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We Remember.

I spoke yesterday to the 30th Infantry Division Association at the invitation of Col. Wes Morrison, after a two year pandemic delay. It was wonderful to meet with the veterans, active duty soldiers, and their families and other invited guests, including a Gold Star family who just learned of their father’s association with the 30th, which, as you know, went on to save the train with their attached armored battalions.

I love the graphic above, designed for this 76th annual gathering. Yesterday they learned more about their legacy, and I’m sure it will inspire.

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Ron Parsons was a senior in my father’s history class in Glens Falls High in 1965. He and Billy Nemeyer decided to join the Marines after passing notes back and forth in Dad’s class. Ron’s dad was ill; Bill left first and Ron went to boot camp six months later with Jim Bates and Butch Barlow.

They met later in-country. They talked of home, about Jimmy Bates and the others who had been killed; they both knew that more than likely they would be killed too, that it was likely their last meeting, and no one would ever know how much they gave.

Ron introduced me to his fathers story, which I included in my first book on the War in the Pacific. Like many sons of World War II combat veterans, Ron was robbed of fatherly companionship due to the war; no fishing, no camping excursions for Ron.

I have heard from literally hundreds of children of combat veterans. The common refrain is, my dad did not speak of the war. Fact is, no one much wanted to hear about it when they came home. Compound that with the trauma, and guilt maybe, of having friends killed.

I found that the veterans of WWII began to open up to my students and others as they realized that if they did not share their stories, their friends would die with them, again and maybe forever. Now add to that combat veteran experience the despicable treatment our Vietnam veterans received when they came home. But like their fathers’ generation, they don’t want the Jimmy Bates they loved to just fade away, forgotten. When they speak, people will listen.

This article is by my friend Gretta Hochsprung, and appeared in the Glens Falls Post Star on May 29, 2022.


GLENS FALLS — Ronald A. Parsons hiked up his pant leg and rubbed his fingers over the bumps just under the skin.

“A lot of the scars,” he said, “they heal over.”

The Glens Falls native served in Vietnam, where he was twice injured and awarded two Purple Hearts. Parsons was born in 1946, 11 months after his father, John E. Parsons, returned from World War II, where his father was a Japanese prisoner of war and survived the Bataan Death March.

His father was considered a local hero when he returned to Glens Falls. In fact, every newspaper article about the son’s injuries and medals mentions his heroic father.

But life wasn’t all ticker-tape parades for the Parsons when the elder returned from World War II. He was injured and unable to work.

So the son started working at age 16 to help out the family. He took the dirty clothes to the laundromat. He shopped for groceries.

“That was my youth,” Parsons said. “Everybody says they went to the prom and they went to basketball games and football games and baseball games. Not me. I couldn’t. But you didn’t miss them, because you don’t miss what you don’t have.”

Vietnam veteran Ron Parsons thumbs through research at his home in Glens Falls. Parsons’ father was a prisoner of war in World War II and a survivor of the Bataan Death March. 

A father goes to war

John E. Parsons figured he was just signing up for a “year’s hitch” in Uncle Sam’s Army when he was drafted on March 24, 1941. That year turned into more than four years — three-and-a-half as a prisoner of war under the Imperial Japanese Army and being tortured in a Japanese prison camp, according to a 1946 article in The Post-Star.

He was sent to the Philippines in September 1941. He was at Clark Field in the Philippines, sitting on the steps of a barracks with fellow soldiers on Dec. 8, 1941, when 56 planes approached from above.

“In a few minutes, a thunderous crash of bombs began a nightmare of horror for Parsons, which was to run from Japanese barbarism in the ‘Death March,’ through prison camps in an itinerary through Formosa, the Japanese homeland, Korea and into Manchuria,” the article explains.

Soldiers evacuated Clark Field on Christmas Day in 1941 and focused on building two air strips in the retreat toward the tip of Bataan “in the blind hope that American planes would some day come,” the article says.

They ran out of rations by February, and eventually Bataan fell.

After the April 9, 1942, surrender of the Bataan Peninsula, approximately 75,000 Filipino and American troops on Bataan were forced to make a 65-mile march to prison camps. It became known as the Bataan Death March.

“It was not a continuous march, parade fashion, but rather continued over a period of about a week with groups of 500 being sent out each day,” according to The Post-Star article. “Parsons says they were forbidden to help anyone in any manner, even if they fell. To do so was to invite a rifle butt in the back. He saw three men bayoneted in the back at a rest period when they walked a few feet from their group and knelt over a puddle splashing water on their faces.”

The march ended at Camp O’Donnell, where their shoes were taken away — even the shoes of Gen. Jonathan Wainwright.

“Prisoners were put in groups of ten, a policy which was in effect from then on, and in the event any one man attempted to escape or made any move which might be construed as such, the other nine were to be put to death with him,” the article explains.

Parsons took a bayonet to his right arm when he tried to sneak some sweet potatoes back to camp.

John Parsons.

In early January of 1943, Parsons’ parents in Glens Falls received letters from around the country that their son’s voice was heard on the “Prisoner’s Hour” from a radio station in Tokyo and that he was being held prisoner by the Japanese, and that he was in “the best of health.”

