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Steve is one of my good friends and Frank is the featured liberator coming to our 2011 Reunion. Steve wishes he could be here and so do I! I miss the guy!!

If you would like to see a nice clip of Steve reuniting with one of his liberators, you can click on the link. Steve became a US Army Ranger after he was liberated by the Americans.

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Another honored speaker for our Sept. 2009 and 2011 reunion…

Holocaust survivor Leslie Meisels addresses his liberators for the first time.

“Please allow me to express my utmost gratitude for the gentlemen who liberated us, those brave American soldiers, who were saying that they didn’t do anything heroic, that they just did their jobs. But in doing their job, they gave us back our lives. And for that, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart…”

In part II, Leslie gives a harrowing description of how he narrowly escaped death a few days before liberation.

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It is April 13th, the 66th anniversary of the liberation. And in no small coincidence, I have been granted approval to travel to Israel with liberator Frank Towers to meet over 50 survivors of the train near Magdeburg liberated on this day in 1945.
Read below the moving narrative of Dr. George C. Gross, his remembrance of the liberation day, written 10 years ago, before he was aware of any of the survivors. He got to know quite a few before he passed on Feb. 1, 2009. Greetings to all the survivors on the day of your rebirth, and to the soldiers who, in “just doing our jobs”, saved the world.

A Train Near Magdeburg

Foreword:

Excerpt from Wayne Robinson, Move out Verify: the Combat Story of the 743rd Tank Battalion (Germany, no publisher, 1945), 162-63:

There was another sidelight to the death of fascism in Europe.  Only a few of the battalion saw it.  Those who did will never forget it.

A few miles northwest of Magdeburg there was a railroad siding in wooded ravine not far from the Elbe River. Major Clarence Benjamin in a jeep was leading a small task force of two light tanks from Dog Company on a routine job of patrolling. The unit came upon some 200 shabby looking civilians by the side of the road.  There was something immediately apparent about each one of these people, men and women, which arrested the attention. Each one of them was skeleton thin with starvation, a sickness in their faces and the way in which they stood-and there was something else.  At the sight of Americans they began laughing in joy-if it could be called laughing.  It was an outpouring of pure, near-hysterical relief.

The tankers soon found out why.  The reason was found at the railroad siding.

There they came upon a long string of grimy, ancient boxcars standing silent on the tracks.  In the banks by the tracks, as if to get some pitiful comfort from the thin April sun, a multitude of people of all shades of misery spread themselves in a sorry, despairing tableaux  [sic]. As the American uniforms were sighted, a great stir went through this strange camp. Many rushed toward the Major’s jeep and the two light tanks.

Bit by bit, as the Major found some who spoke English, the story came out.

This had been-and was-a horror train.  In these freight cars had been shipped 2500 people, jam-packed in like sardines, and they were people that had two things in common, one with the other:  They were prisoners of the German State and they were Jews.

These 2500 wretched people, starved, beaten, ill, some dying, were political prisoners who had until a few days before been held at concentration camp near Hanover.  When the Allied armies smashed through beyond the Rhine and began slicing into central Germany, the tragic2500 had been loaded into old railroad cars-as many as 68 in one filthy boxcar-and brought in a torturous journey to this railroad siding by the Elbe.  They were to be taken still deeper into Germany beyond the Elbe when German trainmen got into an argument about the route and the cars had been shunted onto the siding.  Here the tide of the Ninth Army’s rush had found them.

They found it hard to believe they were in friendly hands once more: they were fearful that the Germans would return.  They had been guarded by a large force of SS troopers, most of whom had disappeared in the night. Major Benjamin, knowing there were many German Army stragglers still in the area, left one of the light tanks there with its accompanying doughboys as a protective guard.  The Major then returned to Division headquarters to report the plight of these people.

For 24 hours, the crew of the tank remained on watch as their charges streamed about the vehicle, crying and laughing their thanks of rescue, and those who could told stories of slavery, oppression, torture, imprisonment, and death.  To hear their stories, to see before them the results of inhuman treatment lifted still another corner of the cover which, on being removed, exposed the full cruel spirit of Nazism which permitted such things to be. And this was but one of the many such stories being brought to light as Allied soldiers ripped into the secrets of Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich.

The train needed some badly needed food that night.  More, the promise of plentiful food the next day was given to them.  The commanding officer of the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion was seeing to it that such food would be available.  He had ordered German farmers of the surrounding towns to stay up all night, if necessary, to get food to these people.  Other Americans concerned themselves with locating living quarters to get the concentration camp victims away from the evil-smelling freight cars before more of them died and were covered by a blanket or just left lying in their last sleep beside the railroad tracks.

