Posts Tagged ‘Frank Towers’

Meet my friend Frank. He’s 97. The story continues…. from the Boston Globe.

WW2 liberator reunites with Holocaust survivors

By Victoria Bedford
| Globe Correspondent   October 12, 2014

“If not now, when?’’ asked Rabbi Joel Sisenwine, quoting from Hillel the Elder, a revered Jewish leader who lived at the time of King Herod. “If not me, who?”

It was Oct. 4, Yom Kippur, and Sisenwine stood before the congregation at Wellesley’s Temple Beth Elohim, introducing a very special visitor.

As Frank Towers walked up to speak, the teary-eyed congregation of 1,500 rose to give him a standing ovation.

Towers never considered himself special. Now 97, the South Boston native is living in Florida, where he spent most of his adult life as an office manager at a university data processing center. But in the early spring of 1945, in Farsleben, Germany, he was among a group of soldiers who liberated thousands of Nazi prisoners.

The rabbi invited two of those survivors, and their families, to step forward and stand beside Towers.

Yvette Namias, 92, of Peabody, did so. She was 22 in 1945 and long a prisoner at the notorious Bergen Belsen death camp before the liberation. She had never met Towers. Her family — children, grandchildren — stood around her.

Namias was joined by Charles Elbaum of Providence, a 17-year-old prisoner at the time of liberation, now surrounded by his children and grandchildren.

“Well,” Towers said to Namias after the ceremony, “I’ve spent a long time chasing you around the world.”

“He’s responsible for my family,” said Namias. “Without him, my family would not be here.”

Nothing in his life had prepared Towers for what he came upon on April 14, 1945. He was a young lieutenant in the 30th Infantry Division, a unit of the US Army National Guard, heading for Magdeburg, Germany, to fight one last major battle. In the town of Farsleben, they encountered a train that had been seized by the Army’s 743d Tank Battalion the day before. Towers was told it held 2,500 Jewish prisoners, and he was responsible for taking them to safety.

“What if you find a train loaded with Jews, what are you going to do? Nothing was ever said about anything like that.” Towers said. “If you come across a camp, like Dachau or Buchenwald, what are you going to do? We didn’t know anything about that situation.”

But the lieutenant found himself faced with a train full of death camp prisoners, 60 to 70 men, women, and children crammed into each train car, forced to stand until they collapsed from exhaustion, with a daily ration of thin potato soup, and one bucket for a bathroom. They were starved, sick, overworked, and in desperate need of medical assistance, which Towers and his men were wholly unprepared to provide.

Still, Towers and his men sprang into action, rounding up as much transportation as they could, and took the prisoners to the town of Hillersleben. There, a Red Cross unit processed the thousands of Jewish prisoners, gave them showers, provided clean clothes and dusted them with DDT, now a prohibited carcinogen, to kill lice and fleas.

Knowing that he was leaving the prisoners in good hands, Towers went on to fight a last battle, and returned to the States later in 1945. Soon, he started a family with his wife, Mary. Like many who lived through the war, he put his experiences in the rearview mirror for years, never talking much about what he had seen of the Holocaust.

“But I could tell it was eating him inside,” Mary said. “I knew that.”

Towers said his focus was just to move on. “Not much thought was given to the victims,” Towers said. “They were starting out on a new life somewhere.”

That all changed for him in 2005, when he was invited back to Magdeburg to speak about what happened 60 years before. There, he met Ernest Kahn, a survivor of Buchenwald who had been liberated by Towers’ division (“It was very emotional,’’ said Towers), and Kahn put him in touch with Matt Rozell, a high school teacher from Hudson Falls, N.Y., who was assembling an online archive of stories from the war. The two began working together to locate survivors from the train in Farsleben.

“The thing just snowballed,” Towers said. “Today we have located 275 of these children.”

Like Towers, Charles Elbaum, who was a 17-year-old prisoner when rescued from the train, rarely spoke about the Holocaust to his family. After his liberation, he went on to become a physics professor at Brown University, a husband, a father to three sons, and a grandfather to eight children. His son Dan, of Newton, and grandson Nathan met Towers at a reunion, and invited him to speak before the congregation at Temple Beth Elohim.

“Without what they did,” Dan Elbaum said, “I wouldn’t be here. Frank is the last known surviving veteran who was actually present at the liberation of the train.”

For Towers, who now travels around the world to tell his story, preserving the memory is the most important aspect of these talks.

“Dan and his family, and others just like him, he’s second-generation,” Towers said. “Many of them knew nothing about the incarceration of their parents. This second generation is entitled to know what happened, and how it happened, so that they in turn can pass it on to their children, and this will never happen again. That’s the hope in all of us.”



