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George Gross, former tank commander in Company D of the 743rd Tank Battalion, died ten years ago today. In his declining years before he died, I was able to bring him much joy in introducing him to several of the children he saved. He sent me the photographs, and wanted me to tell his story.  And I brought him together again with his old Army buddy, Red Walsh.  So I am re-posting this today on the 10th anniversary of Dr. Gross’ death.
Where does the time go? He lived a good life, and at the end, got to see the results of his actions six decades before.
We are all traveling our own roads. Days like this, I like to stop and ponder what it all means. I’m glad that I had a small role to play in his life.

~George C. Gross, 1922-2009~

Yesterday my son turned 11. And at about 11 pm yesterday on the West Coast, Dr. Gross died at home with his family around him.

I just found out. More than anyone else, he is the one responsible for this website and the hundreds of lives changed because of it.

You see, he took the photo that you may not really notice in the heading above, along with 9 other photographs that forever imprint the evidence not only of man’s inhumanity to man, but of the affirmation, hope and promise of mankind. It was he who wrote the prose that led me to the survivors, and vice versa. And it was he who cultivated a deep friendship with me via his wonderful writings and telephone conversation. How amazed and happy he seemed to be to hear from all the survivors.

In the summer of 2001, I did an interview with his comrade in arms, army buddy Carrol Walsh. Judge Walsh put me in touch with Dr. Gross. If you go back through the archives you know the rest of the story. It has changed my life and the lives of my students in that we are now trying to rescue the evidence, the testimony of the Holocaust and the World War Two veterans, for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. And today I received in the mail a bulletin from this Museum, reaffirming the mission that Dr. Gross had everything to do with setting me on.

He came into my life during a dark time for me- we had just lost our father (who thankfully, like Dr. Gross, passed on from his own bed at home), and our mother was battling the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia, or whatever that nightmare was called…. we began a conversation that has yielded so much fruit.

Lately, I knew he wasn’t well. I actually had looked into flights across the country before Christmas for my son and I to pay a visit, but we just couldn’t seem to swing it financially, with Christmas bills coming in and holiday fares going up. My back up plan, in my head, was to go out in February, when fares were half the cost… Well, February arrived yesterday and now it is too late, I never got to shake the hand of a man who helped reshape my own life, and the lives of so many others.

His 8×10 liberation photos are mounted in the front of my classroom, with his captions for all to see. So I see George and just one of the noteworthy products of his life, everyday. The captions that he wrote for each are mounted below each print, a testament to his humanity and to his graciousness.

I know it is selfish to feel so bad about the fact that I was not able to literally reach out and touch him. I’m just so damned disappointed.  Right now it’s another dark day for Matt, but I am comforted that he was surely welcomed by his beloved wife, parents, and maybe even my folks as well.

From his statement read at the occasion of the first reunion, September 14th, 2007.

Sincere greetings to all of you gathered at this celebration of the indomitable spirit of mankind!

Greetings first to all the admirable survivors of the train near Magdeburg, and our thanks to you for proving Hitler wrong. You did not vanish from the face of the earth as he and his evil followers planned, but rather your survived, and grew, and became successful and contributing members of free countries, and you are adding your share of free offspring to those free societies.

You have vowed that the world will never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, and you spread the message by giving interviews, visiting schools, writing memoirs, and publishing powerful books on the evil that infected Nazi Germany and threatens still to infect the world. I am enriched by the friendship of such courageous people who somehow have maintained a healthy sense of humor and a desire to serve through all the evils inflicted upon you.

Greetings also to the dedicated teacher whose efforts have brought us all together through the classes he has taught on World War 2 and the web site he maintains at the cost of hours of time not easily found in his duty as a high school teacher. I know that several of you found your quest for knowledge of your past rewarded by the interviews and pictures Matt Rozell and his classes have gathered and maintained. Selfishly, I am grateful to Mr. Rozell for leading several of you to me, bringing added joy to my retiring years.

Greetings also to all the faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends of the school at which this important gathering takes place. Thank you for your interest in the survivors of the Holocaust and their message.

