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Posts Tagged ‘oral history’

Update from Nashville: At the 30th Infantry Veterans of WW2 70th anniversary reunion.

Today’s events began with the posting of the colors and a moving memorial service for the veterans of the 30th Infantry Division and 743rd Tank Battalion who have moved on. Missing many, especially for me Buster Simmons, who would offer up a prayer at this gathering in his capacity as chaplain. Rest on,old soldier.

94 year old veteran Marion Sanford comes up to me and grips my hand. I have not seen him in 2 years, but he is the same to me as he always was. As a reconnaissance man for the 30th Infantry Division, he tells me how much he saw and how much now in retrospect meeting the survivors and their families has meant to him. He saw many terrible things overseas, which he felt he had to leave out of his 2012 book, ‘Old Hickory Recon’. Don’t think for a minute that a soldier understood why a friend might be killed and the fickle hand of fate spared another. In what way can this be justified? Survivors’ guilt was not just for the Holocaust survivors to experience. But this ‘small’ incident, the liberation of the train near Magdeburg, seems to have altered his perspective and the perspective of many of the soldiers I have met at these reunions. It seems to have enhanced and  added to ‘man’s search for meaning’, in a sense, as far as the soldiers go.

0417151104-00

Posting the colors. MC Frank Towers in the background. Frank will be 98 in June.

 ***

After lunch, moving talks today by survivors George Somjen (Hungary), Elisabeth Seaman (Netherlands), Micha Tomkeiwitz (Poland) . To their liberators they recounted the events that they remembered and  more importantly, the impact that the liberation and the meeting of their liberators meant not only for them and their families, but also  the world.

Later, the amazing reflections of the 2nd generation ‘Train near Magdeburg’ survivors who are with us for the first time: Evelyn Marcus, formerly of the Netherlands, Orly Beigel of Mexico, and Marc Boyman of Canada. April 13th, the liberation date, for their families was a date always remembered and celebrated; a time to remember how the American soldiers loved life, and loved people, and treated the survivors with such tenderness, empathy, and respect, in marked contrast to the soldiers from another Allied nation who moved in to replace the Americans as the terms of the peace settlement were adjusted.

 

L-R: Peggy Wonder, 2nd G; Evelyn Markus, 2nd G; Frank Towers, liberator; Orly Beigel, 2nd G; Micha Tomkeiwicz, Elisabeth Seaman. Missing: Marc Boyman, 2nd G; George Somjen.

L-R: Marc Boyman, 2nd G; Peggy Wonder, 2nd G; Evelyn Markus, 2nd G; Frank Towers, liberator; Orly Beigel, 2nd G; Micha Tomkeiwicz, Elisabeth Seaman, Matthew Rozell Missing: George Somjen. Photo credit: Patti Jordan. 4-17-15.

I heard today so many vignettes of hope and promise for the future of mankind. And this, I witnessed with my own eyes. This gathering, this whole trip is an affirmation of the goodness of mankind, a meditation on the profound difference  that  one’s actions can make, and the confirmation that teaching history really does matter.

Orly Beigel’s mother, far left, 1945. Commonly mislabeled as ‘Buchenwald Survivors Entering Israel, 1945’. No. These girls ( L-Jetty (Jetta) Halpern and R-Magda Werber, together with Jetty’s older sister Golda Katz-Halpern, not pictured) pulled into the station at Guard d’Lion, Paris in France with much fanfare several weeks after liberation; there was a celebration as they arrived, so they thought that a celebrity must be on board. The war was over. In a rare instance, the survivors were the ones being celebrated.

 

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Yom HaShoah ceremony and service, Jewish Federation of greater Rochester, New York, April 15, 2015. 700 folks come out on a midweek night. From an audience member: ‘The most beautiful, inspirational Yom HaShoah service I have ever been to.’

It was indeed a moving service and I was honored to have a part in it.

We stop and we pause, to reflect and remember.