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Numbers dwindling, WWII veterans continue poignant reunions, renewing bonds forged in battle

Article by: DAN SEWELL , Associated Press
NOTE: I was reading this article in my hometown paper yesterday. Frank Towers is mentioned halfway in. Then I remembered some time ago the AP contacted me looking for info on WW2 reunions, and I gave them Frank’s contact info. So yes this is another cut and paste update, but I did have something to do with the article! That’s 1st Lt. Frank Towers- the guy charged with shuffling dazed Holocaust survivors to food and shelter, April, 1945…. He’s 96, planning another reunion in Savannah in Feb. I’ve been to his last 6 reunions. There is nothing like getting up at 6am for breakfast with a table of these guys.

DAYTON, Ohio — Paul Young rarely talked about his service during World War II — about the B-25 bomber he piloted, about his 57 missions, about the dangers he faced or the fears he overcame.

“Some things you just don’t talk about,” he said.

But Susan Frymier had a hunch that if she could journey from Fort Wayne, Ind., with her 92-year-old dad for a reunion of his comrades in the 57th Bomb wing, he would open up.

She was right: On a private tour at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, amid fellow veterans of flights over southern Europe and Germany, Young rattled off vivid details of his plane, crewmates, training and some of his most harrowing missions.

“Dad, you can’t remember what you ate yesterday, but you remember everything about World War II,” his daughter said, beaming.

When Young came home from the war, more than 70 years ago, there were 16 million veterans like him — young soldiers, sailors and Marines who returned to work, raise families, build lives. Over the decades, children grew up, married, had children of their own; careers were built and faded into retirement; love affairs followed the path from the altar to the homestead and often, sadly, to the graveyard.

Through it all, the veterans would occasionally get together to remember the greatest formative experience of their lives. But as the years wore on, there were fewer and fewer of them. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, just a little over 1 million remain. The ones who remain are in their 80s and 90s, and many are infirm or fragile.

So the reunions, when they are held, are more sparsely attended — yearly reminders of the passing of the Greatest Generation.

—When veterans of the Battle of the Bulge gathered in Kansas City this summer, only 40 came, according to organizers, down from 63 last year and 350 in 2004.

—Of the 80 members of Doolittle’s Raiders who set out on their daring attack on Japan in 1942, 73 survived. Seventy-one years later, only four remain; they decided this year’s April reunion in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., would be their last, though they met Saturday for a final toast in honor of those who have gone before them.

—A half-century ago, when retired Army First Lt. Frank Towers went to his first reunion of the 30th Infantry Division — soldiers who landed at the beaches of Normandy and fought across France and Germany — he was surrounded by 1,000 other veterans.

“Now if I get 50, I’m lucky,” said Towers, who is working on plans for a reunion next February in Savannah, Ga. “Age has taken its toll on us. A lot of our members have passed away, and many of them who are left are in health situations where they can’t travel.”

So why persist?

“It’s a matter of camaraderie,” Towers said. “We spent basically a year or more together through hell or high water. We became a band of brothers. We can relate to each other in ways we can’t relate to (anyone else). You weren’t there. These guys were there. They know the horrors we went through.”


As many as 11,000 people served in the 57th Bomb Wing that flew missions over German-held Europe from North Africa and the island of Corsica during most of the war. Hundreds survive, according to wing historians and reunion organizers. Only nine veterans made it to this fall’s event.

George Williams, 90, recalled earlier reunions with his comrades, “having a great time yukking it up and talking about things.” No one else from his squadron came to this one.

“All of a sudden, it’s lonesome,” said Williams, a native of Visalia, Calif., who moved after his wife’s death to Springfield, Mo., where his son lives. “All of the people you ran around with are on the wrong side of the grass. You wonder why you’re so lucky.”

But in a Holiday Inn hospitality suite with patriotic bunting, bowls of pretzels and chips with soft drinks at their tables, the stories flowed easily.

Williams remembered the tension of his first mission, his hand ready at the tag that would release him to bail out if necessary. It went without incident, and upon their return to base, a flight surgeon measured out two ounces of whiskey for each crewman. “Sixty-nine to go,” he said then, because 70 missions was considered the tour of duty. Sometimes on later missions, he would pour the two ounces into a beer bottle to save up for a night when he needed numbing.

Robert Crouse, of Clinton, Tenn., is 89 years old, but he remembers as if it happened yesterday the time a shell blew out the cockpit windshield (“you could stick your head through it”), disabling much of the control panel. Another plane escorted the bomber, its pilot calling out altitude and air speed as Crouse’s plane limped back to base, riddled with holes.

Young recalled flying a damaged plane back to base, hearing his tail gunner’s panicked yells as Plexiglass shattered over him. “You could feel the plane vibrate; you fly through the smoke, you smell the smoke and you hear the flak hitting the plane like hail on a tin roof.”

Not all the memories are bad ones. There was the late-war mission when they hit a spaghetti factory instead of the intended target (“Spaghetti was flying everywhere,” recalled Crouse, chuckling). There was Williams’ first Thanksgiving meal overseas: a Spam turkey, spiced and baked to perfection by an innovative cook.

“I still love Spam,” he said.