And special greetings also to my old Army buddy, Judge Carrol Walsh, and his great family. Carrol fought many battles beside me, saved my life and sanity, and resuscitated my sense of humor often. We had just finished a grueling three weeks of fighting across Germany, moving twenty or more hours per day, rushing on to reach the Elbe River. Carrol and I were again side by side as we came up to the train with Major Benjamin, chased the remaining German guards away, and declared the train and its captives free members of society under the protection of the United States Army as represented by two light tanks.

Unfortunately, Carrol was soon ordered back to the column on its way to Magdeburg while, luckily for me, I was assigned to stay overnight with the train, to let any stray German soldiers know that it was part of the free world and not to be bothered again.

Carrol missed much heartbreaking and heartwarming experience as I met the people of the train. I was shocked to see the half-starved bodies of young children and their mothers and old men—all sent by the Nazis on their way to extermination.

I was honored to shake the hands of the large numbers who spontaneously lined up in orderly single file to introduce themselves and greet me in a ritual that seemed to satisfy their need to declare their return to honored membership in the free society of humanity.

I was heartbroken that I could do nothing to satisfy their need for food that night, but I was assured that other units were taking care of that and the problem of housing so many free people.

Sixty years later, I was pleased to hear that the Army did well in caring for their new colleagues in the battle for freedom. I saw many mothers protecting their little ones as best they could, and pushing them out, as proud mothers will, to be photographed. I was surprised and please by the smiles I saw on so many young faces.

Some of you have found yourselves among those pictured children, and you have proved that you still have those smiles. I was terribly upset at the proof of man’s inhumanity to man, but I was profoundly uplifted by the dignity and courage shown by you indomitable survivors. I have since been further rewarded to learn what successful, giving lives you have lived since April 13, 1945.

I wish I could be with you in person at this celebration, as I am with you in spirit. I hope you enjoy meeting each other and getting to know Matt Rozell and Carrol Walsh. I look forward to seeing again my friends whom I have met and to meeting the rest of you either in person or by E-mail. My experience at the train was rich and moving, and it has remained so, locked quietly in my heart until sixty years later, when the appearance of you survivors began to brighten up a sedate retirement.

You have blessed me, friends, and I thank you deeply. May your lives, in turn, bring you the great blessings you so richly deserve.

Fondly yours,

George C. Gross

September, 2007

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Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27.

It’s the 74th anniversary of the day that the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was liberated, where more than 1.1 million persons, including some of my friends’ parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters were murdered, while the world went about its business.

A million and a half of those murdered were children, and it’s a reason this quote hits me hard.

It was written by a child survivor of Bergen Belsen, in fact a survivor also of one of the three transports that left Belsen. All three transports were headed to Theresienstadt Ghetto in Czechoslovakia; the first transport actually made it there. My book focuses on the second transport that was liberated by the Americans. Joseph Polak, now a Boston University professor and rabbi,  was on the third transport, liberated by the Red Army 10 days after that.

I liked the book [After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring, Urim Publications, 2015] on many levels, but I guess that some of the ‘imaginary’ conversations he carries on, struggling to come to grips with ‘what happened’ and the fact that it never really is ‘over’, and that there are many things that need to be discussed with God, appealed to my sense of my own purpose on this earth. ‘Struggling to come to grips’ I don’t think is the right phrase though, it’s more of an eternal processing, or those attempts, and maybe that is the best link I can come up for now.

Anyway, I leave you with the quote and the book link here. An excellent intro is by his good friend, master teacher Elie Weisel.


Angel: The King, whom we entreat on the Day of Judgment to move from the throne of Justice to the throne of Mercy, is no longer very much apparent in the Hall of Judgment, and instead it is the children who sit there, their faces ashen, their hair grey, weeping, weeping, not understanding.

There they inquire of every returning soul – what have you done during your sojourn on earth to avenge our slaughter? How have you restored love and compassion and justice to the world? What have you done to shame the perpetrators? The bystanders? To call them and their descendants for ever after to account?

