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Archive for April, 2015

Yom HaShoah ceremony and service, Jewish Federation of greater Rochester, New York, April 15, 2015. 700 folks come out on a midweek night. From an audience member: ‘The most beautiful, inspirational Yom HaShoah service I have ever been to.’

It was indeed a moving service and I was honored to have a part in it.

We stop and we pause, to reflect and remember.

Key take-aways from my presentation:

 

  1. The American Army was involved in a shooting war. More soldiers would die in the days to come. But they stopped. They helped these people. And some carried the trauma with them for the rest of their lives.
  2. People need heroes. But few of the liberators would like to be remembered this way. Maybe we should all take a moment to think about our own obligation to humanity.
  3. For every one person who was liberated on this ‘Train Near Magdeburg, nearly 2500 persons, keep close the reality that another 2500 perished in the Holocaust.
  4. Finally, the voices of the eyewitnesses need to always be with us. We need to keep them close. Or forget at our peril.

***

Carrol Walsh, liberator: Our lives were joined at that moment on April 13, 1945, and now we meet face to face and recall together that moment when my tank reached the train.

Steve Barry, survivor:There is no other army in this world that would stop and help 2500 lice-ridden, emaciated Jews, to save them. What army would stop, except the American army?

Steve Barry: Mounted SS troops came around, rode by the train, and started to yell ‘Raus, Raus, get out of the train!  Get out of the cars!’  And we saw them putting up machine gun nests. So obviously, even at that last moment, they were still trying to murder us.

Carrol Walsh: I had no idea who they were, where they had come from, where they were going – nothing. No idea. All I knew: here’s a train with these boxcars and people jammed in those boxcars. No idea. No, I had no idea.

Steve Barry: Very shortly after that we saw the first American GIs.  Well, actually there were two tanks.  I still get tears in my eyes. Right now I have tears in my eyes and I always will when I think about it.  That’s when we knew we were safe.

Letter  from Carrol Walsh to Steve Barry, 2008: ‘You are always expressing gratitude to me, the 743rd Tank Battalion and the 30th Infantry Division. But I do not believe gratitude is deserved because we were doing what we, and the whole world, should have been doing- rescuing and protecting innocent people from being killed, murdered by vicious criminals. You do not owe us. We owe you.  We can never repay you and the Jewish people of Europe for what was stolen from you: your homes, your possessions, your businesses, your money, your art, your family life, your families, your childhood, your dreams, and all your lives.’

Steve Barry:  Is this a beautiful person?

Carrol Walsh:  I think, I cannot believe today, as I look back on those, on those years and on what was happening, I cannot believe that the… world almost ignored those people and what was happening. I cannot believe it. How could we have all stood by and have let that happen? We owe those people a great deal. We owe those people everything. They do not owe us anything. We owe them for what we allowed to happen to them. That is how I feel.

 

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I’m speaking this evening in Rochester, NY. You should be able the watch the ceremony beginning at 7pm EST at this feed:

 

Through the Eyes of Liberators: History Comes to Life

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance 2015

 

Matthew A. Rozell will be keynote speaker at this year’s Yom HaShoah program, providing fascinating insights in his many years connecting Holocaust survivors with their liberators – soldiers of WWII.

 

The Federation’s Center for Holocaust Awareness and Information (CHAI) presents our annual commemoration of victims and survivors of the Shoah, this year entitled “Through the Eyes of Liberators: History Comes to Life,” on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 7 pm at the Jewish Community Center.

 

Rozell, a teacher of history at Hudson Falls (NY) High School has provided students with life-changing experiences that have underscored his driving missions — to promote history and Holocaust education as something vital and alive and to foster a curiosity and attention to the suffering of others that leads to passionate involvement.

