Posts Tagged ‘United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’



George Gross, former tank commander in Company D of the 743rd Tank Battalion, died ten years ago today. In his declining years before he died, I was able to bring him much joy in introducing him to several of the children he saved. He sent me the photographs, and wanted me to tell his story.  And I brought him together again with his old Army buddy, Red Walsh.  So I am re-posting this today on the 10th anniversary of Dr. Gross’ death.
Where does the time go? He lived a good life, and at the end, got to see the results of his actions six decades before.
We are all traveling our own roads. Days like this, I like to stop and ponder what it all means. I’m glad that I had a small role to play in his life.

~George C. Gross, 1922-2009~

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.

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.

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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April 17, 1945, was a Sunday. It was three days after the liberation of the train near Magdeburg, near the Elbe River, just miles from Berlin. War weary GIs had their first encounters with the conditions at the train. They would never forget what they saw.

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,


March 11th, 2009

Dear Mr. Rozell: My father-in-law was 1st. Lt. Charles M. Kincaid. He was a Liaison 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.

He 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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Yesterday, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum felt compelled to issue the following statement:

Today, the Museum issued the following statement:

The Museum is acutely aware of the consequences to the millions of Jews who were unable to flee Nazism, as noted in our November 2015 statement on the Syrian refugee crisis. The Museum continues to have grave concern about the global refugee crisis and our response to it. During the 1930s and 1940s, the United States, along with the rest of the world, generally refused to admit Jewish refugees from Nazism due to antisemitic and xenophobic attitudes, harsh economic conditions, and national security fears.

In our view, there are many legitimate refugees fleeing the Assad regime’s sustained campaign of crimes against humanity and the genocidal acts perpetrated by ISIS against the Yazidis, Christians, and other religious minorities. American policy should fully address national security concerns while protecting legitimate refugees whatever their national or religious identity.

A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. For more information, visit ushmm.org.

eisenhower at ushmm

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January 30th, 1933. Adolf Hitler comes to power in Germany. Friday, January 27th,  was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The Museum is compelled to clarify exactly what the Holocaust is all about.


On the day of his appointment as German chancellor, Adolf Hitler greets a crowd of enthusiastic Germans from a window in the Chancellery building. Berlin, Germany, January 30, 1933. —Bayerische Staatsbibliothek via USHMM

JANUARY 30, 2017


WASHINGTON, DC – The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. Nazi ideology cast the world as a racial struggle, and the singular focus on the total destruction of every Jewish person was at its racist core. Millions of other innocent civilians were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, but the elimination of Jews was central to Nazi policy. As Elie Wiesel said, “Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.”

The Holocaust teaches us profound truths about human societies and our capacity for evil. An accurate understanding of this history is critical if we are to learn its lessons and honor its victims.

A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Its far-reaching education programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. Learn more at ushmm.org.


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Helen Sperling passed away last week. She was an incredible woman, a Holocaust survivor whose mantra was “Thou shalt not be a bystander.”

I spoke at the annual Yom Hashoah lecture that she sponsored for her community in Utica a few years back. She lived about 100 miles away, so her friend Marsha drove her to Saratoga Springs, the halfway point for us, so that she could meet me and vet me for herself before committing to my lecture. I passed the test. later, my friends at the USHMM found some of her liberation documents for me, which I sent to her. I even found one of the US soldiers who liberated her, in the town near me.

The article and post below is from a couple years ago. I love the photo. Godspeed, Helen. Rest assured that all those whom you touched, will keep the memory alive.


Helen is a friend of mine. She was liberated in April 1945 by a division of American soldiers that included our high school secretary’s uncle.

At her invitation I traveled to central NY to speak 2 years ago.

She is still going strong. I love her! Her central message to students-“The world needs saving. So, get to it!”

Rome Observer Staff Writer

Staff Photo by RACHEL MURPHY--Curtis Thompson, an eighth grader at Strough hugs Helen Sperling, a 93-year-old who survived the Holocaust. Sperling shared her story with the eighth grade class on Wednesday, after she finished every student hugged her.

