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A reminder for Veterans Day. My classroom is gone now, but Mr. P is still with us, at 95. I hope the lessons stick with you, kids.-MR

 

the last generation

My 93 year old friend Alvin Peachman came into school on Friday. He was once a teacher at this same high school, and I was once his history student. Now he is in my first book, and it was one white haired old man interviewing another, before a polite and rapt audience of tenth and twelfth graders in my classroom. My friend Liza from the New York State United Teachers, who did a nice story on us for Veterans Day, also came up.

 

alvin 3

Alvin even brought in a fragment of the kamikaze plane that tried to do him in when it crashed into his ship, killing scores of his shipmates. As a radioman he would have been a target on the bridge of the ship, supporting the invasion of Okinawa, but he was not near that part of the ship when the suicide pilot struck that day.

Before the interview session began, I asked for a show of hands of the number of kids who knew of a World War II veteran, like Alvin, who was still alive. Two kids volunteered. Nearly thirty years ago, it was two hands in the air for every kid. And that is how this whole project got started.

Alvin was from a generation that knew firsthand of the Civil War veterans, and his father and his uncles were all veterans of the Western Front in World War I. He had a good day with the kids, and made them laugh on several occasions. But it got me to thinking. This is the last generation of kids to ever hear firsthand the stories of the most cataclysmic events in the history of the world, World War II and the Holocaust.

The students came up to Alvin after the lesson, some seeking his autograph, others just wanting to shake his hand and hang out a while longer with him. I think it made his day. I know it made theirs and it is not something they will soon forget- that they actually met a genuine World War II survivor and now have that tangible link to the past.

I hope it is not the last time, but they are certainly the last generation.

the last generation 4

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The new book is getting some early good reviews.

~”A ‘Must-Read’. A real tribute to the survivors and liberators. I could not put this book down. Highly recommended as a required reading for anyone taking or teaching Holocaust History. Suited for high school / college / adult education settings.”– Rabbi Justin Schwartz

~”If you have any trepidation about reading a book on the Holocaust, this review is for you. [Matthew Rozell] masterfully conveys the individual stories of those featured in the book in a manner that does not leave the reader with a sense of despair, but rather a sense of purpose.”-Cassandra

~”One might think why this book should be read: there are so many books about the Holocaust and yes, we know it happened. But in no book that I have read up to this day, the story comes to life in such a personal way. How the lives of innocent people were impacted, what they went through and how they were formed by their experience. By zooming in on this particular event, you get to know what it was like – not only for the victims, but also for their liberators. Or, as quoted in the book: It is important to have the past in front of you – not in the ‘rearview’ as one moves forward.” -Amazon customer

~”As an Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker I am always looking for good stories; stories that move the heart as well as the mind. This book does that in spades. From the first page to the last it rivets you to the passion of the author’s journey and to the story of the people of whom he writes about. This story is a shining example of the good that people can do to help their fellow man. It is a story of a man who has followed his heart and mind to accomplish great things for others.”-Michael J. Edwards, Searching For Augusta (PBS)

*

Below are two more satisfied customers, and excerpts from the book, which features their testimony as well as the testimony of more than 30 other survivors and over a dozen liberators.

kurt-bronner-w-book

kurt-bronner

Kurt Bronner

 

Kurt Bronner (Chapter 1) was from Hungary. He spent a lengthy amount of time recuperating in Sweden following the war, and later came to the United States. He is a retired graphic designer currently living near Los Angeles.

Two weeks after we arrived, my dad started to cough. One morning, I heard men reciting prayers, and someone said to me, ‘I’m sorry. Your father is dead.’ Eighteen years old, I didn’t know; I never faced death before. Then in the morning they took the bodies out; I tried to follow my dad’s cart, being taken to the so-called cemetery—[but I could not find him, there were so many bodies]. And a week later, I saw my mother through the barbed wire; we started talking, she wanted to know how dad is, and I lied and I said, ‘He’s fine, he’s sleeping’—I didn’t want to burden her with the bad news. [Pause] And then a German woman guard started to beat my mother. [Pause] You are on this side of the fence, and on the other side is your mother, and there is nothing you can do. And that is the last time that I saw my mother; I don’t know what happened to her; I tried to find out, and all they could tell me was, fifteen thousand women died without any names.

*

 

jean-lazinger

jean-lazinger

Jean Weinstock Lazinger

 

Sol Lazinger (Chapter 10) was the son of Polish Jewish immigrants. He was decorated with two Purple Hearts and the Silver Star. He was evacuated after being wounded in Belgium. He married Jean Weinstock Lazinger (Chapter 1) in 1950. Jean was from Poland. Until they learned of the author’s first reunion in 2007 through the news media, neither realized that it was Sol’s division which had liberated Jean’s train. Sol passed away in 2012 at the age of 87; Jean lives in Philadelphia.