The messages were the first word the parents had received of their son since war broke out, a Jan. 14, 1943 Post-Star article said.

The Japanese believed that Formosa would be invaded, so on Oct. 9, 1944, the group that Parsons was with was put aboard the Japanese passenger ship Oyruko Maru, which was bombed on Oct. 13, 14 and 15 by American planes.

“When the bombing raids came, the prisoners were locked in their compartment and timbers were wedged against the door, the hatches were all closed and ventilation was shut off,” the 1946 article explained.

The ship eventually reached the seaport of Moji, on Kyushu, southernmost of the Japanese home islands. The prisoners were quartered for a time in a hotel, where hot baths were available daily.

But the stay was short, and the prisoners were transferred to Korea, where they went by rail to a camp north of Mukden in Manchuria. Later they were moved back to Mukden, where they were when the war ended. The prisoners were liberated on Aug. 16 by the Russians.

Parsons held the rank of staff sergeant when he was discharged and earned the American Defense Service Medal, American Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, with two clusters, Good Conduct Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

He was discharged at Fort Dix in New Jersey in December 1945 after recovering at Rhoads General Hospital in Utica for a few weeks.

John Parsons died Oct. 4, 1965, after a long illness at the age of 53. He is buried in Glens Falls Cemetery.

A son goes to war

Ron Parsons was born during the baby boom that followed World War II. He graduated from Glens Falls High School just months before his father died.

“My marks from high school were so bad that even if I had the money, I couldn’t get in to any college,” said Parsons, who worked all throughout high school because his father couldn’t. “They laughed at me when I submitted my stuff.”

He was playing pool with his friend Jimmy Bates at the Olympia Billiard Lounge on Ridge Street in Glens Falls in 1966 when his mother called to tell him he had been drafted into the Army. Jimmy persuaded him to instead volunteer with him for the Marine Corps so they could go to boot camp on the buddy system.

Parsons enlisted in the Marines in February 1966. They were both sent to fight in Vietnam.

“Two weeks in Vietnam and I realized we were going to lose the war,” Parsons said.

There was no way to stop the North Vietnamese.

“It was like trying to stop the air,” he said.

Ron Parsons.

Parsons was injured the first time on Sept. 23, 1966, when grenade fragments punctured through his knee. Just a few months later in Okinawa, Jimmy Bates was injured.

“He had a bone sticking right through his skin,” Parsons recalled. “And I said to him, ‘How the hell can they send you back to Vietnam like that?’”

Bates was sent back but was promised convoy duty. Parsons tried to persuade him not to go.

“So he went to Vietnam and two months later, he got shot right in the heart while he was on convoy duty,” Parsons said. “Got shot right in the heart and killed.”

Cpl. James J. Bates, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bates of 30 Baldwin Ave., Glens Falls, was awarded the Purple Heart while serving with K Company in Vietnam and was also selected as the outstanding recruit of Platoon 246. He was killed Sunday, March 19, 1967, while leading a squad on patrol in action against the hostile forces south of Da Nang, according to a Post-Star article.

Parsons’ second injury on May 26, 1967, was more severe.

Cpl. Parsons was on patrol with Marines from Company L, Third Battalion, 9th Marines. They were taking a hill 2 miles outside of Con Thien.

Another company was going through their base bragging that they were going to clear a path to make the DMZ safe for Parsons’ company.

“Three hours later, they hit the shit really bad and they were dragging their wounded and their dead through our position,” Parsons said.

The next morning, Parsons’ company was ordered to assault the hill. His best friend, Tommy Goodrich of Cortland, told him, “I’m going to die today.”

Strangely, Parsons awoke that day with a sense of peace. He felt like he was handed a ticket home.

“So I’m not really sure what happened, but the Chinese Communist Claymore mine detonated,” Parsons said. “It was about 20 pounds of TNT and it was probably about 20 feet from me. … The people on both sides were all killed and I was not.”

Parsons’ torso, arms, hands and legs, however, were pelleted with hundreds of pieces of shrapnel. His buddies on both sides of him died and 14 were wounded.

Parsons remembers being blown up in the air and coming down in a foxhole next to the corpse of a North Vietnamese soldier with a gunshot wound to the head. As he backed out of the hole, he was throwing his 10 grenades.

“I was just throwing the grenades all over because I was afraid one of them would cook off because the grenade is four-and-a-half seconds,” he said. “So I was kind of counting to myself as I was throwing the grenades into the hole.”

After 15 to 20 seconds, he started to assess his injuries and realized he was hurt.

“My left leg was open from the knee to the ankle, and you could see the bone, and the artery and things like that in there,” he said. “I had a lot of other open wounds all over. I have shrapnel through my fingers, through my hands, everyplace, through my chest. I got the biggest pieces in my left leg and the groin area.”

A circling helicopter loaded the injured, including Parsons and Tommy Goodrich.

“He died,” Parsons said. “He was right next to me.”

Parsons spent seven weeks at St. Albans Naval Hospital on Long Island. He wasn’t supposed to attend Tommy Goodrich’s funeral because he still had open wounds.