Have you asked God about us?


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Trails in the Sky.

I’m at the keyboard this morning thinking of a friend who came into my life only twenty years ago, and who left it a week ago, at the age of 97.

Earl Montgomery Morrow was exactly 50 years older than me, so I can’t say I knew him as well as some, but I knew him on a level enough to realize what his life represented, and what we all lost last Saturday. He called me up, you see, in the summer of 1998. I had been interviewed for the local newspaper in which I explained the project that I had created at the high school where I worked to interview the veterans of World War II, and put the students in touch with their stories.

He said, “I just had to call you and ask—why are you doing this? Why are you interested in our stories?” And that was the start of many visits to the high school where I was teaching.

Earl Morrow in the author’s classroom, May 2011. Credit: Robert H. Miller

I gravitated towards our World War II veterans in those years. He was only the second B-17 pilot that I had ever known. Later I would meet other crew members around his dining room table.

Twenty years after our first meeting, in retrospect, he gives me hope for the youth of our nation. He had his own flaws and failures, I am sure—he was flunking out of college when the war came—but he had the determination of a stubborn young man to know what felt wrong, and do what felt right. So against his parents’ wishes—he told his father he wasn’t going back to school—he set off for war at the age of 20. He got into the fledgling Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Corps and proceeded to shoot a cow while on guard duty one night when it would not ‘HALT!’. He got serious then, determined not to wash out, but was told by an instructor on his second day at flight school that he would never make it. Earl asked him why, and the instructor told him he was afraid of the airplane. Earl persuaded the instructor to take him up one more time, to make him or break him. They rolled, looped, dove, flew straight up and then straight back down, touched the wheels down on a big truck going down the highway, and buzzed a farmer working below so low that the man threw a hammer at them and it went over the top of the airplane. Two days later he was soloing, never afraid of an airplane again.

After months in the classroom and on the airfield, he graduated into the pilot’s seat of a multi-engine B-17 bomber. Flying with his new crew before heading overseas, he had to make an emergency landing in a midwestern state during the dead of night. He came in so low that a light came on in a house right below the plane. He circled around, got the plane down, and they waited for parts to be flown in to repair the hydraulics. The incredulous major tasked with flying the parts in asked who the hell landed that crippled plane on that tiny airstrip at night. After that, his crew respected his ability as a pilot. He was all of 22 years old.

For his first mission overseas, he flew in the co-pilot’s seat with a veteran crew with the 457th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force flying out of Glatton, 40 miles north of London. All of his 17 combat missions were over Lower Germany. On this first one, he saw these little puffs of black smoke—exploding flak shells. The war becomes personal when people are shooting back at you. He would have his own airplane, but in those 17 missions, he only flew it three times. The rest of the time it was being put back together from battle damage.

He got grounded once. In his own words, he “tore up two airplanes one morning—wrecked them while taking off”, trying to avoid a collision with a command tower. “The night before, someone came in and landed and took a building off its foundation. The colonel said, ‘Next time there is an incident, it’ll be pilot error, one hundred percent’, and sure enough,” he recalled, “it was me!” But he took full responsibility for the mishap, at age 23.

At age 23, I had a history degree and was back in school for teaching. At 23, Earl Morrow was nursing his crippled B-17 across the English Channel when German flak barges opened up and knocked out another engine. He gave the order to throw everything they could out into the sea, praying to make it over the Cliffs of Dover and to an emergency airfield on the coast. Clearing the cliffs, another plane was on the runway, but he brought it in on one engine, a true ‘wing and a prayer’. His men kissed the ground, and they counted over 100 holes in the fuselage. Earl could not even power the plane off the runway.

Crew photograph. Front row far left-Earl Morrow. Far right-Sam Lisica.
Courtesy Earl Morrow.

They rested for a week, and on the next mission they were served real eggs for breakfast—a sure sign that many of the crews would not be coming back from this target, a heavily defended synthetic oil refinery. German fighter planes swooped in after the bombs were dropped and the group turned to head back to England. Earl gave the order to bail out after mortal 20mm rounds hit the cockpit and the plane was on fire. He crawled back up to the cockpit when he realized that the plane might go into a dive, and forced the controls to keep the plane climbing. As he jumped, the plane exploded. He lost three of his crewmen and friends that day, Nov. 2, 1944.