 

We went to Bergen–Belsen in July 1943. And we were the first civilians in that camp. We used to get a slice of bread and coffee in the morning. And we used to get this turnip soup. Sometimes we used to get spinach soup with white worms on top. And there were a couple doctors there, they said, ‘You better eat it, because it’s protein.’ But I was unable to do that.

They separated the men from the women, but we were able to see each other through the day. After 5:00 the men had to be in their barracks and the women had to be in the women’s barracks. We had bunk beds… but, as they were bringing other people from different [places], our camp got smaller and smaller. We were divided by the wires and we were able to speak to the people on the other side, and I remember exactly when the train came from Holland. There was hunger, there was cold, then they brought the Hungarian Jewish people… it was right in the next barrack from us, we had a hard time because they spoke a different language than us, but some people spoke German, so we were able to communicate a little bit.

Sol Lazinger

 

I was a rifleman. I was young. We [look back, and] try to compare ourselves after sixteen weeks of basic training—and we went into combat fighting German soldiers who had a minimum of five years’ worth of army experience. It was not the easiest thing in the world, but we did the best we could.

I fought my way through France. I was very lucky because I was in combat for most of the time. I went through many battles all through France, Belgium, and Holland; and when the big officers came around, they used to tap me and say, ‘Oh, you’re still here?’

When we broke through the Siegfried Line and attacked, many of my friends were killed. One fellow by the name of Ben Shelsky, was a replacement soldier [like me]; he went over the Siegfried Line, too. He got a telegram from the Red Cross that said his wife gave birth to his child. The next morning a sniper killed him; the telegram telling him that he became a father was sticking out of his pocket.

So we went across the Siegfried Line and went to a town by the name of Lubeck, Germany. After the first day there, I was wounded in street fighting; I spent on and off almost two years in the hospital—I had most of my left ankle blown out by machine gun bullets.

When someone lost a friend, we sort of tried to stick together even though we were all from different parts of the country. And you get sort of down with everything, but as I say, you know, we did the best we could, but it was an uphill battle fighting against the soldiers who were trained for longer periods of time. But I think the American boys did very well.

*

On Liberation:

Kurt Bronner

 

 What I remember is that suddenly the doors of the cattle car were opened, and we were out there, hearing the machine guns, and the gunfire, very close by. We didn’t have any food, we didn’t have any water—but we were alive! We saw the German guards running; and we saw them taking their clothes off and changing into civilian clothes… and we were waiting. And suddenly we saw some convertibles, and some tanks on the road above and looking up from the small valley, and seeing the white stars on the jeeps—we thought they were Russians, you know— ‘stars’. Then one soldier came and started to speak in English. Very few of us spoke English, and he said in Yiddish, ‘I am a Jew, too’—excuse me [puts hand over heart, gets emotional]—memories coming back [pauses]… we were given our lives back. We were taken to the Hillersleben village, and I remember one of the American soldiers came by, and pointed us to a room. And twenty, twenty-five of us went into the room—and the first English expression I learned was, ‘One only!’ [Laughter] And it was a room for one person!

I go to schools and talk to the students, and one of them asked me, ‘When did you know that you were free?’ And I tell them, when I went to the bathroom, and closed the door, by myself, alone, in privacy; that is when I knew I was free; [I had my dignity]. And after the DDT, the new clothes, the white sheets on a bed-we felt free.*

 

* DDT– insecticide used later in WWII to control malaria and typhus among civilians and troops. A white powder was generally sprayed on the subject; it was banned for agricultural use in the USA in 1972 as a threat to wildlife.

GET THE BOOK HERE

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NEW From Matthew Rozell

A Train Near Magdeburg

A Teacher’s Journey into the Holocaust, and the Reuniting of the Survivors and Liberators, 70 years on

 
tnm-fr-n-back

GET THE BOOK HERE

*****

The incredible TRUE STORY behind an iconic photograph, taken at the liberation of a death train deep in the heart of Nazi Germany, brought to life by the history teacher who reunited hundreds of Holocaust survivors and their children with the actual American soldiers who saved them.