He put Vaseline and plastic over the wounds, wrapped them in bandages, loaded himself full of pain medication and was able to say goodbye to his friend.

While he was in Vietnam, he often dreamed about returning home to Glens Falls. He longed to spend his day fishing off the docks in the village of Lake George.

“That’s one of the problems that you have when you return home, because your dreams are all perfect,” he said. “The girl that you used to date, she’s just perfect, and your home is just perfect and everything is just perfect. But when you get home, they’re not perfect. And a lot of people are just so disappointed.”

When he got home he borrowed his mother’s car and hobbled on crutches up to the head of Lake George to fish. But his day was ruined when a man in a black BMW drove up and they started chatting.

The man’s father in Thailand owned the hotel Parsons stayed at when he was on R&R.

“So his family’s making a fortune off the war, while Americans are dying in the war,” said Parsons, who took his lines out of the lake and left.

For future generations

“When my dad came home, just like me, I just wanted to fit in,” Parsons said. “I didn’t want to be anything special. My dad felt his service was normal. His service was normal service. I kind of felt that way about my service too.”

Parsons never felt he needed to live up to his father’s legacy as a decorated war hero. His father didn’t talk much about his time in war, but he did raise his son to be prepared to fight.

“When I was born, I was left-handed,” he explained. “My dad switched me over because he said if you’re left-handed, when you’re inducted into the military, the rifle round when you shoot it will eject in your face, so you have to switch over to be right-handed. So I did, and it probably saved my life.”

His father shared wartime secrets with his son, like how to slip out if your hands are ever tied together or how to survive with no water.

“If you ever get into a place like that, you put a small pebble underneath your tongue and it will help salivate your mouth,” he said, “and it did.”

When Parsons’ father returned from World War II, he buried his story.

“We were in a survival mode, and I wish I had sat and talked with my father more about it. I really do, because a lot of people who did so wrote books about it.”

Parsons wants his children to have a news article to show future generations of his family. Vietnam veterans didn’t talk about their time in the controversial war when they returned.

“Nobody wanted to hear it,” Parsons said, “but we didn’t really want to tell it either.”

But when Marines go to reunions, the stories fly, because people who weren’t there, don’t understand.

“They shouldn’t understand it,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why we don’t tell them, was because they would be much better off for it if they don’t know.”

In 2005, Parsons visited the Philippines and walked the last 2 kilometers of the Bataan Death March with survivors.

Vietnam veteran Ronald Parsons, whose father was part of the Bataan Death March as a prisoner of war during World War II, walked the same path when he visited the Philippines in 2005. 

“Nobody talked,” he said. “It was quiet. Nobody talked. Nobody said anything. It was like walking in a graveyard.”

Parsons wanted to share his story and his father’s story with The Post-Star for Memorial Day. In fact, he purchased an advertisement in today’s Post-Star to reprint the Jan. 30, 1946, article in The Post-Star about his father’s time as a prisoner of war. 

Parsons has been working on his family tree and realized the only way to find his family’s information was through obituaries and articles in The Post-Star.

“This is going to be a documentation,” he said. “My great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren are going to see this.”

***

Local author Matthew Rozell included the elder Parsons’ story in his first book on the War in the Pacific.

Coincidentally, Ron Parsons was in Rozell’s father’s history class at Glens Falls High School in 1965.

“I have heard from literally hundreds of children of combat veterans,” Rozell said. “The common refrain is, ‘My dad did not speak of the war.’ Fact is, no one much wanted to hear about it when they came home. Compound that with the trauma, and guilt maybe, of having friends killed.”

World War II veterans opened up to Rozell and his students when he started the Hudson Falls High School World War II Living History Project in the 1990s. The veterans realized if they did not share their stories, they would die with them, Rozell said.

“Now add to that combat veteran experience the despicable treatment our Vietnam veterans received when they came home,” Rozell said. “But like their fathers’ generation, they don’t want the Jimmy Bates they loved to just fade away, forgotten. When they speak, people will listen.”

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THE SEVENTY-EIGHTH ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY is upon us.

Thirty-eight years ago, I watched as the American president honored the fallen, and the living, at the Normandy American Cemetery for the fortieth anniversary. Just out of college, something stirred inside me. Something was awoken.

Those thirty-eight years have passed. I began by writing letters to the newspaper. Veterans of the war saw my interest; several reached out to me, and I began to interview D-Day veterans and others. I began to collect stories—not relics, prizes, or artifacts. I really had little interest in captured Nazi flags or samurai swords.

Monument to the boys from Bedford, Va.

I wanted to talk to the men who were there. That path that lead to a rewarding teaching career also resulted in one of the largest high school collections of World War II oral history in the state, now housed at the New York State Military Museum. It led to my book series. It led to the discovery of the story of the train. But the men are nearly all gone now. And I had never been to Normandy until a month ago, until the final leg of our European trip to make the documentary about my book A Train to Magdeburg: the events and aftermath took us from Germany to Normandy, France — to Omaha Beach and to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France, located in Colleville-sur-Mer.

We were there to document the beaches I had been studying, teaching and writing about for those past 40 years — the place where the liberators I wrote about in A Train to Magdeburg came ashore, some on D-Day and some later.