On the ground, he was captured with the lead navigator for the mission, Jerry Silverman of Long Island, New York. Years later I can hear Silverman chastising Earl with a chuckle, when Earl refused to hand over his pilot’s wings to his German captors on the ground. Jerry said that the “big dummy could have gotten us both shot”. Earl responded that he felt he had to push back, so the Germans would show them some respect. They relented.

At age 23 at Christmas 1944, Earl and his fellow prisoners of war were trying to survive in the frozen German stalag system. At age 23 at Christmas in 1984, I was trying to figure out how to survive in the classroom, having made it through my student teaching internship. But I would soon hit upon the simple idea, to put kids in touch with the World War II generation, which would go on to create massive ripples in awakening the past. And Earl would be one of my first ‘co-pilots’ in that endeavor, but he had to survive the war first.

In late January, 1945 as the Red Army closed on Germany in the east and the western Allies were hammering at the West Wall, Hitler himself ordered the mass evacuation of Stalag Luft III to prison camps west of Berlin. Over 100,000 Allied airmen and officers were forced to walk in the most brutal winter conditions of the early 20th century for weeks, dying of dysentery, hunger and exposure and at the hands of guards who killed those no longer able to keep up. Earl himself sat down, disoriented, until a fellow prisoner pummeled him to keep moving. And then Earl was called upon to drag his own disoriented bombardier to his feet; when asked to identify Earl, Sam Lisica said, “I know you! You’re the best damn pilot in the world!”

A few months later, liberation came in the form of General Patton’s Third Army. Earl liked to tell the story of how he was not as mobile as the rest of the men, due to a knee injury, as they rushed towards the center compound of the sprawling camp. As the German guards in the towers disappeared and a flying wedge of tanks and the command jeep with the general appeared, Earl ducked around a building and came out just as the general passed and snapped off a salute to him, which was returned by Patton. Then the fabled general was gone.

Earl Morrow, Sam Lisica, Jerry Silverman. July 2001.
Credit: Author.

Five decades later, in 1998, I was now an established history teacher. I was sitting around Earl’s dining room table with Sam and Jerry, reunited through the efforts of Earl’s daughter Jessica to celebrate Earl’s 80th birthday here in Hartford, New York, where I now live near that farmhouse where Earl grew up. Earl’s wife Jessie puttered in the background putting up with their banter as I drew the stories out of them, listening to them alternate between seriousness and teasing, laughing together at the funny times, expressing sorrow at the loss of crew members and friends, and wonderment at having survived at all. They basked in each other’s company, and I basked in their presence. Today I thank God that I had the had the presence of mind to record all that, and later I included Earl and his friends in my books.

Sam died in 2006. Jerry died in 2008. Jessie, Earl’s wife, passed in April, 2011. Later, I had Earl back to the high school for Memorial Day ceremonies and veterans’ reunions, where I even got to introduce the granddaughter of General George S. Patton to him. That was a highlight for me, and I hope that gave Earl some comfort as he grieved for Jessie and his friends. “I’m the last one”, he said. But they also gave me and my students hope and inspiration, and I’m sure their examples, as kids themselves thrust into the most cataclysmic events in the history of the world, encourage us all to take a long look at our own efforts to recognize what feels wrong with the world today, and to step up to do what feels right.

Earl M. Morrow, World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.,
June 2016. Photo: Jessica Morrow Brand.

I was sitting at a book show on Saturday, staring out the window between talking to my readers and telling his story. I checked my phone, and saw that he had passed. I have interviewed hundreds of veterans and Holocaust survivors, and this is the hardest part of my own legacy to the world. A numbness washed over me, but it was replaced by a burning sensation, an all-knowing goodness that enveloped my heart with warmth as I read the words written by his daughter Jessica:

What a wonderful gift I was given to hold his hand when he drew his last breath. He meant everything in the world to me. Somehow, I am quietly comforted knowing he was met by a woman with her arms folded, stomping her foot, with a big smile on her face. Heaven gained another hero today.