Sgt. George Gross (relayed to Matthew Rozell, March, 2002):

On Friday, April 13, 1945, I was commanding a light tank in a column of the 743rd Tank Battalion and the 30th Infantry Division, moving south near the Elbe River toward Magdeburg, Germany. After three weeks of non-stop advancing with the 30th from the Rhine to the Elbe as we alternated spearhead and mop-up duties with the 2nd Armored Division, we were worn out and in a somber mood because, although we knew the fighting was at last almost over, a pall had been cast upon our victories by the news of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  I had no inkling of the further grim news that morning would bring. Suddenly, I was pulled out of the column, along with my buddy Sergeant Carrol Walsh in his light tank, to accompany Major Clarence L. Benjamin of the 743rd in a scouting foray to the east of our route.  Major Benjamin had come upon some emaciated Finnish soldiers who had escaped from a train full of starving prisoners a short distance away. The major led our two tanks, each carrying several infantrymen from the 30th Infantry Division on its deck, down a narrow road until we came to a valley with a small train station at its head and a motley assemblage of passenger compartment cars and boxcars pulled onto a siding.  There was a mass of people sitting or lying listlessly about, unaware as yet of our presence. There must have been guards, but they evidently ran away before or as we arrived, for I remember no firefight.  Our taking of the train, therefore, was no great heroic action but a small police operation.  The heroism that day was all with the prisoners on the train.

Major Benjamin took a powerful picture just as a few of the people became aware that they had been rescued.  It shows people in the background still lying about

Farsleben train, moment of liberation, 4-13-1945

trying to soak up a bit of energy from the sun, while in the foreground a woman has her arms flung wide and a great look of surprise and joy on her face as she rush

es toward us.  In a moment, that woman found a pack left by a fleeing German soldier, rummaged through it, and held up triumphantly a tin of rations.  She was immediately attacked by a swarm of skeletal figures, each intent upon capturing that prize. My yelling did no good, so that I finally had to leap from my tank and wade through weak and emaciated bodies to pull the attackers off the woman, who ran quickly away with her prize.  I felt like a bully, pushing around such weak and starving fellow humans, but it was necessary to save the woman from great harm.  The incident drove home to me the terrible plight of the newly freed inhabitants of the train.

I pulled my tank up beside the small station house at the head of the train and kept it there as a sign that the train was under American protection now.  Carroll Walsh’s tank was soon sent back to the battalion, and I do not remember how long the infantrymen stayed with us, though it was a comfort to have them for a while. My recollection is that my tank was alone for the afternoon and night of the 13th.  A number of things happened fairly quickly.  We were told that the commander of the 823rd Tank Destroyer battalion had ordered all the burgermeisters of nearby towns to prepare food and get it to the train promptly, and were assured that Military Government would take care of the refugees the following day. So we were left to hunker down and protect the starving people, commiserating with if not relieving their dire condition.

I believe that the ranking officer of the Finnish prisoners introduced himself to me and offered to set up a perimeter guard. I think I approved and asked him to organize a guard, set out pickets, and handle the maintenance and relief of the outposts. However it happened, the guard was set up swiftly and efficiently. It was moving and inspiring to see how smartly those emaciated soldiers returned to their military duties, almost joyful at the thought of taking orders and protecting others again.  They were armed only with sticks and a few weapons discarded by the fleeing German guards, but they made a formidable force, and they obviously knew their duties, so that I could relax and talk to the people. A young woman named Gina Rappaport came up and offered to be my interpreter. She spoke English very well and was evidently conversant with several other languages besides her native Polish.  We stood in front of the tank as along line of men, women, and little children formed itself spontaneously, with great dignity and no confusion, to greet us.  It is a time I cannot forget, for it was terribly moving to see the courtesy with which they treated each other, and the importance they seemed to place on reasserting their individuality in some seemingly official way.  Each would stand at a position of rigid attention, held with some difficulty, and introduce himself or herself by what grew to be a sort of formula:  the full name, followed by “a Polish Jew from Hungary”-or a similar phrase which gave both the origin and the home from which the person had been seized.  Then each would shake hands in a solemn and dignified assertion of individual worth. 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!

Also tremendously moving were their smiles.  I have one picture of several girls, specter-thin, hollow-cheeked, with enormous eyes that had seen much evil and terror, and yet with smiles to break one’s heart.  Little children came around with shy smiles, and mothers with proud smiles happily pushed them forward to get their pictures taken.  I walked up and down the train seeing some lying in pain or lack of energy, and some sitting and making hopeful plans for a future that suddenly seemed possible again. Others followed everywhere I went, not intruding but just wanting to be close to a representative of the forces that had freed them.  How sad it was that we had no food to give immediately, and no medical help, for during my short stay with the train sixteen or more bodies were carried up the hillside to await burial, brave hearts having lost the fight against starvation before we could help them.

The boxcars were generally in very bad condition from having been the living quarters of far too many people, and the passenger compartments showed the same signs of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.  But the people were not dirty.  Their clothes were old and often ragged, but they were generally clean, and the people themselves had obviously taken great pains to look their best as they presented themselves to us.  I was told that many had taken advantage of the cold stream that flowed through the lower part of the valley to wash themselves and their clothing.  Once again I was impressed by the indomitable spirits of these courageous people.