Ten months after holding off desperate German counterattacks meant to push them back into the sea, our then-battle-hardened soldiers, rescuing a train of would-be Holocaust victims, would be shocked by the reality of industrial scale genocide; indeed, they would realize what they were fighting for.

Most impactful was our visit to the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.

Mike Edwards photos.

Marble headstones at Normandy

Just two days after the beginning of the D-Day invasion, the first American dead were laid to rest in a makeshift cemetery just off the beach.

A few years later, the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach would become the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.

Today, nearly 9,400 Americans lay at rest on more than 170 acres of sanctified ground meticulously maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, watched over by the 22-foot-tall bronze statue, ‘Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.’

We had called ahead to secure permission to film. I was stunned at the serene beauty and peacefulness of the site, and the dedication of the staff who gave us the white glove treatment, allowing us to enter roped-off sections, past row after row of marble headstones.

I tried to touch the top of each one.

Small crowds of tourists gathered and craned in curiosity as I was shown photographs and told personal stories of the young soldiers by ABMC staff: A student here. A schoolteacher there. Lawyer. Farmboy. Mechanic. Shopkeeper. Playboy. Young father. Brother. Son.

I also paused at General McNair’s grave. At 62 he was the oldest person buried here, as well as at the resting place of General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. — the highest-ranking officer to come ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day, who was felled by a heart attack six days later.

It’s a moving place.

Remembering their efforts

About a third of the World War II families with loved ones killed overseas opted not to repatriate their remains after the war, knowing they will be cared for and rest perpetually with their fallen comrades in arms.

Our day ended with us being allowed to film the flag lowering ceremony at 5 p.m.

Back at the hotel, a teenage American student sat with us in the sitting room, listening in as we debriefed ourselves on our trip.

We talked about what following in the footsteps of the American soldier-liberators and the Holocaust survivors they rescued meant to us. For me, it added an almost spiritual dimension to this story of World War II that reveals mankind at its absolute worst, but also at its shining best.

We can’t risk forgetting how the murder of six million began with words, with neighbors and friends turning away.

We hope our film will offer up what happens when “ordinary” people put themselves in harm’s way to exemplify the greatness that human beings are capable of.

Humbled at Omaha Beach

We had told our expert guides, two British expats living in France, we wanted to see the exact locations of the landing of elements of the 743 Tank Battalion on June 6, 1944, 10 minutes before H-Hour on D-Day.

Of the five Allied beachheads established that day along 35 miles of the Normandy coastline, Omaha Beach was the bloodiest. Our guide Nigel wanted us to get there early, when the tides would be similar to what Allied planners were hoping to encounter.

It was a cool overcast morning, not unlike in 1944, when Nigel led us down to this westernmost section of Omaha Beach where the soldiers had  struggled ashore.

The tide was rushing in fast, rising 12 feet in a matter of minutes. It would have hidden beach obstacles and pole mounted mines quickly. Many soldiers, weighted down, drowned.

After filming a while, we lost sight of our cameramen Josh for an hour.

The water was rushing in so fast that I was actively scanning the surf, worried that he, in walking backward while looking down into the camera lens, may have lost his footing. He turned up just as we considered sounding the alarm, having walked midway down the five-mile-long Omaha Beach.

Nigel told us more stories of the men, the heroism, the tragedy of that day. Just before where we were standing, 100 men out of a company of 150 were killed.

It was humbling to be here.

A small airfield

Later, deeper into the countryside, we found the small airfield where filmmaker Mike Edward’s grandfather served in the summer of 1944, supporting fighter planes that followed the troops.

These hundreds of makeshift grass airstrips throughout northern France.  had typically reverted to agricultural use immediately after the battles.

It was an emotional moment for Mike, to be in the spot where his grampa had served.

‘Liberated the heck out of it’

I asked our other guide, Sean, to see where Operation Cobra was launched, a planned breakout, where men of our tank battalion in support of the 30th Infantry Division and others  would race in to encircle German forces. As planned, heavy bombers of the Eighth Air Force flying out of England would pound the enemy.

Unfortunately, many dropped their bomb loads early, on US troops, resulting in hundreds of casualties from friendly fire, including General McNair, the top American general killed in the European Theater, who was observing the action with the 30th Infantry Division.

Today, the approximate site of his demise is recently plowed farm fields. With my archaeological training it was easy to spot metal fragments littering the area.

Stopping quickly to visit the 800-year-old reconstructed cathedral in the City of Saint-Lô, we saw a shell still protruding from the wall and recalled the lore: How one dumfounded GI said, as troops entered the destroyed town: “We sure liberated the hell out of this place!”

At Hill 314, an emotional visit

At Mortain, we visited the site of a climactic week-long battle where the men of the 30th held the high ground against overwhelming forces, and saved the Allied breakout — but fewer than half the 700 survived.

We did more interviews and filmed up on this ancient hilltop, with glimpses of the famous cathedral Mont Saint-Michel shimmering in the distance.

The hill known for a thousand years as Mont Joie is now remembered by the US Army appellation ‘Hill 314’ in Normandy.

