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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Barry’

This past Friday, I spoke to scores of educators interested in the Holocaust and genocide, people who were also attempting to teach about these crimes against humanity. As a teacher, you have to be very committed to do this seriously- just to try to attempt to understand these events, let alone teach about them to young people.

I was invited by the New Jersey Council of Holocaust Educators in cooperation with the Center for the Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education at Brookdale College. I have my take on things, and that is what I am working on now, in my new book. I was also in some pretty good company.

My good friend and fellow educator Alan Bush, who drove two hours on his own time to come out and support me (even though he told me I was not as attractive as the previous speakers).

My good friend and fellow educator Alan Bush, who drove two hours on his own time to come out and support me (even though he told me I was not as attractive as the previous speakers).

In the morning Alexandra Zapruder engaged with the teachers by reading excerpts from her seminal work, Savaged Pages, Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust, creating a dialogue about how the young people who left behind diaries left so much more than just the written word of their time of horror and oppression. This was not Anne Frank, but a deeper dialogue about attempting to make sense of the senseless, and the conflicting emotions that really encourage us to look into the abyss, beyond the standard narrative of what we think we know about the Holocaust- powerfully, from teenager to teenager. And Alex is the perfect vessel.

Meline Toumani read from her book, There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond, about growing up in the Armenian Diaspora community and her process of discovery in the context of the conflicting narratives of Armenian genocide of 1915 and her attempt to get to the root of her own self identity. Her book came out on the eve of the 100th anniversary, and the topic resonates especially as we try to make sense of the larger picture of genocide and the ripples that these actions, and our own re-actions, create. She spent her entire 30s in the process, and this is what also fascinated me, as her book is classified as a memoir. I am now tearing through her work, making notes, highlighting certain passages. For the passionate, writing indeed becomes a huge part of your life.

Then it was my turn.

I fumbled a bit, looking up this website to display for the crowd and typing in misspelling after misspelling for the Jumbotron, but quickly won them over by simply showing the teachers a photo of my classroom

the last generationand reminding them that I was also missing a day of school today,  but what were were all doing together had a meaning and importance that really transcended our normal daily routine. It was okay- we were in this together, and I would show them how one person could make a difference and that one person is YOU, the teacher.

So I began to tell my story, the one that I will be detailing in my upcoming book, about how I had no intention of becoming a teacher, in fact, NO intention of ever returning to my hometown after high school–and how seven years later I was living in a room off my parents’ garage, and working on the other side of the desk in the high school I swore I would never return to.  And it was survival mode for the first few years. If someone had shown me the easy way out, I would have jumped. But I did not, *for some reason*, and because I stuck with it I was standing before them that day, about to tell my story.

So I did. They laughed, and they got emotional. There were powerful messages imbedded in the narrative that followed, though I tried not to point them out. I didn’t have to-they got it. Some people teared up. I think I did too, when I showed the videos and remembered the people that I have lost over the course of this wonderful journey. So I share it here again for the benefit of those who maybe would like to see it again, or might like to use it in their own classrooms.

It is the story of my main character, the “liberator” Carrol “Red” Walsh, who passed three years ago this month, and Steve Barry, the 20 year old survivor who graphically describes his Holocaust experience, his day of liberation, and searching for so many years and finally finding his liberators, due to my teacher project. I forgot to tell my attentive audience that after Steve made it to the USA, he was drafted and served as a US Army Ranger in Korea- and that he called himself the “Happiest Korean Conflict Draftee”. Or that after he passed, his daughters boxed up his library of Holocaust-related books, and sent them to me. But I did tell them that forevermore, his words will remain inscribed in granite at the Donors’ Wall of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum- “It’s not for my sake that people should remember the Holocaust, it is FOR THE SAKE OF HUMANITY”.

Steve's name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

Steve’s name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

When I was finished, there was no real time for a Q and A session left-but people streamed over to me, taking my hand in many instances, and thanked me for something really simple-inspiration. And that is what meant the most, that these people were TEACHERS, like me. I drove the next the five hours on a cloud, just thinking about the day.

We have so much power to change the world, so much responsibility. Especially those of us who take on these topics. We get so caught up in the day to day milieu- we don’t see the forest. Today, thanks to the program and its organizers and speakers, we all at least caught a glimpse of it. The chief architect and MC, Colleen Tambuscio, radiated the collaborative enthusiasm that really carried the day and tied everything, and everyone, together.

*So, the ripples continue, and the generations go forth. Somebody said it was like pebbles being tossed into the still water. This may sound strange, but I have become keenly aware of the cosmic element-

We have the power to trip the wires of the cosmos.

 

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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.

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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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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.

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.

