Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2014

April 30 1945 Headlines. Hangs in my classroom.

April 30 1945 Headlines. Hangs in my classroom.

Today, April 29th, is the anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, 69 years on. Today, if it is brought up at all, some of us might respond with a vacant stare. More might shrug and turn away. I suppose that is to be expected. But you know me. I just think that as a nation, sometimes we allow things to slip from memory at our peril.

It was real, and it happened. And it was American GIs who overran this camp and many others in the closing days of World War II.

The men of the 42nd and 45th Infantry Division arrived independently of each other, here, in southern Germany, at Dachau, on this day. A concentration camp, they were told. Their noses gave them a hint of what they were about to uncover, miles before the camp appeared in sight.

Read the headlines, above. Note the sub article:

Boxcars of Dead at Dachau. 32,000 captives freed.

American soldiers view the bodies in one of the open railcars of the Dachau death train. USHMM

American soldiers view the bodies in one of the open railcars of the Dachau death train. USHMM

And so after some resistance, into the camp they entered. Life changing events were about to unfold for the American soldier.

***************************

For me, it’s not about hero worship, or glorifying the liberator or any World War II soldier as some kind of savior. Many of the liberating soldiers I know would resist this, to the point of rejecting the term, “liberator”… “It all sounds so exalted, so glamorous” said one. But they will all accept the term, “eyewitness”.

Witnesses to the greatest crime in the history of the world.

So instead I think it is about honoring their experiences, their shock, the horror, the puking and the crying, the rage-and then, the American GIs recognizing that something had to be done. And they did suffer for it, for trying to do the right thing. Many tried to help by offering food to starving prisoners who just were not ready to handle it, only to see them drop dead. Or having to manhandle these emaciated victims who were tearing away at each other as food was being offered.

Some guys never got over it. How could you?

I have learned so much over the past few years from these guys, just through the way that they carried themselves and tried to cope with what they witnessed. In my World War II studies and Holocaust class, we discuss these issues at length. I’m so lucky to be able to teach it.

 

Class of 2014 in my classroom. Watching archival footage of the liberation.

Class of 2014 in my classroom. Watching archival footage of the liberation.

So yesterday, a film crew arrived from NBCLearn, a division of NBC News, all the way up from New York City. No, I did not call them. They found me. They were doing a related story, so I talked them into coming up (shout out here to the producer, Norm).

They decided they wanted to learn something from our kids- ultimately, I think, whether or not history really mattered anymore.

We have had many lessons on the Holocaust, on the victims especially, but also on the  perpetrators and the bystanders. Lessons on the liberation, and what we have been studying all along.

These kids have witnessed soldiers’ and survivors’ testimony. They have interviewed their own subjects, firsthand, and established relationships with this generation. And therefore, they become the new witnesses to the deeds of this generation. And with this, they will carry a new responsiblity. To never forget, and to not let others forget, the lessons of the past.

***************************

The raw film is rolling in the classroom. I guess it’s time for me to see what has happened to change the kids. What have they learned, and how have they grown? But today it is time to set the written exam to the side.

We watch the testimony of the  liberator who had visited our school in the past, and viewed the archival footage and photographs from 69 years ago.

And then editor poses the questions for the kids. “Why is it important to study the Holocaust? “What difference do you think it makes to know about this, our past? What do you think motivated our soldiers to go off and fight? Was it just “patriotism?”

What did your class learn? What have YOU learned?”

The completed video will be shown in schools across the country. Below are some of the kids of Hudson Falls, who make their small town  proud.

Meg V.

Meg V.

 

 

 

Koreena H

Koreena H

Klayton S.

Klayton S.

 

Class of 2014 in my classroom, April 28, 2014. NBC News has arrived.

Class of 2014 in my classroom, April 28, 2014. NBC News has arrived.

 

Click here for the video.

I got  a sweet mousepad out of the event.

(I got a sweet mousepad out of the event.)

 

Read Full Post »

Matthew Rozell, Stephen Barry, National DOR Ceremony, Washington, DC April 2010. This photo was taken the day after the 65th anniversary of Steve's liberation in April 1945. We had just been honored by the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum before the national ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

Matthew Rozell, Stephen Barry, National DOR Ceremony, Washington, DC April 2010. This photo was taken the day after the 65th anniversary of Steve’s liberation in April 1945. We had just been honored by the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum before the national ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

So, the ripples continue. Somebody said it was like pebbles being tossed into the still water. This may sound strange, but I am keenly aware of the cosmic element. We tripped the wires of the cosmos.

