Archive for November, 2013

Great article and congrats to the lovely ladies, the promise of the future…. And regardless about how some may feel about teachers, or why they enter the field, I’ll stand by my words, below. My school, the State University of New York at Geneseo, contacted me for the closing comments. An honor.

And a calling.

Author James Patterson Creates Scholarship Program at SUNY Geneseo to Promote Literacy

Patterson Scholarship

Author James Patterson sent autographed copies of his latest children’s novel, “Treasure Hunters,” to the eight SUNY Geneseo students awarded James Patterson Teacher Education Scholarships this year, pictured here with the dean of the Ella Cline Shear School of Education. Front row (l to r): Marissa Liberati; Jessica Stoneham; Melissa Bellonte; and Kelsey Horan. Back row (l to r): Hannah Pettengill; Kristen Bondi; Dean Anjoo Sikka; Haley Hilgenberg; and Ashley Hark.

GENESEO, N.Y. – Best-selling author James Patterson has created a scholarship program at SUNY Geneseo’s Ella Cline Shear School of Education to support aspiring teachers in promoting the importance of literacy in education.

This year, eight graduate students earning a master’s degree in literacy received a $6,000 James Patterson Teacher Education Scholarship. Next year, the Patterson Family Foundation will award the scholarships to full-time incoming freshmen intending to seek teacher certification, with the possibility of renewal through graduation.

“I’ve been looking to bring these scholarships to more schools, and after studying a number of institutions and programs, I found Geneseo to be a great addition,” said Patterson, a highly popular mystery writer who also has written books for young readers. “My passion is to get more and more kids excited about reading, and training the next generation of great teachers is essential to that mission.”

All of the Geneseo scholarship recipients this year are from New York: Melissa Bellonte (Avon); Kristen Bondi (Dansville); Ashley Hark (Dalton); Hayley Hilgenberg (Falconer); Kelsey Horan (Endicott); Marissa Liberati (Manchester); Hannah Pettengill (Bloomfield); and Jessica Stoneham (Corfu). Hark, Hilgenberg, Horan, Liberati and Stoneham received their undergraduate degrees at Geneseo.

Patterson sent each scholarship recipient an autographed copy of his latest children’s novel, “Treasure Hunters,” and included a personalized note, stating that he was “thrilled that future teachers like you will help instill a lifelong love of reading in children.”

“We are very honored that James Patterson has included Geneseo in his literacy initiative,” said Anjoo Sikka, dean of the School of Education. “Exciting kids about books and reading is crucial to their success as readers, thinkers and keen observers and, ultimately, to become self-actualized and effective participants in our society. The scholarships will help us attract talented students with the kind of passion that drives Mr. Patterson. I sincerely commend him for his vision and am grateful for his contribution to the preparation of literacy teachers at SUNY Geneseo.”

Geneseo’s Patterson Scholarship recipients were selected on the basis of academic performance and an essay describing how they would apply what they have learned to help children develop a lifelong passion for reading. Applications were reviewed by a committee of faculty led by Susan Salmon, assistant professor and coordinator of graduate programs in the School of Education.

“Reading comes first,” said Liberati, who excelled both in and out of the classroom during her undergraduate years as a Geneseo student-athlete. “It is the compass by which we explore and map all other literacies – digital or not – and only by reading can we and our students become and continue to be lifelong learners.”

Liberati earned All-American honors in cross country and track and field. She also was on the NCAA Division III All-Academic Team in cross country in both 2009 and 2010.

“This scholarship is so much more than money to help me pay for my education,” said Hilgenberg, who completed her student teaching in Ghana, West Africa. “It shows that someone is rewarding my hard work and believing in my potential. It’s one of the greatest acts of kindness.”

Other recipients expressed similar sentiments about the power such scholarships have as a catalyst for success.

“As a future educator, I believe that it is not only my job to teach students how to read and write; it is my responsibility to teach them to love to read and write,” said Pettengill. “By opening a book, you can go on an adventure. Those small letters on the page take you to places you’ve never been and give you experiences you’ve never had.”

Patterson is among the most successful authors in history. He is the first to achieve 10 million ebook sales and has had more books ranked first on The New York Times best-seller list than any other author. He also is the current best-selling author in the young-adult and middle-grade categories and promotes reading through his website ReadKiddoRead.com.

SUNY Geneseo is firmly rooted in education, opening in 1871 as the Geneseo Normal and Training School. In 1948, the Geneseo Normal and Training School became a part of the State University of New York. The teachers colleges of SUNY became Colleges of Arts and Sciences in 1962, and two years later, Geneseo’s four-year degree programs in arts and sciences were implemented. SUNY Geneseo’s Department of Education was reorganized as a School of Education in 1992.

The School of Education today has 25 full-time and five part-time faculty members, who are preparing more than 700 students to be teachers. The school offers undergraduate programs leading to initial teacher certification in Early Childhood and Childhood, Childhood, Childhood with Special Education, and Adolescence Education. Graduate programs that could lead to professional certification are offered in Early Childhood and Childhood, Multicultural Childhood Education, Literacy (B-12) and Adolescence Education.

Among the school’s numerous success stories are the accomplishments of Geneseo alumnus Matthew A. Rozell, who teaches history at Hudson Falls (N.Y.) High School. He earned his master’s degree in education from Geneseo in 1988 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in history from the college. The Geneseo Alumni Association named Rozell Educator of the Year for 2013.

Rozell’s alumni educator award from Geneseo is among several honors he has earned during his career, including the prestigious National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution Mary S. Lockwood Medal for Education. The medal honors outstanding achievement through service and leadership in promoting education outside the formal educational process. He also has been recognized as a leader in World War II and Holocaust history through several projects he initiated that have received national attention.

“Entering the teaching profession in many ways is to answer a higher calling,” said Rozell. “The Patterson Teacher Education Scholarships increase the options for our best and brightest to enter the field of teaching and represent a commitment to continuing to produce the caliber of teachers that Geneseo is renowned for. There is no higher mission.”


