Posts Tagged ‘Anne Frank’

My friend Frank Towers would have turned 100 years old today. Frank passed on July 4th, 2016.

Frank W. Towers.

Frank was born on June 13, 1917. Think about that for a minute. John F. Kennedy also came into the world, less than a month before Frank. ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody left the world. American involvement in WWI was just getting underway, and Frank’s future 30th Infantry Division was formally activated. Gandhi was tromping around India, investigating the poor conditions of local farmers under British rule. Revolutionaries in Ireland were still licking their wounds after the doomed Easter Rising against the British the year before. The Russian Revolution was just getting started. American suffragettes that summer were arrested for picketing the White House for the right to vote for women.

So into this world came Frank W. Towers. And Frank Towers came into my life after he had already lived a good, long one, in September, 2007, shortly after he turned 90. But he had more things to do before the Almighty called him home.

He did not know me, and I did not know him-I have never even been to Florida, where he lived. But, from the news he learned of a reunion that we had recently done at our high school. He read about how I had reunited World War II tank commanders from the US Army 743rd Tank Battalion and 30th Infantry Division with the children of the Holocaust who he also had helped to liberate. And Frank said to himself, “Wait, I know about this. I was there, too.”

Frank reached out to me and we began a fruitful partnership in trying to locate more of the survivors who were on that train. He invited me, and the survivors, to the 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World War II reunions that they held annually down south. And these were powerfully moving events, to see the soldiers touched by the gestures of the survivors; and for the survivors to laugh and cry with their liberators was a gift that they, their children and grandchildren, will never forget. We also held additional reunions at our school, for the sake of making students the new witnesses to what happened during the Holocaust. Varda W., a survivor’s daughter in Israel, even orchestrated a massive reunion of 55 survivors and their children for Frank in Rehovot, Israel when he was almost 94… talk about a rock star. I was there to see him mobbed.

Frank Towers greeting survivors at the Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, Israel, May 2011. Credit: Matthew Rozell


There’s talk this week in Holocaust education circles of another important birthday, and another ‘Frank’-Anne Frank would have turned 88 yesterday.  She came into the world on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt, Germany; I’ve seen the house where she was born, and I’ve been to the place where she died, at age 15. Just shy of her last birthday, on June 6th, 1944, she recorded the following entry:

‘This is D-Day,’ the BBC announced at 12 o’clock. This is the day. The invasion has begun!

Anne Frank iat school in 1940,Amsterdam, the Netherlands). Unknown photographer; public domain.

Is this really the beginning of the long-awaited liberation? The liberation we’ve all talked so much about, which still seems too good, too much of a fairy tale ever to come true?… The best part of the invasion is that I have the feeling that friends are on the way. Those terrible Germans have oppressed and threatened us for so long that the thought of friends and salvation means everything to us!

On D-Day, 26 year old 1st Lieutenant Frank Towers was also listening to this news in England as the 30th Infantry Division was preparing to ship out to the battle a few days later. Anne and her family would be betrayed in Amsterdam that August, as Frank’s 30th infantry Division held off a massive German counterattack in Mortain, France. The family was deported to Auschwitz and then Anne and her sister Margot were sent to Bergen Belsen, all the while with the Allies slugged forth through that long summer, fall and winter into 1945. Anne and Margot died in Belsen before the spring came, and liberation; there is a marker to honor them but they lie in a mass grave there today, whereabouts unknown, like so many thousands of others. Frank would not know them, but would help to liberate and rescue some 2500 from the train near Magdeburg, including some who knew of the Frank sisters. And yes, we are left to ponder some of Anne Frank’s closing words to humanity:

I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that only 5,000 of the 107,000 Jews deported from the Netherlands between 1942 and 1944 survived. That’s less than 5%. But I close today with Frank Towers, at age 97, in the Netherlands in 2014 meeting the generations who survived because of that fateful day when the US Army investigated a curious Bergen-Belsen transport stopped by the tracks near the Elbe River. And listen to the little girl in the video. The world was too late for Anne Frank, but maybe her ideals indeed live on.