Frank Towers, a World War II veteran who helped liberate 2,500 Jews on a train bound for a Nazi concentration camp, meets Bruria Falik of Woodstock, who was on the train, at Arbor Ridge at Brookmeade in Rhinebeck. (Photos by Karl Rabe/Poughkeepsie Journal)

I spent part of the afternoon listening to the story of Gina Rappaport, who had served so well as interpreter.  She was in the Warsaw ghetto for several years as the Nazis gradually emptied the ghetto to fill the death camps, until her turn finally came.  She was taken to Bergen-Belsen, where the horrible conditions she described matched those official accounts I later heard.  She and some 2500 others, Jews from all over Europe, Finnish prisoners of war, and others who had earned the enmity of Nazidom, were forced onto the train and taken on a back-and-forth journey across Germany, as their torturers tried to get them to a camp where they could be eliminated before Russians on one side or Americans on the other caught up with them. Since the prisoners had little food, many died on the purposeless journey, and they had felt no cause for hope when they were shunted into this little unimportant valley siding.  Gina told her story well, but I have never been able to write it.  I received a letter from her months later, when I was home in San Diego.   I answered it but did not hear from her again.  Her brief letter came from Paris, and she had great hopes for the future.  I trust her dreams were realized.

We were relieved the next morning, started up the tank, waved good-bye to our new friends, and followed a guiding jeep down the road to rejoin our battalion.  I looked back and saw a lonely Gina Rappaport standing in front of a line of people waving us good fortune.  On an impulse I cannot explain, I stopped the tank, ran back, hugged Gina, and kissed her on the forehead in a gesture I intended as one asking forgiveness for man’s terrible cruelty and wishing her and all the people a healthy and happy future. I pray they have had it.

George C. Gross

Spring Valley, California

June 3, 2001

click here for the ANNOTATED PHOTOGRAPHS

LISTEN to Carrol Walsh and George Gross share their recollections of the liberation of “A Train Near Magdeburg” (9:32)

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Just back from the reunion of the 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World War II and also the Holocaust survivors whom they liberated on April 13th, 1945.

 

At the conclusion of my presentation, John, one of the soldiers, said to me, tears in his eyes, “Yes. This is what I fought for. We didn’t really understand why we were over there. This is what we fought for.”

The signature phrase of the United States World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, is that “Americans Came to Liberate, not Conquer.” Yet during their travails across France, the Low Countries, and into Germany itself, many soldiers wondered aloud about the circumstances that took them so far away from home. The drudgery and boredom of Army routine and regulation, not to mention the months of being shot at or shelled, were all taking their toll. However, it slowly became clear to many what they had been fighting for all along as they encountered the evidence of years of Nazi tyranny. And when our soldiers themselves witnessed the atrocities of the greatest crime committed in the history of the mankind, the Holocaust, all questioning ceased.  Americans had indeed come to liberate.

This year, besides the dozen or so old soldiers, we were joined by five Holocaust survivors: Stephen, who at age 31/2 had lost both his parents and was liberated on the train, and Bruria, who told us of how her grandfather passed away shortly after liberation, “beaming like an angel”, content that he had died a free man. George explained the history and the horrors in Bergen Belsen, including losing his father and Micha described his mother’s efforts to recount what had happened in Poland, how his father was shot after jumping from the transport from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka, and how he and his mother survived . And Paul explained that how meeting and becoming friends with his actual liberators was helping him to assuage the scars inflicted upon him, so long ago, but really only yesterday.

This is what I fought for.

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I am re-posting this today on the anniversary of Dr. Gross’ death.
Yesterday my son turned 11. And at about 11 pm yesterday on the West Coast, Dr. Gross died at home with his family around him.

I just found out. More than anyone else, he is the one responsible for this website and the hundreds of lives changed because of it.

You see, he took the photo that you may not really notice in the heading above, along with 9 other photographs that forever imprint the evidence not only of man’s inhumanity to man, but of the affirmation, hope and promise of mankind. It was he who wrote the prose that led me to the survivors, and vice versa. And it was he who cultivated a deep friendship with me via his wonderful writings and telephone conversation. How amazed and happy he seemed to be to hear from all the survivors.

In the summer of 2001, I did an interview with his comrade in arms, army buddy Carrol Walsh. Judge Walsh put me in touch with Dr. Gross. If you go back through the archives you know the rest of the story. It has changed my life and the lives of my students in that we are now trying to rescue the evidence, the testimony of the Holocaust and the World War Two veterans, for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. And today I received in the mail a bulletin from this Museum, reaffirming the mission that Dr. Gross had everything to do with setting me on.

He came into my life during a dark time for me- we had just lost our father (who thankfully, like Dr. Gross, passed on from his own bed at home), and our mother was battling the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia, or whatever that nightmare was called…. we began a conversation that has yielded so much fruit.

Lately, I knew he wasn’t well. I actually had looked into flights across the country before Christmas for my son and I to pay a visit, but we just couldn’t seem to swing it financially, with Christmas bills coming in and holiday fares going up. My back up plan, in my head, was to go out in February, when fares were half the cost… Well, February arrived yesterday and now it is too late, I never got to shake the hand of a man who helped reshape my own life, and the lives of so many others.george-gross-1945

His 8×10 liberation photos are mounted in the front of my classroom, with his captions for all to see. So I see George and just one of the noteworthy products of his life, everyday. The captions that he wrote for each are mounted below each print, a testament to his humanity and to his graciousness.