From the book:
– ‘I survived because of many miracles. But for me to actually meet, shake hands, hug, and cry together with my liberators–the ‘angels of life’ who literally gave me back my life–was just beyond imagination.’Leslie Meisels, Holocaust Survivor

– ‘Battle-hardened veterans learn to contain their emotions, but it was difficult then, and I cry now to think about it. What stamina and regenerative spirit those brave people showed!’George C. Gross, Liberator

– ‘Never in our training were we taught to be humanitarians. We were taught to be soldiers.’Frank Towers, Liberator

– ‘I cannot believe, today, that the world almost ignored those people and what was happening. How could we have all stood by and have let that happen? They do not owe us anything. We owe them, for what we allowed to happen to them.’Carrol Walsh, Liberator

– ‘[People say it] cannot happen here in this country; yes, it can happen here. I was 21 years old. I was there to see it happen.’Luca Furnari, US Army

– ‘[After I got home] I cried a lot. My parents couldn’t understand why I couldn’t sleep at times.’Walter ‘Babe’ Gantz, US Army medic

– ‘I grew up and spent all my years being angry. This means I don’t have to be angry anymore.’Paul Arato, Holocaust Survivor

– ‘For the first time after going through sheer hell, I felt that there was such a thing as simple love coming from good people–young men who had left their families far behind, who wrapped us in warmth and love and cared for our well-being.’Sara Atzmon, Holocaust Survivor

– ‘It’s not for my sake, it’s for the sake of humanity, that they will remember.’Steve Barry, Holocaust Survivor 

-From the back cover-
THE HOLOCAUST was a watershed event in history. In this book, Matthew Rozell reconstructs a lost chapter–the liberation of a ‘death train’ deep in the heart of Nazi Germany in the closing days of the World War II. Drawing on never-before published eye-witness accounts, survivor testimony and memoirs, and wartime reports and letters, Rozell brings to life the incredible true stories behind the iconic 1945 liberation photographs taken by the soldiers who were there. He weaves together a chronology of the Holocaust as it unfolds across Europe, and goes back to literally retrace the steps of the survivors and the American soldiers who freed them. Rozell’s work results in joyful reunions on three continents, seven decades later. He offers his unique perspective on the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations, and the impact that one person, a teacher, can make.

*

–Featuring testimony from 15 American liberators and over 30 Holocaust survivors

10 custom maps

73 photographs and illustrations, many never before published.

502 PAGES-extensive notes and bibliographical references

INCLUDED:

BOOK ONE–THE HOLOCAUST

BOOK TWO–THE AMERICANS

BOOK THREE–LIBERATION

BOOK FOUR–REUNION

SOON TO BE A MAJOR DOCUMENTARY

GET THE BOOK HERE

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NEW From Matthew Rozell

 

A Train Near Magdeburg

A Teacher’s Journey into the Holocaust, and the Reuniting of the Survivors and Liberators, 70 years on

 
A Train Near Magdeburg - Ebook

COMING FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 16, 2016

*****

–From the author of ‘The Things Our Fathers Saw’ World War II narrative history trilogy–

 

From the Preface:

The picture defies expectations. When the terms ‘Holocaust’ and ‘trains’ are paired in an online image search, the most common result is that of people being transported to killing centers—but this incredible photograph shows exactly the opposite. And there are many things about this story that will defy expectations. Fifteen years after I brought this haunting image to the light of day, it has been called one of the most powerful photographs of the 20th century. It has been used by museums and memorials across the world, in exhibitions, films, mission appeals, and photo essays. School children download it for reports; filmmakers ask to use it in Holocaust documentaries. Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, even employed it as the backdrop for Israel’s state ceremonies in the presence of survivors, their president, prime minister, the entire government, top army brass, and chief rabbi in a national broadcast on the 70th anniversary of the liberation and aftermath of the Holocaust. I know, because they reached out to me for it—me, an ordinary public school teacher, six thousand miles away.

For over half a century, copies of this photograph and others were hidden away in a shoebox in the back of an old soldier’s closet. By spending time with this soldier, I was able to set in motion an extraordinary confluence of events that unfolded organically in the second half of my career as a history teacher. Many of the children who suffered on that train found me, and I was able to link them forever with the men who I had come to know and love, the American GIs who saved them that beautiful April morning. A moment in history is captured on film, and we have reunited the actors, the persecuted and their liberators, two generations on.

*

In picking up this book, you will learn of the tragedies and the triumphs behind the photograph. You will enter the abyss of the Holocaust with me, which the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum defines as ‘the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.’ You will meet the survivors of that train as they immerse you into their worlds as civilization collapsed around them. We will visit the camps and authentic sites together, and we will trace the route of the brave Americans who found themselves confronted with industrial scale genocide. And I will lead you safely out of the chasm as we witness the aftermath, the miracles of liberation and reunification, seven decades later.