ROME, NY. — Holocaust survivor Helen Sperling, 93, recounted the darkest moment of her life before a crowd of more than 300 eighth-graders at Lyndon H. Strough Middle School on Wednesday.

Sperling spoke for two hours about her time in the concentration camps.

Sperling was born to a middle class family where she lived in Poland.

During a school vacation when she was 22 years old, the Germans invaded her home and took her family into a ghetto.

“For the first time in my life, I was completely and utterly helpless,” she said.

During her time in the ghetto, Sperling remembered being able to contact a close friend to wish her a happy birthday. But when Sperling called her friend, who was a Gentile, the friend responded with a racial slur.

“You did not realize who was your friend and who was your enemy,” she said.

She explained that like many other Jewish families, hers was eventually taken from the ghetto and separated into prison camps. She was first placed into Ravensbrück, where she was forced to perform demeaning tasks the Nazi’s used as a way to break her spirit.

But despite the torture, hunger and fear, Sperling managed to survive, along with her younger brother.

“Ninety-nine percent of our survival was sheer luck,” she said. “A little tiny bit of it was hanging on to dignity. Once you lost that, you didn’t have a chance.”

Sperling’s parents did not survive.

Her family was among the 6 million other Jews that were sent to death camps and were killed by the Nazis.

Sperling placed two family photographs on a table nearby as she spoke to the students.

“These are mine, and I miss them terribly,” she said of her family members.

However, she continues to share her story to hopefully inspire and educate others.

“I want them to know that they can do something. I don’t want them to be bystanders,” she said.

Sperling added that even though it is difficult to retell it’s worth it.

“As long as I can do and as many schools as I can cover I want to,” she said.

Assistant Principal Michael Stalteri explained that he hopes the students learn from Sperling’s life and positive outlook.

“Her story resonates with what goes on in their lives when they’re being persecuted, picked on, harassed, bullied or made to feel different,” he said. “Hearing Mrs. Sperling’s story of triumph and her message is exhilarating.”

After Sperling finished her story each student hugged her, and she gave them an anti-bullying bracelet.


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There  are ‘wrong’ ways to teach about the Holocaust.

Here are the general guidelines in a project I created for the Museum Teacher program at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with fellow Museum Teacher Fellow Sara Kollbaum, set to original music sung and performed by student Kylie James. For students, her song is also a good model of what an expressive and appropriate learning project can be about.

From the original You Tube link: ‘Educational project  completed for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC to help educators teach the Holocaust. It features the work of Kylie James, student, her song set to photographs collected by USHMM Fellow Matthew Rozell and USHMM Fellow Sara Kollbaum.It is four and a half minutes long. The song begins 30 seconds in.’

This is for Remembrance

Verse 1:         Six million died

Innocents who lost their lives

Children and their mothers all lined up by their numbers

Told that there were showers

They were gassed within the hour

Chorus:          this is for remembrance

For  all of those who lost their lives

And this is for remembrance

Of all of those left behind

So don’t forget the people who died

‘Cause they won’t forget their genocide

Verse 2:         everything was taken

Husbands from their wives

No one can forget the

Day the Nazis arrived

Houses were torn apart all around

Synagogues were burning to the ground

this is for remembrance

For all of those who lost their lives

And this is for remembrance

Of all of those left behind

So don’t forget the people who died

‘Cause they won’t forget their genocide

Verse 3:         how could they do this?

Exterminate more than half a race

Why would they do this

With no remorse like child’s play

How could they do this?

