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George H.W. Bush seated in a Grumman TBM Avenger, circa 1944. USN photo, public domain.

George H.W. Bush was the last president to be a World War II veteran. Regardless of your politics, he was a class act, and served his country in a variety of high-ranking positions.

Bush was a naval aviator in the Pacific during World War II; during an attack on a Japanese island radio station, his plane took flak, was set afire and later crashed in the ocean. He finished the mission first and bailed out and was picked up by a U.S. submarine in the vicinity, but several men on the mission were captured and later executed by the Japanese. Later, he remarked, “Why had I been spared and what did God have [planned] for me?” And we know the rest of the story.

A few years back my friend Judy had the opportunity to be in his presence. She wrote today:

“A man of virtue and integrity. May he rest in peace in Heaven and may his family find comfort in knowing he lived a life that was focused on others. I remember a few years ago seeing him at one of his favorite restaurants in Perkins Cove, Maine. The admiration of all was evident as he was wheeled away in his wheelchair to his speedboat to go home. He was beaming with appreciation of the crowd’s cheering.” 

In these busy times may we stop and pause to recognize the great ones who are leaving us or have left us, the men and women who saved the world and hammered out the framework of the 20th century. George H.W. Bush epitomized such character and we hope that his life will be a lesson for all Americans. Godspeed, President Bush.

A nice article in the New York Times about his final days.

‘I Love You, Too’: George Bush’s Final Days

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It’s time for the big news.

[<PLEASE SHARE >]

 

I’ve been working for nearly three years with a highly respected film producer for what we are confident will become the PBS film version of the Train Near Magdeburg story. It is very important for both Mike Edwards of the 5 Stones Group and I that the story be told correctly and respectfully.

Mike’s first feature documentary, Searching For Augusta, followed historian Martin King as he unraveled the mystery of a young Belgian nurse who saved soldiers in the critical period of the siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, finding Augusta Chiwy shortly before her death. With the critical success of the film, the Augusta Chiwy Foundation was set up to support similar projects to cultivate humanity and stand as a testament to the human spirit.

The pre-production trailer of ‘Train’ has been field tested for almost 6 months and is now ready to show the world to drum up interest in supporting this incredibly timely and important endeavor. It’s been made tragically clear that the support for Holocaust education and the cultivation of decent human beings can’t be allowed to stop, or even idle.

Because there is enough hate in the world, and this is a story with so much power. It’s the power of love transcending the hate, eclipsing the barriers of time and space, reverberating right down to this day, across four continents and seven decades.

It’s the story of the Holocaust, the ordeals of the victims and the soldiers fighting their way across Europe. The shock of the discovery of the train and the camps, and what the soldiers did about it, even though they were fighting and dying on their way to the final climactic battle on the Elbe River. There was trauma there, too. Some of my guys also insisted on being referred to as ‘survivors’ of World War II. ‘Hero worship’ of them was emphatically rejected.

It’s also the story of the dedication of a teacher with a singular passion for uncovering the connections to the past and bringing survivors and soldiers together, the magic that ushers forth from the universe when a teacher connects with his students to trip the wires of the cosmos. It’s a message for young people to pay attention to the lessons of the past, because it is in witnessing that one becomes a witness.

Our intent is not to just recount the history, or to lecture you. Rather, we hope that in joining us on this journey, in witnessing the ‘choices’ of the survivors and dilemmas of the soldiers as they unfolded, the moral obligations of the viewer to not stand by in the face of rising evil will coalesce around the example of the abandonment of a persecuted people, and the moral choice of upstanders engaged in combat to do something that maybe, the world should have done from the start.

We hope you can draw your own lessons. On the eve of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, we present you with our vision for a better world through recounting the story, formerly unknown, of a singular event nearly 75 years ago that continues to ripple across the universe.

Learn the past. Because, to paraphrase William Faulkner, it’s never over. It’s not even past.

Please watch, and be mindful of the Holocaust scholar who said to me, “When you teach to Holocaust, think of the reason why you are teaching this history. What do you want, the world to be?”

What you do matters.

To support our vision and become part of it, click here.

FAQS

  1. How much monetary sponsorship does the foundation need to raise to complete the production and distribution of “A Train Near Magdeburg”?

– The budget for the documentary film is $500,000.  The costs include pre-production, scripting, producing, direction, principal photography in America, Europe and Israel, editing, music, post-production, visual effects and distribution fees.

  1. How much filming has been done to date?

– We have spent two years so far making connections, doing research and filming initial interviews that have been done with survivors, family members, liberators and medics who were involved in this story.

  1. Where will the documentary film be distributed when it is complete?

– We have an existing relationship and a formal Letter of Interest from American Public Television in the United States.  American Public Television is the leading syndicator of high-quality, top-rated programming to public television stations in America. American Public Television also distributes programming on a worldwide basis through television, online and home video distribution methods. To learn more about APT, please go to https://www.aptonline.org/about/apt.

  1. When will the film be complete once the production funding has been raised?

– The goal would be to complete the film in time to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of the train and the defeat of Nazi Germany. [APRIL 2020]

  1. Can I donate online?

– Yes.  Donations can be made online at www.AugustaChiwy.org.