Heroes indeed. And I am reminded of the continuity passed on by Earl and his generation in another quote that surfaced just this morning as I sat down to write, from my past readings, this simple one by the musician Paul Stanley:

I am here because of those who came before. And I will go on because of those who come after.

Life goes on. But it is up to us all to remember such a life as the one lived by my friend Earl Morrow.


(Here are the two books I wrote that Earl Morrow appears in. If you wish, you can get them here.)

Obituary for Earl Montgomery Morrow

Earl M. Morrow, 97, of Hartford, passed away on Saturday, December 8, 2018 at the Slate Valley Nursing Home in Granville.

Born on June 27, 1921 in West Pawlet, VT, he was the son of the late Robert and Carolyn E.(Adamson) Morrow.

Raised in Hartford, NY, Earl was valedictorian of Hartford Central School Class of 1939.
Earl served in the USAAC as 1st. Lieutenant Air Craft Commander of the B-17 during WWII. Based in Glatton, England, he completed 17 missions but was shot down over Merseberg Germany on 11/2/44 and taken Prisoner of War. Surviving 3 POW German stalags, he was liberated in May 1945 by General Patton.
Upon returning to the states, he continued his distinguished flying career first transporting Roy Acuff and the cast of the Grand Ole Opry around the country and then to a 30 year career in Chicago with American Airlines, retiring as a DC-10 Captain.

Besides his parents, he was also predeceased by his wife Jessie Morrow who passed away on April 8, 2011 as well as his siblings Robert Rising Morrow Jr., Roberta Morrow Pekins, Everest Mansfield Morrow and Arthur Emerson Morrow.

Left to cherish his memory include his daughter, Jessica Morrow Brand (R. Scott) of Carmel, Ind.; his grandchildren, and the loves of his life, Natalie Morrow, Lilah Claire and Earl Montgomery as well as his other children: Carolyn Morrow Vdorick (Ted), Kenneth Morrow, Barbara Morrow Klein (Tim) and son Drew, and several nieces and nephews.

Friends may call from 10am to 11am on Tuesday, December 18, 2018 at the Hartford Baptist Church, Main St. Hartford.

Funeral Services will be at 11:00am on Tuesday, following the calling hour at the church.

Burial with military honors will be at 1:00pm at the Gerald B.H. Solomon, Saratoga National Cemetery.

Arrangements are in the care of the M.B. Kilmer Funeral Home, 123 Main St. Argyle, NY 12809. For online condolences and to view Mr. Morrow’s Book of Memories, please visit http://www.kilmerfuneralhome.com.





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I did an interview recently for ManyBooks.Net.

Put these on your holiday shopping list and don’t forget to check out my own book specials over at my signed book page. Use code TAKE5 for a limited time; hardcover sets have arrived!

5 Books About World War II – Recommended by Matthew Rozell

MATTHEW ROZELL is an award-winning history teacher, author, blogger and speaker. He has been featured as the ABC World News ‘Person of the Week’ and has had his work filmed for CBS News, NBC Learn, the Israeli Broadcast Authority, the New York State United Teachers, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Most recently, he is the recipient of the New York State Education Department’s Yavner Teaching Award for Distinguished Contributions to Teaching the Holocaust and Human Rights. We have asked him to pick his five favorite books about World War II and did an interview to get his insights.

Matthew Rozell

You are a highly respected historian and have won numerous awards for writing and teaching history. But I was wondering which historians inspire you?

David McCullough, Rick Atkinson, Donald L. Miller, Cornelius Ryan, Thomas Childers, Stephen Ambrose are some of my picks.

You are the author of two books on World War II: The Things Our Fathers Saw and A Train Near Magdeburg .  What is it that makes you particularly interested in World War II?