Read Full Post »

I had dinner recently with some lovely people  were impressed by my work and filled with praise for the job I am doing with my students in preserving the past.

Near the end though, the conversation turned to some of the emigres after the war that these folks had known. One person insisted that the folks she knew who grew up in Germany during the war had had the “gun to their heads” if they did not join the Hitler Youth as children. “They had to do it, or they were dead.” And, by extrapolation, that Germans were forced at gunpoint to carry out the policies of the Third Reich.

I politely explained that that was most likely not the case, but in any event I was not at this gathering to pass judgment on their wartime behavior, especially if they were kids. But the myth persists, and I guess I kind of decided right then that I have to do more educational outreach on the topic. Why?

Because of what I saw this summer. Because I am realizing that I have been placed in a position to witness the testimony of what I have learned, and corroborated to be true. I guess I am coming to the realization that for a high school teacher I am pretty uniquely qualified, especially as the post survivor and post liberator soldier world dawns, to offer up first hand experiences with folks with whom I have shared a very special bond with.

Lots of teachers can count survivors who come to their classrooms as friends. But think of the bond when you are the person to actually introduce him, or her, to his or her actual liberators. The actual human being who freed them from physical captivity and probable death.

You tend to get close, and they tend to share- a lot- with you. Because they trust that you will preserve the word after they are gone. I guess the word is love. Not for their sake- but for the sake of humanity.

Like Levar Burton and his comments in the previous post, sometimes it’s just time to call bullshit.

March 1, 2013

The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking

THIRTEEN years ago, researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum began the grim task of documenting all the ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and killing factories that the Nazis set up throughout Europe.

What they have found so far has shocked even scholars steeped in the history of the Holocaust.

The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.

The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington.

“The numbers are so much higher than what we originally thought,” Hartmut Berghoff, director of the institute, said in an interview after learning of the new data.

“We knew before how horrible life in the camps and ghettos was,” he said, “but the numbers are unbelievable.”

The documented camps include not only “killing centers” but also thousands of forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named “care” centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel.

Auschwitz and a handful of other concentration camps have come to symbolize the Nazi killing machine in the public consciousness. Likewise, the Nazi system for imprisoning Jewish families in hometown ghettos has become associated with a single site — the Warsaw Ghetto, famous for the 1943 uprising. But these sites, infamous though they are, represent only a minuscule fraction of the entire German network, the new research makes painfully clear.

The maps the researchers have created to identify the camps and ghettos turn wide sections of wartime Europe into black clusters of death, torture and slavery — centered in Germany and Poland, but reaching in all directions.

The lead editors on the project, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites that they have identified as part of a multivolume encyclopedia. (The Holocaust museum has published the first two, with five more planned by 2025.)

The existence of many individual camps and ghettos was previously known only on a fragmented, region-by-region basis. But the researchers, using data from some 400 contributors, have been documenting the entire scale for the first time, studying where they were located, how they were run, and what their purpose was.

The brutal experience of Henry Greenbaum, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor who lives outside Washington, typifies the wide range of Nazi sites.

When Mr. Greenbaum, a volunteer at the Holocaust museum, tells visitors today about his wartime odyssey, listeners inevitably focus on his confinement of months at Auschwitz, the most notorious of all the camps.

But the images of the other camps where the Nazis imprisoned him are ingrained in his memory as deeply as the concentration camp number — A188991 — tattooed on his left forearm.

In an interview, he ticked off the locations in rapid fire, the details still vivid.

First came the Starachowice ghetto in his hometown in Poland, where the Germans herded his family and other local Jews in 1940, when he was just 12.

Next came a slave labor camp with six-foot-high fences outside the town, where he and a sister were moved while the rest of the family was sent to die at Treblinka. After his regular work shift at a factory, the Germans would force him and other prisoners to dig trenches that were used for dumping the bodies of victims. He was sent to Auschwitz, then removed to work at a chemical manufacturing plant in Poland known as Buna Monowitz, where he and some 50 other prisoners who had been held at the main camp at Auschwitz were taken to manufacture rubber and synthetic oil. And last was another slave labor camp at Flossenbürg, near the Czech border, where food was so scarce that the weight on his 5-foot-8-inch frame fell away to less than 100 pounds.

By the age of 17, Mr. Greenbaum had been enslaved in five camps in five years, and was on his way to a sixth, when American soldiers freed him in 1945. “Nobody even knows about these places,” Mr. Greenbaum said. “Everything should be documented. That’s very important. We try to tell the youngsters so that they know, and they’ll remember.”

The research could have legal implications as well by helping a small number of survivors document their continuing claims over unpaid insurance policies, looted property, seized land and other financial matters.

“HOW many claims have been rejected because the victims were in a camp that we didn’t even know about?” asked Sam Dubbin, a Florida lawyer who represents a group of survivors who are seeking to bring claims against European insurance companies.

Dr. Megargee, the lead researcher, said the project was changing the understanding among Holocaust scholars of how the camps and ghettos evolved.

As early as 1933, at the start of Hitler’s reign, the Third Reich established about 110 camps specifically designed to imprison some 10,000 political opponents and others, the researchers found. As Germany invaded and began occupying European neighbors, the use of camps and ghettos was expanded to confine and sometimes kill not only Jews but also homosexuals, Gypsies, Poles, Russians and many other ethnic groups in Eastern Europe. The camps and ghettos varied enormously in their mission, organization and size, depending on the Nazis’ needs, the researchers have found.

The biggest site identified is the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, which held about 500,000 people at its height. But as few as a dozen prisoners worked at one of the smallest camps, the München-Schwabing site in Germany. Small groups of prisoners were sent there from the Dachau concentration camp under armed guard. They were reportedly whipped and ordered to do manual labor at the home of a fervent Nazi patron known as “Sister Pia,” cleaning her house, tending her garden and even building children’s toys for her.

