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Archive for April, 2017

Two of our high school classes went to the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York on Friday. We blew a bus tire on the way down, but managed to get a replacement bus to make it all the way there, about two and a half hours away. Because our visit was very abbreviated, I’ll touch on the exhibit that moved us the most, where we spent most of our time.

 

It was fitting that we arrived during this last week of April, though it was not planned this way. You see, the apple blossoms were blooming, just as they probably were exactly 75 years ago, when notices like these sprang up all over California. Executive Order 9066 had been signed by FDR only as few months before, and now, it was taking effect.

April 25th, 1942-75 yrs this past week.
Anxious residents wait outside a ‘civil control station’ in San Francisco where they will be given their instructions for evacuation day. Dorothea Lange

From the Museum: “On February 19, 2017 — the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 — the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum opened a new photographic exhibition entitled, IMAGES OF INTERNMENT: THE INCARCERATION OF JAPANESE AMERICANS DURING WORLD WAR II, with over 200 photographs including the work of Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams. Signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Executive Order 9066 led to the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent — including approximately 80,000 American citizens — during World War II.”

“In the tense weeks after Japan’s December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, many Americans — particularly those on the Pacific Coast — feared enemy attack and saw danger in every corner. Rumors and sensational media reports heightened the climate of fear. Under pressure from military and political leaders, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. It is widely viewed today as a serious violation of civil liberties.”

I’ll leave you with more photos of photos I took on our visit.

Kimiko Kitagaki waits for an ‘evacuation’ bus that is due to leave in 30 minutes. Dorothea Lange, May 6, 1942

 

Kimito’s dad, former owner of a dyeing and cleaning business.

Members of the Mochida Family Awaiting Evacuation

Arrival at the Santa Anita Assembly Center from San Pedro.

1945. A girl exits a truck that transported her family from the Granada, Colorado camp to a railroad depot, where they will board a train for California. Hikaru Iwasaki .Oct. 6, 1945

 

We will debrief and unpack our trip down to Hyde Park on Monday-there were many more things to see, but this is where we spent our 2 hours.

 

And I’d say the kids learned that the past is still relevant, with no prompting needed. But how little we adults really seem to learn from the past.

The author with Karen Korematsu, daughter of Fred, now head of the Korematsu Institute, at a plenary presentation on Human Rights for the Law, Youth and Citizenship Program of the New York State Bar Association, Oct. 2015. (see above)

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Memorial to Warsaw Uprising

You have heard a lot from me this week because April is a special month for Holocaust commemoration and remembrance. Besides marking the 1945 anniversary of the liberation of many of the camps, it also marks the anniversary of the largest single uprising against German oppression of the Jews, which occurred in Warsaw in 1943. It is important to note, however that resistance to evil manifested in many different forms, not just physical ‘pushback’, as I was reminded on my Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers Program tour in 2013. As the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is now upon us, I share this post, an excerpt from my recent book, also recounting the narrative of a fourteen year old Jewish resistance fighter who was told she had to leave the ghetto by her leaders, so that she might live to remember them and tell this story.

*****

As 1943 dawned, the SS returned to the ghetto for another major deportation. They encountered the first armed resistance from the ghetto fighters and beat a hasty retreat, leaving behind wounded and weapons, and calling off the operation. For the next three months, the ghetto fighters organized and prepared for the final struggle. On the eve of Passover, April 19th, the Germans returned again, this time with the aim of liquidating the ghetto once and for all, in time for Hitler’s birthday on the 20th. By then, there were between 300-350 active fighters; the young were now the real leaders of the ghetto, having decided not between life and death, but rather, how to die.* Aliza recorded her observations of the preparations for the final battle they all knew was coming.

Jews captured by SS and SD troops during the suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising are forced to leave their shelter and march to the Umschlagplatz for deportation.  from the notorious Stroop Report. USHMM.

Aliza Melamed Vitis–Shomron

Spring, 1943

As spring approached, the atmosphere in the reduced ghetto changed. We waited for the final ‘aktion’, for the final extermination of the Jews of Warsaw’. People began to build bunkers. Experts turned up, engineers who built bunkers with electric light, in wells and toilets. Most of the bunkers were dug in cellars. There were various ways to enter the bunkers from the ground floor: by raising a cover in the kitchen stove or through an opening in the large stove attached to the wall, or in many other strange ways, according to the fertile imagination of the builders. The ghetto was preparing for a struggle.