Actually, it is ‘A Train Near Magdeburg’ and 4 volumes (in a planned 8) for ‘The Things Our Fathers Saw’:

I was born sixteen years after the war ended, and I grew up in the company of men and women who fought in World War II. Probably like most kids my age, I had no idea what they did, and like most kids, I did not think to ask. Some of my teachers in school were veterans of World War II, but I don’t remember anyone ever specifically launching into a story about their time in the conflict. It’s also possible that they did, but I was not paying attention.
In the late spring of 1984, all of that would change. On television I watched as the 40th anniversary of the Normandy landings was being commemorated over in France. Thousands of American veterans joined their Allied and German counterparts for a solemn tribute and reunion tours of the battlefields where they had fought decades earlier. Many of these men would have now been just hitting their stride in retirement. It was also the first time in nearly 40 years that many would be back together to ruminate on their reawakening past. And here it was that I woke up and was moved.
I returned to my high school alma mater in 1987 as a teacher of history. I found myself spending a good chunk of time each spring lecturing enthusiastically about World War II, and it was contagious. There was a palpable buzz in the classroom. All the students would raise a hand when I would call out for examples of grandparents or other relatives who had served in the war—frequently two hands would go up in the air. Every kid had a personal connection to the most cataclysmic event in the history of mankind—and in the late eighties, many of the soldiers, airmen, Marines, and sailors who came home from the war were still with us.
Building on that blossoming interest, I created a simple survey for students to interview family members. I had hit upon something that every teacher searches for—a tool to motivate and encourage students to want to learn more, for the sake of just learning it.
I was haunted, though, by one survey that was returned. When asked to respond to a simple question, a shaky hand wrote back in all capitals:


He was right—nobody can interpret history like those who were there. Maybe I took that as an unconscious push to bring the engagement into the students’ lives even more personally. Young people who despised school stopped me in the hall to voice appreciation after listening to the veterans who came to our school to speak.
Shortly after the 50th anniversary of the end of the war we initiated a dedicated project, and young people fanned out into the community and collected nearly 200 stories, forging bonds and bridging generational divides, bringing happiness and companionship to their elders. They became ‘collectors of memory’ and these students of history had a hand in creating new history, adding an important tack on the scholarship of World War II that would have probably otherwise been lost. In that regard, the books in my series are unlike most other World War II titles on the bookshelves today. But The Good War by Studs Terkel was a catalyst.

The Good War

You said that your first choice,  “The Good War” – An Oral History of World War II –  by Studs Terkel is the book that set you on your path.  Please tell us why.

It was a collection of stories that were told by the persons themselves, about how WWII effected their lives. Some were famous, many were not, just ordinary people talking about the war that shaped their lives, and the world. And it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize!

This book not only focuses on the soldiers, but also how ordinary Americans at home experienced WWII.  What were your thoughts on this?

These are the untold stories that we need to hear today. Someone said that when an older person dies, it is like a library burning down. These stories, our history, are lost forever.

Terkel interviewed and recorded 120 people in his research for The Good War. You did something similar when you researched your book.  Why is this a good approach?

He was my model. His book- and he wrote many, many others where the common men and women spoke for themselves- was required reading for many of my students.

Before Their Time

Your next choice is Before Their Time: A Memoir by Robert Kotlowitz  (Author).  What did you find so compelling about this book?

It was first person, it was heartfelt: like Terkel’s book and my other picks, it epitomized the tragic nature of all war.

Kotlowitz is not your typical “hero” one so often reads about in War stories.  He survived the massacre of his platoon by playing dead.  Why is it important to also hear from “heroes” like him?

In writing nearly half a million words in my books, the word ‘hero’ does not appear at all. Every soldier I talked to will tell you that the heroes did not come home. But Kotlowitz is a hero to me because he chose to write about his experiences through the lens of the pain of war. He exposed soldiers’ weaknesses and regrets by writing about himself, and I think that is an important lesson. How do you talk about the trauma? Most veterans who came home did not. He made the effort, and I’m sure it was therapeutic for him, just as getting veterans in their twilight years to open up to teenagers.