When the research began in 2000, Dr. Megargee said he expected to find perhaps 7,000 Nazi camps and ghettos, based on postwar estimates. But the numbers kept climbing — first to 11,500, then 20,000, then 30,000, and now 42,500.

The numbers astound: 30,000 slave labor camps; 1,150 Jewish ghettos; 980 concentration camps; 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps; 500 brothels filled with sex slaves; and thousands of other camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm, performing forced abortions, “Germanizing” prisoners or transporting victims to killing centers.

In Berlin alone, researchers have documented some 3,000 camps and so-called Jew houses, while Hamburg held 1,300 sites.

Dr. Dean, a co-researcher, said the findings left no doubt in his mind that many German citizens, despite the frequent claims of ignorance after the war, must have known about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps at the time.

“You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps,” he said. “They were everywhere.”

Eric Lichtblau is a reporter for The New York Times in Washington and a visiting fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.


Read Full Post »

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVEI have been thinking a lot lately about Solomon Northup and Twelve Years a Slave.

I always knew about him, as a kid I played and explored in the abandoned graveyard where his father is buried. He grew up on his family’s farm in Sandy Hill-today Hudson Falls- a couple stones throw’s away from my classroom, and roomed a few hundred feet in Fort Edward  from some of my greatest archaeological discoveries. All true. But until all the hype, can you believe that I had never read his book?

Fort Edward historian (and friend) Paul MCarty shows a damaged gravestone for Mintus Northup, father of Solomon Northup, who is buried in Fort Edward, on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. The Northups lived in the Fort Edward area for many years. A new feature film portrays the freed slave's story from free man to slave and back to a free man. (Derek Pruitt - dpruitt@poststar.com)

Fort Edward historian (and friend) Paul MCarty shows a damaged gravestone for Mintus Northup, father of Solomon Northup, who is buried in Fort Edward, on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. The Northups lived in the Fort Edward area for many years. A new feature film portrays the freed slave’s story from free man to slave and back to a free man. (Derek Pruitt – dpruitt@poststar.com)

So I searched it up, and discovered that it was a twelve year old girl in the 1920s who rediscovered this man and devoted the rest of her life to him, publishing a major work at age 88. It was her efforts that led to Solomon being re-discovered. I was so inspired that I wrote a speech on scholarship for our new National Honor Society members, borrowing heavily from her website.

My observations. Man’s capacity for evil never ceases to amaze….But also his capacity for goodness.

Read the book-his autobiography is just 99 cents. Get this version. For an additional 2 bucks Louis Gossett Jr will read it to you.

I saw the film 2 weeks after I completed the book. Overall thumbs up. No spoilers here, but the book has been verified. The film stays fairly true, though Henry Northup’s intense role in Solomon’s freedom maybe could have been spelled out clearer. Whether mainstream America gives crap is a fair question, but I’m fairly jacked up about it. Which means some students will be, too.


In the mid-1920s, a 12-year-old girl in central Louisiana reached upon the library shelf of a plantation home and discovered a dusty copy of the book that would determine her life’s path. The autobiography that the future historian Dr. Sue Eakin became fascinated with also reverberates with us today, thanks to her drive.
Most of you know by now the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who lived in this area and who was kidnapped in 1841 and spent twelve years in captivity in the Deep South. When he was rescued, his supporters urged him to write his narrative to help reveals the horrors of slavery in the United States. The book was an immediate sensation, and along with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, probably did much to hasten the coming of the American Civil War and the end of slavery. You may also know that Solomon’s father is buried in the Baker Cemetery in Hudson Falls. But did you know that his compelling narrative Twelve Years a Slave was essentially lost to history by the time of the early twentieth century, when it could not be located by libraries, stores or catalogs?

Sandy Hill. Today, Hudson Falls.

Sandy Hill. Today, Hudson Falls.

Growing up near the Louisiana plantation that Solomon was held at, Professor Eakin went on to write her master’s thesis about his story, and after decades of research, produced the first authenticated edition of the book in 1968. In 2007, at the age of 88, she completed her final definitive edition. Dr. Eakin also authored over a dozen other acclaimed history books and became an award-winning history professor, Hall of Fame journalist, civil rights leader and internationally recognized authority on antebellum plantation life.
After her passing at age 90 in 2009, her priceless historical archive was donated by her family to Louisiana State University. The Smithsonian Institute is creating a permanent exhibit featuring her Twelve Years a Slave research materials, and her family carries on her work.

In a sense, a twelve year old girl’s curiosity brought Twelve Years a Slave back to life, just as the American Civil Rights movement was dawning. May you too have the passion of the scholar, and cherish the importance of your vision and your work, and realize the impact that your actions may have on others.



Also a great recent interview from New York Magazine, with Levar Burton, the kid who got his break in Roots, back when I was in high school. I highlighted part of what he said. I think it relates to my philosophy on the teaching of the Holocaust as well.

You got your big break when you were cast in Roots as Kunta Kinte, a West African man who is captured and brought to America as a slave. During production, was there a sense that Roots was more than just a television mini-series?
You have to remember we’re looking back through the lens of a 19-year-old. I had never faced any of the challenges the veterans—the Cicely Tysons, the Lou ­Gossetts—had in terms of finding work. But what I was aware of was that all of the veterans thought that this material was special. All of them were very clear that telling the story of slavery in America through the eyes of the African had never been done before. It wasn’t Gone With the Wind. It wasn’t just glossing over the human costs. Roots wasn’t just art for art’s sake. It was art as a way of moving the ­culture forward.

And do you think Roots did that?
I like to think so. Roots became a part of the fabric of American culture. After Roots, we all had a similar frame of reference and context for what we talk about when we talk about slavery in America. You have to acknowledge that there’s a wound before it can even begin to get better.