March passed, and April came. Talk about the approaching final liquidation of the ghetto intensified. The ghetto was fully aware of it and prepared. It was the calm before the storm, suffused with energy and tension. Frequent shots near the ghetto and sudden evening searches by the SS command cars heralded what was to come. Sending off the people working for Töbens and Schultz factory workshops to Poniatow and Travniki* caused apprehension, even though they had gone of their own free will. If they are sending out the workers, what will happen to all the rest? The companies of the SS General Globocnik *, in charge of extermination, again arrived in Warsaw.

The only possibility left is to escape to the Aryan side, to dress up as a Pole and look for acquaintances or people willing to hide Jews in exchange for money. For a few thousand zloty, one could get a Polish birth certificate and a ration card. People handed over their children to Christian clerics, to monasteries and to peasants in the villages. Sacks were thrown over the walls daily and openly, at least on our side. People paid bribes to the foremen of the work crews to be able to join them going out to work on the Aryan side. Some of them did not look Jewish and were lucky enough to find ‘good’ Poles. Women dyed and oxidized their hair, and created curls by rolling their hair in pieces of paper, to look like blonde gentile girls. But they could not change the color of their eyes, or their dejected and pallid look. A Jew could also be picked out by his hesitant walk, his bent back, and his eyes constantly darting around him. We were so preoccupied by our aspiration to look like ‘goyim’ that we examined ourselves and others: Does that man look like a Jew? Will they recognize him in the street?

Of course, a new profession cropped up among the simple Polish people, with many demanding a bribe, or being paid to be an informer, a blackmailer. We were deeply disappointed; we thought that as witnesses of our tragedy, our compatriots, sharing the same language and culture, they would hold out a hand to save us. But it did not happen. A few of them hid Jews for large sums of money; these were mostly people connected to socialist activities and the left wing parties. Many devout Christians and religious scholars did so without taking money, out of true nobility of spirit. Many others, from among the simple folk, made a living by informing on Jews to the Gestapo, and collaborated willingly out of pure antisemitism. They walked around in the streets close to the ghetto, spied by the gates and the places where Jews worked on the Aryan side and looked for victims. Thousands made a living in this way.

*

The state of our family grew worse. We began to suffer from hunger. There were no clothes left to sell, we lived on the food we had received in the workshop, distributed by the Germans.

Aliza’s family decided to split up to increase chances of survival. Her more ‘Aryan-looking’ mother and younger sister, with a great deal of bribery, subterfuge, and nerves of steel, went into hiding on the Aryan side. Her father decided to take the chance and volunteer to go to the work camp near Lublin. Aliza herself wanted to stay and fight in the ghetto, but now only fourteen she was deemed too young and directed by the leadership of the resistance to make her way to the Aryan side as well, to live to tell the story. 

Aliza’s cousin stayed in the ghetto to fight the Germans. For three days, the resistance fought on, against impossible odds. It was weeks before the ghetto was overcome; there were few survivors.

Lazar

In the morning, we heard dull sounds of firing and explosions. In another house, in Swentojerska Street 34, the Z.O.B. had their positions. People from the organization told us about a mine they had detonated when the Germans decided to penetrate into our area; about battles leaving ten Germans dead; about a ‘peace delegation’ of SS officers who came with a white flag asking for an armistice to pick up their wounded, and how they fired at them at once. The fighters were elated, exhausted—but looked happy.

The battle in most of the houses in that area lasted two days. They ran from house to house. The leader of the group was the commander Marek Edelman. Dozens of fighters took part in the battle; some of them were killed. They went out at night to try to make contact with their friends. They told us that the battle inside the ghetto was still going on, that the fighters had delayed the entry of the tanks and set fire to them with homemade Molotov bottles. They were stationed at windows and changed their positions by moving across the rooftops. We in the shelters decided to open fire only when they discovered us. We made up our minds to defend our families to the end, not let them take us to Treblinka.

On the third day, fighting also broke out in the area of the workshops of Töbens and Schultz. At the last moment many people preferred to move to the Poniatow camp. In the meantime, the Germans began to set fire to the houses. On the second day of the uprising, the fighters told us about fires in the ghetto. We sat in the crowded shelter, praying that they wouldn’t get to us. We had expected the worst, but not fires. The people in the shelter said goodbye to each other. We were in despair, expecting certain death. We could already smell the smoke. Someone came from the neighboring house; people were fleeing from adjacent houses. There were no Germans around. After a night full of dread, just before dawn, we did hear German voices in the courtyard. They were calling to the Jews to come out at once, or else they’d burn us alive.