Key take-aways from my presentation:

 

  1. The American Army was involved in a shooting war. More soldiers would die in the days to come. But they stopped. They helped these people. And some carried the trauma with them for the rest of their lives.
  2. People need heroes. But few of the liberators would like to be remembered this way. Maybe we should all take a moment to think about our own obligation to humanity.
  3. For every one person who was liberated on this ‘Train Near Magdeburg, nearly 2500 persons, keep close the reality that another 2500 perished in the Holocaust.
  4. Finally, the voices of the eyewitnesses need to always be with us. We need to keep them close. Or forget at our peril.

***

Carrol Walsh, liberator: Our lives were joined at that moment on April 13, 1945, and now we meet face to face and recall together that moment when my tank reached the train.

Steve Barry, survivor:There is no other army in this world that would stop and help 2500 lice-ridden, emaciated Jews, to save them. What army would stop, except the American army?

Steve Barry: Mounted SS troops came around, rode by the train, and started to yell ‘Raus, Raus, get out of the train!  Get out of the cars!’  And we saw them putting up machine gun nests. So obviously, even at that last moment, they were still trying to murder us.

Carrol Walsh: I had no idea who they were, where they had come from, where they were going – nothing. No idea. All I knew: here’s a train with these boxcars and people jammed in those boxcars. No idea. No, I had no idea.

Steve Barry: Very shortly after that we saw the first American GIs.  Well, actually there were two tanks.  I still get tears in my eyes. Right now I have tears in my eyes and I always will when I think about it.  That’s when we knew we were safe.

Letter  from Carrol Walsh to Steve Barry, 2008: ‘You are always expressing gratitude to me, the 743rd Tank Battalion and the 30th Infantry Division. But I do not believe gratitude is deserved because we were doing what we, and the whole world, should have been doing- rescuing and protecting innocent people from being killed, murdered by vicious criminals. You do not owe us. We owe you.  We can never repay you and the Jewish people of Europe for what was stolen from you: your homes, your possessions, your businesses, your money, your art, your family life, your families, your childhood, your dreams, and all your lives.’

Steve Barry:  Is this a beautiful person?

Carrol Walsh:  I think, I cannot believe today, as I look back on those, on those years and on what was happening, I cannot believe that the… world almost ignored those people and what was happening. I cannot believe it. How could we have all stood by and have let that happen? We owe those people a great deal. We owe those people everything. They do not owe us anything. We owe them for what we allowed to happen to them. That is how I feel.

 

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April 17th. (1945)

Dear Chaplain;-

Haven’t written you in many months now, its funny how a few moments are so hard to find in which to write a letter way past due; it’s much easier to keep putting it off the way I’ve done. I’ll try to make up for it in this letter.

Today I saw a sight that’s impossible to describe, however I’ll try. Between 2400 and 3000 German refugees were overran by my division during our last operation; most of them were, or had been, inmates of concentration camps, their crimes the usual ones, – Jewish parentage, political differences with der Fuhrer, lack of sympathy for the SS, or just plain bad luck. Not one of these hundreds could walk one mile and survive; they had been packed on a train whose normal capacity was perhaps four or five hundred, and had been left there days without food.

Our division military government unit took charge of them, and immediately saw what a huge job it was going to be, so they sent out a call for help. Several of our officers went out to help them organize the camp they were setting up for them. The situation was extremely ticklish we soon learned; no one could smoke as it started a riot when the refugees saw the cigarette, and we couldn’t give the kiddies anything or they would have been trampled to death in the rush that would result when anything resembling food was displayed. The only nourishment they were capable of eating was soup; now the army doesn’t issue any of the Heinz’s 57 varieties, so we watered down C-ration[s] and it served quite well.  It was necessary to use force to make the people stay in line in order to serve them. They had no will power left, only the characteristics of beasts.

A few weeks of decent food will change them into a semblance of normal human beings; with God willing the plague of disease that was already underway, will be diverted; but I’m wondering what the affect of their ordeal they have been through, will be on their minds; most will carry scars for the rest of their days for the beatings that they were given. No other single thing had convinced me as this experience has that Germany isn’t fit to survive as a nation. I’ll never forget today.