~”It’s not for my sake, it’s for the sake of humanity, that they will remember”~

I got a nice email  recently. My friend Steve Barry was honored Tuesday evening at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Steve’s daughters wanted me to know that his family made a donation in his name and set up two fellowships for scholars at the USHMM in the Stephen B. Barry Memorial Fellowship. His girls mentioned me in their speech Tuesday night in Washington. Thanks ladies. You know he was a hero. He reached out and touched an awful lot of students in the short time that we were together.

Steve will be one of the persons who will be featured in my book. Against all the odds he survived the Holocaust and later even went on to become a US Army Ranger in the Korean War! I was pretty close to him. Right now I am wistfully looking at his homemade holiday greeting cards under my desk glass, and to my left, a foot away, are the shelves containing his Holocaust library, which was passed on to me after he passed away. He was so funny, too.  He told me he nearly “choked on my bagel” a few years back when he opened his newspaper in Florida and read about me and the train he had been looking for, for so many years!

I miss the guy. You can read more about him here.

 

Steve's name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

Steve’s name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

The inscription kind of says it all. He uttered these words in my very classroom on a Thursday morning to a film crew from New York City, aimed at the 1500 students that he and the other survivors and American soldier/liberators had come to address. That Friday evening of our big soldier/survivor reunion, we watched it together on national news before our final banquet.

You can see the video at the bottom-he’s the one in the preview addressing the interviewer- but the transcript is below.

ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009

Diane Sawyer: And finally tonight, our Persons of the Week. It is a story that began almost 65 years ago in the darkest days of World War II. Yet this week, a new chapter unfolded. An unforgettable reunion of Holocaust survivors, and the American troops who freed them, and all made possible by a high school history class.

Matthew Rozell: This is history coming alive.
Veteran 1, entering school with his wife: Here we are, we have arrived!
Matthew Rozell: This is walking, talking, living history. They’re (the students) shaking hands with the past…

Diane Sawyer: It was 2001 when high school history teacher Matt Rozell decided to begin an oral history project. He and his students would just interview family members in the small town of Hudson Falls, New York, to capture fading stories of World War II.
Interviewer (soldier’s daughter): Did you mention the train [to Mr. Rozell] at all before?
Carrol Walsh, former soldier: No I didn’t tell him about the train.

Diane Sawyer: The students unearthed a forgotten crossroads in history. (Gunfire, archival film footage) Near the very end of World War II, April 13th, 1945, the American 30th Infantry Division was pushing its way into central Germany.
Carrol Walsh: We came to a place where there was a long train, of boxcars.

Diane Sawyer: They found a train, holding nearly 2,500 emaciated Jewish prisoners, many just children, being moved from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, to another camp and certain death. Their German guards had just abandoned them, fleeing the Americans.

Carrol Walsh: A feeling of helplessness. What are we going to do with all these people?
Frank Towers, former soldier: We had never ever seen anything so, (pauses) filthy.

Diane Sawyer: The American soldiers fed the prisoners, and brought them to safety.

Stephen Barry: For 42 years I collected anything that I could to try to find any article regarding the train. It just didn’t exist!

Diane Sawyer: But Mr. Rozell’s class put their interviews with veterans up on a website, along with these photographs taken by the American soldiers.

George Gross: Just very courageous people, little girls who with big smiles on their faces, one of them with their arms out, just aware that the Americans are there. [camera pans over 1945 liberation photograph]

Diane Sawyer: Out there on the web, Holocaust survivors all around the world began to notice.

Stephen Barry: I mean, how many people have a picture of their moment of liberation forever? [camera pans over 1945 liberation photograph]

(students and veterans and survivors singing “The Star Spangled Banner”)

Diane Sawyer: A reunion of the survivors and their liberators took place this week at Hudson Falls High School.

Emily Murphy, student: When they speak to us, you can’t say that you feel how they felt. But you get the feeling, you feel like you were there.

Diane Sawyer: In an age where there are still those who deny the Holocaust ever existed, these survivors say they are the living proof.

Stephen Barry: It’s not for my sake, it’s for the sake of humanity, that they will remember.

Diane Sawyer: And so we choose history teacher Matt Rozell, his class, the Holocaust survivors of that train, and the American soldiers who kept them and their story alive. And that is World News for this Friday. I am Diane Sawyer, and from all of us at ABC News, we hope you have a great weekend.

And here is a link to the 2014 United States Days of Remembrance Capitol Ceremony. Steve’s daughters and granddaughters are in the back row!

 

Read Full Post »

Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It marks the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

Clara Rudnick around age 15.

Clara Rudnick, center, around age 15.