In many respects, this story should still be buried, because there is no logical way to explain my role in the climactic aftermath. Somehow I got caught up in something much bigger than myself, driven by some invisible force which conquered the barriers of time and space. I was born sixteen years after the killing stopped, a continent away from the horrors and comfortably unaware of the events of the Holocaust and World War II for much of my life. I was raised in the sanctuary of a nurturing community and an intact family. I am not Jewish and had never even been inside a synagogue until my forties. I’m not observantly religious, but I am convinced that I was chosen to affirm and attest to what I have experienced. In this book I rewind the tape to reconstruct how indeed it all came to be—the horrors of the experiences of the Holocaust survivors, the ordeals and sacrifices of the American soldiers, and the miracles of liberation and reunification.

As the curtain begins its descent on a career spanning four decades, consider this one teacher’s testament—this is what happened, to me. I became a witness, and is what I saw.

Matthew Rozell

Hudson Falls, New York

September 2016

*

–Featuring testimony from 15 American liberators and over 30 Holocaust survivors

-10 custom maps

-73 photographs and illustrations, many never before published.

-extensive notes and bibliographical references

INCLUDED:

BOOK ONE–THE HOLOCAUST

BOOK TWO–THE AMERICANS

BOOK THREE–LIBERATION

BOOK FOUR–REUNION

 

COMING FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 16, 2016

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I just finished the first draft of Chapter One of my new book. It took several weeks but in my head I have been writing it for years.

The chapter is called ‘Hell on Earth’. It’s Bergen Belsen in the spring of 1945. If you don’t know a lot about the concentration camp system, this 40 plus page chapter will tell you, but for now it is where Anne Frank, her sister, and 70,000 others were murdered.

The chapter has been a ton of research and I think kind of draining, but you get through it. In order to show the tremendous highs, you kind of have to go and plumb the depths. Hard to get much lower than this. And for you teachers out there, remember to be judicious with the graphic imagery in the classroom. Answer the question first- why am I teaching this? It should be more than a cheap gimmick to grab a kid’s attention. In the chapter, I chose to use some troublesome material. Not for shock value, but to better serve humanity, in context–but I am not publishing that here right now because that context is missing.

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Some of my research material. Books presented to me by my friends at the 2009 reunion; the 20th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Bergen Belsen book, and Volume 1 of the Book of Names, an attempt to compile the list of all those who suffered here.

I learned a lot. Sometimes you wonder how much you take for granted. And that is probably one of the main points of my book.

This excerpt from an eleven year old girl.

At the end of November it was very cold in Europe. Finally I was given some rags and one black ladies shoe with a high heel and one red girl’s shoe. Imagine the agony of a young girl having to walk unevenly like that for half a year.

In those shoes I marched into Bergen Belsen concentration camp on December 2nd, 1944. In those shoes my legs froze while I was enduring roll calls, which lasted between two to five hours.

When the mounds of dead bodies started to pile up nearby in a frightening manner, we, the children, made bets between us, as to who would die tomorrow and who would die the day after. Every one of them had his signs. I had become an old woman already, eleven and half years old.

During the breaks between roll calls, if it wasn’t too cold, I would stand by the fence and look at the naked dead bodies with their gaping mouths. I used to wonder what it was that they still wanted to shout out loud and couldn’t. I tried to determine who were men, and who were women. But they were only skin and bones. I tried to imagine how I could dress these dead bodies in clothes for dinner; their pale skin color did not always match the clothes.

Another eleven year old girl:

When told to prepare ourselves for the departure in the train I was already very weak and sick. Two weeks prior I had a very high fever. I was in Bergen Belsen with my aunt, my father’s sister, as by then I had lost my entire family.

The Germans let us know that all those who could not walk would have to stay behind. My aunt wanted to stay because she knew that I was already very weak; however, I insisted on going. I said to my aunt, “You know that they kill the weak and the sick. We will go with the healthy people.” Although I was only 11½ years old, my aunt listened to me. I probably had a very strong will to live.

Before we left, they gave each of us a raw potato, and somehow we managed to bake them over a wood fire. My aunt then said to me, “You know that now is the Passover holiday”—we barely remembered what day of the week it was, let alone the date. On Passover, according to the story, our forefather Moses took us out of Egypt. Maybe G–d is bringing us to freedom, and maybe we will live?

A seventeen year old girl:

Saturday, ‎April 7th, ‎ ‎1945. Our transport is stranded at the Bergen–Celle railway station. Our irresponsible captors no longer provide us with food. After suffering from constant starvation for six long months at the death factory of Bergen Belsen, the German SS leaves us now in total hunger and total thirst. We are too exhausted, dizzy and weak to grasp how grave our situation is.