You’ve spoken of a “post-Roots disappointment,” that the series didn’t actually change Holly­wood and that this galvanizing cultural moment didn’t fully pan out. After all, if most Americans watched parts of Roots, it meant that civil-rights leaders were tuning in alongside avowed ­racists—
Who were watching Roots and having a profound human experience of identification and compassion that was probably new. And then you have the rubber-band effect of those record numbers of viewership snapping back to red and blue, right? That has been ultimately the path of least resistance to retrench and go back to old ways of thinking rather than to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work.

And you see us as retrenched now?
Look at the rubber-band effect from the night of the inauguration of Barack Obama to today. There was this enormous sense of finally. Well, finally what? Finally, we have a black man in the White House who at least on some level has an understanding of the black experience in America. But that in no way makes this a post-racial society.

And now we have 12 Years a Slave. Critics have called it a breakthrough for showing the brutality of slavery and for finally vanquishing the myth of Gone With the Wind. But Roots was supposed to have done that. What have we been doing for the past 36 years?
That’s a very good question, and I wish I had an answer for you. But I don’t. We would love to forget, I think. We would love to go back to the fairy tale, to the fantasy of Tara. But it’s too easy to try and erase the sins of the past and claim, “That wasn’t me.” We are all capable of unspeakable horror. We are all capable of unthinkable brutality. We have to be ever vigilant and continue to remind ourselves of our propensity for monstrosity. And there’s a lot of resistance to revisiting this issue. I’ve heard disquieting chatter on both sides of the color line. Why do we have to revisit this again? Well, we have to revisit this again because all of us have forgotten!

12 Years will never have the viewership of Roots. Do you think it’ll still have some impact?
Steve McQueen is a brilliant storyteller, and he’s taken a very difficult subject and told it in a very accessible, however difficult, way. Now, I wish more people were going to see it. It’s going to play really well in New York and L.A. and some other cities, and I hope that it plays incredibly well overseas as well. It’ll be interesting if anybody is bothered to book a theater in certain locales—certain territories, as they say.

What did you think of the last slavery film to have a big cultural footprint, Django Unchained? Quentin Tarantino argued it was one of the few slave movies about black empowerment.
[Chuckles] Yeah, well …

Do I sense skepticism in your voice?
[More chuckles] Yes. Django Unchained is a fantasy, let’s be clear. And when Quentin Tarantino says that Django is more real than Roots, I call bullshit. I got nothing against him, but don’t go there, okay? Don’t go there, Quentin. Too many people who look like me bled and died for you to have the opportunity to satirize the slave narrative. There’s a place for satire in culture. Taken at face value, as a piece of satire, I went and enjoyed it. It was fun. Let’s just not get it twisted. Django was not real.

In another 36 years, are we going to be discussing another brutal slavery film that critics hail as finally vanquishing the myth of Gone With the Wind?
At the screening of 12 Years a Slave, no less a personage than Russell Simmons told me that Roots was being remade. And my initial reaction was, Why? But, look, the bottom line for me is if one soul is moved irrevocably toward the side of humanity, then it’s worth it. Human beings are the laziest creatures in the history of creation. We would rather not do anything if we could avoid it. But social justice requires rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. And I think moments like Roots and 12 Years a Slave are opportunities for art as a cultural force to step forward and lead the way. What we do with it is up to us.


Read Full Post »

A Conversation with Rona Arato, author of THE LAST TRAIN: A HOLOCAUST STORY

By Sharon Salluzzo

In The Last Train, Rona Arato deftly tells her husband Paul’s remembrances of his life between April 1944 and November 1945. Paul was five years old when he, his ten-year-old brother, Oscar, and their mother (his father had already been taken away to a work camp) were taken from their home and forced into a ghetto, put in boxcars and taken to a farm in Austria, and finally to Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp. In April 1945, Paul and his family were again put in boxcars. American soldiers, who were in combat at the time, liberated the train near Farsleben, Germany. The physical and psychological horrors endured by Paul make a very strong impact. Rona lets the events carry the book.

But the story doesn’t end there. In September 2009, Hudson Falls, NY history teacher, Matt Rozell, held a Holocaust Symposium and a reunion for the train survivors and the soldiers who liberated the train. They spoke with students, and with one another. It was a time of great emotion, constantly moving between sorrow and joy. I am so glad that Rona included Paul’s remarks to the students in her book. I was fortunate to be in the audience at the symposium, and I will never forget listening to Paul as he spoke. I grew up having seen a photograph that Paul waited sixty years to see. My father was one of the U.S. soldiers who liberated the train. I sat next to Rona at dinner that last night of the reunion. She said she wanted to write Paul’s story. Four years later it has now been published. I am delighted to share a conversation I recently had with her.

Sharon: What kind of preparation did you have to do in order to write THE LAST TRAIN?

Rona: I often tell people that when I married Paul, I married the Holocaust. While it was at the symposium at Hudson Falls High School that I became determined to write Paul’s story, I have been accumulating information and background since our marriage. To get a better understanding of his background, I interviewed Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoa Visual History Foundation between 1994 and 1998. Paul had applied for family reparations after the War, and I read the outlines. Occasionally, he would tell me some of his experiences. In the late 1970s or early 80s, he and I visited Karcag, Hungary, Paul’s hometown. It was still under Communist control and very much the way it was when Paul lived there. The roads were mud. Some of the people were still pumping their water from the community well. I was able to get a feeling for his life and what they had been through. Writing this book was an emotional journey but also a fascinating journey. I heard the testimony of other train survivors during the symposium. One of them, Leslie Meisels, had worked with Paul for years before they discovered they were both on that train. Isn’t that an amazing coincidence? Of course I was doing research through books and online websites right up to publication. In fact, I had to call my editor and say “Stop the presses!” as I discovered a key fact. We had thought that these Hungarian Jews were rounded up and sent off by Nazi SS guards. Paul and I learned that it was actually Hungarian Gendarmes under SS troops who were sent by Adolf Eichmann. Paul said to me, “No wonder I could understand them. They were speaking Hungarian.” The end papers of the book are a copy of the transport page from the Bergen Belsen Memorial in Germany. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum checked facts for me. And my editor was wonderful in telling me where I needed to fill in background information.

