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Veterans Day: Hudson Falls teacher’s stories unite veterans with survivors

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications

veterans day

Caption: Photo of Matt Rozell by Andrew Watson.

History teacher Matt Rozell knows where he will be on Veterans Day. He’ll be in same place he is every year: working with students to help veterans. This year, he and 28 of his Hudson Falls high school students will be out raking leaves and doing yard work at the homes of veterans.

In his world, the one he shares with students, veterans are held in the highest regard.

“These soldiers, and what they’ve gone through for our country…” he said, trailing off. Rozell, a member of the Hudson Falls Teachers Association, was standing in the school entryway in front of a new display called The Veterans Wall. It is filled with photographs and stories of veterans from World War II through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their mission was protection. Rozell’s mission has been to make sure students know what that protection cost and what it preserved. In a metal filing cabinet in Rozell’s living history classroom there are 200 written student interviews with World War II veterans. Each folder includes the interview, positions papers, fact checks, photographs, letters and other primary sources.

[Hudson Falls Teachers Association member Matt Rozell on the history of Veterans Day and keeping history alive through the “power of the narrative story.”]

That’s 200 stories now documented; important pieces of history, of personal lives that intersected and collided with the deadliest war in history. These veterans became part of the Allies Forces in a brutal war from 1939 to 1945 – a war involving most nations of the world, the Holocaust, nuclear bombing, and sobering losses. According to the World War II Museum, there were 15 million combat deaths; 25 million wounded; and 45 million civilian deaths.

The front wall of Rozell’s classroom is covered with the front pages of actual newspapers chronicling stages of the war as it stormed across the world: “France Joins Britain in War on Germany;” “Roosevelt is Dead; Truman Sworn In;” “Germans Take Oslo: Sweden Gets Warning;” “Reich Scraps Versailles Pact.”

But it is on the last wall where the stories uncovered by Rozell and his students are the most personal. Here, there is a map of the world. In certain sections, it is dense with colored pushpins that students insert for tracking survivors.

The pins represent people: Jewish people who were rescued by American soldiers in Germany on a train from Bergen Belsen concentration camp, destined to be killed at the end of the war. The pins also represent the soldiers who saved them and the soldiers’ families.

“There were 2,500 Jews inside,” said the soft-spoken Rozell, whose blue eyes fill with tears telling the story. Some were already dead; all were emaciated. It was April 13, 1945. They were covered with lice. Some had typhus.

“It was at the point in the war when everything was collapsing under the Third Reich,” Rozell said. “Their final order was to murder everyone on the train.” German soldiers were to drive the train onto a bridge and blow up the bridge. But first, they ordered the men and boys off the train.

“They were going to machine gun them,” Rozell said.

Then the Americans, en route to a nearby battle, crested the hill in their tanks. They stayed 24 hours to guard the train, and then other soldiers came in to help transport the survivors.

In the last 10 years, 275 rescuers and survivors have been reunited through Rozell, the web site he created,https://teachinghistorymatters.com/tag/matthew-rozell/, and veteran Frank Towers, now 97. Towers was a soldier with the 30th Infantry Division who was charged with relocating the train survivors to a safe place for medical care and treatment the day after the rescue.

“His job was to move people out of harm’s way. He had trucks. It took all day,” Rozell said.

Towers, 97 has now met children of those train survivors, “people who would not exist if Americans hadn’t liberated the train,” Rozell said.

Rozell’s  determination to have his students experience the meaning of the closing days of WWII drew the attention not only of families and survivors, but also of the media. He and his students have been featured on NBC Learn as part of “Lessons of the Holocaust” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koQCU9Rhys0.

In September 2009 ABC World News with Diane Sawyer named them as “Persons of the Week.”

Rozell also works with the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

His story of action in the classroom began years ago when he had students first start interviewing veterans and videotaping them. Then they would transcribe them and type them up.  “This was before the internet,” he said.

In the mid 90s he began putting the stories online.  Rozell also conducted interviews, and one of them was with the grandfather of one of his students, a WWII veteran. He set up a video camera and the pair talked for two hours. A retired state Supreme Court justice, Carrol Walsh had been in combat in a tank.