Read Full Post »

Last night we were all jolted out of our comfortable lives with the news of the attacks in Paris by what appears to be, once again, the handiwork of radical Islamists. I felt distress as the waves of Twitter updates came cascading in from Europe. Distress at the live updates, the storming of the Bataclan Theatre, the rising body counts, the survivor descriptions of what was unfolding, the young people being murdered on a Friday night out.  I felt distress at sitting on the couch in a warm comfortable home reading the updates. But what can one do?

So I sat there, maybe like you, feeling helpless. Maybe feeling guilty as well, for at times lately it seems as if I am rushing through my life with no time or appreciation for the little things, which, in truth, are the only things that matter.

Saturday morning now. After getting more updates on the latest crimes against humanity in Europe, I think back to an email I got this week from a producer of an about to be released film that features some of my work as a Holocaust/World War II educator, and as a “connector” between Holocaust survivors and their American soldier-liberators. He says ‘thank you’ for my help, my input and my interview, and that the documentary is ready for viewing with a private code, before its world premiere on Nov. 19th.

But I’ve been in documentaries before, and I’m busy, so I had put it off. Until just now, when I watched it for the first time.

And the light bulb just went off, like the kid in the class who finally gets the ‘big picture’. Like the 90 year old liberator to whom I  had introduced  people he saved 62 years ago, and to whom I taught about the Holocaust-for the first time in his life– who proclaimed excitedly “Yes! Yes! Now I know what I fought for!” And although on some level I have always ‘gotten it’, I see more clearly that this is what I am teaching for, and speaking for, and writing about-that this is what I am here to do-“to prevent one of history’s darkest chapters from repeating.”


We were at the last reunion of the 30th Infantry Veterans of World War II in Nashville, where I met Evelyn Marcus, the daughter of survivors and whose mom was liberated on the Train near Magdeburg in 1945. Raised in the Netherlands, she emigrated to the USA about a dozen years ago, due in large part to a rising wave of antisemitism sweeping that country, and Europe. And now she confronts it, after meeting her mother’s actual American liberators, and returns to the Netherlands for a deeper understanding of what is happening. And she is determined to make a difference.

And so am I. It’s what we do to honor the lives stolen, and to remember that we are all part of humanity and each one of us has a responsibility, and a role to play. I hope you have an opportunity to see the film. Maybe it’s time to ‘get it’ that ‘never again is now’.



My name is Evelyn Markus. I am a Jew. I was born and raised in the Netherlands where my family history goes back more than 400 years. I grew up in the 60s and 70s in the world’s most liberal city –Amsterdam, where I enjoyed life with my long-time partner, Rosa. But 15 years ago, things started to change.

 We noticed and personally experienced rising anti-Semitism sweeping across Europe. As second-generation Holocaust survivors, we sensed a familiar evil on the horizon. In 2004, we decided to leave Europe for the United States, the nation that liberated my family from the horrors of the Holocaust.

 70 years later, I now understand the need to fight for freedom and the importance of acting on principles. America has molded my mission -–to tell the world, through my story —that Never Again Is Now.


Watch the trailer.




The film premieres on TheBlaze TV  on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 8PM. It will be released later to larger outlets, like Amazon. You can also arrange a private screening at the contact page.


Read about the cast

Some quotes:

“If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left, when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed, will be held up as an example.” 

Anne Frank

“Never in our training were we taught to be a humanitarian.  We were taught to be soldiers.”

Frank Towers

“It really is an incredible thing and I think about it all the time. I think it’s really important to keep the memory and the history alive.”

Matt Rozell

“My message was to make up for what Hitler destroyed. That was my function in life.”

Rosa Zeegers

“Life in the Netherlands if you are Jewish and you’re not ashamed oyour Jewishness is a predicament”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

“The Jews were killed for the simple fact that they were Jews, and that made a very deep impression on me.”

Rabbi Raphael Evers

“These are the final struggles of a lost fight. Jewish life in Holland is almost non-existent.  In that regard, Hitler won.”

Leon de Winter

“At the end of the day for my children, if they want to live a Jewish life, I would honestly not advise them to stay in Europe.”

David Beesemer

“If you feel what happens, the horror of it, and you feel the pain of individuals it’s so much more important than if you just know facts.”

Jessica Durlacher

“I think if you have an opportunity to speak for those who are voiceless, who might be victims, I think it’s a responsibility.”