Sharon: Paul has his sixth birthday during this time. How do you get into the mind of a six-year-old boy who is held in a Nazi Concentration Camp?

Rona: While Paul’s childhood in Hungary and mine in the United States were very different, the timeframe was the same. It was easy for me to go back to what it was like growing up in the 1940s. I have a good imagination and can close my eyes and remember what it felt like to be that age. In addition, my grandchildren are young, and I am able to observe them and their reactions to situations.

Sharon: There are a number of photographs, including Paul’s parents as a young married couple, and Paul’s nursery school picture. How were these preserved?

Rona: Their house in Hungary was bombed, so there were no pictures left there after the war. Some photos were sent to Paul’s uncle in Cleveland. After the war, almost every town made a Yizkor book – Yizkor is the Hebrew word for memorial. These books chronicle the history of the town, the Jews who lived there before the war and list those who did not return. Paul’s nursery school picture comes from the Karcag book. When Paul and I visited Karcag, we photographed the water pump and the Synagogue. Some of the photos in the book were taken by the soldiers on the days the train and the camp were liberated. Did you know that the photograph of the woman and her daughter emerging from the death train is now on a list of the 40 most iconic Jewish pictures?

Sharon: That is amazing, Rona, because until a few years ago, it was known to only the soldiers who liberated the train. My Dad kept it in his top dresser drawer. When he told his story to (history teacher) Matt Rozell, Matt put it on his website. The Internet has been a powerful tool in spreading this story.


Rona: That was how we learned about the work Matt Rozell was doing. My son read an article on the Internet about the train and sent it to me. I gave it to Paul who recognized it as the train he had been on. We contacted Matt who said he was organizing a symposium at Hudson Falls High School. It was there that Paul and your Dad (Carrol Walsh) met. I included that wonderful picture of Paul and your Dad embracing right after Paul said, “Give me a hug. You saved my life!”

Sharon: Not only is it a great picture of Paul and Dad, but it captures the feeling of all the survivors who had spent a lifetime searching for the soldiers who saved them.

Sharon: How did you approach the actual writing and selection of words and language?

Rona: I wrote the story in English, not Hungarian, but I wrote in a way they might have spoken. I tried to use the vernacular of the time. We don’t have a record of their exact words but we do know how they would have spoken, and what they were feeling at the time. When I have included Hungarian or Yiddish words, I have included explanations for them. Writers always need to listen to how people speak.

Sharon: THE LAST TRAIN recounts historical events for which you have created dialogue between characters. How would you classify this book?

Rona: I would call it creative nonfiction, or fictionalized nonfiction. The events that happened to Paul are all true. Occasionally, I needed a bridge between incidents or to show the passage of time. When I created a scene, I discussed it with Paul for authenticity. For example, I included a scene in which Paul sights the return of the storks, and has a conversation with his mother. I needed something to create a sense of time and place, and what they were feeling in the absence of Paul’s father. When Paul told me there were storks that returned every spring, I knew I had found the bridge I needed. My intention was to recreate the history. To bring the reader along, the writer needs to show the drama of the events.

Sharon: There are many heart-stopping scenes: when Paul is confronted, nose-to-snout with the ferocious German Shepherd dogs; when he is separated from his mother and brother at the train station; when he sneaks through Bergen Belsen to visit his uncle; and, of course, when the SS guard shoots the boy standing next to Paul.

Rona: I was not going to include that last event. I thought it was too strong for my audience. I was telling my editor about it, and he insisted that I include it. He said it was important to tell exactly what happened.

Sharon: What did Paul think of the way you portray him?

Rona: When he first read it he said, “You are making me look like a bratty little kid.” I responded, “Well, you were!” But what I actually meant by that is he acted like a typical 5 or 6 year-old in that he was terrified. But his own distinctive personality also shows through where he was both feisty and stubborn. These were important traits to have.

Sharon: Why did you include the reunion in the book?

Rona: The reunion was approximately 60 years after their liberation. It was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing shared experiences of my life. The powerful feelings shared by the soldiers and survivors radiated to their families and to the students at the high school. They were reunited because a high school history teacher interviewed a soldier and the information was put on his website. For the survivors and soldiers to share this experience with the students is so important. These students will share what they heard with their children. They are the ones who will pass along what happened. It was a life changing experience for everyone involved.

Sharon: What has surprised you most about the publication of THE LAST TRAIN?

Rona: That the audience goes beyond middle school and high school. Their parents and other adults are reading the book and responding.

Sharon: What would you like to see children and adults take away from this book?

Rona: This is a universal story of survival. I want my readers to see how this family and their extended family took care of each other and watched over each other. Paul’s mother was suffering with typhus and her young sons literally propped her up at roll call so the soldiers would not see how ill she was. Oscar became a father figure for Paul. He told Paul to stand up straight and not to cry. In the camps you don’t break down. I want my readers to be able to say, “Thank God I have the right to show my emotions. It’s okay to be a kid.”

Sharon: Thank you for speaking with me today. Paul’s family returned to Hungary, but life changed tremendously. He eventually came to Canada. Is there another book here?

Rona: There very well could be! It was not easy getting out of Communist Hungary.

The Last Train offers so much in terms of discussion points. It makes a huge impact in its 142 pages. It would be a great introduction to a study of the Holocaust for high school students. It is also accessible for 10 year-year-olds. Adults will truly understand the importance of both parts of this story. Of course there are the general topics of World War II and the Holocaust but there are also topics of bullying, physical and psychological fears, strength and courage, mother-child relationship, sibling relationship, family and friendship, defining a hero, the impact of a photograph, and hope. It is a story of captivity and deliverance; a story of new-found friendships, deep respect and a sense of inner peace discovered sixty years beyond the events of World War II.