I know it is selfish to feel so bad about the fact that I was not able to literally reach out and touch him. I’m just so damned disappointed.  Right now it’s another dark day for Matt, but I am comforted that he was surely welcomed by his beloved wife, parents, and maybe even my folks as well.

From his statement read at the occasion of the first reunion, September 14th, 2007. Please feel free to add your own comments or tributes. Matt

Sincere greetings to all of you gathered at this celebration of the indomitable spirit of mankind!

 

Greetings first to all the admirable survivors of the train near Magdeburg, and our thanks to you for proving Hitler wrong. You did not vanish from the face of the earth as he and his evil followers planned, but rather your survived, and grew, and became successful and contributing members of free countries, and you are adding your share of free offspring to those free societies.

You have vowed that the world will never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, and you spread the message by giving interviews, visiting schools, writing memoirs, and publishing powerful books on the evil that infected Nazi Germany and threatens still to infect the world. I am enriched by the friendship of such courageous people who somehow have maintained a healthy sense of humor and a desire to serve through all the evils inflicted upon you.

 

Greetings also to the dedicated teacher whose efforts have brought us all together through the classes he has taught on World War 2 and the web site he maintains at the cost of hours of time not easily found in his duty as a high school teacher. I know that several of you found your quest for knowledge of your past rewarded by the interviews and pictures Matt Rozell and his classes have gathered and maintained. Selfishly, I am grateful to Mr. Rozell for leading several of you to me, bringing added joy to my retiring years.

 

Greetings also to all the faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends of the school at which this important gathering takes place. Thank you for your interest in the survivors of the Holocaust and their message.

 

And special greetings also to my old Army buddy, Judge Carrol Walsh, and his great family. Carrol fought many battles beside me, saved my life and sanity, and resuscitated my sense of humor often. We had just finished a grueling three weeks of fighting across Germany, moving twenty or more hours per day, rushing on to reach the Elbe River. Carrol and I were again side by side as we came up to the train with Major Benjamin, chased the remaining German guards away, and declared the train and its captives free members of society under the protection of the United States Army as represented by two light tanks.

Unfortunately, Carrol was soon ordered back to the column on its way to Magdeburg while, luckily for me, I was assigned to stay overnight with the train, to let any stray German soldiers know that it was part of the free world and not to be bothered again.

 

Carrol missed much heartbreaking and heartwarming experience as I met the people of the train. I was shocked to see the half-starved bodies of young children and their mothers and old men—all sent by the Nazis on their way to extermination.

I was honored to shake the hands of the large numbers who spontaneously lined up in orderly single file to introduce themselves and greet me in a ritual that seemed to satisfy their need to declare their return to honored membership in the free society of humanity.

I was heartbroken that I could do nothing to satisfy their need for food that night, but I was assured that other units were taking care of that and the problem of housing so many free people.

Sixty years later, I was pleased to hear that the Army did well in caring for their new colleagues in the battle for freedom. I saw many mothers protecting their little ones as best they could, and pushing them out, as proud mothers will, to be photographed. I was surprised and please by the smiles I saw on so many young faces.

Some of you have found yourselves among those pictured children, and you have proved that you still have those smiles. I was terribly upset at the proof of man’s inhumanity to man, but I was profoundly uplifted by the dignity and courage shown by you indomitable survivors. I have since been further rewarded to learn what successful, giving lives you have lived since April 13, 1945.

 

I wish I could be with you in person at this celebration, as I am with you in spirit. I hope you enjoy meeting each other and getting to know Matt Rozell and Carrol Walsh. I look forward to seeing again my friends whom I have met and to meeting the rest of you either in person or by E-mail. My experience at the train was rich and moving, and it has remained so, locked quietly in my heart until sixty years later, when the appearance of you survivors began to brighten up a sedate retirement.

You have blessed me, friends, and I thank you deeply. May your lives, in turn, bring you the great blessings you so richly deserve.

 

Fondly yours,

George C. Gross

September, 2007

 

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Just returned from a three day conference.

As Holocaust educators, we talk about the choices that individuals face and the patterns that one may follow in making one’s choice. The trend seems to be to focus on the role of the “perpetrator” and “bystander”  in the greatest crime in the history of the world, to examine the nuances of their behavior, to perhaps gain insight into why the Holocaust occurred. Yes. Very, very,  important.

But how about including in our discussion the actions and behaviors of the soldiers who ended the Holocaust? They faced a choice, too. They had seen their friends vaporized in front of their eyes, they were weary, and tired of being shot at, and utterly exhausted. They were twenty fours hours away from another major showdown at a “last stand” city. Many of the soldiers would not survive, though the end of the war was in sight.

But they stopped, even as the enemy was digging in behind the battlelines.