“He hated it. Once he was trapped for three days,” Rozell said.

As the interview was winding down, Rozell recalls, Judge Walsh’s daughter stepped in and said “Did you tell him about the train?”

Walsh was one the soldiers who came across the train full of imprisoned Jewish people as they were driving their tanks. He told Rozell how they found the people on the train and scared off the German soldiers guarding it.

liberation

Next, Walsh directed Rozell to George Gross, a fellow tank commander who had taken photographs that day from the tank. More recently, Gross had written a narrative about his part in the liberation of the train.

Rozell eventually interviewed him by speakerphone in a class interview.

Rozell posted the transcripts of the interviews with Walsh and Gross – now deceased – on the school web site under a WWII history project.

The site got hits, but it more or less languished for about four years.

Then the trickle started. A grandmother from Australia who had been a little girl on the train contacted Rozell. Then a doctor in London, a scientist in Brooklyn and a retired airline executive in New Jersey found him through his site. They were all survivors from the train.

Rozell decided to host a reunion for them in 2007 at the school, and of course Walsh was invited.

“Judge Walsh – the only soldier there – met them with a laugh, and said ‘Long time, no see!'” Rozell recalls.

The Associated Press picked up the story about the reunion, and the school’s web site got so many hits it crashed the system. Rozell heard from 60 more people who were on that train.


The AP story is how veteran Frank Towers found out about the story. He contacted Rozell and they worked together. Since then there have been over 10 reunions – three of them in Hudson Falls,one in Israel, and many organized by Towers. Besides Israel and New York, they’ve been held in North and South Carolina  Tennessee, and Florida. With the help of survivors daughter Varda Weisskopf in Israel, they have brought survivors and their descendants together with American soldiers and their descendants. Their homes are now in places such as Great Britain, Canada, Israel, America, and Australia.

In 2011, Rozell and his son were given a gift of attending one of the reunions in Israel. There, he met 65 people who were on the train.

“The survivors [and soldiers] chipped in and bought a ticket for me and my son,” he said, still awestruck about the event three years later. “I’ve never been in the Middle East.”

NBC News recently heralded Towers’ quest to reunite survivors in http://www.nbcnews.com/watch/ann-curry-reports/children-from-death-train-reunited-346382403757.

In the video, a young girl cries, trying to express how much it means to her to meet the man who liberated her grandfather on the train.

Rozell, a graduate of SUNY Geneseo, is in his 29th year of teaching history. He says his journey is about “the power of teaching.”

“We can use the power of history to get kids involved, engaged and more empowered themselves,” he said.

The Washington County Historical Society has published some of the student stories in the file cabinet, giving both students and veterans, a voice.

http://www.nysut.org/news/2014/november/veterans-day-using-the-power-of-story-to-make-history-come-alive-for-hudson-falls-students

Thanks, Liza, Andrew and Leslie for visiting our school and seeing the power for yourselves.

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Carrol S Walsh Jr. At rest in Johnstown, NY. Photo by Elizabeth Connolly.

Carrol S Walsh Jr. At rest in Johnstown, NY. Photo by Elizabeth Connolly.

Thirteen summers ago, I sat down for an interview with an amazing man. What he would relate to me, and what I would do with it, would go on to change both of our lives.  A seemingly small incident would be recalled almost as an aside in the wider context of World War II, but then would go on to reverberate through time, and space, creating ripples in the cosmos that grew into waves. Big waves that would carry me, and many others, to places we had never thought possible.

You see, on Friday, April 13th, 1945, twenty-five hundred lives were saved as advance elements of the U.S. Army 743rd Tank Battalion, 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, and  30th Infantry Division stumbled across the crime of the century, perhaps of all time.

A train transport stopped at a railroad siding. Open boxcars, sealed boxcars, shabby passenger cars, engine. Some people wandering about, others too ill to move. Sick and emaciated human beings.  Women. Men. Children. SS bands roaming the countryside. Orders to execute. A bridge over the River Elbe ahead to be blown to smithereens. With the transport, and the people on it.

The soldiers told me their stories.  In the course of collecting their narratives, we found others who played their parts and rescued those people.