The artillery was constantly firing incendiary bombs. Whole blocks of houses were on fire. The shelter was not damaged, but the water stopped running. The electricity went out. The walls of the shelter became unbearably hot, smoke penetrated the cellar. We sat there, coughing, wrapped up in wet sheets. People wept, dragged themselves to the courtyard with the last vestige of strength. We had no choice, we would defend ourselves in the yard. The men cleared the opening and gave the order—‘wrap yourselves up in sheets soaked in the remnants of water, lie in the middle of the courtyard, in the garden.’

The yard is full of people, smoke covers everything, the top floors are in flames, the fire is running wild without any interference, parts of walls are collapsing and falling into the yard. People lying on the ground are groaning with pain…

Suddenly, we hear German voices in the street. God! We thought it was all over, that they’ve left us here. What shall we do? Several Germans burst in through the gate…

 

Lazar was captured and beaten, but managed to escape deportation, and made it to his cousin’s hiding place on the Aryan side.

 

I saw a different Lazar before me. He used to be arrogant, a show-off. The person sitting here now was thin, withdrawn; he stammered slightly when he spoke. We’ll have to live together in that small room in the cellar. Who knows how long? Until this damned war is over?

The Beginning of May, 1943

They say that the ghetto no longer exists. The wreckage of the houses is still standing; the piles of cinders still crackle, and at night shadowy figures, seeking food and shelter, still move about in there. But the ghetto no longer exists; 500,000 people have gone up in smoke. And those still alive bleed inwardly, their deep wounds will never heal. And maybe there will be no one left when freedom comes? Why are human beings so cruel and evil? They speak about the future, about truth, about Man as proof of God’s great wisdom, and it’s all lies, lies!

I know there are also good people, but they are persecuted; society rejects them as weaklings. Why am I prevented from seeing the wonders of nature and the world, from breathing fresh air?

The full narrative is available here.

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

The full narrative is available here.

In 2013 I visited Warsaw, rebuilt; almost nothing remains of the ghetto itself- with slight exceptions.

July 17, 2013

We tour Jewish Warsaw and finally the remnants of the ghetto wall, and also the Umschlagplatz. It is here that forced gatherings for the mass deportations to Treblinka took place. I am also reminded of the scene from the film “The Pianist”.

 

 

 

The Umschlagplatz. As many as 10,000 Jews were deported on some days to Treblinka. Upwards of 300,000 were sent from here to their deaths.

 

The Umschlagplatz. Our group. 2013.

The Umschlagplatz. Our group. 2013.

 

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The Umschlagplatz. As many as 10,000 Jews were deported on some days to Treblinka. Upwards of 300,000 were sent from here to their deaths.

The Umschlagplatz. As many as 10,000 Jews were deported on some days to Treblinka. Upwards of 300,000 were sent from here to their deaths.

We walk the edge of the wall, memorialized in bronze in the sidewalk.

 

 

 

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And we come to a section that still stands.

Warsaw Ghetto wall.

Warsaw Ghetto wall.

 

Warsaw Ghetto wall. Some Israeli teens are hear, listening to their teacher.

Warsaw Ghetto wall. Some Israeli teens are here, listening to their teacher.

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising was the first open fight in an occupied city against the Germans. And it was conducted by Jewish youth, who held off the Germans for half a month in the spring of 1943. Utterly inspiring and amazing. We make our way to Mila 18, the bunker command post where Mordechai Anielewicz and many of the resistance fighters breathed their last. It is another solemn moment.

18 Mila Street.

18 Mila Street.

Monument at Mila 18.

Monument at Mila 18.

 

We know why we are here. We are not only witnesses, but we were chosen to become, for many, the point of entry on the immense and sometimes unfathomable subject of the Holocaust, and the many forms of resistance that were taken during it.  And so rightly, our trip is concluding here. The processing will only come over time.

***

* By then, there were between 300-350 fighters- Bauer, Yehuda. ‘Current Issues in Holocaust Education and Research: The Unprecedentedness of the Holocaust in an Age of Genocide.’ Lecture notes, International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel. July 21, 2016.

* Poniatow and Travniki– forced–labor camps for Jews in Lublin District near the concentration camp Majdanek.