I was going to write mother tonight but thought better of it. I’ll be in a better frame of mind tomorrow. I’m only a few dozen miles from Berlin right now, and its hard to realize the end is in sight. I’m always glad to receive your scandal sheet. You perhaps missed your calling, as your editorial abilities are quite plain.

As ever,

Charles.

March 11th, 2009

Dear Mr. Rozell:

My father-in-law was 1st. Lt. Charles M. Kincaid. He was a Liason Officer with the 30th. Division Artillery.  He was honored with an Air Medal in the battle of Mortain and a Bronze Medal in the battle of St. Lo.  In the battle of Mortain he won his Air Medal by calling in artillery adjustments while flying in a Piper L-4 over 4 panzer divisions on August 9, 1944.

first-lt-chuck-kincaid-sept-1944He rarely wrote home. He did write home to his minister about one event that evidently really caused him to stop and think. Attached is a copy of that letter that his sister transcribed – making copies for others to read.  The letter describes the Farsleben train and his experience there.

I need to thank you for your website and work. You and your students work enabled me to connect the letter with the actual historical event. It further enabled me to show my children the pictures and to make their Grandfather’s experience real, not just an old letter – that this event so affected him that he needed to tell his minister before he told his mother.

Thank you,
Mark A.

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World War II infantry veteran Carrol Walsh, top, hugs Holocaust survivor Paul Arato at a reunion in Queensbury, N.Y., on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009. Walsh’s unit liberated a Nazi train carrying 2,500 Jewish prisoners, including Arato, from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany during the war’s waning days. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)

I am reposting this today to honor both of the men below. Paul Arato passed away this week in Toronto, Canada and his memorial service is today. Carrol Walsh, his liberator, died in Dec. at his home in Florida and his memorial service was last Friday in New York.

Paul and Rona would also check in annually for dinner with the Walsh family when they passed through our town. The last time I saw both of them together was in 2011 at one of these dinners in a local restaurant. They sat together and laughed and joked like old pals. Paul told the story of how he arrived in Detroit after the war as an eager late teen anxious to find work designing fast cars in the automobile industry and was driven to the bridge in Canada by law enforcement and pointed to the bridge to Canada, as he did not have the proper documentation. Picturing the scene in his mind, Carrol would laughed outloud and slapped his knee. Both men were so happy to have found each other.

Rest on, friends.

Holocaust Survivors Reunite With US Veterans

NY high school reunites Holocaust survivors liberated from Nazi death train by US soldiers

By CHRIS CAROLA

The Associated Press

HUDSON FALLS, N.Y.

The Holocaust survivor was 6 on that spring day in 1945 when he last saw the U.S. Army soldiers outside Magdeburg, Germany.

Paul Arato was among 2,500 starving and sickly Jewish prisoners from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, their train abandoned by its crew and Nazi guards as Allied forces advanced. Two U.S. Army tanks on a scouting patrol — one of them commanded by Carrol Walsh, then 24 — came upon the stopped boxcars.

Arato, now 71, and Walsh, 88, met again this week.

“Please give me a hug. You saved my life,” Arato told Walsh in an emotional reunion of concentration camp survivors and some of the veterans of the 30th Infantry Division who liberated them.

Arato, an industrial designer from Toronto, and Walsh, a retired state Supreme Court judge from Hudson Falls, came together for a Hudson Falls High School history symposium inspired by history teacher Matthew Rozell’s original World War II project in 2007.

“You were all kids on that train,” Walsh told the survivors, most of them in their early 70s, as they and their families greeted the veteran. “I was an old man. I was 24 years old!”

Those arriving early for Wednesday’s opening session gathered Tuesday night for an impromptu reunion before having dinner surrounded by the faux Adirondack decor of the nearly deserted indoor water park. Four of the five Nazi train survivors at the dinner had never met Walsh.

Walsh’s tank patrol discovered the desperate Bergen-Belsen survivors on April 13 — hundreds of emaciated Jewish prisoners who had been herded aboard one of three trains leaving the camp a week earlier to keep them from being liberated by advancing Allied forces.