I listened. We wrote. We recorded, and I posted. Then, the wires began tripping. Seven Septembers ago, we put together the first of many reunions between these soldiers and the child survivors of the Holocaust they rescued.

“Joyful” does not do it justice. What do you say to the men who saved you and your family when you were a child?

Carrol smiles, grips their arms in greeting, and laughs, “Long time, no see!” Sixty-two years, that’s all. On April 13th, 1945, the war weary, “seen-it-all” twenty-four year old second lieutenant is in for the shock of his life.

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Five years ago this week, we put on quite a show at our high school.  High school kids listening to, meeting, sharing, laughing, crying, even dancing  with octogenarian U.S. soldiers and Holocaust survivors. ABC World News called my classroom and told me they were on their way up from NYC headquarters to film us. You can see Carrol, and listen to fellow tank commander George Gross’ narrative from our interviews, and hear fellow soldier Frank Towers describe his role in the liberation.

The last evening together, soldiers and survivors from all over the world watched the broadcast together, and we said our prayer of thanksgiving. Hundreds of students became the witnesses for the generations to come.

And so it comes full circle. Nearly ten percent of the passenger list has been found, over 60 years later. Profound things keep happening.

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We lost Carrol less than two years ago, George earlier. So I write this week to remember, and remind myself of what a legacy, and gift, they left us. While it may have been a tiny part of  very productive lives (a New York State Supreme Court justice, and English literature professor, respectively), for the rest of my days I will think of the times I got to talk to them, and smile.

And think about their own words: “What are we going to do with all these people?”

Indeed. Just look at the generations that sprang forth, because of what our soldiers stopped to do, in a shooting war. In complex, fluid situations, there are no easy answers, but don’t you think that there is a very important lesson here?

It was not part of the mission. But maybe as a society we should break down and examine the values that made the mission change, if even as a “sideline”.

Sometimes it just feels good to feel proud.

But temper pride with the wisdom of the retired New York State Supreme Court justice:

“No.

They don’t owe us anything. Not a thing.

We owe them~

For what the world allowed to happen to them.”

 

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Soon after liberation, surviving children of the Auschwitz camp walk out of the children’s barracks. Poland, after January 27, 1945. — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Soon after liberation, surviving children of the Auschwitz camp walk out of the children’s barracks. Poland, after January 27, 1945. — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day Soviet troops over ran Auschwitz in 1945. This week I received a note from an Israeli survivor friend, shortly after the passing of one of her liberators, Carrol Walsh. Sara lost over 60 of her family there- and her immediate family was saved only because the day they arrived at Auschwitz, the death machinations were working at full capacity and her transport was rerouted to Belsen. She was liberated on 13 April on the evacuation transport near Farsleben, known here as the Train Near Magdeburg…

In her letter she asks important questions of me. I have responded the best that I could, below.

Dear Matthew,

 We were very sad to hear that Carrol Walsh passed away. Only lately did I get to know him, and he risked his life in order to save ours. It is a pity we did not get to meet more.

I can’t express in words the loving feelings for the young tank commander that for sure always had a smile on his face, and never stopped smiling after we met- 65 years after the victory. I am sure Carrol Walsh made the best out of his life; I was fulfilled to know him and his beautiful family.

I read about his profession in the years of his life. It was interesting to see how much meeting with us affected him.

I thank you for your unusual courage to initiate the exciting meeting [reunion].

I suppose you were very excited for the event you had initiated. Did the idea come in different parts? I am trying to understand the development of your thinking.
When you first wrote to me about the meeting [invitation to the proposed reunion], it was on the day we were released- the 13th of April. I got home after meeting my brothers and celebrating the release [liberation]day. I couldn’t relax, I immediately told all my brothers. I was so happy, as if it was happening again.

The meeting completed a missing part in the picture for me, after all the horrifying things we went through we couldn’t even dream of a miracle like that coming out of the blue.

I cannot go back more to the extermination camps and escort groups because I don’t have the physical nor mental power to do that anymore.

There are questions that bother me.

Are you able to answer them?

Why shouldn’t the world forget and let this be over?  

A. So, some people do want to forget. Others will say that it did not happen. For those reasons, it must never be forgotten. This is the biggest crime in the history of the world.