Between takes, in the spring sun I closed my eyes. The breeze rose and murmured through the pines, where I later learned bodies had been laid — after being searched desperately for food or weapons — while their vastly outnumbered brothers staved off a siege of evil in August 1944.

An elderly couple walking a dog spoke to me when they noticed the cameras.

I told them what we were doing, and the man’s eyes welled as he gripped my arm and thanked me for caring. It seems he takes care of the local memorials to the American fallen.

What they did mattered

In 2020, the 30th Infantry Division finally received the Presidential Unit Citation in honor of its heroism here.

What they did mattered, and their actions are lessons that will make us better if we remember, and teach the world what they did.

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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.”

https://poststar.com/news/local/after-two-year-delay-author-matthew-rozell-visits-magdeburg-germany/article_4c00d9f2-da9b-11ec-9cfc-f7526f2a8e77.html

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For Walter.

On April 15, we were in Germany and visited the site of one of former medic Walter Gantz’s recurring nightmares. Walter passed about six months after Mike Edwards, the director of the upcoming film A Train Near Magdeburg, took this photo at his final interview with us in his hometown of Scranton, PA. I wrote the post shortly after; our Easter Saturday visit to the cemetery: I hope somehow there was a measure of closure for him, in talking to this German student, and for us to find her resting spot.

“I used to work a twelve-hour shift, from eight in the evening to eight in the morning. In the wee hours of the morning, this young girl died. For some reason, I wrapped her up in a blanket and I carried her down the stairs and I was crying.

From the new exhibition at the Wolmirstedt Museum.

We had a war tent that was used as a makeshift morgue. I placed her in there. I wonder why I would do that; I must have liked her for some reason. I didn’t have to do that, because we had a team that took care of those who died, and placed them in the morgue.

I spent seven weeks with these people. Most of us spent seven weeks, and during our so-called watch, 106 people died… God, it was tough. [This girl] was actually fifteen years old. Her name was Eva, and you might say, ‘How was it possible that he could carry her?’ She probably weighed 60 pounds, maybe. I thought about that many times, and I must have been attracted to her for some reason. That haunted me, really. It really haunted me.”


Easter Saturday was grey, cold and overcast, occasionally spitting rain. We picked up Johanna, our now-established translator, and headed to Hillersleben, to meet Daniel Keweloh and his family, to conduct interviews with Germans who were alive when the train was liberated and remembered the soldiers, the Jewish victims, and the hospital at Hillersleben where Walter Gantz and other GIs cared for them. About 150 died here in the next month, and were buried here, including a 15-year-old girl who Walter had become attached to. When she died five weeks later, he carried her body out to the morgue tent.

This greatly affected him the rest of his life.

In 2018, when she was 16, Johanna wrote to me to ask if there were any soldiers still alive. I responded with Walter’s contact information, and she reached out to him. They carried on a warm relationship by mail over the next year, just before his death; I know on a special level that this helped heal the trauma that he could not speak about for most of his life.

Daniel K. and his father Klaus-Peter took us to the now practically abandoned cemetery, surrounded by a sea of solar panels where the hospital and garrison complex had been-first German, then Soviet occupation until the end of the Cold War. No individual graves were individually marked, as they were buried in an old air raid shelter outside of the hospital.

There, with Johanna present, we found Eva’s name on the wall…

The now torn down hospital at Hillersleben. Where solar panel farm is today.
We found her name…

Josh films the cemetery…

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DAY 4. Today, Thursday, we interviewed German students in their former school near the liberation site. They discuss the responsibility of keeping history alive, and the worldwide impact of this important story that unfolded in their literal backyard.

We arrived at the school and met Johanna, and were let in by a custodian, as the students and teachers are on their Easter spring break. I toured the school with her as the guys set up the set, set up in the former classroom of her former history teacher, Karin P. at the end of a long corridor.

Johanna was interviewed there, as were some of her former schoolmates.

One of the sets in the school. Mike, Joe, Josh.

Their history teacher had attended a lecture in the spring of 2018 by local Hillersleben father and son historians Daniel and Klaus-Peter Keweloh in Farsleben. If you recall, Farsleben is where the train had stopped, stranded, with the Holocaust prisoners awaiting their fate uneasily, some younger ones entering the village to look or beg for food, others going to the small lake or pond near the tracks on April 12th. After the liberation by the tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion on the 13th, more troops of the 30th Infantry Division and the attached 95th Medical Gas Battalion arrived to evacuate the sick and emaciated people to the newly captured garrison town and hospitals at Hillersleben. The 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion had by then also arrived to take over the town of Farsleben, where its commander had placed his service weapon to the head of the mayor of the town to quietly assure him that he expected his orders to provide for the survivors that Friday be carried out with immediate assistance of food and shelter; bakeries cooked all the night and local farmers were ordered to bring in food supplies as well.

Johanna and Mike the director.

So today we talked to theses schoolkids, and teacher, later, at her home. The English of the students ranged from quite acceptable to outstanding, they actually begin language studies quite young, with the emphasis in the fifth through 12th grade on English. Interesting, and naturally, their parents learned Russian, but you have to remember that six weeks after the Americans took this area, the terms of the Yalta Agreement kicked in, and the Soviet Red Army moved in, Soviet control lasting until the fall of the USSR in1991, and Russian occupation until 1994.