The world just looked and turned away…

this is for remembrance

FOR all of those who lost their lives

And this is for remembrance

Of all of those left behind

So don’t forget the people who died

‘Cause they won’t forget their genocide

this is for remembrance

For all of those who lost their lives

And this is for remembrance

Of all of those left behind

So teach your children, not to hate

Learn from our past, before its too late

This is for remembrance




‘One of the primary concerns of educators teaching the history of the Holocaust is how to present horrific, historical images in a sensitive and appropriate manner. Graphic material should be used judiciously and only to the extent necessary to achieve the lesson objective. Try to select images and texts that do not exploit the students’ emotional vulnerability or that might be construed as disrespectful to the victims themselves. Do not skip any of the suggested topics because the visual images are too graphic; instead, use other approaches to address the material.

In studying complex human behavior, many teachers rely upon simulation exercises meant to help students “experience” unfamiliar situations. Even when great care is taken to prepare a class for such an activity, simulating experiences from the Holocaust remains pedagogically unsound. The activity may engage students, but they often forget the purpose of the lesson and, even worse, they are left with the impression that they now know what it was like to suffer or even to participate during the Holocaust. It is best to draw upon numerous primary sources, provide survivor testimony, and refrain from simulation games that lead to a trivialization of the subject matter.

Furthermore, word scrambles, crossword puzzles, counting objects, model building, and other gimmicky exercises tend not to encourage critical analysis but lead instead to low-level types of thinking and, in the case of Holocaust curricula, trivialization of the history. If the effects of a particular activity, even when popular with you and your students, run counter to the rationale for studying the history, then that activity should not be used.’

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{To commemorate the spring of 1945 and  liberation seventy years on, I  am posting the unfolding nature of the discovery of the Holocaust as Allied troops closed in from the East and the West.}

March 19, 1945:

Adolf Hitler issues the Nero-Befehl (Nero Order), a scorched-earth directive intended to leave only a ruined Germany for advancing troops.
March 19, 1945:

Two hundred survivors out of 1000 Jewish women who began a forced march from the Neusalz, Poland, slave-labor camp on January 26 are evacuated by train to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, Germany; see this post.

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

I  received this email from the son of survivors:

Dear Mr. Rozell,

My mother was one of the 200 or so that survived that “death march”!  The survivors were transported to the camp at Bergen-Belsen, where my mother was ultimately liberated on April 15, 1945.

Many years ago, she did relate to me a wartime story of hers which I wrote up in 2006, and had published.

Prisoners on a death march from Dachau move towards the south along the Noerdliche Muenchner street in Gruenwald. German civilians secretly photographed several death marches from the Dachau concentration camp as the prisoners moved slowly through the Bavarian towns of Gruenwald, Wolfratshausen, and Herbertshausen. Few civilians gave aid to the prisoners on the death marches. Germany, April 29, 1945.  — KZ Gedenkstaette Dachau. USHMM

Prisoners on a death march from Dachau move towards the south along the Noerdliche Muenchner street in Gruenwald. German civilians secretly photographed several death marches from the Dachau concentration camp as the prisoners moved slowly through the Bavarian towns of Gruenwald, Wolfratshausen, and Herbertshausen. Few civilians gave aid to the prisoners on the death marches. Germany, April 29, 1945. — KZ Gedenkstaette Dachau. USHMM


The Defining Moment

By Joseph H. Danziger

It happened more than sixty years ago- and not to me- but I cannot dislodge it from my mind’s eye.  My consciousness will not surrender the thought of what it must have been like for my mother, especially on one ominous day. I am a child of Holocaust survivors.

My parents, and thousands like the, each have personal stories of their incarceration in the various concentration camps that dotted Germany, Poland and neighboring countries during World War II.

My parents rarely shared with me their accounts of that desperate period of their lives. When prodded, they might offer an occasional vignette. Seeing the pain on their faces in talking of these experiences, however, I didn’t push for details. Those are memories they certainly preferred to have long forgotten.

Of the stories that were begrudgingly told to me, one shared by my mother will haunt me forever. The soul-searching decision with which she was confronted on that fateful day so long ago is unfathomable to me. As a result of the decision she made that say, I am here to tell the tale.