  1. Is my financial gift tax-deductible?

– Yes.  Gifts to the Augusta Chiwy Foundation are tax-deductible.  The Augusta Chiwy Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit organization based in the United States.

  1. Are there corporate sponsorships available?

– Yes.  Corporate sponsorships are available at various giving levels through the Augusta Chiwy Foundation.  Please contact Steven Croft to discuss these options.

  1. How do I find out more information, ask questions and become involved?

– Please contact:

Steven E. Croft, Chairman of the Board

The Augusta Chiwy Foundation

Steven.Croft@AugustaChiwy.org

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The better question.

The Jewish nurse who treated the gunman. “The better question is, what does it mean to you?”

Ari Mahler
November 3 via Facebook
I am The Jewish Nurse.

Yes, that Jewish Nurse. The same one that people are talking about in the Pittsburgh shooting that left 11 dead. The trauma nurse in the ER that cared for Robert Bowers who yelled, “Death to all Jews,” as he was wheeled into the hospital. The Jewish nurse who ran into a room to save his life.

To be honest, I’m nervous about sharing this. I just know I feel alone right now, and the irony of the world talking about me doesn’t seem fair without the chance to speak for myself.

When I was a kid, being labeled “The Jewish (anything)”, undoubtedly had derogatory connotations attached to it. That’s why it feels so awkward to me that people suddenly look at it as an endearing term. As an adult, deflecting my religion by saying “I’m not that religious,” makes it easier for people to accept I’m Jewish – especially when I tell them my father is a rabbi. “I’m not that religious,” is like saying, “Don’t worry, I’m not that Jewish, therefore, I’m not so different than you,” and like clockwork, people don’t look at me as awkwardly as they did a few seconds beforehand.

I experienced anti-Semitism a lot as a kid. It’s hard for me to say if it was always a product of genuine hatred, or if kids with their own problems found a reason to single me out from others. Sure, there were a few Jewish kids at my school, but no one else had a father who was a Rabbi. I found drawings on desks of my family being marched into gas chambers, swastikas drawn on my locker, and notes shoved inside of it saying, “Die Jew. Love, Hitler.” It was a different time back then, where bullying was not monitored like it is now. I was weak, too. Rather than tell anyone, I hid behind fear. Telling on the people who did this would only lead to consequences far worse.

Regardless, the fact that this shooting took place doesn’t shock me. To be honest, it’s only a matter of time before the next one happens. History refutes hope that things will change. My heart yearns for change, but today’s climate doesn’t foster nurturing, tolerance, or civility. Even before this shooting took place, there’s no real evidence supporting otherwise. The FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center note that Jews only account for two percent of the U.S. population, yet 60% of all religious hate crimes are committed against them. I don’t know why people hate us so much, but the underbelly of anti-Semitism seems to be thriving.

So now, here I am, The Jewish Nurse that cared for Robert Bowers. I’ve watched them talk about me on CNN, Fox News, Anderson Cooper, PBS, and the local news stations. I’ve read articles mentioning me in the NY Times and the Washington Post. The fact that I did my job, a job which requires compassion and empathy over everything, is newsworthy to people because I’m Jewish. Even more so because my dad’s a Rabbi.

To be honest, I didn’t see evil when I looked into Robert Bower’s eyes. I saw something else. I can’t go into details of our interactions because of HIPAA. I can tell you that as his nurse, or anyone’s nurse, my care is given through kindness, my actions are measured with empathy, and regardless of the person you may be when you’re not in my care, each breath you take is more beautiful than the last when you’re lying on my stretcher. This was the same Robert Bowers that just committed mass homicide. The Robert Bowers who instilled panic in my heart worrying my parents were two of his 11 victims less than an hour before his arrival.

I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish. Why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse? I didn’t say a word to him about my religion. I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you?

Love. That’s why I did it. Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings. I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.

Respectfully,

Ari Mahler, RN.

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Today is Why.

I had some pretty big news I wanted to share today. Good news. But on Saturday, eleven human beings were slaughtered in their sacred house of worship, their synagogue, in Pittsburgh, PA, USA.

It can wait a little longer.

I was at my six-year-old niece’s birthday party as the news unfolded. Little ones were running about the house—it was raining hard outside, the chill of a late October Saturday nor’easter—laughing, playing, joyful. Life!

But an all-too-familiar numbness crept in. How does one make sense of the senseless? How does one begin to find the words, to explain, to understand? And I began to sense the continuation of a profound shift on a national level.

And today we are approaching the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the so-called Night of Broken Glass, when the massive state orchestrated pogrom against the Jews in Germany was unleashed.

How many Americans even know what that means? Or that it all started years before, with words?

Burning synagogue in Ober-Ramstadt, Hesse; Darmstadt, Germany, November 10, 1938. Credit: USHMM, courtesy of Trudy Isenberg

 

How many good, ordinary Germans looked the other way? Or straight into the camera as their neighbors’ synagogue went up in flames, the firemen dousing the nearby non-Jewish community houses to keep those flames from jumping?

How many good, ordinary Americans read those newspaper headlines on Nov. 10, 1938, and turned to the sports pages? In a just a few short years, two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish community would be slaughtered.