These kids spoke first without their teacher present. They all attested to her fire, her passion for history—like me, a thirty-year veteran of the classroom. Johanna especially recounted her interest in modern European and world history taking off with the introduction of things like the French Revolution, World War I and World War II in the tenth level or grade, the exact age group that I also taught it in the United States, to 15 and 16-year-olds. I felt like I was back in the classroom myself, with my own interested students. I told them that, and that their history teacher sounded a lot like me in her delivery of the material to be learned; you don’t just tell the kids to ‘open up to page 142 and read aloud’. You teach them real facts, for sure, but then you probe further into motivations, opposing perspectives and viewpoints; you ask them to delve into sections that others might dismiss or move right along over. You guide them to question their own processes, emotions, and to use newly practiced skills of reasoning, writing and detective work in their own lives. Sometimes, a teacher is presented with an opportunity to ‘do history’ in a very big way. And most of those times, this involves taking big risks, stepping out of traditional comfort zones, putting one’s self on the line, one’s ‘money where one’s mouth’ is, ‘walking the talk’. But have you ever had a fire within burning, expressed it in a special setting, and seen it jump to others? Because it will take on a life of its own, and you get to witness new ideas and concrete happenings that never existed being created before your eyes. It is the most exciting feeling, like falling in love for the first time. And it spontaneously grows almost out of your original control, but you also realize that had it not been for your passion, and later your patient nurturing, it might not have even ever existed. And that is a humbling thing to be lucky enough to realize.


So this is what I saw these students describing about their teacher. To myself, I thought that when Karin does see the competed film, with their testimony we recorded today, she will be one of the lucky ones, the teacher who can see what her passion wrought outside of the classroom, with out having it come out only 30 or 40 years later when people remember you fondly at your own funeral.

The other thing that struck me today was what the teacher felt when she learned of this story in 2018 from the historians, and saw was the photographs and soldier and survivor testimony [from this website and the Hudson Falls school one that preceded it], about what was really a lost event that linked their two small hamlets.

“How could I not know about this?”

So she put out all call for interested students to join her at a meeting after school, and a core group got involved the next fall school term. They learned of a local woman who remembered the incident, and who had one of the Greek Jews boarding at her home, where they did become close. Johanna learned that indeed, some of the local families did express compassion, kindness; others, of course, were fearful, wary of these thousand of persons now on the outside of the town. Who are they? Where did they come from?

They teamed up with the local museum to create an exhibit, and met survivors who traveled once again to the town of their liberation as children. Ron Chaulet set up a foundation in the Netherlands to collect donations for a proper, permanent memorial.

Teenagers got to meet the first Jewish persons they ever encountered. They entered this project in a history competition and won a prize. And they wanted to learn more about the Holocaust. They organized a trip to Bergen Belsen. The came face to face with the horrors inflicted upon their world by a government that existed for twelve years in their own country— one their own grandparents and great grandparents lived in.

Karin P. and director Mike at her home after tea and coffee.

The teacher was brave to introduce her students to this history, to go forth with this project. Some of the students got subtle pushback when reaction to their project was publicized; a fatigue of sorts by ordinary Germans being called to account for the crimes of their grandparents generation, at home and abroad.

That’s not what the project was about, though as Johanna noted in one of her recorded statements, it is about feeling responsibility for keeping the knowledge of the Holocaust, and what happened in her backyard, in the front of people’s minds. For Karin, it was about doing the right thing not only as a teacher, but as a human being. Since the publication of the liberator photographs on my website and now others, and my 2016 book, survivors have been coming here to see where their parents, and in some cases, they themselves as children, were liberated, or where parents or grandparents succumbed and were buried. How could there be nothing at the liberation site to recall, honor, and remember?

Josh F. pans the permanent exhibition at Wolmirstedt Museum directed by Anette Pilz. Wonderful, accurate, necessary fruition of this project.

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On this day the Train Near Magdeburg, pictured above in the 743rd Tank Battalion’s After Action Report following the 4-13-1945 liberation near the Elbe River, was just beginning its week-long final journey from the horrors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Finding the route of the tankers of the 743, 77 years from the moment they discovered the train and took the now famous liberation photo.

I think back to twenty-one summers ago, when I sat down to record the memories of a then 80-year-old tank commander, Carrol Walsh, who had fought from Normandy, into Germany, back into Belgium for the Battle of the Bulge, and then back across Hitler’s Western Wall, who almost forgot to tell me the story of the train fifty-six years before. About his rejection of the mantle of “LIBERATOR”, but his acceptance of being a WITNESS, of being a symbol of the army that did something about what they saw.

I think today about George Gross, the other tank commander that day who had the camera and the photographs to prove that 2500 souls on their way to being murdered were in fact REAL, that the event DID happen, and that the Holocaust would never be forgotten. Of his years recounting the girls on that train, the children, and speaking to them and meeting the ones who could make the pilgrimage to meet him.