* SS General Globocnik –SS and police leader who directed Operation Reinhard between autumn 1941 and summer 1943.

 

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72 years ago, on Friday the 13th of April, the 743rd Tank Battalion overran the train near Magdeburg, Germany. Shortly  thereafter, other attached units of the 30th Infantry Division, notably the 105th Medical Detachment and the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, also arrived at the liberation site and immediately set to work trying to handle this unexpected encounter. The account of T4 Wilson Rice as he reports on the disposition of the survivors and the soldiers in this combat zone is revealing. 

The following is an extract of more detailed information that is from the 30th Inf. Div. G-2 Report, 17 April 1945, about the concentration camp train:

CONCENTRATION CAMP TRAIN

On  13-14 April, 1945 troops of the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, moving into billets in the town of Farsleben, discovered that the normal population of 500 in the town, had been augmented by approximately 2,500 persons crammed onto a prison train of 45 cars, most of them freight wagons, which had been standing in the station for two days.  Conditions on the train were frightful.  It was critically overcrowded, and filthy almost beyond description, particularly in view of the lack of sanitary facilities. Nineteen persons had already been stricken with typhus and six more were already dead of the disease.  No food had been received for three days, and those who still had the strength, were almost dangerously ravenous, some swarming into the local bakery to lick up the raw flour.

“WATER, WATER!” Ervin Abadi. Completed at Hillersleben DP camp, May, 1945. Soldier Monroe Williams collection.

The commanding officer of the 823rd T.D. Bn immediately ordered the Burgomeister to provide food for the train’s passengers by the slaughtering of cattle and sheep, and the all night operation of the town’s two bakeries, and to provide housing by the community.  These arrangements were confirmed by the Military Government, which later moved the group to barracks in Neuhaldensleben.

Interrogation of 20 of the passengers revealed that they were Jews and some other political prisoners who had been confined in the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp located near Celle, Province of Hannover.  This section of Bergen-Belsen was believed to be the only camp set up exclusively for Jews, and was termed as a stopover to Camp xxx. The prisoners were supposed to be used in exchange for German citizens through neutral countries.

On 7 April 1945, the entire exchange group of Jews was suddenly alerted and bundled into the train which wound up on the Farsleben siding.  The train left 8 April and was said to be bound for Theresienstadt, in the Sudetenland.  The train was halted at Farsleben because of the advances of our troops; before the guards and crew abandoned it, the prisoners were told to cross the Elbe River on foot.

[Hauptmann Schlegel, the train commander] estimated that 15,000 persons had died at the camp during his stay there, out of a constantly changing population of about 40,000, attributing the deaths to typhus and typhoid, both of which were frequent, rather than to deliberate starvation.  He said he knew of two as doctors and a “number” of civilian doctors at the camp.  On the train, he stated, there were three civilian doctors.  Five persons died while enroute.  He believed that the 33,000 prisoners outside the stop-over camp at Bergen-Belsen, were about equally political and criminal cases.

A kapo inflicts a beating at Bergen-Belsen. Ervin Abadi. Completed at Hillersleben DP camp, May, 1945. Soldier Monroe Williams collection.

A PW [prisoner of war] stated that the camp was run by two officers of the Totenkopf  Verbande, SS/Hauptsturmfuhrer (Capt.) Kramer and SS/Untersturmfuhrer (Lt.) Klipp.  His own attitude was one of hand-washing apathy.  He was not responsible for what went on, was just a pawn–and if he was bothered by some of the things that went on, no one knows about it.

This is one of the many stories of the Nazi’s organized cruelty of the German model of total warfare.  Two other suspects of the case which certainly will affect the task of Military Government, which will face many of the units now devoted to fighting, were developed at Farsleben.  The first in the report by many of the prisoners, that the inhabitants of the town were very friendly when the train first stopped there –because they expected the hourly arrival of the U.S. Troops.  Later, when our failure to arrive aroused some doubts, the populace reverted to hostility and contempt.  Our troops, when they did arrive, however, found the citizenry of Farsleben most eager to be of help to the prisoners.  The second observation was made by Military Government Officers, after the prisoners had been fed and deloused and after beds and clean bed-clothes had been set up for them in barns and other buildings. The set up looked beautiful, but only for a short time.  The personal standards of cleanliness of many members of the group were bad, and some even went so far as to defecate on the floor of their living quarters.  This rehabilitation for many of the victims of Hitler’s Europe, must mean far more than mere relocation and provision of adequate food and quarters, which itself is no great problem.  True rehabilitation must provide for even so fundamental a thing as a sense of physical decency, for a large number of those who have been treated have lived for years as animals.