Rona’s presentation on THE LAST TRAIN includes a Power Point display including original photographs. It is suitable for children nine and up as well as adults. For more information about Rona Arato, her books and her presentations, visit www.ronaarato.com.

To book Rona for a visit, go to www.childrenslit.com/bookingservice/arato-rona

If, after reading The Last Train, you would like more information about the train to Magdeburg and the Hudson Falls High School symposium, please go to Matt Rozell’s site: https://teachinghistorymatters.com/. By the way, train survivors are still contacting Matt from all around the world. Frank Towers, the lieutenant who oversaw the liberation, has made it his life’s work to locate any remaining survivors. To date, about 350 have been found.

found at http://www.clcd.com/features/th_Rona_Arato_Final.php

Read Full Post »

Numbers dwindling, WWII veterans continue poignant reunions, renewing bonds forged in battle

Article by: DAN SEWELL , Associated Press
NOTE: I was reading this article in my hometown paper yesterday. Frank Towers is mentioned halfway in. Then I remembered some time ago the AP contacted me looking for info on WW2 reunions, and I gave them Frank’s contact info. So yes this is another cut and paste update, but I did have something to do with the article! That’s 1st Lt. Frank Towers- the guy charged with shuffling dazed Holocaust survivors to food and shelter, April, 1945…. He’s 96, planning another reunion in Savannah in Feb. I’ve been to his last 6 reunions. There is nothing like getting up at 6am for breakfast with a table of these guys.

DAYTON, Ohio — Paul Young rarely talked about his service during World War II — about the B-25 bomber he piloted, about his 57 missions, about the dangers he faced or the fears he overcame.

“Some things you just don’t talk about,” he said.

But Susan Frymier had a hunch that if she could journey from Fort Wayne, Ind., with her 92-year-old dad for a reunion of his comrades in the 57th Bomb wing, he would open up.

She was right: On a private tour at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, amid fellow veterans of flights over southern Europe and Germany, Young rattled off vivid details of his plane, crewmates, training and some of his most harrowing missions.

“Dad, you can’t remember what you ate yesterday, but you remember everything about World War II,” his daughter said, beaming.

When Young came home from the war, more than 70 years ago, there were 16 million veterans like him — young soldiers, sailors and Marines who returned to work, raise families, build lives. Over the decades, children grew up, married, had children of their own; careers were built and faded into retirement; love affairs followed the path from the altar to the homestead and often, sadly, to the graveyard.

Through it all, the veterans would occasionally get together to remember the greatest formative experience of their lives. But as the years wore on, there were fewer and fewer of them. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, just a little over 1 million remain. The ones who remain are in their 80s and 90s, and many are infirm or fragile.

So the reunions, when they are held, are more sparsely attended — yearly reminders of the passing of the Greatest Generation.

—When veterans of the Battle of the Bulge gathered in Kansas City this summer, only 40 came, according to organizers, down from 63 last year and 350 in 2004.

—Of the 80 members of Doolittle’s Raiders who set out on their daring attack on Japan in 1942, 73 survived. Seventy-one years later, only four remain; they decided this year’s April reunion in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., would be their last, though they met Saturday for a final toast in honor of those who have gone before them.

—A half-century ago, when retired Army First Lt. Frank Towers went to his first reunion of the 30th Infantry Division — soldiers who landed at the beaches of Normandy and fought across France and Germany — he was surrounded by 1,000 other veterans.

“Now if I get 50, I’m lucky,” said Towers, who is working on plans for a reunion next February in Savannah, Ga. “Age has taken its toll on us. A lot of our members have passed away, and many of them who are left are in health situations where they can’t travel.”

So why persist?

“It’s a matter of camaraderie,” Towers said. “We spent basically a year or more together through hell or high water. We became a band of brothers. We can relate to each other in ways we can’t relate to (anyone else). You weren’t there. These guys were there. They know the horrors we went through.”


As many as 11,000 people served in the 57th Bomb Wing that flew missions over German-held Europe from North Africa and the island of Corsica during most of the war. Hundreds survive, according to wing historians and reunion organizers. Only nine veterans made it to this fall’s event.

George Williams, 90, recalled earlier reunions with his comrades, “having a great time yukking it up and talking about things.” No one else from his squadron came to this one.

“All of a sudden, it’s lonesome,” said Williams, a native of Visalia, Calif., who moved after his wife’s death to Springfield, Mo., where his son lives. “All of the people you ran around with are on the wrong side of the grass. You wonder why you’re so lucky.”

But in a Holiday Inn hospitality suite with patriotic bunting, bowls of pretzels and chips with soft drinks at their tables, the stories flowed easily.

Williams remembered the tension of his first mission, his hand ready at the tag that would release him to bail out if necessary. It went without incident, and upon their return to base, a flight surgeon measured out two ounces of whiskey for each crewman. “Sixty-nine to go,” he said then, because 70 missions was considered the tour of duty. Sometimes on later missions, he would pour the two ounces into a beer bottle to save up for a night when he needed numbing.

Robert Crouse, of Clinton, Tenn., is 89 years old, but he remembers as if it happened yesterday the time a shell blew out the cockpit windshield (“you could stick your head through it”), disabling much of the control panel. Another plane escorted the bomber, its pilot calling out altitude and air speed as Crouse’s plane limped back to base, riddled with holes.

Young recalled flying a damaged plane back to base, hearing his tail gunner’s panicked yells as Plexiglass shattered over him. “You could feel the plane vibrate; you fly through the smoke, you smell the smoke and you hear the flak hitting the plane like hail on a tin roof.”