Qanta Ahmed


Read Full Post »

A year ago I took one of the most transformative journeys of my life, with 24 fellow educators, to study the Holocaust and the Jewish resistance to it, in Washington, DC, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland. I kept an extensive diary and took tons of photographs.  For the next several days, I have decided to go back and retrace my steps and try to process what unfolded for me. Not weighty tomes, but maybe a picture and a note from the diary.

Bergen Belsen on July 5, 2013.

Bergen Belsen on July 5, 2013.

“Belsen! I think they had been in Belsen.”

On July 5, 2013, we are on our way from the hotel in nearly Celle to this destination. Our first concentration camp of the tour.

Trying to remember the name of the concentration camp, the elderly gentleman exclaimed these words as he animated his story from the rocking chair across from me. I was in his daughter’s house on a brilliant July day, twelve summers before. It seems like a lifetime ago. But if I had not taken the time to go there and sit down with him, you would not be reading any of this.

People, mostly news media, get the story wrong all the time.  I had not invited the veteran to class because I had had his grandson. It was a series of coincidences that changed so many lives, but then again, I am sure there are no coincidences.

Is it a coincidence that I am making my first trip to Belsen on the day that he is being laid to rest in his hometown back in New York state? Or that by 8pm I will be traveling on the same spur of tracks toward Magdeburg, on which the Sherman light tank he was commanding sixty-eight springs ago came to the train with 2500 Jewish victims of the Holocaust onboard?

I was picking my young children up from daycare. I knew Tim, the other father there at the same time, picking up his young son. I had his older son in class at the time. Tim knew I liked to talk to World War II veterans, and he invited me to come over and speak to his father in law, a retired NYS Supreme Court justice, who was coming up to stay for the summer. So I took him up on it. What a great man, funny too. We conversed on tape for nearly two hours, and I was about to turn the camera off, and his daughter, Tim’s wife Elizabeth, spoke up:

Daughter: Did you mention the train at all? That was kind of interesting.
CW: No, I didn’t tell him about the train.
MR: What was that?
CW: Well, late in the war, again a nice, beautiful April day… we were shooting like crazy across the top of Germany and Major Benjamin of the 743rd was kind of out ahead scouting a little bit… he came back to the battalion and he pulled my tank and George Gross’s tank [fellow tank commander] out. He told us to go with him. So we did.
We came to a place where there was a long train of boxcars. … I can remember pulling up alongside the train of boxcars, Gross and I, and Major Benjamin. As it turned out, it was a train full of concentration camp victims, prisoners, who were being transported from one of their camps…Belsen!  I think they had been in Belsen, on their way to another camp…
So there they were. All of these people, men, women, children, jam-packed in those boxcars, I couldn’t believe my eyes. And there they were! So, now they knew they were free, they were liberated. That was a nice, nice thing. I was there for a while that afternoon. You know, you got to feed these people. Give them water. They are in bad shape. Major Benjamin took some pictures, and George Gross took some pictures too…

 Bernd Horstmann, Custodian of the Book of Names,  Matthew Rozell, History Teacher, July 5, 2013. Bergen Belsen, Evacuation transports exhibit.

Bernd Horstmann, Custodian of the Book of Names, Matthew Rozell, History Teacher, July 5, 2013. Bergen Belsen, Evacuation transports exhibit.

Twelve years later and here I am. I know some of the historians who work here-they have been to America to meet me- and I am going to see an exhibit that in fact incorporates some of the fruits of my labors. To date, we have reunited over 240 persons who were on that transport with the soldiers who liberated them. And I found the photographs that tell the story so well, photos that through the generosity of the soldiers who shared them with me, are now also in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, our national institution.

In brief context: 120,000 prisoners passed through Bergen Belsen, and not all of them Jewish. 52,000 died here, perhaps 30,000 of them were Jewish. Belsen actually began as a POW camp- 20,000 Russians died here in the winter of 1941-42. In 1943, Himmler (the head of the SS) ordered that an exchange camp be set up for Jews who might possess foreign certificates or visas to emigrate, perhaps to use to bargain for German families interned abroad. 14,000 people went through the exchange camp. In November, 1944, thousands of women, and some children, arrived from Auschwitz, to be “housed” near the exchange camp, including Anne Frank and her sister Margot. What they received, in their miserable condition, were 18 oversized old tents which promptly blew down during a winter storm shortly after their arrival. With the arrival also of brutal SS administrators and guards, conditions deteriorated rapidly as the winter of 1944-45 turned into spring.