Casualties to date:                              Division                      24,778

Civilian                                        974

Enemy                           2,100

Other Units                   3,628

31,480

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Three months ago I got up early, fired up the computer, and typed out the letter that has been in the way back part of my mind for a while. At the end of this school year, I will have served thirty years in public education at my own alma mater, and over a year at St. Mary’s Academy, the Catholic school a town over.

rozie-77

Passport photo for class trip to Spain, Summer 1977. 30 of us, peaking on hormones, were there a whole MONTH. God bless our chaperones…Mr. and Mrs Borys and Miss Schiavetti….

But in reality, I started here a long, long time ago. I don’t really recall tons from high school, but I well remember getting off the bus, scared, as an incoming ninth grader, and asking a neighborhood kid how to find my locker. He mercifully steered me in the right direction, and somehow I navigated through the labyrinth of this mystifying and terrifying place called high school; with the help of exceptional teachers, and a small circle of friends, in a snap of the fingers I found myself as a young man at age 18 longing to leave this community.

I’ve written before about my stinging teenage words to my father, when he asked about my plans for the future…  ‘I’m leaving this town, I don’t know what I want to do, but I do know I am NOT going to become a teacher, like you’—a passing shot before I headed off to college a few hundred miles away. Later, at 26, after several independent years on my own, I was paying him a token in rent, and driving his old car around town. And I was a teacher, a high school teacher like him, and wait—oh, yes—teaching the exact same subject that he had been teaching for thirty years, world history. Even the young can’t outrun the karmic wheel, it seems.

Feb 3, 1992 Glens Falls Post Star story. Captain and the Kid.

Feb 2, 1992 Glens Falls Post Star story. Captain and the Kid.

So it was with this realization, and a small amount of sadness, that I began my day today teaching, finally knowing that my days in this room—this very school that produced me so many decades ago—this place where I have walked the halls more than any other place in my adult life—are numbered. I also well remember my father’s bittersweet retirement letter—remarking on his thirty years, how he loved it, but also how he wished no fanfare, but to leave as quietly as he had come in, thirty years before. At the time (1993), it was all a blur for me, banging out lesson plans, calling parents of troublesome kids, hammering my way forward into some toenail of a crack into their lives… how am I going to reach these kids? Some of my colleagues figured me for a ‘short-timer’, but as it turns out, I WAS A LIFER.

A lifer. How did that happen?  But, I did it. When times got tough, and I mean really, really brutal in our profession, I kept going. Many teachers left—but I and thousands and thousands of others did not.

A few years back I wrote, respectfully, about where I thought our profession was at, and what our anointed ones were doing in the name of ‘educational reform’. My busiest single day on this blog (14K reads on a January Saturday) was not over history or Holocaust education, but over the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads as a teaching profession. You get to the point where you have to just walk away from the political posturing, heading down the hall with your back to the noise and your feet carrying you back into the classroom, where nothing else matters. You are in your realm, your element. Of course, Dad knew this. The kids KNOW that you know what you are talking about. And some of them maybe see that this student—teacher connection is what real life is all about. You build a relationship, maybe even not one that can be quantified or measured by the bean counters—and sometimes you even go on to do great things together.

My father had a glimpse of that with his own teaching life, and a mirror to what the future had in store for me. “A teacher finds, eventually, their own niche, their own method,” he said. “Teaching is not a matter of how ‘smart’ you are, it’s a matter of personality. If you’re strong and fair, it doesn’t make any difference what you teach.”

*

 My dad passed 17 years ago. I think of him a lot, now that my turn at ‘retirement’ has come around, I suppose. Sure, there is the excitement and happiness of starting onto something new; my wife retired from her 33 years in the classroom less than a year ago (I told the NYS Commissioner of Education and the NYS Board of Regents, in person, how I felt about her in this video). It feels like it is finally okay to clean house and throw out decades’ worth of academic accumulation, though I hesitate to call it ‘clutter’. With every folder that I gently tip over the edge of the wastebasket, or maybe no longer feel the need to replace into the filing cabinet, there is also a part of me that feels like it is gradually folding into the flotsam and jetsam of the river of time. Each day passes quicker now as the path takes a more defining bend in its long journey, where everything is finally blending and equalizing into the sea of tranquility and good intent. I am close enough to finally see this; I try to absorb it all, live each moment; I try to just ‘be’, with the kids.