New York Times, November 11th 1938. Nazis smash, loot and burn Jewish shops and temples. Credit: New York Times

 

And writing this, here in America, brings forth a flash of memory. Several summers back I was flipping through the Wall Street Journal in a quiet setting with a companion sitting nearby, normally a champion of human rights for all. It was just the two of us and he suddenly remarked something to the effect that “it’s the Jews who control Wall Street”. I was shocked, because he was aware of my work with Holocaust survivors and Holocaust education. He has Jewish  friends, so I think he thought he was needling me, but he kept pushing—”you going to tell me it’s not true?”—so that he could argue it, and he struck me as serious. I felt a chill. I didn’t understand then, and I don’t now, what brought that on. For sport? I didn’t engage with him, like he wanted, but something shifted then on a level that I’m still trying to figure out.

And I’ve been trying to figure out a lot of things these past couple years. Because I think words, like history, matter.

I will always love my friend, but I sometimes think there are times when some people may wonder when I’m going to get off this ‘Holocaust affectation’. Well, probably never.  Because I guess they don’t get it. There is a reason I am here to do what I do. There is a reason I spent ten years, the last one feverishly, writing a book while teaching full time, a couple times wondering if I would survive it. If they struggle to understand how an interest became a passion that became a mission, they should pick it up sometime.

Because it’s never over.

Because I’m tired of trying to explain, to ‘understand’.

 

Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69

 

Eleven gentle souls brutally taken in their sanctuary.

In the United States of America.

 

Because today is ‘why’.

***

A mutual friend in Holocaust education circles found the words on Saturday.

Today is why.

By Juanita Ray, North Carolina Council on the Holocaust

October 27, 2018

 

If you want to know why I study the causes, events, and horrors of the Holocaust…today is why.

 

If you want to know why I left my dear, beloved theatre kids to teach this dark history…today is why.

 

If you want to know why I spend my retirement time working with the NC Council on the Holocaust and the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching to train teachers in Holocaust Education…today is why.

 

If you want to know why many of my posts are about love, acceptance, justice, and tolerance…today is why.

 

If you want to know why we still bother to teach this history that “was so long ago” and

“not on my end of course test”…today is why.

 

If you want to know why I still read and research and teach about the dangers of extremist political ideologies…today is why.

 

If you want to know why I taught my students to be upstanders- not bystanders…today is why.

 

If you want to know why when I visited a synagogue in Vienna in 2011, I had to show my passport…today is why.

 

If you still believe the horrors of past antisemitism could never happen here, or again…open your eyes.

 

Don’t become too comfortable with events like today. Guard you words, guard your hearts. Love your neighbors as yourselves. Seek to do good and repair the world– Tikkun Olam.

 

If you have any doubt where I stand… I stand with, for, and beside those who are hated, bullied, dehumanized, ostracized, targeted, scapegoated, threatened, harmed, and sadly, killed. But I cannot just stand by. Perhaps I have a bleeding heart, but I cannot have a hardened heart.

 

Esther 4:14– Perhaps you were born for such a time as this.

 

NO ONE, EVER, ANYWHERE should have to be afraid to enter a house of worship.

[Further Reading: https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/antisemitism]

 

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On the Run.

Floyd Dumas (L) and two other escapees, Bill Robb of Scotland and a South African, pose for a portrait while behind enemy lines in Rome, 1944.
Courtesy Floyd Dumas.

Last night I gave a talk about my books and focused on the new one, The Things Our Fathers Saw-The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation-Volume IV: Up the Bloody Boot-The War in Italy (Volume 4).  It was well received and I shared the story of my 98 year old friend Floyd Dumas, who was captured at a German counterattack during the battle for Anzio in early 1944 and spent the next 4 months after escaping on the run behind German lines.

I’ll share a few more stories from the book in the coming weeks.

From the deserts of North Africa to the mountains of Italy, the men and women veterans of the Italian campaign open up about a war that was so brutal, news of it was downplayed at home. As we forge ahead as a nation, we owe it to ourselves to become reacquainted with a generation that is fast leaving us, who asked for nothing but gave everything, to attune ourselves as Americans to a broader appreciation of what we stand for.

***

Floyd Dumas was a soldier in the 45th Infantry Division. The author had heard about Floyd’s story and called him up to invite him in for a World War II prisoner of war symposium at his high school. Mr. Dumas was gracious and thankful on the phone, but initially declined. Then he had a change of heart. He had something to say.

Escape

[The day I escaped], it was in the afternoon and we were in the big building where they’d lock us in at night, after they gave us the loaf of bread. During the day they kept it unlocked, so you could be in the building or out in the yard. There were a bunch of us playing cards in the big building when an air raid sounded. All the guards were looking up at the sky and watching our Air Force bombing near the prison camp. One of the men who was in the yard came in while we were playing cards and said two men ripped the fence and escaped. He asked if anyone else wanted to try and get out. I said, ‘I’ll go,’ and a British guy said, ‘I’ll go,’ but no one else would try.