I think about Frank Towers, the lieutenant charged with getting these poor people out of harm’s way, as a new battle for the city of Magdeburg was about to unfold. The same Frank who excitedly beat a path to my door sixty-one years later to explain his role, and who went on with train survivor’s daughter Varda Weisskopf and I to track down over 275 survivors of that train all those years later, organizing over 11 reunions on 3 continents over 10 years.

I think today about the medic Walter Gantz, who suffered nightmares for decades after treating the victims on the train for six weeks after liberation, some literally dying on him, his trauma evident sixty-six years later in recalling carrying in his arms a sixty-pound fifteen-year-old girl’s body down the stairs in the middle of the night to a makeshift tent morgue. Of his call to my classroom to introduce himself, telling these thoughts to my high school seniors, and the salving of his scars in getting to speak to the former young people he saved so many decades later.

I think about all the beloved survivors and their families―such loving people who broke down, cried, laughed, danced with their liberators and fellow American WWII soldiers―so many whom I hold close in my heart forever.

I think about the words of one of them every year, an annual email that would arrive on this day from Leslie Meisels, recalling with his survivor “twins” the anniversary of their “re -birth”, their good fortune and gratitude for their liberating heroes, the miracles of survival and liberation, and the miracle of meeting them again.

And I wonder again why God put me on this path to bring a bit of healing to the world.

I have wondered, ‘why me’, over and over.

So we planned a trip to the proposed 75th anniversary of liberation ceremony with survivors, 2nd and 3rd Generation survivors and liberating soldiers’ families. Funds were raised and a monument created. The pandemic hit, the event was postponed, and in the meantime, several survivor friends have passed. One wonders what it all means, from time to time. But German high schoolers and their teacher and others have gotten involved in the project to honor the survivors, and have been fortunate enough to meet some very special ones. And now, 77 years on, we are here to remember and record the events of today, the dedication of the monument, and commemorate the memory of what happened, in the company of perhaps 50 community members and leaders who made this happen, as well as the local former students who did much of the work uncovering what transpired in their own backyard, and some of the 2nd Generation survivors from Israel.

As I string these thoughts together, I’m especially moved by these German students and their teacher, so focused now on learning more about what transpired in their country, in their own backyard―not out of a sense of atonement for the deeds of generations past―no one can atone for those crimes, and frankly that is not their ‘job’―but simply out of LOVE.

LOVE. And HOPE. And maybe even FAITH.

And I still see these young adults as some sort of new symbol, the newest witnesses, at once comforting and profound and at once a source of light, of life, and yes, maybe re-birth―to me, especially in this form of a girl [who is now actually our film crew’s liaison and translator!] and her teenage friends planting new seeds, literally, at this site where people expired with the words “SALVATION” and “FREEDOM” on their lips, and I see from afar the honoring of the goodness that radiated from the deeds of those American soldiers, really not so long ago.



Johanna, 4.12.22.

My name is Johanna, I am [20] years old and from Wolmirstedt near Farsleben. I have always taken a huge interest in history, but other than the important happenings and times you get taught at school, I would rather be told the unknown stories, the events that, in the grand scheme of things seemed so unimportant, but still impacted numerous people deeply, moved them enormously and, unfortunately, are forgotten about way too often.
When I first heard the story of the train, I thought to myself: “This cannot actually have happened so close to my home, otherwise we would have surely heard about it before. How could this remarkable story have been forgotten?”

1945 this day. George C Gross.

So, I joined the project group of the story of the “Stranded Train”, and what started out as wanting to learn more  about what had actually happened on  April 13, 1945 and also seizing the opportunity to speak English more often, soon turned into this mission that I just could not let go… I suddenly found myself doing more and more research, about people who were a part of these events all those years ago and almost naturally , the stories of the survivors,  those who liberated them, and those who took them into their homes after this train had stopped right on their  doorstep, all became a part of my life.



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DAY 2. WE.FOUND.THE.TRAIN.

We got to Magdeburg this afternoon, checked in to the lovely hotel, strolled down to the Elbe River a block away. The current was swift on this lovely April day, probably not unlike the spring of 1945 when American GIs met up with their Red Army counterparts on the 25th April 1945 following the climactic, destructive Battle for Magdeburg by the 30th Infantry Division and the 743rd Tank Battalion only two days after the train liberation; this , after all, was the Army objective, and the reason the Jewish victims had to be moved out of harm’s way.

77 years ago at the moment I type this, the not-yet-liberated Holocaust victims witnessed the most awesome carpet bombing of Magdeburg in preparation for the April 15th attack. The earth shook as they looked skyward; one train survivor mentioned that they shouted with joy, not caring if they themselves were killed in the attack by an errant bomb.

At 4 pm we were met at the hotel by Johanna M., a German 20 yr. old who, as a high school student, was inspired by the story of the train and its liberation—literally in her own backyard. With flawless English, she guided us to the site of the liberation. [Her teacher, Karin P., had started Johanna and her classmates on this odyssey to learn as much as they could, organizing events with survivors and others, after teacher Karin was directed to my book by local historian Daniel K. and his father. (Our mutual friend Ron Chaulet was a major force in organizing the local Stranded Train Committee’, after convincing enough folks that this was important and perhaps needed a monument to honor the survivors who were liberated-and many then perished here—as well as to the liberating soldiers.)]