I recently visited the local synagogue where my friend Clara Rudnick was to speak.   I was very gratified that several of my students also decided to come, and that when we arrived, they and I were also invited to participate in the readings and the candle lighting for the commemoration.

My wife and daughter also accompanied me. It was their first time in temple and the commemoration deeply touched them.

IMG_0006

Clara lit up when she saw the girls and I. She came right over, smothered me with a big hug, and went right over to the girls.

She and her twin brother Avreminkeh were about my daughter’s age, early teens, when the Germans arrived in Lithuania in June 1941. Her oldest brother Itze was 23 years old, and her two sisters Chiyeh and Dorkeh were 20 and 13. Her proud parents Yossel and Chiyena Charmatz were 42 and 40. They ran a highly regard restaurant and bakery that had been in business for generations, in a community of 10,000 that had had a Jewish presence since the 1300s. Forty percent of the prewar population of Sventzion was Jewish.

The townspeople turned on their neighbors. Even the Catholic and Orthodox churches collaborated in providing information needed to terrorize the community. In July, 1941, Lithuanian collaborators took a nearly a hundred teenage boys and young men including Itze outside of town, locked them in a building, and burned them alive. Hysteria rippled through the Jewish community now. In August, nearly a hundred more, including her twin brother, were taken outside of town on Shabbat, forced to dig their own graves and shot. A few weeks later, also on the Sabbath, eight thousand men women boys and girls were ordered to stand in the town square, where they were shot, including her mother and two sisters. Clara was saved only because her father had given her his coat and told her to hide in the local steam bath.

After the shooting, he came for her at night and took her to the forest for two nights without food and water. They found a farmer who was secretly a Jew and stayed until more refugees began to arrive. Deciding it was no longer safe, they

Students Chelsea R., Paige L., Meg V., Cheyenne B., Mary R. flank survivor Clara Rudnick at reception following Yom Hashoah commemoration, 2014.

Students Chelsea R., Paige L., Meg V., Cheyenne B., Mary R. flank survivor Clara Rudnick at reception following Yom Hashoah commemoration, 2014.

moved to the farm of a Christian friend who accepted their money to hide them. Later, they found themselves in the ghetto at Swir. ” I was 15 years old, I had lost my mother, brothers and sisters, and I was very upset.” And in a constant state of peril.

In the middle of February, 1942, the Germans came to liquidate the ghetto. Clara and her father managed to escape with others across a frozen lake as the Nazis shot at them. Her father broke through the ice and placed Clara in the freezing water and lay on top of her to protect her in the cold winter night, until the Germans left.

They traveled twenty kilometers to another ghetto at Mishaleikse, where they were arrested in April and sent to the Vilna Ghetto, subjected to hard labor. Here Clara witnessed starvation, disease, street executions, babies killed and placed in the back of trucks. Mistreatment was widespread and deportations to concentration camps and extermination centers occurred almost daily. Clara again was able to escape, but this time without her father. A local cinema owner told her father he would take care of her. She would see her father only one more time.

In the summer of 1942 (the same summer that Anne Frank would go into hiding, Clara notes) a handsome sum of gold was given to another Christian and Clara was hidden in a dark hidden cellar with a trap door for seven months, emerging only once a day to answer nature’s call. One day she peeped through the hatch to see what was going on upstairs, as there was a great deal of commotion and noise. Bullets raked the hiding spot and she was grazed in the stomach, the cinema owner killed. Clara was caught again.

She was taken before the Gestapo in Kalich, where as a slave laborer she was forced to make fur coats for the Germans fighting on the Russian front. Then the slaves were placed into two trucks. One went to the execution site of Panar, the other to the camp at Kaiserwald. Clara considers it another miracle that she was on the truck to Kaiserwald. Here she worked with dangerous acid to make batteries. She was afraid the acid would scar her and she would be killed.

After some time, she was sent to Stutthof on the Baltic. It was here that she saw her father, through the chain link fence, for the last time. He and 85,000 others perished here. She was terrified.

As the Red Army closed in she was marched out and placed in a barn, locked with other women to die from starvation. It was here that she was liberated by Soviet forces on march 11, 1945. She states, matter of factly, that the soldiers moved on immediately, having no time to care for them.

Heading to Lodz,  Poland shortly after, she did not find any family members anywhere. Regaining her strength, she met another survivor, Abraham Rudnick, a Lithuanian Jew like her who had been liberated by the Americans at Dachau on April 29, 1945. They married in a DP camp and emigrated to the United States in 1949, where they raised a family and built a plumbing and heating business in upstate New York.