So, the ripples continue. Somebody said it was like pebbles being tossed into the still water. This may sound strange, but I am keenly aware of the cosmic element. We tripped the wires of the cosmos.

~”It’s not for my sake, it’s for the sake of humanity, that they will remember”~

I got a nice email  recently. My friend Steve Barry was honored Tuesday evening at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Steve’s daughters wanted me to know that his family made a donation in his name and set up two fellowships for scholars at the USHMM in the Stephen B. Barry Memorial Fellowship. His girls mentioned me in their speech Tuesday night in Washington. Thanks ladies. You know he was a hero. He reached out and touched an awful lot of students in the short time that we were together.

Steve will be one of the persons who will be featured in my book. Against all the odds he survived the Holocaust and later even went on to become a US Army Ranger in the Korean War! I was pretty close to him. Right now I am wistfully looking at his homemade holiday greeting cards under my desk glass, and to my left, a foot away, are the shelves containing his Holocaust library, which was passed on to me after he passed away. He was so funny, too.  He told me he nearly “choked on my bagel” a few years back when he opened his newspaper in Florida and read about me and the train he had been looking for, for so many years!

I miss the guy. You can read more about him here.

 

Steve's name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

Steve’s name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

The inscription kind of says it all. He uttered these words in my very classroom on a Thursday morning to a film crew from New York City, aimed at the 1500 students that he and the other survivors and American soldier/liberators had come to address. That Friday evening of our big soldier/survivor reunion, we watched it together on national news before our final banquet.

You can see the video at the bottom-he’s the one in the preview addressing the interviewer- but the transcript is below.

ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009

Diane Sawyer: And finally tonight, our Persons of the Week. It is a story that began almost 65 years ago in the darkest days of World War II. Yet this week, a new chapter unfolded. An unforgettable reunion of Holocaust survivors, and the American troops who freed them, and all made possible by a high school history class.

Matthew Rozell: This is history coming alive.
Veteran 1, entering school with his wife: Here we are, we have arrived!
Matthew Rozell: This is walking, talking, living history. They’re (the students) shaking hands with the past…

Diane Sawyer: It was 2001 when high school history teacher Matt Rozell decided to begin an oral history project. He and his students would just interview family members in the small town of Hudson Falls, New York, to capture fading stories of World War II.
Interviewer (soldier’s daughter): Did you mention the train [to Mr. Rozell] at all before?
Carrol Walsh, former soldier: No I didn’t tell him about the train.

Diane Sawyer: The students unearthed a forgotten crossroads in history. (Gunfire, archival film footage) Near the very end of World War II, April 13th, 1945, the American 30th Infantry Division was pushing its way into central Germany.
Carrol Walsh: We came to a place where there was a long train, of boxcars.

Diane Sawyer: They found a train, holding nearly 2,500 emaciated Jewish prisoners, many just children, being moved from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, to another camp and certain death. Their German guards had just abandoned them, fleeing the Americans.

Carrol Walsh: A feeling of helplessness. What are we going to do with all these people?
Frank Towers, former soldier: We had never ever seen anything so, (pauses) filthy.

Diane Sawyer: The American soldiers fed the prisoners, and brought them to safety.

Stephen Barry: For 42 years I collected anything that I could to try to find any article regarding the train. It just didn’t exist!

Diane Sawyer: But Mr. Rozell’s class put their interviews with veterans up on a website, along with these photographs taken by the American soldiers.

George Gross: Just very courageous people, little girls who with big smiles on their faces, one of them with their arms out, just aware that the Americans are there. [camera pans over 1945 liberation photograph]

Diane Sawyer: Out there on the web, Holocaust survivors all around the world began to notice.

Stephen Barry: I mean, how many people have a picture of their moment of liberation forever? [camera pans over 1945 liberation photograph]

(students and veterans and survivors singing “The Star Spangled Banner”)

Diane Sawyer: A reunion of the survivors and their liberators took place this week at Hudson Falls High School.

Emily Murphy, student: When they speak to us, you can’t say that you feel how they felt. But you get the feeling, you feel like you were there.

Diane Sawyer: In an age where there are still those who deny the Holocaust ever existed, these survivors say they are the living proof.

Stephen Barry: It’s not for my sake, it’s for the sake of humanity, that they will remember.

Diane Sawyer: And so we choose history teacher Matt Rozell, his class, the Holocaust survivors of that train, and the American soldiers who kept them and their story alive. And that is World News for this Friday. I am Diane Sawyer, and from all of us at ABC News, we hope you have a great weekend.

And here is a link to the 2014 United States Days of Remembrance Capitol Ceremony. Steve’s daughters and granddaughters are in the back row!

 

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