As Walsh states, how could humanity have stood by and let that happen?

Does my work, the hard work I do, do anything against the forgetting?

A.The most impressionable minds in the world are those of the youth. It is they who the Nazis “educated”; it made it easier for the crimes to be committed. This is why they must hear now.

The work that you, and I do, has an impression. I hope to continue this work after you must slow down. Please remember that.

 

You are a historian, should the memory be kept?

A.The memory must be kept. As educators it is our duty to keep it alive. We must fight those who trivialize or denigrate its importance.

Is there a proper way to keep the memory?

A.There is no one way except to be open to the discussion of humanity and how humans could do this to one another. We must also bear in mind however, that the soldiers who helped the suffering to new life bore their own pains in doing so, yet also made a choice to redeem humanity. Some did not sleep soundly for years.

I think this is so, and also must not be forgotten. The war brought out the most evil in the world. But I think it also revealed some goodness in the form of the soldiers who liberated or otherwise cared for the victims.

Who should be documenting everything, the “victim” or the “aggressor”?

A.The aggressor fades from memory. New generations asks questions. It is true that some are bothered by the questions. But the young will always be curious and want to know- is this a stain on the German people? I know some Germans today who work very hard to keep the memory alive, as you also do.

The victims give the testimony. This is all they can do. But it is the evidence of the crime, and one that new generations must work with. That is why your work is so important.

Who is in charge of making the conclusions?

A.I would say that institutions such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem are the world leaders in this area. I have been trained, well, I should hope, by the USHMM. I do not know enough about the German institutions but I hope to raise enough funds to travel to the camps and study there this summer.

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Matthew Rozell, 30th Infantry Veterans of WWII, Holocaust survivors at Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, March 2, 2012.

Matthew Rozell, 30th Infantry Veterans of WWII, Holocaust survivors at Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, March 2, 2012.

Frank Towers’ invitation to soldiers, survivors, interested parties and their families to come to Louisville in the spring. The soldiers have convened annually since the end of World War II; since 2008, thanks to the project, the 30th Infantry Division has hosted Holocaust survivors and their families as well for very emotional, uplifting, and fun times. Email for details.

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Don’t forget the dates!!       April 11 – 12 – 13, 2013

Don’t forget to make your Hotel Reservation

and Registration!!

Hotel Crowne Plaza,  Louisville, KY

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Dear Fellow 30 Division Members and Friends:

I hope you all enjoyed your holiday and that the New Year holds only good things for you and your family.

Now that the holidays are over it is time to focus on making your reservations for the Reunion.  Included are the Pre-Registration Form and the Reservation Form and the information to make your hotel reservations. Please do it NOW.

We have a great program planned and will include a trip to the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum, a professional photographer that will take a picture of you and/or your family (so bring your medals and ribbons to show off).  We will also have one of Louisville’s noteworthy news casters, Ken Schulz, MC our banquet on Saturday evening.  Our entertainment will include a local bagpiper as well as others.

Why come to Louisville?

Louisville, is a city of urban neighborhoods that have been revitalized, and some of our best known shopping areas are the Bardstown Road and Frankfort Avenue corridors with their small shops and plentiful locally owned restaurants.  The homes and buildings in the Old Louisville neighborhood is one of the largest historic preservation districts featuring Victorian architecture in the U.S.  The Downtown area has had significant renovations over the last few years with the construction of the YUM! Center which is home court for our Louisville Cardinals men’s and women’s basketball teams.  The Center, along with Waterfront Park and Fourth Street Live, have attracted new housing, shops and restaurants breathing new life into the area.

Louisville has museums to interest everyone..  Home to the Frazier International History Museum; The Muhammad Ali Center; The Louisville Science Center; The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft and many, many more.

Our hotel, the Crowne Plaza, is locally owned and operated.  It is near the airport and offers free shuttle service from the airport to the hotel.  The Crowne Plaza also offers many amenities including indoor/outdoor pool, fitness center, boutique shop, 24 hours business center, complimentary Wi-Fi, and more.

You can see Louisville is the place to be, so much so that Louisville was named “The Top U.S. Travel Destination for 2013” by Lonely Planet’s, the world’s leading travel publisher.