Walsh’s patrol stayed for a time, handing out candy to some of the children, then moved on after reporting their discovery. Frank Towers, a 27-year-old first lieutenant in the 30th Division, led a convoy that took the newly liberated prisoners to a German town where they were given food and shelter.

For weeks, the men of the 30th had heard of Nazi atrocities against Jews and dismissed the stories as propaganda, Towers said. That all changed when they encountered the train.

“Then we believed,” said Towers, 93, of Brooker, Fla.

This week’s reunion is the fourth since 2007, when Walsh was joined by three of the train survivors at Hudson Falls High. History teacher Rozell’s World War II project included an Internet posting of Walsh’s account of the train liberation.

An Associated Press report of that first reunion prompted more survivors to come forward, some from as far away as Israel, Rozell said. In all, he has confirmed that more than 60 survivors are still living and has been in contact with about two dozen of them.

Nine survivors of the Nazi death train are participating in this symposium, along with Walsh, Towers and four other veterans of the 30th who fought in Germany. Rozell said this week’s gathering is likely to be the last such event of its scope, given the advanced ages of the veterans and survivors.

For Arato, Tuesday night’s reunion with Walsh brought back a flood of memories. He recalled getting candy from one of the soldiers and a handgun to play with.

“I remember it was a Tootsie Roll,” he said. “The gun wasn’t loaded.”

Arato fretted over one detail. He recalled seeing a Jeep along with the American tanks, but fellow survivor Fred Spiegel of Howell, N.J., didn’t remember seeing a third vehicle. Later, Walsh said his patrol consisted of two tanks — and a Jeep.

“There WAS a Jeep,” Arato said, a smile breaking out on his face. “I remembered it right.”

———

On the Net:

Hudson Falls High School World War II Living History Project: http://www.hfcsd.org/ww2

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wires/2009/09/23/holocaust-survivors-reuni_0_ws_296673.html

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3781062,00.html

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American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, the primary landing zone for Americans during the D-Day invasion June 6, 1944. (U.S. Air Force Photo)Today one of my former students emailed me to visit saying that she had a surprise for me. She brought me a present- sand from the beach at Omaha in Normandy.

This was originally posted four Junes ago, I re-post here now.

I came into school today, on a Saturday, to start packing up my room for a move to another room.

But it is the 6th of June.

Instead I am getting nothing done, mesmerized by the scenes, live from Normandy, of the 65th anniversary celebration.

The President is there and so are 250 American veterans of the battle for Normandy,  including one of my good  friends, Buster Simmons, of the 30th Infantry Division. The Greatest Generations Foundation sponsored his visit with 9 other vets and college kids. Now I’m looking for him in the sea of faces.

My son Ned and I watched him last night as a “Person of the Week” on ABC World News in a story I contributed to. If you view the clip, you can see the photograph I provided ABC with, taken by Major Clarence Benjamin, of the liberation of the train. This is the photo that Buster uses when he speaks to high school classes to tell this story.

I am hopeful that we can get Buster to come to our high school for the  liberator-survivor reunion in September.

It was twenty five years ago, on this anniversary, that I wrote an essay in the local newspaper expressing my appreciation for the veterans of World War II. And as I begin to sort through and pack up 20+ years of memories in this room, three things are becoming clear: 1) my love for these men and women and what they did only increases as time passes; 2) the rest of my career will be focused on the promotion of narrative history in the classroom, linking students, veterans and survivors together; and 3) I won’t be getting any packing done this day.

Take a minute to watch Buster in the clip and take his optimism about the future of our nation to heart. Especially if -“you’re an American.”

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  I am re-posting this on the anniversary of a car crash that would claim the life of Holocaust survivor and later U.S. Army Ranger, Steve Barry.