We went out in the yard. The fence was ripped open and a large group stood around to block the guards’ view, and the Englishman and I went through, but we were still inside the prison camp! We scouted around and found a small room with fake scenery in it, I suppose as a part of the movie industry. We hid in this room until dark, [and miraculously] a storm came up and it started to rain hard, with thunder and lightning, which was good for us—I don’t know how we got that lucky. Now I don’t care if you’re an American soldier, a British soldier, or a Japanese soldier, but when you’re on guard duty and it’s raining, you’re going to look for a spot where you’re not going to get too wet, and that’s what the Germans did—they never saw us going through the yard even with the lights on.

The Germans must’ve been doing some work next to the [outside] wall, and they had thrown dirt up against it just high enough so we could get up to the top of the wall and throw ourselves over. They had barbed wire and broken glass on top of the wall, but the two of us got over and fell down on the other side.

We ran across the countryside, and on the way we were so hungry, we’re pulling up carrots and stuff and eating the dirt and all. We came upon a farmhouse and knocked on the door, and an old Italian couple was sleeping next to a fireplace on the floor, an old man and the old lady. We knocked on the door, they came, and we had little [Army] booklets with Italian language phrases, you know, so we said, ‘Americano soldato’ and ‘Inglese soldato.’ They said, ‘Sì,’ and let us in. We were wringing wet, but we were able to dry out our clothes; they had us sit by the fireplace and dry off and gave us some bread and ricotta, which the woman warmed up. The old man spoke a little English, he said, ‘You no can stay here tomorrow, the Germans catch you here, they kill us.’
We said, ‘Well, what are we going to do? Where are we going to go?’

He said, ‘Half a mile away down the road there’s a bombed-out house. You can go down in there and hide for a while.’
At daybreak, the Englishman and I left and found it, but then he wanted to try to get back to our lines. Can you imagine that? [Laughs] Here we are, way behind the German lines, and he wants to get back to our lines.

I said, ‘What are you, crazy? You can’t get through all those German soldiers!’
He said, ‘Well, I think we should try.’
I said, ‘You want to try, you go ahead.’

He tried, he got challenged by a German outpost, and they shot him right there. I heard the shot.

I stayed at that bombed house for three or four days, and I still had an American uniform on. I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to do something pretty soon.’ There was a small town not too far away. I said, ‘I got to take a chance and when there’s no Germans around, I’m going to have to walk into the [town] and tell them I’m an American soldier.’ The people all hated the Germans anyway, so they greeted me, and I was all right.

They got me into civilian clothes. I traded my combat jacket to a sheep herder for his long black coat, [and the family I stayed with gave me] a silk shirt and an old pair of shoes with holes in the toes; I wish I had a picture of that. I held on to my dog tags and put them in my shoe, to prove I was an American GI, and I stayed there quite a few days. I heard there was another soldier nearby—an Indian soldier who spoke English, so they got me in touch with him. I don’t know if he was [an escaped] prisoner of war, I don’t know what he was. He was staying with an Italian family and had learned a lot of the language, and we got to talking.

Each morning, the Indian and I would go to a neighbor with a bucket to get some ricotta cheese. There were a lot of Germans manning anti-aircraft guns in the area. One morning, one of the Germans asked the Indian, ‘Why doesn’t your friend with you ever talk?’
The Indian responded, ‘He was in the Italian Army and a bomb fell near him, and he became deaf and dumb.’
The German said, ‘That’s too bad.’ So this is what I did. After living in this little village for about a month, more and more German soldiers arrived in and around the village. I started to get a bit scared that I would get caught; maybe one of the villagers would squeal on me. I said to the Indian, ‘I don’t like staying in the country here like this.’
He said, ‘Well, I’ve been here quite a while, and they haven’t been bothering me at all.’
I said, ‘Well, you’ve got to notice that the Vatican was taking in escaped prisoners of war, so you suppose you could get me into Rome and over to the Vatican and I could try to get in there?’
He said, ‘Yes, in a couple of days.’ So we headed for Rome.

Rome

Getting to Rome was not a picnic. We had to go through a number of German roadblocks [to get to the train station], but they did not bother us as hundreds of people went into Rome each day to bring their produce to the open market. Some walked the eighteen miles; some took buses, drove horses and carts in, or took a train. We walked to the train station and got on the train. The train was always packed with people bringing in pigs, hens, and vegetables for the market. When the train stopped in Rome, we took a bus to Vatican City. We went up and the Indian talked to one of the Swiss guards at the Vatican.

He said, ‘No, they’ve not allowed any more prisoners in the Vatican. We’re neutral and we’re not allowed to do it.’
I said, ‘Well, we’ve heard that there were escaped prisoners in here.’
He said, ‘There are, but they’ve put a stop to it.’ They wouldn’t let us in.

He said, ‘But you’ve got to go back to the country where you were, and after three days, you come back here, and right over to the left here, there’s an alleyway. When that clock strikes twelve there, you look across the street. There’ll be a man standing there with a black overcoat on, and in his right-hand pocket he’ll have a newspaper. When he takes the newspaper down from his face and puts it in his pocket, you go across the street and say, ‘Americano soldato,’ and that’s all you’ve got to say.’

