Posts Tagged ‘April 13th 1945’

“I have a picture of several girls,” train liberator George Gross recalled.

“They were ghostly thin, with hollow cheeks, huge eyes that had seen a lot of evil and horror, and yet smiles that broke my heart.”


So, I have been wondering about today, this day, for a long, long time. It is finally here.

The blog is blowing up and I have to return calls to people who are trying to find me, to tell me that their parent was on the train as a young person, and liberated this day, exactly 75 years ago this morning, at Passover time, springtime, Easter, the symbols of rebirth and new life.

I am supposed to be in Germany around now with maybe a hundred people at the liberation site. Dedicated planners in Europe (thanks Ron Chaulet, especially, and the German organizers at the site of the train liberation!) invited dozens of train survivors, their offspring, and the second generation of the American soldier liberators for ceremonies with German high schoolers in unveiling a monument to the survivors and the 743rd Tank Battalion, and 30th Infantry Division. And it was to be filmed professionally for the amazing documentary we are working on. A mammoth undertaking, just swept away, but not forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have asked Him, ‘why me’, over and over.

And why can’t I see this fruition one last time, on this date, with these ‘new’ teenagers discovering the history in their own backyard and their willing, enthusiastic interaction with it?

I should know better by now than to ask. I really should. But as I string these thoughts together, I’m reminded of the note I got in my email inbox so early this morning from Germany, so I think today also about this lone German high school student laying flowers at the site of the liberation―not out of a sense of atonement for the deeds of generations past―no one can atone for those crimes, and frankly that is not her ‘job’―but simply out of LOVE.

Johanna M. laying flowers 75 years to the hour at the site of the liberation of the Train Near Magdeburg, April 13th, 2020.

LOVE. And HOPE. And maybe even FAITH.

I see this single, lone young person—and yes, one who will miss finishing her own graduating year with her friends now—in this sudden age of darkness and uncertainty as some sort of new symbol, the newest witness, at once comforting and profound and at once a source of light, of life, and yes maybe re-birth. Today I can’t witness the re-unification of the saved and the saviors, the healing touches passing in the land where the crimes were perpetrated, but in seeing this photograph I am renewed by witnessing a new generation arising out of the utter destruction, the evil, and the hatred of 75 plus years ago― in this form of a girl and her teenage friends planting new seeds, literally, at this site where people expired with the words “SALVATION” and “FREEDOM” on their lips, and I see from afar the honoring of the goodness that radiated from the deeds of those American soldiers, really not so long ago.

Life never goes the way we expect it to. It always gives us new challenges to rise above and though that may seem hard at times, it is still the only way we truly learn and grow, as long as we do not lose hope.
I am sure everyone of us expected this year to be very different. For many of us students it is the last year of high school, and we definitely did not expect our graduation year to be like this, but I believe that everything happens for a reason, and we must simply trust and believe that everything is going to be okay.
Today we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the stranded train in Farsleben, and it is not the way we planned it, but that does not mean that we cannot remember this day 75 years ago, and every person that was involved. None of us might physically be at the same place right now, but that should not stop us from letting the memory of the stranded train unite us on this day.
Sure, we wanted this entire week to be about remembering the story of the stranded train, we wanted to welcome people from all over the world in Farsleben to celebrate this day with us, we had planned a lot and we were excited, and this is not the way we wanted it to be, but we have not forgotten and no matter how difficult these times might be right now, we want to give you a reason to smile today, to never lose hope and to stay healthy and safe, so that we can welcome you here in April 2021.
On behalf of the entire project group “Stranded Train” I therefore wish you all the best in the world and send you much love from Farsleben.


The poet Yaakov Barzilai was on the ‘Train Near Magdeburg’. Originally composed in Hebrew, a  translation has been provided by fellow survivor Micha Tomkiewicz. He agreed to share his poem on the 70th anniversary of the liberation. ’11:55′  refers to the author’s recollection of the time of the day of the liberation of the train transport; ‘five minutes before the bitter end’.