 

Rozell is recognized as a leader in World War II and Holocaust history. He and his students have personally interviewed more than 200 WWII veterans and have published many stories that would have otherwise been lost. He has been instrumental in reuniting over 275 Holocaust survivors with several American soldiers who liberated them from a train in Nazi Germany on April 13, 1945 and nursed them back to health. Rozell has organized or helped facilitate powerful reunions, witnessed by thousands of students.
Matthew A. RozellIn 2008, Rozell was awarded a Museum Teacher Fellowship at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for his work in Holocaust education; he has also been the subject of a documentary, “Honoring Liberation,” produced by the museum. His work has also been modeled in educational programs across the nation. In 2009, Rozell and his students were named ABC World News “Persons of the Week” by Diane Sawyer.
Learn more at his website,TeachingHistoryMatters.com.
Photo above: Moment of Liberation. Credit: Major Clarence L. Benjamin, 743rd Tank Battalion

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April 17th. (1945)

Dear Chaplain;-

Haven’t written you in many months now, its funny how a few moments are so hard to find in which to write a letter way past due; it’s much easier to keep putting it off the way I’ve done. I’ll try to make up for it in this letter.

Today I saw a sight that’s impossible to describe, however I’ll try. Between 2400 and 3000 German refugees were overran by my division during our last operation; most of them were, or had been, inmates of concentration camps, their crimes the usual ones, – Jewish parentage, political differences with der Fuhrer, lack of sympathy for the SS, or just plain bad luck. Not one of these hundreds could walk one mile and survive; they had been packed on a train whose normal capacity was perhaps four or five hundred, and had been left there days without food.

Our division military government unit took charge of them, and immediately saw what a huge job it was going to be, so they sent out a call for help. Several of our officers went out to help them organize the camp they were setting up for them. The situation was extremely ticklish we soon learned; no one could smoke as it started a riot when the refugees saw the cigarette, and we couldn’t give the kiddies anything or they would have been trampled to death in the rush that would result when anything resembling food was displayed. The only nourishment they were capable of eating was soup; now the army doesn’t issue any of the Heinz’s 57 varieties, so we watered down C-ration[s] and it served quite well.  It was necessary to use force to make the people stay in line in order to serve them. They had no will power left, only the characteristics of beasts.

A few weeks of decent food will change them into a semblance of normal human beings; with God willing the plague of disease that was already underway, will be diverted; but I’m wondering what the affect of their ordeal they have been through, will be on their minds; most will carry scars for the rest of their days for the beatings that they were given. No other single thing had convinced me as this experience has that Germany isn’t fit to survive as a nation. I’ll never forget today.

I was going to write mother tonight but thought better of it. I’ll be in a better frame of mind tomorrow. I’m only a few dozen miles from Berlin right now, and its hard to realize the end is in sight. I’m always glad to receive your scandal sheet. You perhaps missed your calling, as your editorial abilities are quite plain.

As ever,

Charles.

March 11th, 2009

Dear Mr. Rozell:

My father-in-law was 1st. Lt. Charles M. Kincaid. He was a Liason Officer with the 30th. Division Artillery.  He was honored with an Air Medal in the battle of Mortain and a Bronze Medal in the battle of St. Lo.  In the battle of Mortain he won his Air Medal by calling in artillery adjustments while flying in a Piper L-4 over 4 panzer divisions on August 9, 1944.

first-lt-chuck-kincaid-sept-1944He rarely wrote home. He did write home to his minister about one event that evidently really caused him to stop and think. Attached is a copy of that letter that his sister transcribed – making copies for others to read.  The letter describes the Farsleben train and his experience there.

I need to thank you for your website and work. You and your students work enabled me to connect the letter with the actual historical event. It further enabled me to show my children the pictures and to make their Grandfather’s experience real, not just an old letter – that this event so affected him that he needed to tell his minister before he told his mother.

Thank you,
Mark A.

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Friday the 13th. Today is the 70th anniversary, to the day.

This account comes to me from a survivor’s son who lives in Hungary. He had read of Carrol Walsh’s passing on the internet and contacted me. It is Carrol who is commanding one of these tanks. Sgt. George Gross commanded the other, and took photographs.

I just came across this website . My father was on this train.
He passed away twenty years ago, in April 1992.