We are looking forward to having you here and sharing some of our history and hospitality with you, and most of all, to meet many of your former friends and colleagues.

Best Regards,

Bill Vaughan. President

30th Infantry Division Veterans of WWII

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Taps – 2012

(Last 6 Months)

ADAMS, Cleveland L. 30 MP Plat. 7/30/12 Stockbridge, GA

ADKINSON, Bruce 743 TkBn B 6/17/12 Beverly, MA

DUMEY JR, (DuMay) Leon 120-G 11/23/12 Cape Girardeau, MOM

FARKAS, Louis 119-I 12/ /12 Colton, OR

HOGUE, Donald W. 117 K 6/12/12 Montevallo, AL

HOUCK, Arthur T. 120-K 6/16/12 Hampstead, MD

LAZINGER, Sol 117-B 6/13/12 Philadelphia, PA

MAXEY, James C. 120 CN 6/ 29 /12 Tullahoma, TN

MILLER, Edmund L. 120-H 9/07/12 Pewamo, MI

PITRUZZELLO, Joseph S. 119-L 5/02/08* Alexander City, AL

PRUITT, Frank H. 120-2BnHq 12/10/12 Spartanburg, SC

PULVER, Murray S. 120-B 9/21/12 Peoria, AZ

STANFORD, Arna V. Widow 8/18/10* Williamsburg, VA

STECKLER, William 105 Engr. B 9/09/12 Palm Harbor, FL

SULLIVAN, Thomas “Jack” 118 FA 8/07/12 Savannah, GA

TURNER, Woodrow W. 117-F 8/15/12 Littleton, CO

UBBES, Jean M 743 TkBn-B 7/28/12 Kalamazoo, MI

VOORHIS, Thomas K. 120-K 8/06/12 Manteca, CA

WALSH, Carrol S. 743 TkBn-D 12/17/12 Sarasota, FL

YOUNG SR., James E. 120 6/26/12 Butler, PA

Those with an asterisk (*) were received too late for a prior publication.

Our Most Sincere Condolences to the Families of These Lost Heroes

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As most of you already know, men of the 743rd Tk. Bn., and  30th Infantry Division, liberated over 2.500 victims of the Holocaust from Bergen-Belsen on 13 April 1945.

We will be honored to have some of these Survivors join with us again at Louisville.  Two of them have never been with us before, so they will give a resume of their life history, so be sure to come to hear these stories that have never been told before.

One of these Survivors will be coming all of the way from Jerusalem, Israel, joining with other members of his family, to meet his Liberators for the first time.  The other Survivor will be coming from San Diego, CA with his daughter, also to meet for the very first time with some of his liberators.

To make it clear, each of you veterans were “Liberators” of this group of victims.  Although you may not have had any personal hands-on experience with them at the time of their liberation, You were doing your job which was supporting the action in the local vicinity of this tremendous discovery and the release of these frail humans to Freedom.

Join with us on this occasion to meet these Survivors that you helped to liberate 68 years ago !!

This will be an Historic event !!  68 years to the date of their Liberation !!!

 

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Friday the 13th.

This account comes to me from a survivor’s son who lives in Hungary. He had read of Carrol Walsh’s passing on the internet and contacted me. It is Carrol who is commanding one of these tanks. Sgt. George Gross commanded the other, and took photographs.

I just came across this website . My father was on this train.
He passed away twenty years ago, in April 1992.

Here is an excerpt from his memoirs about his liberation day.
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Translation from my father’s Memoirs pp. 302-304.
————————————————-

The day of April 13 1945 was a Friday and a sunny and windy day. In the morning, the SS opened the doors of the freight cars, after they had argued with each other whether they should kill us with their submachine guns. But the US troops were too close.

——————————————————————-

Perhaps it was an older SS man who prevented our execution. Later that day, a Jewish woman, who had been his lover in the camp, saved him from becoming a prisoner of war or worse. She got him civilian clothes, I do not know how. The same woman became the lover of an American soldier later.
——————————————————————

Several hundred people wrapped in rags streamed through the open doors, if they could be called people at all. We were all mere skeletons.