My mother spent the flower of her youth- ages 17 through 20- within the confines of a concentration camp in Neusalz, Poland. It was a women’s “slave-labor” camp where yarn was processed for the war effort. Although it was not one of the infamous “death” camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka or Sobibor, the distinction between these titles is hardly significant. In a death camp the aim was to kill as many and as quickly humanly possible. In a slave-labor camp the goal was, in effect, to work the laborers to death, with an ever-replenishing supply of labor. The death tolls in each were mind-boggling. The human skeletons who managed to survive all looked the same and had similar stories of deprivation, torture, depravity and the wanton taking of life.

In the midst of this living hell, an opportunity presented itself to my mother. She saw a possible means of escape. Despite knowing that if she got caught she would face certain death, she took the chance. She escaped, although she never explained exactly how.

Clad only in rags, she trudged through unfamiliar territory until she came to a house. She knocked on the door. She related her circumstance to the master of the house and pleaded for food and a place to hide. Although sympathetic to her plight, he told her he could not jeopardize his family. If found to have secreted a Jew, especially one who escaped from a nearby camp, he and his whole family would most likely be killed as a lesson to the community.

Yet, seeing my mother’s emaciated condition and dire need- and against his better judgment- he took pity on her. He invited her into his home, let her eat, bathe and sleep the night. Before the break of dawn, however, he said she must be gone. She thanked him and availed herself on his family’s kindness. For one night during a span of three years she had a full stomach, clean clothes and a restful night’s sleep.

She left before dawn, as promised. But where would she go? Only then did the truly desperate nature of her circumstance become apparent. For one such as she there was nowhere to go.

My mother was confronted with an unimaginable predicament, a sort of Gordian knot. Should she hazard freedom in an unfamiliar countryside filled with antisemitism where peril and betrayal would be her constant companions? Or should she attempt the inconceivable- a stealth re-entry into the camp from which she had just risked her life to escape- hoping the guards had not noticed her absence? As least there she reasoned, she had the known quantity of a controlled environment offering minimal subsistence, albeit in a horrific setting and under subhuman conditions. She chose the latter. In her mind, that choice offered the best chance for survival. As remarkable as was her original escape, doubly remarkable was her ability to re-enter the camp, unnoticed, and return to her quarters before the morning roll call.

With the memory of nearly one full day of freedom, my mother persevered. Then, in January 1945, together with 1,000 other interned women, she was set on a one-and-a-half-month forced to march to the concentration camp at Flossenburg, Germany, some 200 miles to the southwest. This was one of many so-called “death marches” that occurred toward the end of the war, in a calculated maneuver by the Nazis to deceive the Allies about the vast network of fully functioning concentration camps in operation during the war years.

Along the way to Flossenburg, 800 women were beaten, shot or left to die when they collapsed in the harsh winter. Upon their arrival, the remaining 200 women were transported to the concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen. On April 15, 1945, the British and the Canadians liberated the scant number of those remaining. One of those was my mother. One year later, after surviving family members were reunited, she married my father.

I cannot imagine any other Holocaust survivor choosing a purposeful re-entry into a concentration camp after an earlier successful escape. The very idea is mind-numbing. But she chose wisely, for which her five children and six grandchildren are her testament. I will forever marvel at the immense resolve of this remarkable woman and her relentless insistence on survival.


(Article first appeared in THE PHILADELPHIA LAWYER , SUMMER 2006. Retyped by student Jana Putzig. Used with permission.)


Matthew Rozell is a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow and teaches history at his alma mater in upstate New York. This year, he is authoring a series of posts under the heading of ‘Seventy Years’, marking the 70th anniversary of the close of World War II and of the ‘liberation phase’  of the Holocaust. His work has reunited 275 Holocaust survivors with the American soldiers who freed them.

His first book, a narrative of World War II in the Pacific as told through the previously unpublished recollections of two dozen veterans, is due out this spring. His second book, in progress, is on the power of  teaching, remembering the Holocaust, and this “Train Near Magdeburg’. He can be reached at marozell at gmail dot com.

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