We went back to the country, and then three days later we went back there, and that’s exactly how it happened. The man I met with the newspaper was a priest; he worked with the Italian underground. The priest went ahead and I followed him onto a bus. He paid the tokens and we got on the bus, rode for a while, and then transferred to another very crowded bus. Finally, after about an hour of busing, we got off and walked two blocks and came to a big building surrounded by a high wall, with a huge iron gate and a bell on the side.
The priest rang the doorbell, and soon a nun came to the gate and let us in. We walked in a side entrance and opened a door that led to a small room. A small table for two was set with a loaf of bread and a bottle of red wine. The priest closed the door and put out his hand and said, ‘You did fine, and we got here okay.’
He said, ‘Tomorrow you will be introduced to a Scotsman who is here, and you will be together until Rome falls to the Allies.’

The Scotsman’s name was Bill Robb, from Aberdeen, Scotland. He was taken prisoner at Tobruk in the desert of North Africa by the Germans. [In Italy], the Germans piled him and a large group of prisoners into a train to send them to Germany. He tore the bars off the boxcars and jumped off the train. He broke his left leg in the jump, but the Italians hid him and nursed him back to health. He had been behind the lines a long time and learned the Italian language fluently. So, we met in that convent and would stay together until the war in Italy was over.

*
Liberation

We went back up to [that cave near] Tor Sapienza. We had the young Italian kids on guard while we slept at night. Finally, one morning at 5:30, two of the young guards came in the cave and hollered, ‘The Americans are here, in the town next to us. There are dead German soldiers all over the place!’
We said, ‘Ahh, you’re crazy, they’re not here yet. They aren’t going to take Rome yet.’

‘Come here, come here!’ They showed us a package of Camel cigarettes, and Holy Jesus, right away I knew it was true! I’ll never forget it. Sure enough, the 88th Infantry Division was coming through, so we walked right in with them. We talked to an American officer and told him who we were; I showed him my dog tags and we followed them into the city of Rome. There were German tanks burning in the streets and snipers shooting all over the place in the city, but in six hours, Rome was completely taken.

We were interrogated by American officers and told them our story. They turned us over to a British outfit; I guess they were going to stay in Rome to keep things under control. The British said we had to get out of the civilian clothes. So, they gave us British uniforms, shorts, knee socks, heavy shoes, a shirt, and a beret.
They gave me the name of a captain who was in Naples and said I was to report to him as soon as possible.
I said, ‘How do I get to Naples?’
They gave me a map and said, ‘Hitchhike. We have no transportation for you.’

So, with my nice new British uniform on, I did just that. I found the address I had been given but it took some time, as Naples is a large city. The captain I was to see ran a PoW camp with hundreds of German prisoners. He asked me a lot of questions about what we did behind the lines and what we saw, then told me to get out of the British uniform and he would supply me with one of ours.
I was in Naples about a week before he could get me a plane to Oran on July 21, 1944, a mail plane with bucket seats and everything. From North Africa I was put on a ship for Hampton Roads, Virginia, for about ten days. Eventually I was flown with three other soldiers from Camp Pickett, Virginia, to Washington, D.C. The Army put us up in a beautiful hotel and gave us money from the American Red Cross. For two hours each morning, we had to answer questions from high officials at a building in Washington. After that, we were on our own to do whatever we wanted; we had a great time, drank a lot of beer, and ate in nice restaurants—but the next morning we had to go back to interrogation.

Home

I was out of the Army in 1945 and was working for a milk company, and there was an ad in the paper for a men’s clothing store. I went and applied for the job; I had to learn tailoring, store management, window trimming, and all that. I got the job and I picked up the tailoring really quickly. I learned it in six months; they couldn’t understand [how I picked up the trade so fast]. I’m telling my sister this, and she said, ‘Well, your Uncle Eli was the top tailor in Malone here years ago, maybe he’s brushing off on you.’ After my training was done in the Malone store, they gave me a store to run in Danbury, Connecticut. Then they transferred me to Glens Falls, Steins’ Men’s Clothing Store, and I have been here ever since; now I do tailoring out of my [basement shop]. Do you know that I have had three millionaires as my clients? That’s right, Charley Wood used to come over to my house to get measured up. Then I started going to his place…

*

Bill Robb went back to Aberdeen, Scotland, and we kept in touch over the years. He had got married and had a child, but couldn’t find work in Aberdeen. [Unbeknownst to me], he moved to Montreal, Quebec, just an hour and a half from my hometown, Malone, New York! He was in a pub drinking beer in Montreal and these old guys were talking about Malone.
‘Jesus,’ he said, ‘that guy Giovanni behind the lines with me in Italy said he was from Malone!’ [Laughs] In Italy, my [alias] was Giovanni Ganzi; there’s no Floyd Dumas in Italy. [Laughs] So he said to his wife, ‘I’ve got to go see him,’ and jumped in his car and went to Malone. He found my parents on Brown Street, and my parents said, ‘No, he now lives in Danbury, Connecticut!’ They told him how to get there.