The train was idling in a deepening, so I climbed uphill, across a road and to a field. I was pulling out potatoes planted on the field, when a motorcycle approached. It was a motorcycle with a side-car. There was an elegant SS or Nazi leader in the front: I could not decide, since he was wearing a mixture of uniform and civilian clothes. It must have been his wife sitting behind him and his child in the side-car. He pulled over and offered me a cigarette. I told him I did not smoke, so he closed his silver-looking cigarette-case and started the engine.
He seemed to hesitate about the direction he should take.

Prisoner taken. Photo by tank commander George C Gross, April, 1945.

Prisoner taken. Photo by tank commander George C Gross, April, 1945.

Then two small American tanks arrived. I was standing in the middle of the road, and noticed that the American soldier leaning out of the turret of one of the tanks aimed his gun at me.
The tank came closer and closer, and the soldier lowered his submachine gun. I must have looked terrible, so he did not take me for an enemy. I was lucky he had not shot me from the distance, since my small coat and boots vaguely resembled a military uniform. Lice were crawling all over my clothes and skin.

The few hundred former inhabitants of the concentration camp surrounded the tanks right away. Suddenly somebody remembered that the SS guarding us were still in the carriages. The SS were caught quickly, and lined up. The “intrepid” SS were trembling so heavily that their pants were flapping.

The first thing a Jewish woman asked from the soldier leaning out from the tank was money, and she received a dollar bill. She must have established her future with this dollar.

My attention was drawn to something else: in the rear of the tank there was a box of canned food. I climbed under the tank, emerged at its end, and pulled out a can. It turned out that I stole a can of oranges. This was my luck. I ate the potatoes charred in the can with the oranges, and probably this combination saved my life. Everyone who ate meat or anything greasy died within hours or within one or two days at the latest.

I felt fever in my body, undressed completely naked in front of staring women, and went into the ice-cold water of the lake next to the railroad. People warned me not to do this, but I went into the water, felt good, felt that I got rid of the lice and the burning heat of the fever. When I put on my rags again, I felt the fever ever stronger.

I asked an American soldier to sign the photo of my fiancee (I still have this photo). To my surprise, he signed the name Churchill. I thought he was joking. But he reassured me that his name was really Churchill.

(Once I read about a father named Churchill, who went to see his son’s grave in Vietnam during that war. The report mentioned that the father had been a soldier in World War II. He must have been my Churchill)

In the evening, there were news that we should flee, because the Germans pushed back the Americans. The Germans would massacre us for sure, the women had pulled out material for parachutes from a carriage in order to make clothes.

I was already so weak that I did not care whether the returning Germans would kill me: I stayed in one of the carriages, and fell asleep.

On Saturday, April 14, German peasant [horse-drawn] carts came for us by some order, so I was carried to Hillersleben. I dragged myself to the first floor of the first building, it looked like an office building, lay down under the sink of the bathroom, and fell asleep.

I am sure the American soldiers had no idea who we were and what we went through.

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Here is the interview that I did with NYSUT last week.

A staff member who is maybe thinking of leaving the profession wrote me a nice card about a month ago. In a follow up conversation she told me she saw me as a “beacon”- her word- for other teachers. That’s fairly heavy stuff to hear.

I feel  responsibility to add some extra comments below for the benefit of  teachers in general, and anyone else who is interested.

http://itswhatwedo.nysut.org/

Photo credit: Kris Dressen.

The reporter was competent, engaged and interested, but she had her deadline and we ran out of time.

I did not have a chance to tell her about the medic. I’ll include it below and will be passing it on to her. Kind of like the “moral of the story”, especially when you realize what it means for the soldiers.

I hope it serves as a reminder to teachers that what we all do every day makes a difference.

Here is the postscript to the story.

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An important epilogue to the NYSUT story.

I know that some of you have been following the unfolding of the train liberation and reunions.  The part that is not mentioned in the article  is a phone call I got last Oct. from an 88 year old man in Scranton, PA who found me- and really wanted to be put in touch with the survivors.

You see, he had been a twenty something Army medic in 1945 when ordered to move out to the abandoned German Air Force hospital grounds at Hilersleben, immediately after the tank commanders came across that “death train” and Frank Towers evacuated the occupants to get them out of the battle zone.