Not all the memories are bad ones. There was the late-war mission when they hit a spaghetti factory instead of the intended target (“Spaghetti was flying everywhere,” recalled Crouse, chuckling). There was Williams’ first Thanksgiving meal overseas: a Spam turkey, spiced and baked to perfection by an innovative cook.

“I still love Spam,” he said.

Then there was R&R in Rome, hosted by the Red Cross. Young men not long removed from high school toured the Colosseum and other historic sites they had read about. They visited the Vatican; some met Pope Pius XII. Williams got a papal blessing of a rosary for his engineer’s fiancee.

“It was pretty good,” Williams said of his war experience, “except when they were shooting at us.”


Some of the veterans fear that their service will be forgotten after they are gone. Crouse and others have written memoirs, and many of the reunion groups now have websites, magazines and other publications in which they recount their stories.

“You just hope that the young people appreciate it,” said Young. “That it was very important, if you wanted to continue the freedom that we have.”

Their children remember. Some are joining them at the reunions; others keep coming after their fathers are gone.

At this year’s reunion, Bob Marino led a memorial service and read the names of 42 members of the 57th Bomb Wing who died in the past year. A bugler played “Taps.”

Marino, 72, a retired IRS attorney and Air Force veteran from Basking Ridge, N.J., helped organize the gathering. His Brooklyn-native father, Capt. Benjamin Marino, died in 1967 and left numerous photos from the war, and Marino set about trying to identify and organize them. To learn more about his father’s experiences, he corresponded with other veterans — including Joseph Heller, who was inspired by his wartime experiences with the 57th to write his classic novel “Catch-22.”

“He never talked about any of this,” Marino said, turning the pages on a massive scrapbook as veterans dropped by to look at the photos. “Once in a while, something came out. I wish I had sat down and talked to him about it.”

This was precisely the gift Susan Frymier received at the reunion in Dayton.

She watched as the father who had long avoided talking about the war proudly pulled from his wallet a well-worn, black-and-white snapshot of the plane he piloted, nicknamed “Heaven Can Wait” with a scantily clad, shapely female painted near the cockpit.

She listened as he described German anti-aircraft artillery fire zeroing in on his plane. “I had to get out of there. All the flak … they were awfully close.” He described “red-lining” a landing, running the engines beyond safe speed. His voice suddenly choked.

“Oh, Dad!” said his daughter, and she hugged him tightly.

Read Full Post »

I am reposting this today for Veterans’ Day 2013. Also tune into CBS 6 Albany NY at 6pm this evening for a feature story on him. Frank was in the 30th Infantry Division, which liberated the Train Near Magdeburg; he came to our school.

The morning of December 16, 1944. A lonely outpost on the Belgian frontier.

“Both the enemy and the weather could kill you, and the two of them together was a pretty deadly combination.” Bulge veteran Bart Hagerman. Photo: George Silk/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images Dec 20, 1944

In subzero temperatures, the last German counteroffensive of World War II had begun. Nineteen thousand American lives would be lost in the Battle of the Bulge. “Hell came in like a freight train. I heard an explosion and went back to where my friend was. His legs were blown off-he bled to death in my arms.” The average age of the American “replacement” soldier? 19.

Of the sixteen million American men and women who served in WWII, four and a quarter hundred thousand died on the field of conflict. In 2011, nearly 1000 veterans of World War II quietly slip away every day. The national memory of the war that did more than any other event in the last century to shape the history of the American nation is dying with them. The Germans threw 250,000 well trained troops and tanks against a lightly defended line on the Ardennes frontier in Belgium and Luxembourg, which created a pocket or “bulge” in the Allied offensive line, the objective being to drive to the port of Antwerp to split the American and British advance and force a separate peace with the Western Allies. What ensued was the bloodiest battle in American history. It saddens me that it comes as a shock to many Americans today that the “Battle of the Bulge” didn’t originate as a weight-loss term.

On a personal note, I have had the privilege of interviewing many of the veterans of this battle. In the high school where I teach, I have been inviting veterans to my classroom to share their experiences with our students. As their numbers dwindled, I smartened up, bought a camera, and began to record their stories. And for the past decade, I have been sending kids out into the field to record the stories of World War II before this generation fades altogether. These men and women have helped to spark students’ interest in finding out more about our nation’s past and the role of the individual in shaping it. On our website we have worked to weave the stories of our community’s sacrifices into the fabric of our national history. And that, to me, is what teaching history should be all about. After all, if we allow ourselves to forget about the teenager who bled to death in his buddy’s arms, if we overlook the sacrifices it took to make this nation strong and proud, we may as well forget everything else. I shudder for this country when I see what we have all forgotten, so soon. But if you are taking the time to read this post I suppose I am preaching to the saved.

I will close with the account of a nineteen year old infantryman who in fact survived the battle and the war, and who I was able to introduce to many Hudson Falls students on more than one occasion. Sixty-nine years ago this December, a day began that would forever change his life.  Frank is now the only living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II left in New York State and New England.

In the winter of 1944, nineteen year old Private First Class Currey’s infantry squad was fighting the Germans in the Belgian town of Malmédy to help contain the German counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge. Before dawn on December 21, Currey’s unit was defending a strong point when a sudden German armored advance overran American antitank guns and caused a general withdrawal. Currey and five other soldiers—the oldest was twenty-one—were cut off and surrounded by several German tanks and a large number of infantrymen. They began a daylong effort to survive.

Francis Currey MOH and Ned Rozell March 2010-Ned is friends with the last WWII Medal of Honor recipient in NY and NE, Frances Currey. Yes, the special edition GI Joe he signed for Ned is  19 yr. old Frank!

Francis Currey MOH and Ned Rozell March 2010-Ned is friends with the last WWII Medal of Honor recipient in NY and NE, Frances Currey. Yes, the special edition GI Joe he signed for Ned is 19 yr. old Frank!