He came and stayed two weeks with us; can you imagine that? [Laughs] Everything panned out good. And I used to hear from him here and there. In the last Christmas card I got from him quite a few years ago, he was a steel worker in Chicago working on bridges, but that was the end. I haven’t heard from him since; [he probably] died like a lot of them. I don’t know of one other person who is still alive in the company that I was in; I don’t even run into anybody in my division.

*

The war affected my life, sure, but I would say that I got over it good. Yes, I’ve thought a lot about it. I used to have wicked dreams, but I wouldn’t talk about it for a long, long time. Finally, I sat there with my wife and I said, ‘What’s the matter with me? They’re not teaching this in school. I better start opening my mouth.’ So, I went to Hudson Falls High School and I gave [several] talks over the years, and Mr. Rozell tells my story.

Vol. IV The War in Italy

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Looking out of my writing studio, Oct. 2017. Pic by me.

 

Matthew Rozell will have a book launch, talk and signing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Easton Library, 1074 State Route 40, Easton, NY. Signed books will be available for $20.

As I write this, it’s rainy and cool here in upstate New York after a long hot summer. I haven’t posted in a while as I find myself making the transition from classroom teacher to full-time writer, and the seasonal changes are almost a metaphor for what’s going on in my life, though at heart I’ll always be an educator with something to say. So, I keep writing, and it’s that time of year to introduce a new book to the world. But first…

I’ve been fortunate that my books have resonated with people on a national scale. The other day I did an assessment and over 75K copies of my books have been sold, mostly ebooks but plenty of paperbacks, and some audiobooks as well, on a trajectory with some better known, more traditionally published authors. And it’s seven days a week hard work. I’m amazed, too, that I wrote the first three and a half while I was also teaching full time. This time of the year though, I like to set the pen down and go out into the world to meet the people who read them.

I did a session of meet and greet in our village park last Sunday, a beautiful second day of fall—brisk in the morning, warming by afternoon, bright sunshine and blue skies. Traffic was light, but people showed interest in the books and I had some great conversations. My fourth-grade teacher happened to pass by, and said she was downsizing last week and found a booklet of our class’s writings (1970-71) that she had ‘published’ on the old blue mimeograph paper, I think, including some words by yours truly! You know, I suddenly remembered all that, and how proud I was, how proud my mother in particular was, at the time. Unfortunately, Mrs. F tossed it in the dumpster, something I would have regretted if I were her [ha ha]… but don’t be surprised if I packed it away somewhere, too.

A young girl appeared, picked up my books, wondering incredulously if I had written them all. I told her I did. She was impressed, and had many questions about the process, even the cost, which I answered. “Make sure you hire a good cover artist, for one, and a proofreader!” She picked up the heftiest one, ‘A Train Near Magdeburg’, and asked flat out how long it had taken to write. “Ten years”, I replied. Her eyes bulged out of her sockets as she exclaimed, “Ten years! That’s how long I have been alive!” I chuckled at that, explaining that I had to learn a lot in order to understand what I was writing, and asked her if she liked to write. She nodded, and I asked her if she liked to read. “Good”, I said as she nodded again. “Because that is how you become a great writer.” She got it, thanked me politely, and scampered off to join her family, though she peppered me with questions for so long that they were no longer in sight!

A former student or two came by again, including one who told me she had been at the Red Lion Inn in a town in the Berkshires, in western Massachusetts, about a hundred miles away, a place my late mother loved to go to on her forays to the Berkshires arts scene. This former student, now a mom herself, overheard a group of women discussing a read about the Holocaust that they had undertaken together (as a book club probably), and she realized they were discussing ‘A Train Near Magdeburg’. I’ve been thinking of putting out a discussion guide for a while now, so maybe this was the sign to get moving on it. There is a lot to talk about…history is sooo not dead. To quote William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Some more of my superfans came by to pick up the ‘must have’ books that they missed, including a guy I was talking to for quite a while before he reminded me of his name, one of my sister’s first boyfriends going back to the days when he would help my father split wood at camp! Humbled and honored that people are touched enough by my words to come out and talk to me, and my next talk is in a couple days.

Anyway, thought I would give you an update. The new book is on the war in North Africa and Italy, a campaign so brutal, news of it was downplayed at home. Did you know that 20% of the Medal of Honor awards given in World War II came out of this 900-day campaign? Don’t worry, nobody does. My book helps to fill in the gaps, in their own words. I’ll give a talk about it Thursday evening, details below from today’s newspaper. I’ll also be posting more about the new book, upcoming gigs, and other developments; feel free to follow me at my Facebook author page for daily links to articles on WW2 and the Holocaust that I find facinating.

A time to write, a time to talk.

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

Hometown Column: Retired educator’s newest WWII book focuses on Italy

by Gretta Hochsprung

When Matthew Rozell started teaching history, he felt a two-day lesson on World War II just wasn’t enough.

“I said, ‘How many of you have a parent or grandparent who was in World War II?’ and every kid shot up at least one hand,’ ” said Rozell, who taught at Hudson Falls High School for almost 30 years.

He sent home surveys with his students with the assignment to interview their World War II veteran relatives, who had spent years keeping their war memories to themselves.

“These guys were ready to talk,” said Rozell, sitting in a windowed room at his post-and-beam Hartford home with views of Crane and Gore mountains.