Horrified and in shock, they sprang into action. One 4 year old survivor remembers that it was the “first time in my life that I can recall an adult with a smile”. If someone were to argue that the world owes these soldiers a debt, I don’t think too many people would find that problematic.

If you have not viewed the news clips (about 3 minutes each), I welcome you to do so.  In doing so, however,  you are forewarned that there is  someone who vehemently disagrees with that argument. He even shakes his finger.

And what does that say about the soldiers in this story? We need to dissect the behavior of the collaborators and those who are complicit in the crime. But what is it about the decisions made  and actions taken by these soldiers that is important to study? Of course this is worthy of our consideration, and as I struggle with my own role  in  the future of Holocaust education, I don’t think it should be overlooked or worse, “sidebarred” in the larger narrative of choices, patterns of behavior, and decision making.

Remember, the permanent exhibition at the USHMM even opens with visitors listening to the narrative of one of these soldiers on the elevator ride up to the 4th floor.  Why? It is more than that soldier just becoming  the “set-up guy” for the shock that greets one when the elevator doors open. We need to really explore that further.

Frank Towers, a World War II veteran who helped liberate 2,500 Jews on a train bound for a Nazi concentration camp, meets Bruria Falik of Woodstock, who was on the train, at Arbor Ridge at Brookmeade in Rhinebeck. (Photos by Karl Rabe/Poughkeepsie Journal)

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to have you consider this, with the video  interviews, as well. And to the folks who might have thought otherwise, it’s not about me, finding and bringing folks  together- those soldiers are primary actors in this drama, and are survivors in their own right as well. {And note that throughout this discussion I have refrained from using the term “liberator”. My guys are not even officially recognized as “liberators”.}

What made them tick? Would one of us have picked up and carried a sick, lice-ridden, foul smelling “semblance” of a human being, exhausted and at the breaking point ourselves ?  Look below in the next post to get a Holocaust survivor’s take on it.

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{As part of the conclusion to my USHMM Teacher Fellowship project, I  am posting the unfolding nature of the discovery of the camps as Allied troops closed in from the East and the West, sixty-five years to the day that the discovery/event occurred. This post also gets an inordinate amount of hits; please be sure to visit the “About” link for context.}This was originally posted on 4-15-10.}

April 15, 1945: British troops reach the Bergen-Belsen, Germany, concentration camp and find 60,000 survivors and 27,000 unburied corpses. Following liberation, starvation and typhus will claim about 13,000 more…

(Weber, Louis. The Holocaust Chronicle. Publications International Ltd., 2007. http://www.holocaustchronicle.org)

See  Bob Spitz’ testimony of his liberation, and typhus.  In this video, filmed by my son Ned in March 2008, he is addressing his liberators for the first time since 1945.

When I was in ninth grade, my education was disrupted brutally by having been transferred into a railroad yard, packed into cattle cars of the German government and ended up in Bergen Belsen with my father. We were in Bergen Belsen from late March to February, in which my father and I were separated. We were hiding the fact that we were father and son. He was taken away from me and he was shipped to a camp in Austria, the camp was called Mauthausenwhere he was killed. So I was in Bergen Belsen, all by myself, age 14-½ -15, and my physical situation was very, very bad. You heard from other former inmates that they had doctors and birth certificates. We had no no doctors or birth certificates. More often than not we had water problems. We didn’t have running water because the water system was probably in a very bad condition. We didn’t have water available 24 hours a day. I don’t think I have to discuss food with you, you’ve heard enough stories about the lack of food … So on that particular fateful April day, we’d received our orders to go to the railroad yard to be packed in because we we are now going to Theresienstadt. Theresienstadt is so many kilometers from Prague, Czechoslovakia; it was a military camp during the existence of the Austrian-Hungary Empire. Which disintegrated in 1918. Now it became a camp for Jewish inmates under the National Socialist system, you know our train made a drastic mistake in getting to Theresienstadt. It didn’t get into Theresienstadt; it didn’t make it because of you gentlemen of the 30th Division. It was certainly a big day, as I was sitting inside of that car, cattle car, where I would estimate that there were few inmates in the cattle car that had fewer then 1,000,000 lice each. Naturally starved to death, skin and bones, very, very  bad condition. Until we heard, I heard, that somebody was fiddling with the lock of my sliding door, from the outside. Obviously that sliding door, the lock was open and first thing I know is that the sliding door is sliding toward an open position. A young man who wore, for you veterans, an ‘OD’ uniform, which means olive drab in English, and he had a white  armband with a red cross in it. Behind him there were 2 or 3 younger men without the Red Cross armbands, they were talking a language that I understood. I assume that I was the only one in my car that understood/spoke English. I had English in school with other languages. I was the only one with these guys that was able to strike up a conversation. They were, I think, more delighted than I was. I didn’t realize just how many advantages I just gained because I have successfully established a line of communication with these guys from another part of the world. They were delighted that they could start finding out information that was never available to them. At this time I think I want to stop for a minute to try to convey to you the impressions that I gained at that time from these three guys.