*

I told my freshmen and sophomore classes today (I teach all grade levels) that in fact they are my last respective ninth and tenth grade classes. I have been avoiding this, though I figured that the news was out, and they probably already knew. The young freshmen appeared not to know—there was an element of shock that took me aback for a moment—well, in truth, for the rest of the lesson. Though I am at my best teaching under emotionally searing moments, I think we were both rattled momentarily-they at realizing I won’t be here for them anymore in a few weeks, like old times; me at their reaction to that reality. While I look forward to the future, comes a time when you are confronted with the impact you are making, and the realization that after 30 plus years, you won’t be making it on that daily basis anymore.

My old man confined himself to the back porch the summer after he retired—back pain, he said. [He had never really had it before, except for the time he fell out of the tree while picking apples with us kids in our childhood. We were concerned, then snickered, as he writhed a bit on the ground. He uttered a few choice words in our direction, had his ribs and back wrapped for a couple weeks, and seemed fine after that.] He did not move off that porch all summer. Back pain, my ass. I’ve got your number now, old man.

And now with one click of the ‘post’ button, thirty plus years of service to ‘Hometown, USA’—to my country—and to humanity—begin the descent over the falls of history themselves. Prosit, my father would say. A toast—so be it, and may it benefit you.

*

proud-to-be-a-fallser-and-an-american-today

Nate St. John photo, 12-7-2016. Prosit.

 

Here is the Post Star article…. and here; thanks Bill Toscano…

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April 17, 1945, was a Sunday. It was three days after the liberation of the train near Magdeburg, near the Elbe River, just miles from Berlin. War weary GIs had their first encounters with the conditions at the train. They would never forget what they saw.

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 Liaison 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.

He 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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A lump in my throat.

On April 15th, 1945, soldiers of the 11th Armoured Division of the British army arrived and liberated 60,000 prisoners of Bergen Belsen concentration camp.  A scene of horror confronted them– thousands of unburied corpses and Holocaust survivors in various stages of starvation and sickness; eight hundred would die on the day of their liberation, and 13,000 more in the following month of May even as the war finally ended.  

The transport liberated on April 13th by the Americans near the Elbe River had left this camp  seven days before. 

743rd S-3 After Action journal report- the moment of liberation

The logbook for the 105th Medical Battalion of the 30th Infantry Division was kept by T/4 Sgt. Wilson Rice, who interjected colorful personal commentaries when typing up his reports.

April 13th, 1945

At Letzlingen, Germany, we pulled off of the road to wait.  Here Major Lowell, Major Huff and Tommy met us.  They had gone back to Brunswick to see about getting the soldiers of ours out of the German hospitals, and to see some other hospitals.  Col. Treherne also met us there.  While we were parked here the forward command post came along.  I went out to one of the trucks to talk to some of the fellows from headquarters. They had a German on the truck and he was most unhappy.  He was one of the few who ran before he was captured, and before he was caught, he tore off all of his markings and insignia off of his uniform.  Nasty little Nazi.  They couldn’t find a place to get rid of him, so Paul Huff and I put him on the hood of our jeep and took him into town to the PW [prisoner of war] cage.  On our way back, we passed another walking down the road, but we were in a hurry.  He was smiling and just as happy about the whole thing.  We just merely pointed the direction, and everybody went merrily on their way about their business.

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When Major Lowell, Major Huff and Cardwell left this area, I went with them.  Farther on down the road, when the convoy was halted again, Major Marsh from the Military Government drove up to Col. Treherne’s jeep.  He told him about a train of civilians that were prisoners of the Germans.  Our jeep pulled out from the convoy and went to Farsleben, Germany, where the train was located.