Here is an excerpt from his memoirs about his liberation day.
—————————————————-

Translation from my father’s Memoirs pp. 302-304.
————————————————-

The day of April 13 1945 was a Friday and a sunny and windy day. In the morning, the SS opened the doors of the freight cars, after they had argued with each other whether they should kill us with their submachine guns. But the US troops were too close.

——————————————————————-

Perhaps it was an older SS man who prevented our execution. Later that day, a Jewish woman, who had been his lover in the camp, saved him from becoming a prisoner of war or worse. She got him civilian clothes, I do not know how. The same woman became the lover of an American soldier later.
——————————————————————

Several hundred people wrapped in rags streamed through the open doors, if they could be called people at all. We were all mere skeletons.

The train was idling in a deepening, so I climbed uphill, across a road and to a field. I was pulling out potatoes planted on the field, when a motorcycle approached. It was a motorcycle with a side-car. There was an elegant SS or Nazi leader in the front: I could not decide, since he was wearing a mixture of uniform and civilian clothes. It must have been his wife sitting behind him and his child in the side-car. He pulled over and offered me a cigarette. I told him I did not smoke, so he closed his silver-looking cigarette-case and started the engine.
He seemed to hesitate about the direction he should take.

Prisoner taken. Photo by tank commander George C Gross, April, 1945.

Prisoner taken. Photo by tank commander George C Gross, April, 1945.

Then two small American tanks arrived. I was standing in the middle of the road, and noticed that the American soldier leaning out of the turret of one of the tanks aimed his gun at me.
The tank came closer and closer, and the soldier lowered his submachine gun. I must have looked terrible, so he did not take me for an enemy. I was lucky he had not shot me from the distance, since my small coat and boots vaguely resembled a military uniform. Lice were crawling all over my clothes and skin.

The few hundred former inhabitants of the concentration camp surrounded the tanks right away. Suddenly somebody remembered that the SS guarding us were still in the carriages. The SS were caught quickly, and lined up. The “intrepid” SS were trembling so heavily that their pants were flapping.

The first thing a Jewish woman asked from the soldier leaning out from the tank was money, and she received a dollar bill. She must have established her future with this dollar.

My attention was drawn to something else: in the rear of the tank there was a box of canned food. I climbed under the tank, emerged at its end, and pulled out a can. It turned out that I stole a can of oranges. This was my luck. I ate the potatoes charred in the can with the oranges, and probably this combination saved my life. Everyone who ate meat or anything greasy died within hours or within one or two days at the latest.

I felt fever in my body, undressed completely naked in front of staring women, and went into the ice-cold water of the lake next to the railroad. People warned me not to do this, but I went into the water, felt good, felt that I got rid of the lice and the burning heat of the fever. When I put on my rags again, I felt the fever ever stronger.

I asked an American soldier to sign the photo of my fiancee (I still have this photo). To my surprise, he signed the name Churchill. I thought he was joking. But he reassured me that his name was really Churchill.

(Once I read about a father named Churchill, who went to see his son’s grave in Vietnam during that war. The report mentioned that the father had been a soldier in World War II. He must have been my Churchill)

In the evening, there were news that we should flee, because the Germans pushed back the Americans. The Germans would massacre us for sure, the women had pulled out material for parachutes from a carriage in order to make clothes.

I was already so weak that I did not care whether the returning Germans would kill me: I stayed in one of the carriages, and fell asleep.

On Saturday, April 14, German peasant [horse-drawn] carts came for us by some order, so I was carried to Hillersleben. I dragged myself to the first floor of the first building, it looked like an office building, lay down under the sink of the bathroom, and fell asleep.

I am sure the American soldiers had no idea who we were and what we went through.

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

First published in 2013. I am off to the last survivors/liberators reunion in Nashville Tennessee, this weekend.

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Liberation, April 13th, 1945. Drawing by survivor Ervin Abadi. USHMM.

Liberation, April 13th, 1945. Drawing by survivor Ervin Abadi. USHMM.