It’s hard for me to describe it accurately because, a) I was sick, terribly sick, b) my perception did not function at all, I had a high fever so I’m trying to remember to the best of my ability: The degree of shock, their shock, surprise, questioning on their faces-Where did these people come from? How did this happen? But within a few minutes this combination of emotions got transferred into the demonstration of concern, care, interest, a demonstration of wish, and good intentions, that was conspicuously demonstrated to each and every one of us. Before I realized just what was happening, the strong arms of that young man with the white armband grabbed me- I don’t know why, he probably didn’t know how many lice I had on my skull-

He pulled me out of that car and then the other soldiers started pulling guys out of it.

I forgot to tell you. When the first soldier opened that sliding door, some bodies-our bodies-fell on him from the railroad car. They were dead. Naturally that came as a surprise. To us, you know, it was a matter of an every day event. He pulled me out and I don’t know how, I didn’t know what was going on. I was out of it, first thing I knew, I am riding on a truck. Again I went out of it, the next thing I knew I was standing in front of a gun which was run by a gasoline-fed engine. They were spraying me with white powder, lots of it. Later on I found out that was procedure of DDT, de-lousing. Believe me they had to waste an awful lot of powder on me.

After this, they pulled me and took me into a room. Now I knew it by then that the city, the village of Hilersleben  all of a sudden gained 2500, 2600, 2700 new comers. From that train and many of them needed hospitalization. I assumed the majority needed hospitalization. I was put in a semi-private room, two people to the room. Well later I found out that the 2nd and 3rd floor consisted of wards with 70 bunks,  70 beds. Here I have a semi-private room because they could talk to me and I could talk to them. After God knows how many medical examinations and everything else the drastic change of tension in my diet was really very, very easy. Going from no diet to a diet is a drastic turnabout, but it’s an easy process. Again my food had to be supervised very carefully because many people, liberated people, got extremely sick and many died because of their food intake not being planned or controlled. A good Army major went from living quarters with a cocked 45 pistol in his hand, expressing his desire that the German peasant, the German farmer, the German citizen starts cooking for these guys. Many of these guys weren’t ready for that food. It played havoc.

So as time went on, I got better and better and I got rid of my typhus and my fever dropped. They called this “normalcy”. I have a problem with this word, normalcy, what is normal? What’s normal to you doesn’t have to be normal to me. I think it’s only a setting on a washing machine. My recovery was very nice and satisfactory except I assumed a new duty which I wasn’t aware of. Often, as the day went on, one medic after another said, ”Hey, Bob. Will you please come with me to the 3rd floor? We have a problem  with Tommy/ Billy/ etc. There’s a problem, he can’t talk to us, and we can’t talk to him.” I found myself acting as a translator. Little did I know that was going to be the beginning  of something big.

{transcribed by Ashleigh Fitzgerald, HFHS ’10.}

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Holocaust survivor meets Army rescuer after 65 years

Michael Woyton • Poughkeepsie Journal • August 12, 2010

Mrs. Falik heard of Frank in the Yediot Ahronot article, a major daily in Israel, that appeared in April 2010 on my project.Thanks to Varda W. in Israel for her major efforts at uncovering more survivors and getting the word out.

Frank Towers, a World War II veteran who helped liberate 2,500 Jews on a train bound for a Nazi concentration camp, meets Bruria Falik of Woodstock, who was on the train, at Arbor Ridge at Brookmeade in Rhinebeck. (Photos by Karl Rabe/Poughkeepsie Journal)

RHINEBECK — Frank Towers doesn’t remember the 12-year-old Bruria Falik he may or may not have seen 65 years ago in a crowd of children.

But they met Wednesday for the first time with hugs and tears.

Towers, 93, of was one of a contingent of soldiers who liberated a train filled with 2,500 Jews headed for Bergen-Belsen, the Nazi concentration camp.

He was speaking about his war experiences to a group of people at Arbor Ridge at Brookmeade, a senior living community in the Town of Rhinebeck. Falik, a Woodstock resident, was there to finally meet one of the men who saved her life.

Towers, who now lives in Brooker, Fla., was part of the 30th Infantry Division, an Army National Guard unit from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, making its way through Germany toward the Elbe River.

“We were bombarded by propaganda about the torture and capture of the Jews (by the Germans),” he said, speaking with vigor. “We didn’t believe it. We thought they were trying to make us fight against the Germans all the harder.”

In early April 1945, the division liberated Brunswick and was headed to Magdeburg, Towers said.

“We had heard there were German troops in Fallersleben waiting to ambush us,” he said, and reconnaissance was sent April 13, 1945, to scout the area. No enemy troops were discovered.

“They found something else they weren’t prepared for,” Towers said: an idling train crammed full with about 2,500 Jews.

“The crew’s last order was to take the train onto a (bombed out) bridge and run it into the river,” he said.

“But they had a little bit of brains,” Towers said. “They figured they’d get killed too.”

The cars were so crowded, he said, each meant to hold about 40 people but jammed with as many as 100, it was impossible for everyone to get to the sole bucket in the corner, which was the bathroom.