The six GIs withdrew into an abandoned factory, where they found a bazooka left behind by American troops. Currey knew how to operate one, thanks to his time in Officer Candidate School, but this one had no ammunition. From the window of the factory, he saw that an abandoned half-track across the street contained rockets. Under intense enemy fire, he ran to the half-track, loaded the bazooka, and fired at the nearest tank. By what he would later call a miracle, the rocket hit the exact spot where the turret joined the chassis and disabled the vehicle.

Moving to another position, Currey saw three Germans in the doorway of an enemy-held house and shot all of them with his Browning Automatic Rifle. He then picked up the bazooka again and advanced, alone, to within fifty yards of the house. He fired a shot that collapsed one of its walls, scattering the remaining German soldiers inside. From this forward position, he saw five more GIs who had been cut off during the American withdrawal and were now under fire from three nearby German tanks. With antitank grenades he’d collected from the half-track, he forced the crews to abandon the tanks. Next, finding a machine gun whose crew had been killed, he opened fire on the retreating Germans, allowing the five trapped Americans to escape.

Deprived of tanks and with heavy infantry casualties, the enemy was forced to withdraw. Through his extensive knowledge of weapons and by his heroic and repeated braving of murderous enemy fire, Currey was greatly responsible for inflicting heavy losses in men and material on the enemy, for rescuing 5 comrades, 2 of whom were wounded, and for stemming an attack which threatened to flank his battalion’s position.

At nightfall, as Currey and his squad, including the two seriously wounded men, tried to find their way back to the American lines, they came across an abandoned Army jeep fitted out with stretcher mounts. They loaded the wounded onto it, and Currey, perched on the jeep’s spare wheel with a Browning automatic rifle in his hand, rode shotgun back to the American lines.

After the war in Europe had officially ended, Major General Leland Hobbs made the presentation on July 27, 1945, at a division parade in France.

source material Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier.

Frank on TV   http://www.cbs6albany.com/news/features/top-story/stories/hometown-heroes-sergeant-francis-currey-12021.shtml

Frank signs autographs at our school.
Frank signs autographs at our school.

Read Full Post »

WWII Doolittle Raiders making final toast

Three of the four surviving members of the 1942 Tokyo raid led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, left to right, David Thatcher, Edward Saylor, and Richard Cole, pose next to a monument marking the raid, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, outside the National Museum for the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The fourth surviving member, Robert Hite, was unable to travel to the ceremonies. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)


DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — The surviving Doolittle Raiders, all in their 90s, considered their place in history for their daring World War II attack on Japan amid thousands of cheering fans, as they prepared for a final ceremonial toast Saturday to their fallen comrades. A B-25 bomber flyover helped cap an afternoon memorial tribute in which a wreath was placed at the Doolittle Raider monument outside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton. Museum officials estimated some 5,000 people turned out for Veterans Day weekend events honoring the 1942 mission credited with rallying American morale and throwing the Japanese off balance.

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said America was at a low point, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other Axis successes, before “these 80 men who showed the nation that we were nowhere near defeat.” He noted that all volunteered for a mission with high risks throughout, from the launch of B-25 bombers from a carrier at sea, the attack on Tokyo, and lack of fuel to reach safe bases.

Only four of the 80 are still alive. The Raiders said, at the time, they didn’t realize their mission would be considered an important event in turning the war’s tide. It inflicted little major damage physically, but changed Japanese strategy while firing up Americans.

“It was what you do … over time, we’ve been told what effect our raid had on the war and the morale of the people,” Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, said in an interview.

The Brusset, Mont. native, who now lives in Puyallup, Wash., said he was one of the lucky ones.

“There were a whole bunch of guys in World War II; a lot of people didn’t come back,” he said.

Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 92, of Missoula, Mont., said during the war, the raid seemed like “one of many bombing missions.” The most harrowing part for him was the crash-landing of his plane, depicted in the movie “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo.”

Three crew members died as Raiders bailed out or crash-landed their planes in China, but most were helped to safety by Chinese villagers and soldiers.

Three of the four surviving Raiders were greeted by flag-waving well-wishers ranging from small children to fellow war veterans. The fourth couldn’t travel because of health problems.

Twelve-year-old Joseph John Castellano’s grandparents brought him from their Dayton home for Saturday’s events.

“This was Tokyo. The odds of their survival were 1 in a million,” the boy said. “I just felt like I owe them a few short hours of the thousands of hours I will be on Earth.”

More than 600 people, including Raiders widows and children, descendants of Chinese villagers who helped them, and Pearl Harbor survivors, were expected for the invitation-only ceremony Saturday evening.

After Thomas Griffin of Cincinnati died in February at age 96, the survivors decided at the 71st anniversary reunion in April in Fort Walton, Beach, Fla., that it would be their last and that they would gather this autumn for one last toast together instead of waiting, as had been the original plan, for the last two survivors to make the toast.

“We didn’t want to get a city all excited and plan and get everything set up for a reunion, and end up with no people because of our age,” explained Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the oldest survivor at 98. The Dayton native, who was Doolittle’s co-pilot, lives in Comfort, Texas.

Lt. Col. Robert Hite, 93, couldn’t come. Son Wallace Hite said his father, wearing a Raiders blazer and other traditional garb for their reunions, made his own salute to the fallen with a silver goblet of wine at home in Nashville, Tenn., earlier in the week.

Hite is the last survivor of eight Raiders who were captured by Japanese soldiers. Three were executed; another died in captivity.

The 80 silver goblets in the ceremony were presented to the Raiders in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Ariz. The Raiders’ names are engraved twice, the second upside-down. During the ceremony, white-gloved cadets pour cognac into the participants’ goblets. Those of the deceased are turned upside-down.

The cognac is from 1896, the year Doolittle was born.




Below is an original story that we captured.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

You can view a book preview at the Amazon site. Available in digital and paperback format. Book can also be purchased at http://matthewrozell.com/order-the-things-our-fathers-saw/

Read Full Post »