My friend on the left described himself at one point in his life as the “Happiest Korean War Draftee”. Steve was a  survivor from Hungary who beat the odds and lived through the horrors of the Holocaust after the Germans invaded that country in 1944 and did their best to kill him on several occasions. He spent his 20th birthday jammed in a boxcar destined for Bergen Belsen, witnessed people dying of starvation and disease by the thousands,  and was liberated on April 13th, 1945 at the hands of the 743rd Tank Battalion and the 30th Infantry Division of the US 9th Army, aboard the train near Magdeburg.  He emigrated to the United States in Dec. 1948 after spending years in a displaced persons camp, applied for citizenship immediately, and was drafted in 1950, only to be assigned occupation duty in a far off nation- you guessed it-Germany. He was so happy to serve his adopted country…

Steve passed away yesterday, January 16th, 2012, after a long and difficult ordeal from injuries sustained in an automobile accident in September. I’ll always remember his special Christmas and Easter cards that he sent to me, made personally on his computer; his funny, self depreciating humor; and above all his overwhelming happiness at being able to finally meet the men who saved him. I hope that the memories sustain his wife Stella and his children and their families, and also the friends that he made later in life and became soulmates with- soldiers Carrol Walsh and Frank Towers, the soldiers who arrived on the scene to free him and help him begin his life anew.

Matthew Rozell, Stephen Barry, National DOR Ceremony, Washington, DC April 2010. This photo was taken the day after the 65th anniversary of Steve’s liberation in April 1945. We had just been honored by the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum before the national ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

I will leave you with a few of his words-and we will remember. Thanks, Steve, for all that you gave us, and for passing the torch to a new generation of students to carry your message forth.

An earlier post… The Holocaust Survivor and the US Army Ranger…

A fantastic national radio interview that I helped to arrange, knowing he would be the perfect speaker…

And the educational films I constructed from them.

 Stephen B. Barry, 87, of Boca Raton, Florida, passed away peacefully on January 16, 2012 following a serious car accident in late September 2011. A Holocaust survivor,who was proud to be an American, he went on to live the American dream. He is survived by his wife Stella of nearly 58 years, his children Barbara (Paul), Jamie (Jerry) and Randy and his beloved granddaughters, Amanda and Victoria and many extended family and friends. Services to be held at Beth Israel Memorial Chapel in Delray. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions in his memory be made to The United States Holocaust Museum.
Published in Sun-Sentinel on January 18, 2012

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Dear Mr. Rozell,

Hilersleben -Luca Furnari

 My grandfather, Luca Furnari, is 90 years old and served in the 95th medical battalion with Mr. Gantz at Hillersleben. He has a number of photographs from this period.  For many years he has thought about trying to find a particular young girl who he helped sneak extra rations to at the DP camp and whose mother asked him to take back to the United States. He and some friends actually had a whole plan of how they were going to sneak her onto the boat back to the US, it’s a great story. Unfortunately, as you know, they were told they were going to the Pacific theatre and the plan became impossible.  Her name was Irene / Iren / Irena.  I have a photograph and have searched the manifest on your website, there are 3 possible people of approximately the right ages: Irena Gitler, Iren Roth and Iren Wittels.   I was wondering if you had come across any survivors from Hillersleben with the same name. 

Hilersleben-Irene is in the flowered dress

Also, I know my grandfather would love to be connected to any other surviving members from the US Army that were at Hillersleben.  

 My grandfather is the large picture on the left hand side.  Irene is in the flowered dress in the picture by herself and on the lap of another US soldier, whose name is Turner (?).  The picture with the baby is also Turner, and they are in the DP camp.  My grandfather’s inscription reads

Hilersleben-Turner-boy that kid sure did cry that day — until we gave her some chocolate.

“boy that kid sure did cry that day — until we gave her some chocolate”.  The picture of the building with barrels in the foreground is from Hillersleben too. It has a strange inscription from my grandfather

Hilersleben-some disorderly DPs getting a shower bath (DDT?)

“some disorderly DPs getting a shower bath”.  The one with the two girls just says “Two of the children that lived in the D.P. center we were taking care of. Cute eh hon?” (He was sending the pictures to my grandmother back in the States.)

The child Irene is the girl that my grandfather would like to try to locate. 

Soldier Turner and Irene.

Any help you can provide is MOST appreciated.

Best,
R.

Hilersleben-Two of the children that lived in the D.P. center we were taking care of. Cute eh hon?

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