“There was a horrendous stench,” Towers said. “It was so bad our own American boys had to turn around and vomit.”

Having rations and being willing to share, the soldiers gave what food they had to the starving people.

During their trip, once a day, they were given a thin, cold potato soup that was mostly water.

The food the soldiers shared was too rich for the starved people, Towers said, and they stopped giving them anything and waited for medical protocol. The people were taken to nearby Hillersleben, where they were turned over to the American military for further processing.

They were infested with lice and were dusted with DDT, their clothing confiscated and burned.

After getting showers, the people were given clothing donated by the people of Farsleben.

Towers said it wasn’t until they found the train that he realized what he originally thought was propaganda was, in fact, the truth.

“My own version, my own experience, of one small facet of the Holocaust was repeated 6 million times,” he said.

Before their meeting Wednesday, going through Falik’s mind was, how do you say thank you to someone who saved your life?

Falik said she does not remember Towers.

“But I felt I knew him all my life,” she said.

Calling that April day “glorious,” Falik said her memory tends to focus on the positive things.

“This is a country that dedicates itself to saving people all over the world,” she said.

“And I have a wonderful son as a result of being saved,” Falik said.

Towers said that sometimes the events from 65 years ago invade his dreams.

“And a lot in a bad way,” he said. “What I saw and what people like her (Falik) conveyed the way they had to live, in my dreams, I’m laying on a lice- and tick-infested bunk on a train, and I can feel them crawling on me.”

Towers demonstrated waking with a start.

But then he remembers what he and the other soldiers did that day.

“I had a small part to play in saving her life,” Towers said.

“She has come up in society,” he said, “and I’m partly responsible. It’s quite emotional that we have come full circle.”

Patricia and Donald Weber of the Village of Rhinebeck came to the lecture because the subject is poignant.

“It’s something we should not forget,” Patricia Weber said. “Man’s inhumanity to man is awful. We need to learn what we can do to prevent it.”

http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/article/20100812/NEWS01/8120340/Holoc

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I was the featured speaker at this event hosted by the NYC Next Generation Board held on July 28th, 2010 at CitiField  in NYC. I spoke about this project and on behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Teacher Fellowship Program.

Good evening and thank you for your welcome. I would like to thank the Next Generation Board and staff for having me here this evening.

As you have just heard, I am particularly devoted to the mission of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Teacher Fellowship program. In April I was honored to be in Washington, DC with these fine veterans at the Days of Remembrance ceremonies with over 100 other liberators. Tonight I would like to present you with some snapshots of the people I have encountered in my work, and how the ripple effect has led to these worldwide connections. I also think it is important to place my work in the context of the Museum’s mission and to place it in a perspective that illustrates why we are all gathered here this evening.

As Ms. Sawyer explained, this endeavor began as a simple oral history project and it has now taken on a life of its own. The photograph on the screen was taken by Major Clarence Benjamin and is one of the most dramatic liberation photographs ever to come to light. What is unique about this and the other ten liberator photographs is that we have now identified several persons who are still living. They in turn contact other survivors and their families. Some just stumble across my website. On Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, April 12th, a major Israeli daily that reaches a quarter million households ran a lead story; here in NY the newspaper Hamodia ran an article that reached 50,000 in January. This has multiplied the ripple effect; to date, we have uncovered 165 survivors who were aboard that train near Magdeburg Germany.

Right now, rescuing the evidence is my main mission. There are so many lessons here – lessons of self-sacrifice and duty, of courage and kindness, but also of horror, cruelty and sorrow.  This war brought out the worst in people and it brought out the best of people. And when you look at this mini snapshot of time, you see it all. In the end, good triumphs over evil.

Here are some sample vignettes from my work with the testimony of survivors I know, and this is just scratching the surface. Here they recall the moment of liberation at the hands of the Americans.

Jacob, a four year old boy, has very vivid memories of recalling that this was the first time in his young life that he ever saw an adult smile. He also recalls an angry American major cocking his .45 and putting it to the head of a burgermiester who was reluctant to order the neighboring townspeople to provide shelter and food for the starving victims, a story which has been corroborated by many survivors.

Ina, a seventeen year old Dutch Jew, remembered the straight white teeth of her liberators and thinking in her famished and confused state that they all must have had the same dentist.

Bob, a fifteen year old, recalled hearing somebody fiddling with the lock on the railcar door and sliding it open. They were soldiers with Red Cross armbands who were shocked as the bodies tumbled out on top of them. QUOTE “The degree of shock, their shock, surprise, questioning on their faces-Where did these people come from? How did this happen? But within a few minutes this combination of emotions got transferred into the demonstration of concern, care, interest, a demonstration of wish, and good intentions, which was conspicuously demonstrated to each and every one of us. Before I realized just what was happening, the strong arms of that young man with the white armband grabbed me- I don’t know why, he probably didn’t know how many lice I had on my skull-He pulled me out of that car and then the other soldiers started pulling guys out of it. ”

21 year old Steve, who celebrated his 20th birthday freezing in a locked boxcar in early Dec. 1944  on the way to Bergen Belsen, recalled sitting on the embankment the evening before the liberation and  watching the Allied carpet bombing of Magdeburg and hoping that the bombs would fall on him. QUOTE  ” The next morning, we had this tiny little fire going and we were sitting next to it and I was sitting there with this great big abandoned SS overcoat on, to keep warm.  One GI walked down the embankment, came over to the fire, sat next to me, took out his pen knife, and he cut off the SS insignia from my coat, and slowly dropped it into the fire…”

Micha, a six year old boy from Poland, remembers visits to the house where he and his mom were quartered by a huge black American soldier who constantly smiled, bringing him chocolate, which he had never tasted before.

