Archive for May, 2022

Some of our local news outlets have shown interest in this story. One ran today. We hope to have the film ready by Quarter 4 next year. I’ve edited a couple sentences/ photos for clarity on my part, but I think Ms. Hochsprung nailed it. Next up, Toronto in June to visit with Ariela!

After two-year delay, author Matthew Rozell visits Magdeburg, Germany

by Gretta Hochsprung, Glens Falls Post Star

May 24, 2022

Retired Hudson Falls history teacher and author Matthew Rozell stands in front of the railroad tracks in Farsleben, near Magdeburg, Germany, in April — 77 years after a train filled with 2,500 Jews was liberated by American soldiers. Rozell recounted the story in his second book.

HARTFORD, NEW YORK — The story started in his classroom.

History teacher Matthew Rozell and his students interviewed World War II veterans for the Hudson Falls High School World War II Living History Project he started in the 1990s.

A 2001 interview with retired U.S. Army Sgt. Carrol “Red” Walsh of Johnstown unearthed the story of the liberation of a train near Magdeburg, Germany — a story that turned into a book and an upcoming documentary film.

On April 13, 1945, near the end of World War II, Army Sgt. George Gross and Walsh were deep in the heart of Nazi Germany, part of the U.S. 30th Infantry Division and the 743rd Tank Battalion, when they spotted a train sitting on the tracks.

On April 13, 1945, near the end of World War II, American soldiers liberated a train containing 2,500 Jews in Farsleben, near Magdeburg, Germany.
Liberation photo has gone viral many times over. Social media post, France.

The train contained 2,500 Jews being taken from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to the Theresienstadt Ghetto, a Nazi concentration camp in the Czech Republic. The American soldiers found the train deserted on the tracks and liberated the Jewish prisoners, saving them from extermination.

Rozell shared photos of the liberation on the school’s website and eventually turned the story into his second book, “A Train Near Magdeburg — The Holocaust, the survivors, and the American soldiers who saved them.”

A dedicated Dutch-American organizer, a passionate local historian, the town’s museum coordinator, and, importantly, the local school’s world history teacher and her group of high school students near Magdeburg found Rozell’s photographs and started the “Stranded Train Committee” to raise money to build a monument to remember the day of the liberation, a subject the German students formally didn’t learn much about.

History teacher Matt Rozell, right, stands with filmmaker Mike Edwards near the railroad tracks in Farsleben, near Magdeburg, Germany, in April.

Rozell and filmmaker Mike Edwards were planning to capture the monument dedication ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation in Germany in 2020.

But the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, a lone red-headed high school student named Johanna Mücke placed a bouquet of flowers at the site.

Over Easter, Rozell finally made the long-awaited trip to Magdeburg, a central German city on the Elbe River, to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the liberation — two years later than expected. He brought along a film crew to conduct interviews and film the dedication ceremony.

“After that first gig got canceled, we kind of decided we didn’t need to film all the hoopla,” Rozell said, “we wanted to go and interview people. Unfortunately in the last two years, I lost like four or five survivors that we never got on film.”

Rozell and the film crew shot scenes at Bergen-Belsen, which is where Anne Frank and her sister died. There is an exhibit there based on Rozell’s book.

The place now looks like a park with mass graves, Rozell said. The British liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945.

Bergen-Belsen. “Here Rest 5000 dead”.

“When the British got there on the 15th, there were 60,000 people there and a lot of them were sick and dying,” Rozell said. “Eight hundred of them died the day the British arrived. So it was a nightmare. There were close to 10,000 corpses piled up.”

Rozell walked the route taken by the American soldiers who liberated the train. He met up with now-20-year-old Johanna Mücke, who acted as their tour guide and translator and took them directly to the liberation site.

“I’d never met her before, and I’d never been to Magdeburg before, and I’d never been to the liberation site before,” Rozell said. “This is what I’ve been doing with my life for the past 20 years.”

Rozell and a cameraman hiked down a ravine to the railroad tracks where the famous liberation picture was taken in 1945. When he arrived at the tracks — still a very active train route — a train rushed by, giving Rozell chills.

Seventy-seven years to the day, on a beautiful spring day, Walsh and Gross liberated that train.

Rozell is most impressed with the German students who have asked questions and learned about a past that many Germans want to forget. Many of the students had never met a Jewish person. They hadn’t learned much about the Holocaust in school.

“Nobody knew, even though it was in their backyard, about this story,” Rozell said.

Rozell took home rocks to remember his travels. He picked up a rock at the train site.

“It’s actually a piece of that place that’s with me forever,” said Rozell, who remarked upon the details of a trip 20 years in the making.

The story has come full circle, he said, but the chapters are not yet complete.

“Just when you think it’s over, the phone rings or the email chimes and there’s a new survivor — quote unquote new — somebody who had never known the story before,” Rozell said, “and the book and the film is helping these people heal.”

“Stranded Train Committee” Monument dedication. Due to fluctuating Covid conditions, a smaller dedication ceremony went ahead on the 77th anniversary at the liberation site. Johanna Mücke, German legislator, Anette Pilz, Ron Chaulet, Matthew Rozell, 2nd Gen survivors from Israel spoke.

Johanna Mücke and her German classmates were part of the team that formed “Stranded Train Committee” and raised money to erect a monument in memory of the liberation of the train near Magdeburg. Ron Chaulet of the Netherlands (pictured above) was instrumental in setting up the foundation.

Local father and son historians Daniel and Klaus-Peter Keweloh of Hillersleben were instrumental in educating people near the liberation site about the train. (Magdeburg was formerly behind the Iron Curtain in E. Germany). It was Daniel who had written to me in 2008 from the German town of Hillersleben, some 15 or so km from the liberation site. He now conducts informal tours where the hospital was located and the Jewish cemetery for 136 souls rest (after passing following their liberation), in his ‘backyard’. He stated that growing up, he learned little about the Holocaust; all of the rhetoric was placed on the sacrifices of the Soviet Union in World War II, almost nothing of the horrors of the industrial scale genocide perpetrated on the Jewish people. He is passionate about educating his fellow Germans and bringing Jewish families to this resting place.

“It’s bringing together the new generations with the ones that are leaving us,” Rozell continued. “It’s bringing together former enemies, these dedicated German historians, who now dedicate their lives to helping these Jewish families get a sense of closure. So the whole experience has been one of healing, and it’s healing for the soldiers and the families of the guys who fought in combat.”


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