The camp system began collapsing with the advance of the Red Army in the east and the British and Americans in the West. By the time the British arrived on April 15th at the camp gates, over 50,000 prisoners were suffering from extreme malnutrition, typhus, typhoid fever, and dysentery. Nearly ten thousand corpses lay about as the crematorium had long since broken down. Anne and Margot were dead, as the first Yanks crossed the Rhine River at the end of March. Hundreds died on the day of liberation. A true scene of horror.

Shortly before the liberation, between April 6 and 9, 1945, 6700 men, women, and children from the exchange camp passed through the camp gates and marched several kilometers to the railhead that many had arrived at months or years earlier. Three train transports of cattle cars and shabby passenger cars were prepared and loaded. Some people were executed for attempting to steal sugar beets at the railhead .
The transports would be headed for the Theresienstadt concentration camp, which at the time was far enough from advancing Allied lines and indeed would prove to be the last camp liberated on the last day of the war (I will trace that route later in our journey). Only one train made it there. The other two were liberated, one by the Americans at Farsleben near Magdeburg, and the other by the Russians near Tröbitz.
The first train left Bergen-Belsen on 6 April 1945 and travelled for six days before coming to a stop near the village of Farsleben. It was this transport that the soldiers I interviewed came upon on Friday, April 13, 1945.

I promised no weighty tomes, but maybe it is too late. After an introduction to the history of the site, we  watch the silent movies shot by the British beginning the second day after the liberation. Perhaps you’ve seen the photos or the films.  If you see a photo of a soldier wearing a mask, maneuvering a bulldozer to push corpses into an open pit, that was Bergen Belsen. Just over a month later, the British commander ordered the lice infested, typhus ridden barracks put to the torch. So today, to some visitors, there is nothing here, just inviting walkways with interpretive signage and some markers. Woods, and open fields.

Matthew Rozell and the ruins at Belsen, 7-5-2013. Jerrilyn Miller photo.

Matthew Rozell and the ruins at Belsen, 7-5-2013. Jerrilyn Miller photo.

But on closer inspection, we see the outlines of the past in the ruins. We walk to barracks ten of the exchange camp. You can see the outline at the woodline. Some of the foundation stones are marked with the names of those who passed through them. We retrace the steps from the barracks to the latrine, now many meters away off a footpath in the enveloping woods. Nature reclaims. Out of the corner of my eye, down the long narrow strip mowed to infinity where a fenceline once ran, I see a large deer guide out of the woods, pause and look my way, and vanish just as soon as it appeared. Is it obscene to find in this place now a feeling of inner peace, to find beauty in the stillness of a grey afternoon? Maybe so.

DSC00490Back out to the camp. The solemn monuments marking the mass graves. 1000 Tote. One thousand dead. 2500 Tote. Two thousand five hundred dead. And on and on, elevated mass graves. On to the commemoration room.

Candles are lit, stones are placed, the prayers are recited in Hebrew and English, led by Pauline, the only other New Yorker on the trip with me. We are all moved.

Now I think of Carrol Walsh, the tank commander who led me to this story, the liberator who did not want to be called a hero, or even a liberator. His own memorial service is today, half a world away, but I am here in this place to remember him as well. It is altogether fitting and proper. And I am sure that cosmically, it is also something destined to be.

This evening we depart from Hannover to Berlin. It is pretty crazy and unsettling at the Friday evening platform. 27 people have to run for the train, as the track has changed, with hundreds of others. Our original seats are taken, so we have to find other due to a mixup. But we do not lose anyone, and as I settle in next to a kind stranger, made welcome, I notice our station stops along the way- Brunswick. Magdeburg.

This was not planned, either. We are roughly following the route of the train, and the 30th Infantry Division in 1945. What take us 35 minutes to cover, takes 6 nights and 7 days in April 1945.