What do the Nazis have in mind?

What do the Nazis have in mind, indeed. On to Chapter Two to find out. The book should be done this summer.

For updates, follow this blog. For advance notice, sign up at bit.ly/RozellNewBook.

 

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I hope you had a great weekend. I decided to spend my weekend with a fellow who has been gone for a while. And I had a blast.

tom collins jan 04

This weekend I edited an interview we did six or seven years before the our veteran, sitting comfortably in his favorite chair in his button-down sweater in front of the Christmas tree, passed. He was suddenly alive, animated, an old man telegraphing the emotions and feelings long buried about some of the most formative years of his life-conveying them to a young person who was genuinely interested; who CARED.

When you edit a raw interview, you have to absorb it all first. The surroundings, the line of questioning, the emotions and the back and forth of the memory machine. You pray that the transcriber, if it was not you originally, was relatively engaged and committed to a literal interpretation. And thank goodness for the advent of the digital access to the tapes we made, when we donated a copy to the New York State Military Museum.

We’d move on a minute’s notice and find a place to put our guns into position. [When we were in combat] there was fear, lots of it. But I was in charge of the howitzer and the gun crew. We might be getting shelled ourselves and our infantry getting pounded. We sometimes found ourselves in fluid situations. The Germans might be attacking or we might be attacking and it was very fluid—we might be moving forward or backing up. You never knew—[behind the lines], you never knew what was happening, whether we had them on the run or whether they were counterattacking—so we had to think in terms of getting things ready to move, because we might have to get the hell out of here. We had the fear but we were so busy and had so much to do and make sure it got done that it sort of beat the fear. In other words, you were scared to death, but you did the best you possibly could.

Armed with all this, without putting words in the subject’s mouth, I have to arrange his recollections in line with the actual events of the day. Thus it was with Mr. Tom Collins, an artillery sergeant responsible for a 105 mm gun crew in Italy.  As it turned out, he was interviewed by his own granddaughter, one of my students a long time before he passed. And he told her things that he had never told anyone else in his life–but only because she cared, and asked the right follow-up questions. That is clear in the transcript she produced for her project afterwards.

When we got home, the sudden change [to civilian life] seemed difficult for me. I felt more and more that I had changed, so I would stay home. I didn’t go anywhere. It took me a couple of weeks before I would go out, you know, go downtown. I remember the first few times I went uptown from there—I wouldn’t go unless my sister was with me, I wouldn’t go alone. I can’t really put words on it but I really felt strange. I felt unusual. I thought, ‘Will I talk right, will I act right?’ because when we were in the army, foul language was common place and using crazy phrases like the southerners used, things like that, it became the way I was speaking and living. But [after a while] I warmed up and I was fine.

Tom Collins passed in 2011. Yet because of the prescient efforts  we made, years and years ago, he will live on in the minds of more than just his family. You can see more about him below, and you can read about him in the upcoming book I am working on. You did good, young Catie.

Thank you, sweetheart. It was a pleasure.

Rest on, Tom Collins.

(You can order the first book here.)

 

 

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the last generation

My 93 year old friend Alvin Peachman came into school on Friday. He was once a teacher at this same high school, and I was once his history student. Now he is in my first book, and it was one white haired old man interviewing another, before a polite and rapt audience of tenth and twelfth graders in my classroom. My friend Liza from the New York State United Teachers, who did a nice story on us for Veterans Day, also came up.

 

alvin 3

Alvin even brought in a fragment of the kamikaze plane that tried to do him in when it crashed into his ship, killing scores of his shipmates. As a radioman he would have been a target on the bridge of the ship, supporting the invasion of Okinawa, but he was not near that part of the ship when the suicide pilot struck that day.

Before the interview session began, I asked for a show of hands of the number of kids who knew of a World War II veteran, like Alvin, who was still alive. Two kids volunteered. Nearly thirty years ago, it was two hands in the air for every kid. And that is how this whole project got started.

Alvin was from a generation that knew firsthand of the Civil War veterans, and his father and his uncles were all veterans of the Western Front in World War I. He had a good day with the kids, and made them laugh on several occasions. But it got me to thinking. This is the last generation of kids to ever hear firsthand the stories of the most cataclysmic events in the history of the world, World War II and the Holocaust.

The students came up to Alvin after the lesson, some seeking his autograph, others just wanting to shake his hand and hang out a while longer with him. I think it made his day. I know it made theirs and it is not something they will soon forget- that they actually met a genuine World War II survivor and now have that tangible link to the past.

I hope it is not the last time, but they are certainly the last generation.

the last generation 4

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