Also in this town was the command post of the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, and we stopped there to pick up Capt. Baranov, the 823rd Bn. Surgeon.  He took us down there, and it was something that you’ve read about, but couldn’t believe.  They were people that looked of being very refined and cultured.  It is said that among the people, was the French Consul to Germany.  Some great minds were among these people. There were two doctors that were members of the train, and they were caring for the people the best they could without any equipment.  Capt. Baranov’s men came up with a few drugs bandages, etc. to use until they could get more.  It was about the same as nothing, but it was to go to the women and children first.  About 75% of the members of this train were Jews so the drugs etc., were given to the two doctors and the Rabbi for distribution.  Major Lowell and Major Huff told them to get all of the contagious and seriously sick to be segregated into cars by themselves.  These cars that they were traveling in were boxcars.  Sanitation was terrible and the people had been traveling in them for eight days and nights, without food or water.  Most of the sickness was due to malnutrition.  There were only two typhus cases.

Liberated Girl as photographed by SGT. George C. Gross, Sat. morning, April 14th, 1945. Farsleben, Germany.

As all of the business was being transacted, a beautiful little girl, about eight years of age, came up to my side.  She was very sweet and her complexion was very clear.  I looked at her, smiled and patted her on the head, and she smiled back.  As Tommy and I were standing there, I soon felt a little hand slip through my arm.  As I looked around, a big lump came in my throat.

As we were leaving, a man came up to our jeep.  He was one of the American citizens and was from Detroit, Mich.  He was taken prisoner two years ago in Warsaw, and his family is still now in Detroit.  He was a sick man, but there was nothing we could do for him, as we were not prepared for such things.  Military Government is taking care of things as fast as they can.  This is what I mean when I say that warfare such as this, was not planned for by the Army.  Things are going too fast.  This man told us about the 33 American citizens.  He went on to say that he knew our circumstances, knew we had to take care of the troops first, knew that everything possible will be done for them as fast as possible, and went on to say,  “We know how busy you guys are, what you will do for us, maybe one week maybe two weeks, but even if nothing else is done, there is one thing we truly and dearly thank you for, and that is for our Liberty”  There was a break in this man’s voice, and I knew how he felt.  There was a lump in my throat.

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72 years ago this very morning, Lt. Frank W. Towers of the 30th Infantry Division arrived to take the survivors of the train liberated the previous day out of harm’s way. What he saw stayed with him for the rest of his life. In 2007, he contacted me after reading about our first reunion. Later, he made it his life’s mission to track down as many of the survivors that he could, serving as the master of ceremonies for many joyful, and tearful, reunions to follow.

Saturday morning, April 14th, 1945, Farsleben, Germany.

As the 30th Division’s liaison officer, I was told about the train initially by my counterpart, Lt. Floyd Mitchell, who was the liaison officer from the 743rd Tank Battalion, and as he was going back to his headquarters, he asked me if I would like to go with him to see it. I agreed to accompany him, and this was my first encounter with ‘The Holocaust’, to witness all that we had heard about through the ‘propaganda’ [we had been told] in previous months—to see it with my own eyes, that our own Allied ‘propaganda’, was in fact true.
The main roads in some places were impassable, so the trip from Farsleben to Hillersleben was mostly over narrow back roads and dirt farm roads, in order to get to the destination in the shortest time. Due to artillery shelling and too much recent rain they were full of muddy pot holes, and the vehicles had to travel very slowly, or cause breakdowns of the vehicles. The drivers were very well aware of the hazards of driving over this type of roads, as they had done so many times before. Fortunately, during these days it did not rain any more. As I acquired the vehicles for the convoy, some were covered, and some were not, but to these people, it did not matter. Rain or shine, they were on the way to freedom, and although hungry, dehydrated and in frail health, they felt that they were going to a better place than they had seen in many months. They were happy in knowing that they were going to a place where they could get food, sleeping space and health assistance.
As best I recall, we started moving these people in the afternoon, and we continued until dark, which at that time was not until after 10:00 PM, so we halted operations until daylight the next morning, and continued on into the day until all were removed from Farsleben. I am not sure just who was involved in assisting the loading of the people at Farsleben, perhaps by some of the troops from our Engineer Battalion and some of the men of the American Military Government and Red Cross personnel, who also helped in unloading the people, orienting them as to where they were to go to get showers and new clothing, then feeding them and assigning them to appropriate quarters. Then their processing began as to who they were, where they had come from, their birthplace, and their hoped for destination. All of this of course took several weeks before they were all processed and shipped to their destinations.

Later, Frank would travel the world, meeting the children whom he had a hand in saving, and their children, and grandchildren. In the NBC News broadcast below, here he was in the Netherlands just a few years back, with ‘new branches on the Tree of Life’. Frank Towers passed on July 4th, 2016, at the age of 99.

 

 

 

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