DEAR MR. ROZELL–I READ TODAY WITH GREAT INTEREST THE AP ARTICLE ABOUT THE TRAIN AND YOUR PROJECT…

MY MOTHER, SISTER AND I WERE ON THAT TRAIN . I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH YOU SOME OF MY MEMORIES.

THE FIRST SIGHT I HAD OF THE AMERICANS FROM INSIDE THE TRAIN WAS OF AN EMPTY VEHICLE SUCH AS WE HAD NEVER SEEN BEFORE—IT HAD A GREAT WHITE STAR ON IT, AND SOMEONE-FAMILIAR WITH THAT STAR SAID:” THE AMERICANS ARE HERE” .

NOW I KNOW THAT IT WAS A JEEP—AND IT MUST HAVE BEEN ON A RECONNAISSANCE MISSION, AND IT WAS EMPTY MAYBE, BECAUSE THE SOLDIERS TOOK COVER, SEEING THE TRAIN.

I WILL FOREVER SEE THE WHITE STAR AND THAT AMAZING JEEP IN MY HEART—

SOON, THE SOLDIERS CAME AND TOLD US SADLY THAT FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT HAD DIED THE DAY BEFORE ON APR 12.. THEY TOLD US, THAT IT WAS FRIDAY, APR 13, 1945—WE DID NOT KNOW THE MONTHS AND THE DAYS ANYMORE, LOST COUNT OF TIME IN BERGEN BELSEN.LONG BEFORE.

THE SOLDIERS CAME, AND WERE GENTLE AND GAVE US FOOD. FOR 2 DAYS WE SLEPT ON THE HILLSIDE—AND THEN WE WERE BILLETED INTO ABANDONED GERMAN HOMES IN A TOWN CALLED HILLERSLEBEN JUST OUTSIDE OF MAGDEBURG.

D.D.T. HAS A VERY BAD REPUTATION TODAY—- BUT I WILL FOREVER THINK OF THE D.D.T WITH A GREAT DEAL OF AFFECTION. WE WERE LINED UP, SPRAYED WITH DDT THAT KILLED THE MILLIONS OF LICE THAT INFESTED US. THE AMERICANS BURNED OUR RAGS AND GOD KNOWS FROM WHERE GAVE US CLEAN CLOTHES.

AS I WAS A CHILD I FANTASIZED THAT THE SOLDIERS WERE ANGELS, WITH THEIR WINGS HIDDEN UNDER THEIR UNIFORM SHIRTS.

TODAY I KNOW THAT THIS WAS NO FANTASY. IN THAT PLACE, AND AT THAT TIME THE AMERICAN SOLDIERS WERE ANGELS INDEED.I WAS 10, MY SISTER WAS 8. WE WERE HUNGARIAN JEWS.I, TOO HAVE MANY QUESTIONS FOR YOU, AND WILL CALL YOU SOON…

-I JUST CAN NOT BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING —THE AP ARTICLE —YOUR PROJECT—–62 YEARS LATER—

WILL YOU BE SO KIND TO FORWARD MY “TRAIN” LETTER TO MR WALSH AND MR GROSS. PLEASE TELL THEM THAT I LOVE THEM AND THAT IS NOT AN OVERSTATEMENT—

SO MUCH THANKS TO YOU, DARLING MATT

SINCERELY YOURS WITH MANY THANKS FOR YOUR PROJECT

AGNES B.

**********

a lovely reminder of the power of this project, one of many sent to me by survivors on September 15th, 2007.

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General Dwight D. Eisenhower (center), Supreme Allied Commander, views the corpses of inmates who perished at the Ohrdruf camp. Ohrdruf, Germany, April 12, 1945. — National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md. USHMM

We are told the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least he knows what he is fighting against.

— General Dwight D. Eisenhower, on visiting a subcamp of Buchenwald, April 12, 1945

April 4, 1945: The U.S. 4th Armored Division liberates the concentration camp at Ohrdruf, Germany, a subcamp of Buchenwald, the site of more than 4000 deaths during the previous three months. Victims were Jews, Poles, and Soviet POWs. Hundreds shot just before liberation had been working to build an enormous underground radio and telephone communications center. Very few inmates remain alive at liberation.