We tripped the wires of the cosmos. Today was the culmination of something incredible I am still trying to figure it all out- but this trip is helping me to place in proper context the elements of the greatest crime in the history of the world. As we leave this place of obscene beauty and peace, I think of  the I think of  the survivor’s words:

Remember Me.




Read Full Post »

A year ago I took one of the most transformative journeys of my life, with 24 fellow educators, to study the Holocaust and the Jewish resistance to it, in Washington, DC, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland. I kept an extensive diary and took tons of photographs.  For the next several days, I have decided to go back and retrace my steps and try to process what unfolded for me. Not weighty tomes, but maybe a picture and a note from the diary.

040So here is Frankfurt. We arrived at 5am local time after a transatlantic flight. Before we even hit our hotel properly we were off on the tour. The old girl goes back a ways. For the last eight hundred years or so, there was a significant  Jewish population, decimated by the occasional pogrom but somehow bouncing back. That is until Kristallnacht, when the largest synagogues were burned to the ground. In 1933, 30,000 Jews lived in Frankfurt; in 1945, only 600 remained (you can read more here).


The Memorial to the Frankfurt Jews was a testament to the tens of thousands denounced and deported, by date and destination, to their deaths by their neighbors and the Nazi regime.

Memorial to the Frankfurt Jews. July 3 2013

Memorial to the Frankfurt Jews. July 3 2013

Each metal bump out has a person’s name. Shortly afterwards, we drove past the Frank House, from which the Frank family made their way to “safety” in the Netherlands, a path followed by many. You know the rest of the story. Anne Frank. We’ll connect more dots later on the tour.


I suppose there is a lot more to Frankfurt but we are not here long, though I do sneak out of the hotel several times to explore, solo and with like minded companions. As this trip begins, so does the wondering. You know, just the night before I heard testimony

Matt Rozell and Henry Greenbaum, Washington, DC, July 1, 2013

Matt Rozell and Henry Greenbaum, Washington, DC, July 1, 2013

of survivor Henry Greenbaum and had dinner with him and the group. He is part of the family on Geddy Lee’s mother’s side, Polish survivors who made their way to North America after the war. If you are not quite sure who Geddy Lee is, he is the bass player and vocalist for one of the most talented power trios on Earth. And he is playing Frankfurt. He mother and father met in a work camp in Poland, then Auschwitz.  His dad was liberated by the Americans at Dachau, his mom by the British at Belsen, where we are heading soon. And they returned for the 50th anniversary of the liberation in 1995, at the invitation of the Germans, with hundreds of others, walking the ground, healing some wounds.

“Dankeschön, Frankfurt!” he happily exclaims several times during the show here. How much do we read into that? Nothing, I suppose.  Though there is something magnificent about Geddy’s roots, the family history, and Rush coming to Frankfurt and just nailing it. The German fans, the lovers of the band, of the music, of Geddy… It literally brings a happy tear to my eye.

And of course the eternal question-what else did the world lose, because of the Holocaust? Unfathomable.

But here is a taste.

Read Full Post »

Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It marks the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

Clara Rudnick around age 15.

Clara Rudnick, center, around age 15.

I recently visited the local synagogue where my friend Clara Rudnick was to speak.   I was very gratified that several of my students also decided to come, and that when we arrived, they and I were also invited to participate in the readings and the candle lighting for the commemoration.

My wife and daughter also accompanied me. It was their first time in temple and the commemoration deeply touched them.


Clara lit up when she saw the girls and I. She came right over, smothered me with a big hug, and went right over to the girls.

She and her twin brother Avreminkeh were about my daughter’s age, early teens, when the Germans arrived in Lithuania in June 1941. Her oldest brother Itze was 23 years old, and her two sisters Chiyeh and Dorkeh were 20 and 13. Her proud parents Yossel and Chiyena Charmatz were 42 and 40. They ran a highly regard restaurant and bakery that had been in business for generations, in a community of 10,000 that had had a Jewish presence since the 1300s. Forty percent of the prewar population of Sventzion was Jewish.

