volunteers to “wad it up and throw it on the floor.” They then held up a 48-star American flag, “the flag I fought for, and my dear friends died for,” Hymas said. “I hope you love and respect it.”

Retired from an aerospace industry career, he makes time to tell as many people as he can about what hate can do.

“I know what I saw. I am a witness. Now that I have told you, you are witnesses, too,” he told the students. “I’m hoping to influence people like you, so that it can never, ever happen again.”

http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20130510/NEWS01/705109903/1056/comm0615

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In 1986 I traveled to the Soviet Union with a group of teachers. I was pre-service, but wanted the experience of traveling to Russia.
We flew into Moscow, toured a few days, then took the night train to Leningrad. It was April, it was beautiful. People were in a festive mood on the tour bus.
Then they took us to Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, just outside the city. Mournful music blared from garish loudspeakers.  Conversation ceased. We realized that here lay more people lost in one city’s siege than in all of America’s war dead. In one city. Mass graves. Mostly civilians. Nearly half a million. But just a fraction of Soviet war dead. During the Cold war, our official state tour guides insisted that we see this. I am grateful that they did. Eyes were opened.  Inscribed there in rock:
Here lie Leningraders
Here are citydwellers – men, women, and children
And next to them, Red Army soldiers.
They defended you, Leningrad,
The cradle of the Revolution
With all their lives.
We cannot list their noble names here,
There are so many of them under the eternal protection of granite.
But know this, those who regard these stones:No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.
So in the month of May, Remembrance Month in my eyes.

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Someone recently, I think it was a journalist, exhibited a sense of wonderment about my project, the one where my interviews with World War II veterans led to the unification of them with the hundreds of Holocaust survivors whom they saved. He was excited and mentioned that it was my “obsession” with this story that led to so many reunions and magical events with liberators and survivors, and the children and grandchildren.

That gave me pause.

I do spend a lot of time working on this project. It’s my baby, after all. And yes, I’ve taken tons of risks to bring it to the public and the students at large. When these large conferences are being planned, profuse amounts of bullets are sweated. Once I’ve inked the contracts, will the guests come? What if no one shows up? Will my guests get along, will they stay healthy while they are here? Will the teenagers behave with these older people, be respectful? Thank goodness for my support network, especially Tara, Mary, and Lisa, my fellow teachers, and not in the least my family. I tore a lot of hair out.

Merriam’s defines obsession as “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly : compelling motivation <an obsession with profits>”.

I’ll admit to preoccupation: “the absorption of the attention or intellect; something that preoccupies or engrosses the mind: “<Money was their chief preoccupation>”. Though I can’t say it is about money. I don’t have any on hand to speak of as a result, but that is not the point.

I’ll admit to compelling motivation, but again, I don’t think it is over profits, unless we decide to discuss how my own life has been enriched by witnessing the enriching of others’ lives. It is safe to say that I have profited emotionally. It is also gratifying to see the reactions of the students and the deeper understanding that they seem to internalize as they become the new witnesses.

But not obsession. Obsession channels unhealthiness. Especially when you are dealing with the Holocaust.

The fact is that once it is apparent that an unopened door is in front of you, you can decide to turn the knob, or not. When you are exploring an old house, you can wonder what lay behind that door, or not. You enter a new room, and sometimes there are new doors to open. Then you begin to connect the dots, as all these streams of information begin to blend into a larger stream of new understanding. You are excited, because no one   has charted these streams to the headwaters of understanding in quite this way. There have been similar journeys but no one has actually been here before.

You begin to see things with a clarity that might even approach the sensation of an out-of-body experience. The events of nearly 70 years ago are unfolding in my head, now, in real time.

Sometimes you get lost. As you become immersed in your own new stream of consciousness, the outside world takes a back seat. You are not really lost, but you have to keep the “real world” at arm’s length while you work out the path. This can be exceedingly difficult and might explain why it is 0230 as I write this.

I guess being labeled obsessive bugs me a little bit. “Passionately curious” is good. A teacher’s dream is to encounter the “passionately curious” student. I’ve been blessed with a few in my career.

Maybe if you are a parent you want a teacher who is still curious about the subject they teach as well.

But not obsessed.

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