Blessed – or maybe cursed – with a terrific memory, he can vividly recall the screams and overall sense of dread permeating the hospital, where he and his fellow medics wore a daily uniform of surgical masks, gloves and rubber aprons.

He remembers scooping handfuls of lice out of patients’ hair and administering countless needles, and the time he had to carry the body of a little girl to a tent serving as a makeshift morgue.

For six nonstop weeks after the liberation they confronted the horror and the evil. Well over 100 Holocaust victims, now his patients, died after they were freed by our troops. No one had trained Walter for this, and  for all these years he has lived with the guilt, the nightmares, and the trauma.

For 60 years he and his wartime buddies met after the war. Walter told me and some of our kids that in recounting their war stories, not one of them ever brought up that place called Hilersleben.

Those guys must have suffered from PTSD. And like many soldiers, his generation just did not talk about that.

Now he calls me at school, to chat, laugh, to let me know which of our survivors has contacted him, and to tell me he wants to meet me.

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Wait a minute-rewind- How did that happen?

I mean, Why did HE, find ME?

That all happened WAY before I was born.

I think about this, every single day.
Is there a reason I put on this earth? How do I make sense of my responsibility as a human being?

Did those soldiers have to put themselves in harm’s way, in many respects scarring themselves for life,  to care for “the brutalized and wretched” whom they did not even know?

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What I offer to other teachers:
I’m an educator and so are you. As persons who spend most of our waking hours with young people, I can only postulate that we are in the “business” of molding human beings- which of course is not really a business at all. Like the soldiers thrust into that situation, ultimately we are caretakers of humanity.   It is an overwhelming responsibility, but it is not just a job.
It’s a mission.

Those soldiers made choices, confronted evil, sacrificed a ton, and saved humanity– Carrol, George, Frank, and Walter (“the Babe”)- and in doing so, I know they saved me, too. It sounds cliché, simplistic, Pollyanna, whatever- but it’s true.

You do your best to make a difference.

Lots of times you think you lose.

But here’s the real crazy part- most of the time you probably win.

Like these soldiers, sometimes you don’t know you have won until years later.

It’s just what we do.

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Dear Mr. Rozell,

Hilersleben -Luca Furnari

 My grandfather, Luca Furnari, is 90 years old and served in the 95th medical battalion with Mr. Gantz at Hillersleben. He has a number of photographs from this period.  For many years he has thought about trying to find a particular young girl who he helped sneak extra rations to at the DP camp and whose mother asked him to take back to the United States. He and some friends actually had a whole plan of how they were going to sneak her onto the boat back to the US, it’s a great story. Unfortunately, as you know, they were told they were going to the Pacific theatre and the plan became impossible.  Her name was Irene / Iren / Irena.  I have a photograph and have searched the manifest on your website, there are 3 possible people of approximately the right ages: Irena Gitler, Iren Roth and Iren Wittels.   I was wondering if you had come across any survivors from Hillersleben with the same name. 

Hilersleben-Irene is in the flowered dress

Also, I know my grandfather would love to be connected to any other surviving members from the US Army that were at Hillersleben.  

 My grandfather is the large picture on the left hand side.  Irene is in the flowered dress in the picture by herself and on the lap of another US soldier, whose name is Turner (?).  The picture with the baby is also Turner, and they are in the DP camp.  My grandfather’s inscription reads

Hilersleben-Turner-boy that kid sure did cry that day — until we gave her some chocolate.

“boy that kid sure did cry that day — until we gave her some chocolate”.  The picture of the building with barrels in the foreground is from Hillersleben too. It has a strange inscription from my grandfather

Hilersleben-some disorderly DPs getting a shower bath (DDT?)

“some disorderly DPs getting a shower bath”.  The one with the two girls just says “Two of the children that lived in the D.P. center we were taking care of. Cute eh hon?” (He was sending the pictures to my grandmother back in the States.)

The child Irene is the girl that my grandfather would like to try to locate. 

Soldier Turner and Irene.

Any help you can provide is MOST appreciated.

Best,
R.

Hilersleben-Two of the children that lived in the D.P. center we were taking care of. Cute eh hon?

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