The townspeople turned on their neighbors. Even the Catholic and Orthodox churches collaborated in providing information needed to terrorize the community. In July, 1941, Lithuanian collaborators took a nearly a hundred teenage boys and young men including Itze outside of town, locked them in a building, and burned them alive. Hysteria rippled through the Jewish community now. In August, nearly a hundred more, including her twin brother, were taken outside of town on Shabbat, forced to dig their own graves and shot. A few weeks later, also on the Sabbath, eight thousand men women boys and girls were ordered to stand in the town square, where they were shot, including her mother and two sisters. Clara was saved only because her father had given her his coat and told her to hide in the local steam bath.

After the shooting, he came for her at night and took her to the forest for two nights without food and water. They found a farmer who was secretly a Jew and stayed until more refugees began to arrive. Deciding it was no longer safe, they

Students Chelsea R., Paige L., Meg V., Cheyenne B., Mary R. flank survivor Clara Rudnick at reception following Yom Hashoah commemoration, 2014.

Students Chelsea R., Paige L., Meg V., Cheyenne B., Mary R. flank survivor Clara Rudnick at reception following Yom Hashoah commemoration, 2014.

moved to the farm of a Christian friend who accepted their money to hide them. Later, they found themselves in the ghetto at Swir. ” I was 15 years old, I had lost my mother, brothers and sisters, and I was very upset.” And in a constant state of peril.

In the middle of February, 1942, the Germans came to liquidate the ghetto. Clara and her father managed to escape with others across a frozen lake as the Nazis shot at them. Her father broke through the ice and placed Clara in the freezing water and lay on top of her to protect her in the cold winter night, until the Germans left.

They traveled twenty kilometers to another ghetto at Mishaleikse, where they were arrested in April and sent to the Vilna Ghetto, subjected to hard labor. Here Clara witnessed starvation, disease, street executions, babies killed and placed in the back of trucks. Mistreatment was widespread and deportations to concentration camps and extermination centers occurred almost daily. Clara again was able to escape, but this time without her father. A local cinema owner told her father he would take care of her. She would see her father only one more time.

In the summer of 1942 (the same summer that Anne Frank would go into hiding, Clara notes) a handsome sum of gold was given to another Christian and Clara was hidden in a dark hidden cellar with a trap door for seven months, emerging only once a day to answer nature’s call. One day she peeped through the hatch to see what was going on upstairs, as there was a great deal of commotion and noise. Bullets raked the hiding spot and she was grazed in the stomach, the cinema owner killed. Clara was caught again.

She was taken before the Gestapo in Kalich, where as a slave laborer she was forced to make fur coats for the Germans fighting on the Russian front. Then the slaves were placed into two trucks. One went to the execution site of Panar, the other to the camp at Kaiserwald. Clara considers it another miracle that she was on the truck to Kaiserwald. Here she worked with dangerous acid to make batteries. She was afraid the acid would scar her and she would be killed.

After some time, she was sent to Stutthof on the Baltic. It was here that she saw her father, through the chain link fence, for the last time. He and 85,000 others perished here. She was terrified.

As the Red Army closed in she was marched out and placed in a barn, locked with other women to die from starvation. It was here that she was liberated by Soviet forces on march 11, 1945. She states, matter of factly, that the soldiers moved on immediately, having no time to care for them.

Heading to Lodz,  Poland shortly after, she did not find any family members anywhere. Regaining her strength, she met another survivor, Abraham Rudnick, a Lithuanian Jew like her who had been liberated by the Americans at Dachau on April 29, 1945. They married in a DP camp and emigrated to the United States in 1949, where they raised a family and built a plumbing and heating business in upstate New York.

So tonight she is here with her grandson and recounts the story, and the postscript of her summer trip back to Vilna and her hometown in Lithuania, and her realization that no one in Lithuania seems to want to acknowledge the countries complicity in the murder of her family and hundreds of thousands of others. But here, speaking in the temple for perhaps the last time, she has her North Country family, and has certainly won over the hearts of a few young ladies this evening. They wont forget, Clara, and they are the new witnesses. It’s so.

Clara told me some years ago that her sons had my dad as their history teacher in high school and that he was held in high regard. As we bid her goodbye, she whispered in my daughter’s ear-“Don’t tell your father, but I love him!” I am blessed to know you now, as was my dad and now my girl, and my students. We’ll keep you close, and remember your mother and father, your brothers and sisters, and all those murdered in those not so distant days.

Clara Rudnick by Erica Miller


Read Full Post »