Rozell and his students spent years interviewing veterans, resulting in six books. Rozell’s latest book, the fourth volume of the series “The Things Our Fathers Saw,” is now available. He has sold more than 75,000 books based on the interviews he has conducted with local World War II veterans.[1]

The fourth volume, “Up the Bloody Boot — The War in Italy,” tells firsthand accounts of combat and brotherhood from the war in Italy. One of the stories in the book is about local tailor Floyd Dumas, who was captured by the Germans at a major battle in Italy. He escaped and was on the run for four months.

“A lot of these guys were ready to talk to young people,” Rozell said, pointing out that “some of the stories that they told, they had never told anyone besides their friends who’d had the same experience.”

For some veterans, they were realizing that people were forgetting and didn’t understand the enormity and aftermath of the war that left no American community unscathed.

Rozell knew he needed to do something with all the research and collection of personal stories. He published his first book in July 2015, two years before he retired from teaching. It was about the men and women in the Pacific.

For some unexplained reason, book sales took off two years ago, and Rozell was selling 100 books a day in e-books, print books and audio books.

Through his interviews, research and books, Rozell has been able to reunite 275 Holocaust survivors with their liberators and has seen them come together at reunions.

“This is the story of a person,” Rozell said, “who had an interest, that turned into a passion, that turned into a mission.”

Rozell will have a book launch, talk and signing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Easton Library, 1074 State Route 40. Signed books will be available for $20. All his books are available on Amazon or MatthewRozell.com.

 

[1] Almost all the first-person interviews my students and I collected over the years were deposited in the New York State Military Museum for future generations to learn from—over a hundred to date. As one of the most active contributors to their program, I also leaned on them for some related interviews I edited with a loving hand for this book.

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(What if you imagined something, beyond imagination?)

 

My last child graduated from high school today, the same high school that I graduated from nearly 40 years ago.

The two of us piled into the truck for the 15-minute commute to the school, one we have been making for the past 13 years. She had her green graduation gown already on, and before I turned the key, I turned to look at her and say, ‘You know, this is our last trip together to the school.’ Mary replied, ‘Let’s go Dad! I’m going to be late!’ And that was that…

I got the call about 6 weeks ago that they wanted to start a new tradition, and add a keynote speaker to the graduation program. They picked me for the inaugural. This is a class I regretted leaving when I retired just before their senior year.

The venue, our air conditioned high school gymnasium, was packed. The salutatorian and valedictorian, who I was so proud of, delivered their own addresses to their peers that mirrored what we all had to say perfectly.

Anyway, I was grateful for the opportunity to speak. Afterwards, I went to the cemetery and stood before my parents’ grave, in the pouring rain. I updated them on the kids, read their inscriptions aloud, wished them a happy upcoming anniversary, told them I hoped I’d made them and my hometown proud.

I walked away with the rain, and maybe something else, streaming down my face.

***

Today is the day of your high school graduation. It’s called commencement because today is the beginning of the rest of your life, beyond these hallowed halls.

This is the day that you have long awaited, that some of you perhaps are meeting with equal parts excitement and sorrow, a day that you may remember for the rest of your life. So when I was asked to address you, the Class of 2018, I was honored, I was flattered, and I was happy to know I would have your full and complete attention for at least one time in my life.

*

You are going out into a brave new world, a scary place to navigate. It helps to have a bedrock of confidence, a road map, a plan ‘A’, a plan ‘B’. But the fact is that you can’t plan. Some of my best planned lessons were destroyed by factors beyond my control, like the 3-minute PA announcement of Prom Court just as a World War II veteran was finishing a tearful story. And sometimes the best received lessons were totally unscripted and from the heart.

But alas, today I am forced to stay on message, so to keep this short, I came up with a ‘graduation advice list’ on my own, without cheating on Google. I now gift you with Mr. Rozell’s 15 Words of Wisdom.

#1. Don’t address your new boss, or your new drill instructor, or your new college professor by their last name only, no matter how cool it sounds. It’s not going to end well.

#2. It’s nice to have a plan. But if you don’t know what you want to do with your life right now, you don’t have to collapse into a quivering mess after the ceremony.

#3. A plan is a nice touch, but your life will thank you more if you have a passion. Now take that further. Turn your passion into a PURPOSE.

#4 Accept that ‘stuff’ happens. For example, as I was typing this, my daughter decided that that exact moment would be the best time to finally turn on the vacuum cleaner and attack her room, instigating major writer’s distraction. But life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

#5. Recognize that your setbacks are gifts in disguise. How you react to your failures or disappointments can be defining moments and set the table for your achievements. [The noisy vacuum reminds me of my delight in being Mary’s dad, the daily gift of her presence in our lives, tinged with a bittersweet understanding that someday all will be quiet.]

#6. Appreciate your education. Value learning. Teach yourself something new every day. Ignorance is not really bliss, as proven hourly in your social media feed. Recognize too that knowledge does not always equate to understanding. Sometimes you just have to accept the mystery.

#7. See the world with a sense of wonder. Be open to new experiences and new people. Un-plug. If you can’t travel, lose yourself in a book.