Goodbye Darkness

The next pick in line is Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War by William Manchester.  What are your thoughts on this book?

Manchester, a respected historian, was writing about his 19-year-old self, fighting in the Pacific. He went back and retraced his steps. It is an interesting book, and again, therapeutic for him. I think it is so important for people who have never had the experience of combat to read.

This book not only deals with the battle in the Pacific, but also with the PTSD the author struggled with, 23 years later.

Yes. Again, I’m sure it was therapeutic.

Some of the most haunting tales in the book are on how the civilians, the islanders avoided being captured by committing suicide. We have heard many more stories like this from WWII. Why, do you think did the other side see the Allies as such monsters that they would rather take their own lives than fall into our soldiers’ hands?

In the case of Marpi Point, on Saipan, or other places like Okinawa,  Japanese propaganda was totally responsible. Americans were going to torture rape and murder any civilians after the battles.

with old breed

Tell us more about your next choice:  With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge.

Eugene Sledge was a mild-mannered young man from Alabama who enjoyed a career after the war as a professor of ornithology. He never hunted or picked up a gun again after the war. One of my older friends marine Dan Lawler, was in the same company with him in combat at Okinawa (both men are in my first book on the War in the Pacific.) He said he used to tease Sledge-whose combat nickname was ‘Sledgehammer’- by calling him ‘Rebel”.

This book is a very brutal account of the reality of war.  Some readers say that it made them understand why family members who had fought in the war refuse to talk about it. Why do you think it important to also read books like this, without any sugar coating or false patriotism?

Sledge’s memoir of combat-notes for which were written on pages of his pocket Bible- has been lauded by combat veterans as the most real personification of conditions of war. Near retirement, Sledge was haunted by recurring nightmares of his time in the war. He wrote the book-or as he stated, it was like it was being dictated to him- feverishly. The nightmares subsided, and he began to hear from some of his old combat buddies, like my friend Dan Lawler.

Helmet for my pillow

Your next choice, Helmet for My Pillow is lauded as one of the top reads covering America’s Pacific War. Do you think it deserves that title?

Yes. Again, the experiences of a combat Marine, warts and all, written by one who went on to become a respected journalist.

Some critics say that Leckie seems to have a great resentment toward leadership and authority, and it shows in this book.

I admire a man who can be his own man, who can question authority, suffer the consequences perhaps, but make his point.

The book focuses mostly on the experiences of the Marines during WWII, but also highlights the times in-between battles – the drinking and womanizing.  Why is it also good to see this side of the war?

I suppose it is because that was the way it was for him, and them.

Both From Parris Island to the Pacific and With the Old Breed were used in the HBO miniseries The Pacific.  Did you watch the series?, if so – what did you think about it?

Yes, I own it, and it was good enough that I even used parts of it in class with my students who were old enough. I would also recommend Ken Burns ‘The War’. Burns also profiled Eugene Sledge and his friends.

Any last thoughts on why learning about the experiences of people who lived WWII still matter today?

Another World War II memoirist once wrote, ‘Ignorance and apathy are the greatest dangers to freedom.’ I agree, but as a lifelong history teacher, and now author, I contend that it begins with people simply not being exposed to the history to begin with. For how could one not be drawn into these stories, the human drama, the interaction and the emotion that goes into putting an ideal first? After sitting at their table, how could you not give weight to what they have seen, and where they think we are going, as a people, as a nation? I saw this spark kindled time and again in my classroom, when we got to hear from real people who had a front row seat, who acted in the greatest drama in the history of the world. I think it is important to have them tell you themselves, about the world they grew up in, the challenges and obstacles placed on life’s course, and how a generation of Americans not only rose to the challenge but built the country and the freedoms that we enjoy today. They truly saved the world. Be inspired. Share their stories; give them voice. Lest we forget.

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: http://bit.ly/MR-bio
TEACHING HISTORY MATTERS blog: www.teachinghistorymatters.com
FACEBOOK: http://bit.ly/MAROZELLfb

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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.



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.


  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


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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.


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.


[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.


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.


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.


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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