April, 1945: U.S. Generals Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, and Omar Bradley visit the camp at Ohrdruf, Germany, and view corpses and other evidence of Nazi atrocities.

In late March 1945, the camp had a prisoner population of some 11,700, but in early April the SS evacuated almost all the prisoners on death marches to Buchenwald. The SS guards killed many of the remaining prisoners who were too ill to walk to the railcars.

When the soldiers of the 4th Armored Division entered the camp, they discovered piles of bodies, some covered with lime, and others partially incinerated on pyres. The ghastly nature of their discovery led General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, to visit the camp on April 12, with Generals George S. Patton and Omar Bradley. After his visit, Eisenhower cabled General George C. Marshall, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, describing his trip to Ohrdruf:

. . .the most interesting–although horrible–sight that I encountered during the trip was a visit to a German internment camp near Gotha. The things I saw beggar description. While I was touring the camp I encountered three men who had been inmates and by one ruse or another had made their escape. I interviewed them through an interpreter. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to “propaganda.”

 

Seeing the Nazi crimes committed at Ohrdruf made a powerful impact on Eisenhower, and he wanted the world to know what happened in the concentration camps. On April 19, 1945, he again cabled Marshall with a request to bring members of Congress and journalists to the newly liberated camps so that they could bring the horrible truth about Nazi atrocities to the American public. He wrote:

We continue to uncover German concentration camps for political prisoners in which conditions of indescribable horror prevail. I have visited one of these myself and I assure you that whatever has been printed on them to date has been understatement. If you could see any advantage in asking about a dozen leaders of Congress and a dozen prominent editors to make a short visit to this theater in a couple of C-54’s, I will arrange to have them conducted to one of these places where the evidence of bestiality and cruelty is so overpowering as to leave no doubt in their minds about the normal practices of the Germans in these camps. I am hopeful that some British individuals in similar categories will visit the northern area to witness similar evidence of atrocity.

That same day, Marshall received permission from the Secretary of War, Henry Lewis Stimson, and President Harry S. Truman for these delegations to visit the liberated camps.

Ohrdruf made a powerful impression on General George S. Patton as well. He described it as “one of the most appalling sights that I have ever seen.” He recounted in his diary that

In a shed . . . was a pile of about 40 completely naked human bodies in the last stages of emaciation. These bodies were lightly sprinkled with lime, not for the purposes of destroying them, but for the purpose of removing the stench.

When the shed was full–I presume its capacity to be about 200, the bodies were taken to a pit a mile from the camp where they were buried. The inmates claimed that 3,000 men, who had been either shot in the head or who had died of starvation, had been so buried since the 1st of January.

When we began to approach with our troops, the Germans thought it expedient to remove the evidence of their crime. Therefore, they had some of the slaves exhume the bodies and place them on a mammoth griddle composed of 60-centimeter railway tracks laid on brick foundations. They poured pitch on the bodies and then built a fire of pinewood and coal under them. They were not very successful in their operations because there was a pile of human bones, skulls, charred torsos on or under the griddle which must have accounted for many hundreds.

Source(s):

Weber, Louis. The Holocaust Chronicle. Publications International Ltd., 2007. http://www.holocaustchronicle.org

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1945- The Year of Liberation. 1995.

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_ph.php?ModuleId=10006131&MediaId=3711

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10006131

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

Matthew Rozell is a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow and teaches history at his alma mater in upstate New York. This year, he is authoring a series of posts under the heading of ‘Seventy Years’, marking the 70th anniversary of the close of World War II and of the ‘liberation phase’  of the Holocaust. His work has reunited 275 Holocaust survivors with the American soldiers who freed them.

His first book, a narrative of World War II in the Pacific as told through the previously unpublished recollections of two dozen veterans, is due out this spring. His second book, in progress, is on the power of  teaching, remembering the Holocaust, and this “Train Near Magdeburg’. He can be reached at marozell at gmail dot com.

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