So tonight she is here with her grandson and recounts the story, and the postscript of her summer trip back to Vilna and her hometown in Lithuania, and her realization that no one in Lithuania seems to want to acknowledge the countries complicity in the murder of her family and hundreds of thousands of others. But here, speaking in the temple for perhaps the last time, she has her North Country family, and has certainly won over the hearts of a few young ladies this evening. They wont forget, Clara, and they are the new witnesses. It’s so.

Clara told me some years ago that her sons had my dad as their history teacher in high school and that he was held in high regard. As we bid her goodbye, she whispered in my daughter’s ear-“Don’t tell your father, but I love him!” I am blessed to know you now, as was my dad and now my girl, and my students. We’ll keep you close, and remember your mother and father, your brothers and sisters, and all those murdered in those not so distant days.

Clara Rudnick by Erica Miller

 

Read Full Post »

 

Cover of After Action Report for April 1945.

Cover of After Action Report for April 1945.

Today is the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the train near Magdeburg. How fitting it was/is falling at Passover time.

Emails and greetings are flying back and forth through the liberator/survivor network that we created.  Liberator Frank Towers always sends a message on this anniversary to the survivors.

From my one of my survivor friends:

Hello to all of you ‘my twins’ on our 69th birthday and to those who fought to give back our lives. Like the years before, there are no words enough to express our thanks to them.

How appropriate is this year for us who celebrate Seder to read, as an addition to the Hagaddah, Frank Towers’ beautiful greetings remembering OUR liberation from not just slavery but certain death.

Here is the opening of my new article. You can see the rest in the previous post.

Blessings to all on this reflective occasion.

 

 

~THE TRANSPORT TO LIFE~

With the end of the war in sight, a startling encounter takes place between Jewish victims of the Holocaust and American combat troops who have survived nine months of grueling combat across Northern France, Belgium, Holland and now Germany. In 2001, interviews conducted by a high school history teacher and his class paved the way for several joyful reunions between the survivors and their American soldier liberators over sixty years later.

 

The photograph  is striking.

Query the word “train” and Holocaust” in an image search and the results returned generally show victims being deported to killing centers.

This is the opposite.Matthew Rozell

It is a cool spring morning. In the background, down the hill, are two cattle cars. At the opening of the sliding doors on one of the cars we can see a figure sitting on the edge, perhaps too weak to climb out yet soaking up some energy from the warming April sun. In front of him, a wisp of smoke seems to rise from a small makeshift fire that others have gathered around.

This is an appropriate backdrop for the drama unfolding in the foreground. Trudging up the hill toward the photographer, now only a few steps away, are a mother and her young daughter. The mother has her hair wrapped in a scarf and is clutching the hand of the girl with her right hand. Her left hand is extended outward as if in greeting; her face is turning into a half smile in a mixture of astonishment and enveloping joy, as if she is on the cusp of accepting the belief that she and her daughter have just been saved.

The little girl is shooting a sideways glance away from the camera. Her expression is one of distress- she looks terrified. On this morning in Germany in 1945, she may very well be responding to the two Sherman tanks that are now clanking up to the train, behind the photographer who is in the jeep with the white star.

Following the mother and daughter up the hill towards the soldiers are two other women. One welcomes the tanks with outstretched arms and a wide grin as she moves up the hill. The other follows behind her. She appears to be crying.

It is Friday, the 13th of April, 1945. Led by their major scouting in a jeep, Tanks 12 and 13 of the 743rd Tank Battalion of the U.S. Army have just liberated a train transport with thousands of sick and emaciated victims of the Holocaust. Major Clarence L. Benjamin snaps a photograph, which will be inserted into his official report back to headquarters.

But what have they stumbled upon? Where have these people come from?

And what do the soldiers do now?

**********************************************

Read Full Post »

PRISM SPR. 2014 I’ve had an article published in the Spring 2014 edition of PRISM: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators, an “internationally renowned, annual, peer-reviewed journal” published by the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education of Yeshiva University of New York, reaching readers in 35 countries and in all 50 American states. It is important to me to set the record straight and allow others the opportunity to read how this  history unfolded.

“In preserving and investigating the history, in interviewing liberators and Holocaust survivors, and in working with museums and memorial sites, Mr. Rozell and his students are also creating new knowledge, the highest form of academic achievement. Most importantly, in studying about the Holocaust, he and his students are also helping to rescue the evidence that can help stem the rising and dangerous tide of denial before it is too late.”

You can read the full edition here. The article appears on page 94. Obviously space did not allow for the full story to be told but that will come out in the book, so if it appears that a supporter, survivor or liberator friend has been left out, that is not the  real case. As always, thanks for your support, and thanks to editor Dr. Karen Shawn for recognizing the significance and the potential.

Read Full Post »