#8. Try to see something good in a person or a situation where you think there can’t possibly be anything good. Take a sad song, and make it better.

#9 Be curious. Ask questions. Recognize that having the question is more important than getting the answer.

#10. Be terrified of that first new step. Then take it. Take risks. Ask yourself “WHAT IF?”

#11. Guard your reputation. Honor your integrity. Cultivate your character. And audit your friends for the same.

#12. Use your gifts for the power of good. Kindness is contagious. There’s no such thing as coincidence. There is such a thing as karma.

#13. Miracles happen. Recognize the miracles in your life. Recognize that your existence is a miracle.

#14. No matter how much you want to get out of Hudson Falls or the high school, don’t forget where you came from and the people who shaped you. I’ve met people who were honored by their school who then talked trash about their own hometown. Don’t be that guy or girl, ever. If you don’t like what you see, change it. Don’t walk away and badmouth it from a safe distance.

Finally, #15. If you ever have to give a speech like this, remember that no one will remember your advice unless you tell a story to go with it. Also remind your audience at that point that your remarks are half over.

*

Forty years ago when I was a senior in high school, I told my parents that I did not know what I wanted to do, but I did know I was not going to stay in Hudson Falls. I also smugly informed my father, a history teacher, that I was not going to be a teacher. Seven years later I was living back under their roof and driving his car up Main Street to Hudson Falls High School. Most of the waking hours of my life were spent in these very halls.

When I started as a teacher I was the students’ third teacher that year. They did not welcome me with open arms, and I saw them as mean 9th graders. It was rough. I was still living with my parents down across from the Dog Shack praying I would get laid off because I was too chicken to quit. I got through the first year, but I almost cried when I saw my class list the next fall. But a funny thing happened, the now-tenth graders were genuinely glad to see me. I became their class advisor, and some of them are friends and teachers today.

When we began to interview World War II veterans I let my passion become a purpose in the classroom and it became contagious. Seventeen summers ago, I interviewed Judge Walsh on Coleman Avenue. I was going to shut the video camera off, but his daughter Elizabeth Connolly prodded him to tell me about a train he encountered with another tank commander at the end of WW2. My PASSION to learn more would not allow me to let it go. I contacted the other tank commander, who had more stories and even pictures of the liberation of a train full of concentration camp victims.

With PURPOSE I put them on the school website I built. Four whole years went by and then I heard from a grandmother in Australia who had been a 7-year-old girl on that train. Just then three more survivors appeared-all organically, and all within reasonable distance, but in hindsight, I don’t believe in coincidences.

At the time I just asked myself, “WHAT IF?” And our school community got behind it and we pulled off a reunion at the high school between the survivors and Judge Walsh in 2007, the first of 11 reunions worldwide that reunited 300 survivors and their families with the soldiers who freed them. I had taken the risk and spent many sleepless nights, I was terrified. What if the students are rude? What if one of the elderly people has a heart attack? But it was nothing less than an outpouring of love from this school and this community. And this love was powerful enough to break the barriers of space and time; we all became overnight best friends.

*

I want to close with the miracles and mysteries of life. Leslie Meisels, a survivor from Hungary, told me he had always thought for all his adult life that he had been graced with three miracles.

The first was after the Germans had invaded his country and the family was forced to wait for transports that, unknown to his community were heading straight to Auschwitz where up to 25,000 people were being murdered every day. At a time when 17-year-old boys did not talk back to their mothers (his father was already taken) he defied her and insisted that his mother and his younger siblings board a train they were not supposed to be on. She relented, and that transport was the only one shunted away from Auschwitz that day.

The second miracle was as he just finished handing off a bag of stolen beets to his mother behind a guard’s back when the guard suddenly whipped around and barked orders to him. The guard then shot another boy to death, catching him in the act of stealing beets for survival as Leslie had just done.

The third miracle, he would tell his audiences, was the day of his liberation at the hands of U.S. forces. April 13th, 1945. Friday the 13th. His luckiest day, his new birthday.

Today Leslie goes to schools and tells of the fourth miracle, being able to meet and laugh and cry with his actual liberators, whom he met at this very high school nine years ago —and that it was ‘just beyond imagination’. And every April 13th, he emails birthday greetings to all his ‘twins’, his fellow survivors of that train whom he met right here in Hudson Falls.

Most of the soldiers are dead now, but those ripples go forth, still, and for all time. Why did that ‘fourth miracle’ unfold at that time in his life? That is the question I have asked myself many, many times. And to me it will have to remain a MYSTERY, one that began with another question: “WHAT IF?”

A final thought: Students like you had good questions, too. One asked another survivor if anything good came out of the Holocaust. The survivor thought a minute, because it was an important question, and replied, ‘Yes. My rescuers.’ A victim of the greatest crime in the history of the world found some good out of the evil.

*

Some of you will remember the days when I began my lessons with, ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’, and it wasn’t just on the days when I was passing tests back.

Maybe today you will take me seriously.

Your life is a miracle and you are adored by everyone in this room.

Have a purpose, cherish your honor, and don’t look back in old age with regrets.

Have fun, keep that sense of wonder, and don’t be afraid to ask the words, “WHAT IF?”

***

 

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