Then there was R&R in Rome, hosted by the Red Cross. Young men not long removed from high school toured the Colosseum and other historic sites they had read about. They visited the Vatican; some met Pope Pius XII. Williams got a papal blessing of a rosary for his engineer’s fiancee.

“It was pretty good,” Williams said of his war experience, “except when they were shooting at us.”


Some of the veterans fear that their service will be forgotten after they are gone. Crouse and others have written memoirs, and many of the reunion groups now have websites, magazines and other publications in which they recount their stories.

“You just hope that the young people appreciate it,” said Young. “That it was very important, if you wanted to continue the freedom that we have.”

Their children remember. Some are joining them at the reunions; others keep coming after their fathers are gone.

At this year’s reunion, Bob Marino led a memorial service and read the names of 42 members of the 57th Bomb Wing who died in the past year. A bugler played “Taps.”

Marino, 72, a retired IRS attorney and Air Force veteran from Basking Ridge, N.J., helped organize the gathering. His Brooklyn-native father, Capt. Benjamin Marino, died in 1967 and left numerous photos from the war, and Marino set about trying to identify and organize them. To learn more about his father’s experiences, he corresponded with other veterans — including Joseph Heller, who was inspired by his wartime experiences with the 57th to write his classic novel “Catch-22.”

“He never talked about any of this,” Marino said, turning the pages on a massive scrapbook as veterans dropped by to look at the photos. “Once in a while, something came out. I wish I had sat down and talked to him about it.”

This was precisely the gift Susan Frymier received at the reunion in Dayton.

She watched as the father who had long avoided talking about the war proudly pulled from his wallet a well-worn, black-and-white snapshot of the plane he piloted, nicknamed “Heaven Can Wait” with a scantily clad, shapely female painted near the cockpit.

She listened as he described German anti-aircraft artillery fire zeroing in on his plane. “I had to get out of there. All the flak … they were awfully close.” He described “red-lining” a landing, running the engines beyond safe speed. His voice suddenly choked.

“Oh, Dad!” said his daughter, and she hugged him tightly.

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guns at last lightI’m recovering from a foot injury and it has given me time to finish Rick Atkinson’s latest release, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 in his Liberation Trilogy. With school around the corner, I am excited to be teaching a couple dozen seniors once again about World War II, and in the springtime, the Holocaust.

I’m happy with Mr. Atkinson’s coverage of the heroics of the 30th Infantry Division-he even made a research pilgrimage to Hill 314 in Mortain, where elements of the 30th held off against a Hitler-ordered panzer counterattack for 6 days, saving the Allied breakout in Normandy in August 1944. 

If you are a follower of this site, you will know that that division is dear to my heart, not because of any blood relations who fought in it, but because they named me an honorary member of their Veterans of World War II Association for my work in the classroom and in uncovering and reuniting the story of the liberation of the concentration camp train at Farsleben, Germany on Friday, April 13, 1945.

So you can imagine my excitement when I ran across this passage last evening from page 599 of Rick’s book. He writes about some of the chaos that unfolded as POWs, slave laborers, and concentration camps were liberated in Germany:

“Instead, starvation, revenge, indiscipline, and chaos often created what Allied officers called a “liberation complex.” SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces ] had presumed that refugees “would be tractable, grateful, and powerless after their domination for from two to five years as the objects of German slave policies.” As an Army assessment concluded, “They were none of these things.… Newly liberated persons looted, robbed, murdered, and in some cases destroyed their own shelter.” Freed laborers plundered houses in the Ruhr, burning furniture for cook fires and discarding slave rags to dress in business suits, pajamas, and evening clothes ransacked from German wardrobes. Ravenous ex-prisoners licked flour off the floor of a Farsleben bakery. In Osnabrück, “rampageous” Russian slaves died after swilling V-2 rocket fuel discovered in a storage yard. Others smashed wine barrels and liquor bottles in a Hanover cellar, drinking so heavily from a sloshing, six-inch-deep pool of alcohol on the floor that several collapsed in a stupor and drowned before U.S. MPs could close the entrance.”

So I did a double take: Ravenous ex-prisoners licked flour off the floor of a Farsleben bakery. I checked his notes-page 801, sure enough, 30th Division G-2 report. I know I have read this before in my research of primary source documentation, originally sent to me by Frank Towers, one of the liberators.  Here it is.

30th Division Medical Detachment Diary & Log

Of course, the backstory surrounding the document above is the story that I have to tell- the soldiers of the 30th Infantry Division and the attached 743rd Tank Battalion, the Holocaust survivors whom they stumbled upon, liberated, and were reunited with 62 years later at our high school and subsequent events.  I’ll probably share the Benjamin photo with Mr. Atkinson on his FB page. 

Anyway, I recommend the book to any of my followers interested in the history of World War II in the European theater, and am really pumped to teach some very excited and motivated students this year, including the grandson of the tank commander who was sent to investigate the train.

This is how you “do” history, and how the teaching of history can sometimes take on a life of its own. So cool to be a part of it, and to read something in a best seller and be able to grasp the incredible backstory that awaits to be told.

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