Matthew Rozell at CitiField event, July 28, 2010. USHMM photo.

Several of these child survivors have told me that they recall the camp in shades of gray and black and white, but they remember the liberation in vivid Technicolor. Elisabeth from Holland: “I got out of the train and I saw the greenery and the wild flowers. It was wonderful because suddenly I was seeing things in color. Everything that I’d remembered about the camp was black and white…”

Most recently, this was confirmed once more by this woman, a little girl who had been an orphan in Bergen Belsen. Back in Israel where she lives, she got a phone call from the daughter of another survivor who had tracked her down. Lily got a call as she was cooking dinner at home for her extended family in Tel Aviv last March, and was completely shocked as she knew very little of the details of her early life. She did immediately decide to travel to the United States to meet me, and came up here about a month ago. Lily’s father had been shot in the Warsaw ghetto and her mother died in Belsen shortly after their arrival. She was “purchased” with bread rations from a man who she had been entrusted to but who was actually neglecting her, and then she was cared for by a series of women whose faces and names she cannot recall. Eventually she was taken to Israel and raise on a kibbutz, and when she met me; she confided that she did not even know her birth date. She did remember the liberation, that all these young soldiers were chewing gum and gave her her first chocolates. I then arranged for her to have an interview at the Museum, and she called me up, very excitedly after the fact to say that she was received very well, and that her interviewer even had done research in the archives before she had gotten there and was able to tell her the day she was born…June 15th. As she and many others have told me, her family is proof that Hitler did not win.

I’d like to think that this project has done a great deal to undo Hitler’s legacy. The ripple effect of that we spoke of is reaching many thousands of lives- liberators, survivors, their children and grandchildren, and generations to come.  In perspective, though, we have to understand that for every soul saved on the train, another 2500 perished during the Holocaust.

Just as importantly, the project has touch thousands of students. You see, one of the points that I stress is that now these students become the new witnesses, just as you are also here to hopefully help us to carry the ripple forward to the future generations. I point out to the kids that they have a responsibility now to use what they have witnessed, and I show them the Holocaust denial website that is out there specifically devoted to the refuting of my story. It’s still out there, and ignoring it is not going to go make it go away.

I have talked to plenty of my peers who did not really learn about the Holocaust in own their days in the classroom, and who really have difficulty grasping how to teach it effectively. There is a lot more to teaching about the Holocaust than collecting bottle caps or counting pull tabs in a crate. Realistically, only a handful can bring their students to the Museum in Washington, but what we have to realize is that this Museum is much more than a brick and mortar building. As was previously mentioned, the Museum Teacher Fellowship program has developed into cutting edge national outreach to nurture Holocaust education in this nation, but a lot more needs to be done. Last year the Education Division reached 5000 teachers across the nation, and the good news is that the ripple effect means that if each committed teacher reaches 100 students over the course of ten years or so, we have now carried the message to fifty thousand kids.  In perspective, however, we have to keep in mind that there are at least 14 million secondary school students in the United States. But just imagine the potential of a program where even more highly qualified and committed MTF teachers could be trained to reach 100 or more fellow teachers over the years!

People often ask me how my work as an MTF impacts students. For a long time I really struggled with this question-I myself have never taken students on a field trip to the Museum-until last month when a reporter for my college alumni magazine showed up in town to find out.

“He puts history right in front of your eyes,” one of my students said. “Never could I have gotten the experience of meeting such inspiring people who learned to love after the ultimate form of prejudice was thrust upon them. A message of acceptance not only reached the little town of Hudson Falls, but the entire world.”

“It’s life altering,” said another. “And because we’ve heard these stories, it’s our job to make sure it won’t happen again.”

My friends, these high school kids now know that what they do matters, and whatever we can do to support these programs will pay dividends later. Now I can say truly that my getting up and going to work each day makes a difference. And now like them, when it comes down to what really matters, I just can’t be a bystander.

Thank you for your attention and I hope that you enjoy the game.

28 July, 2010 the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s New York Next Generation Citi Field event to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

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Liberator Carrol Walsh…

Walsh recalls his good friend George C. Gross, with whom he came across the Train Near Magdeburg on Friday, April 13th, 1945. Walsh then recounts the day, and the years afterward,  

 “…the fading memories of the survivors of that event tell you the story of the confluence of  time and place that cast them together forever. It was the morning of Friday April 13 1945,  in a  place called Farseblen…”

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