Dedicated to US liberators of the death train from Bergen-Belsen on April 13, 1945


At Eleven fifty-five.

Return to the Place of Liberation, April 13, 1945, after 65 years.


The train stopped under the hill, huffing and puffing,

as though it reached the end of the road.

An old locomotive pulling deteriorating train cars

that became obsolete long ago, not even fit for carrying horses.

To an approaching visitor, the experience was of a factory of awful smell – really stinking.

Two thousand four hundred stinking cattle

heading for slaughter were shoved to the train cars.

The butterflies into the surrounding air were blinded by the poisonous stench.

The train moved for five days back and forth between Bergen-Belsen and nowhere.

On the sixth day, a new morning came to shine over our heads.

Suddenly the heavy car doors were opened.

Living and dead overflowed into the surrounding green meadow.

Was it a dream or a delayed awakening of God?

When we identified the symbols of the American army,

we ran to the top of the hill as though bitten by an army of scorpions,

to kiss the treads of the tanks and to hug the soldiers with overflowing love.

Somebody cried: “Don’t believe it, it is a dream”.

When we pinched ourselves; we felt the pain – it was real.


Mama climbed to the top of the hill.

She stood in the middle of the field of flowers and prayed an almost a silent prayer from the heart.

Only few words escaped to the blowing wind:

‘Soon…Now…..To the chimneys of death…I gave new life….to my children….

and this day… my grandchildren were born… to a good life.’

Amen and Amen.

-Yaakov Barzilai


Author couldn’t travel to Germany for train liberation anniversary


by Gretta Hochsprung, Glens Falls Post-Star, April 16, 2020

HARTFORD N.Y.— Author Matthew Rozell was planning to travel to Germany to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the train liberation near Magdeburg.

“I’m supposed to be there right now,” said Rozell, who, due to the coronavirus pandemic, couldn’t travel from his hilltop home in Hartford to the small German town where Americans liberated a train of Jews 75 years ago on April 13, 1945.

A ceremony was supposed to take place at the site Friday, but that, too, was canceled due to the pandemic.

Instead, a lone German high school student named Johanna Mücke placed flowers on the base where a monument was to be dedicated. Mücke’s class had worked on an award-winning project about the liberation.

About 15 Holocaust survivors, the children of the liberators and tank commanders, German politicians — about 100 people in total — were planning to travel to this small German town this week.

Rozell, himself, was going to give a speech at the Friday event.

“We’re disappointed that we can’t be there,” Rozell said, adding, “I take immense gratification that there’s a high school kid in her class 3,000 miles away on top of this thing, and they’re not forgetting it. I think that’s really important, especially considering the fact that they’re German.”

The story of the train started in Rozell’s classroom when he was a history teacher at Hudson Falls. Rozell was interviewing veterans for the Hudson Falls High School World War II Living History Project he started.

An interview with retired U.S. Army Sgt. Carrol “Red” Walsh of Johnstown unearthed the story, which turned into Rozell’s second book and an upcoming documentary film to be aired on PBS.

In April 1945, near the end of World War II, Army Sgt. George Gross and Walsh were deep in the heart of Nazi Germany, part of the U.S. 30th Infantry Division and the 743rd Tank Battalion, when they spotted a train sitting on the tracks.

The train contained 2,500 Jews, who were saved at the last moment from extermination.

Rozell and filmmaker Mike Edwards were planning to capture the ceremony in Germany to be used in the film as well as conduct additional interviews with Germans connected to the liberation.

“We were going to film it all,” Rozell said. “And we were going to go to Bergen-Belsen, which is where the train originated from.”

Monday was the 75th anniversary of the train. Wednesday was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, the Nazi concentration camp.

Rozell gives credit to the students and their teacher for studying this part of their history and commemorating the 75th anniversary with Mücke’s flowers.

“This whole project started in my history class here,” Rozell said, “and I’m retired now, but these kids over in Germany with their teacher, I don’t know, it’s kind of like coming full circle in a way.”



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