Well. We drove to the liberation site, about 20 minutes away, rural, but not-too-far outside the ‘big city’. The monument was placed two years ago, ceremonies for the 75th anniversary postponed. Now, here we were. The team of Mike Edwards, director, Joe and Josh, expert videographers and photographers, and Johanna and I compared the April 13 & 14,1945 liberation photographs with the April 12, 2022 topography.

Trains whizzed by as we walked the tracks and hillside for a half mile and back, stopping to look at the 1945 pics, wondering if we could find the actual site of the now famous Major Benjamin photo. It was hard, but on the way back to where we can see in the 1945 photos the hillside and first railroad cars, we ‘thought’ we had found it. (Sometimes you have to walk in the footsteps of the direction the American GIs came from!)

And just then, a railroad transport of industrial cars came by, in the same southernly direction of the Train Near Magdeburg’s route. We had found the site of the famous photo, the only place where the topography really lined up, and now in the film footage we shot, the knolls visible behind the trains matched, without a doubt.

One of the photos taken by George C. Gross. The rest are here.

Filming where the famous Clarence Benjamin photo was taken, 4.12.22.
After action report with the photo taken by Major Benjamin, 4.13.1945.

Major Benjamin, George Gross, and Carrol Walsh were smiling down on us. We celebrated by going out to dinner in Johanna’s hometown.

Today is the [smaller, post Covid] 77th anniversary ceremony; in the next few days we will speak with her teacher Karin P. (and I can’t wait—teacher to teacher, you know), her classmates, these German kids who recognize that ‘What You Do Matters’. As Bergen Belsen historian Bernd Horstmann told us yesterday, in his view, an almost 80 year old [cosmic] circle is closing, and on many levels, which Mike and I will explore in the film.

We will also speak with other local eyewitnesses. Thanks for reading.

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AT BERGEN BELSEN.

After 36 hours of travel and lost luggage, I arrived at Celle, Germany, joining film director Mike Edwards and crew members Joel and Josh. Six hours later we were on our way to Bergen Belsen to get an interview with staff and tour the grounds and railway ramp for footage for the upcoming film ‘A Train Near Magdeburg.’ I will post some photos and descriptions; it was a beautiful April day, in fact the same week that the transport was loaded and evacuated.

So much respect for German historians and friends Bernd Horstmann and Stephanie Billib. Being the historian when your subjects are the ‘good guys’ is easy. They do the tough work here, and gave great interviews, providing context for what happened in the overall camp system, and that last spring of horrors in 1945. On to the liberation site for the 77th anniversary at Farsleben.

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I’ve just returned from a homecoming of sorts, and truth be told, I’m kind of wiped out. Yes, the emotion that is summoned when recalling my old friends, now gone, liberating solders and noble survivors alike, is powerful enough to carry me away every time, but lately in a manner that conjures up joy as well as sorrow at the loss. The memory of the lives they rebuilt after the war, the recounting of the trauma that both survivor and soldier contended with brings forth the memory of one tanker, who landed on D-Day, who told a student audience at my high school, “I’m listed in the program as a liberating soldier, but I can tell you that I am a survivor, too”, another victim of the war himself. It was probably the first time in over 60 years that he had spoken about it publicly.

Speaking at SUNY Geneseo, 4.6.22, the 77th anniversary of the day that the transport left Bergen-Belsen.

In my talk this week, I introduced new audiences, staff, students, and public alike, to them, and I think in this way I kept them, my old friends now passed, alive. I know I will never stop talking about them, what they went through, but more importantly, why they opened up with their stories in the end, what they wanted the world to remember, maybe really in most cases now, to really learn and be moved to action by for the first time. “The best lecture I have ever attended”, was a comment I heard from a top school official afterwards as she warmly took my hand; I noted others in the crowd welling up as I spoke from the heart, but I managed to complete the mission, not a real easy thing to do when you are feeling it too, though maybe on a more personal loss level. I guess I feel like I am channeling a major part of what defined my old friends, a message, a connection that will live on as long as I can summon the spirit to speak of them.


As we move into a new era, it is important to have the toolbox that our survivors and soldiers testimony can help us navigate with. And, given the images now beamed to us nightly from a ‘civilized’ place not so far away, it’s important to remember not to become desensitized to the horror as it unfolds, but to become educated and commit ourselves to more than just ‘Never Again’.

Humanity turned away 75 plus years ago, but our soldiers, survivors themselves, committed themselves to humanitarian action, even outside of the mission. And I hope that lesson came forth, as I brought to the center stage my old friends, and introduced them to a new generation.


I’m off to Germany in less than 12 hours, to visit Bergen Belsen again, and then the site of the liberation of the train-for the first time-and meet with German historians, students, and witnesses. I’m lying if I state that I did not have some butterflies before my recent talk at SUNY Geneseo, my old school, and I would be lying if I said I did not have them now. But it is not about me- though by now, 21 years after the first interview, I think maybe this force is continuing to channel the cosmos through me, perhaps long overdue, and made possible by donors who share the spirit of remembrance, and the spirit of Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World.

Stay tuned.

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