Posts Tagged ‘United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’

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.


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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Francis Curry, WWII Medal of Honor, with students.

Francis Curry, WWII Medal of Honor, with students.

FOUR years ago today the most incredible week concluded with former soldiers and the Holocaust survivors they saved watching this newscast together in cocktail lounge of the Georgian Resort in Lake George along with teachers and students from Hudson Falls High School. Thank you Tara, Mary, Lisa, Rene, and all the staff. And to ABC World News for recognizing the importance of the occasion, and to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Bergen Belsen Memorial for their attendance and support.

A teacher’s job is to toss pebbles. Several of the participants are gone now, but the ripples here became huge, and no one will forget what they meant, where they came from, or what they have led to.

Watch a story about how a teacher fellow from the Museum reunited Jewish prisoners with U.S. Army soldiers who liberated them from a train near Magdeburg, Germany, on April 13, 1945.

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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


The Associated Press


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



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Bergen Belsen on July 5, 2013.

Bergen Belsen on July 5, 2013.

I am in Europe on a study tour of the Holocaust with 25 fellow educators of the United States. I am typing this as the morning breaks in the heart of Berlin, Germany. I had hoped to be able to get on-line and write more frequently but that is just not possible. There is too much to do while we are here visiting these authentic sites. But it is time to stop and reflect on some of the things that I have seen and experienced.

Our itinerary includes stops in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland. The power of visiting these sites after studying them so long can not be overstated.

Bergen-Belsen. For me, visiting this place after studying it in depth in relation to the exchange camps that were here was a powerful experience. Readers of the blog know of the stories of many of the survivors of Bergen Belsen who were in the exchange camp and their liberation on April 13, 1945 at Farsleben. Two days ago I got the back story of the exhibition panels you see here, that feature the photographs and the work that our project has uncovered.

In brief context: 120,000 prisoners passed through Bergen Belsen, and not all of them Jewish. 52,000 died here, perhaps 30,000 of them were Jewish. Belsen actually began as a POW camp- 20,000 Russians died here in the winter of 1941-42. In 1943, Himmler (the head of the SS) ordered that an exchange camp be set up for Jews who might possess foreign certificates or visas to emigrate, perhaps to use to bargain for German families interned abroad. 14,000 people went through the exchange camp. In November, 1944, thousands of women, and some children, including the Frank sisters, arrived from Auschwitz, to be “housed” near the exchange camp. What they received, in their miserable condition, were 18 oversized old tents which promptly blew down during a winter storm shortly after their arrival. With the arrival also of brutal SS administrators and guards, conditions deteriorated rapidly as the winter of 1944-45 turned into spring. The camp system began collapsing with the advance of the Red Army in the east and the British and Americans in the West. By the time the British arrived on April 15th at the camp gates, over 50,000 prisoners were suffering from extreme malnutrition, typhus, typhoid fever, and dysentery. Nearly ten thousand corpses lay about as the crematorium had long since broken down. Hundreds died on the day of liberation.

I'm here. Finally.  Jerrilyn Miller photo.

I’m here. Finally. Jerrilyn Miller photo.

So here I am. The bus guides swiftly through the beautiful German countryside. A night in the picturesque town of Celle the evening before has us well rested. The fields and forests bid us peaceful feelings as we move with our rendezvous with the past. It feels as if as we move we are stepping back in time.

Memorial site, Bergen Belsen.

Memorial site, Bergen Belsen.

We see the road signs for the memorial and I think many of us on the bus draw a collective breath as it turns into the parking lot of Gedenkstatte (Memorial) Bergen Belsen. It is surrounded by trees. We are the only persons, besides staff, who are here. As we disembark off the bus, Tif ties an Israeli flag around her neck so it drapes like a cape. It is quiet. But the birds are singing.

Now I remember that in 2007 I was beginning my first communications with Christian and Bernd, then staff members at the Memorial. They were excited about the opening of their new exhibition hall and education center. Two years later they would fly over, with the historian Thomas, to take part in our 2009 reunion. So now I am here for the first time to see them again.

We meet the staff, who are still preparing for us. I’m listed on the program at lunchtime for a talk about the exchange camps and how the project is incorporated into the exhibition. Bernd enters the room and greets me warmly.

After an introduction to the history of the site, we  watch the silent movies shot by the British beginning the second day after the liberation. Perhaps you’ve seen the photos or the films. Belsen, in 1945, was the last stop, the terminus of the Holocaust, as one historian has described it. It was a scene of horror. If you see a photo of a soldier wearing a mask, maneuvering a bulldozer to push corpses into an open pit, that was Bergen Belsen. Just over a month later, the British commander ordered the lice infested, typhus ridden barracks put to the torch.
So now we are on the grounds of the former camp. As we exit the exhibition memorial hall, we are confronted with a long narrow corridor of concrete that we must pass through, reinforcing the fact that we are moving from present to past. And now we are here.DSC00432
To some visitors, there is nothing here, just inviting walkways with interpretive signage and some markers. Woods, and open fields. But on closer inspection, we see the outlines of the past in the ruins. We walk to barracks ten of the exchange camp. You can see the outline at the woodline. Some of the foundation stones are marked with the names of those who passed through them. We retrace the steps from the barracks to the latrine, now many meters away off a footpath in the enveloping woods. Nature reclaims. Out of the corner of my eye, down the long narrow strip mowed to infinity where a fenceline once ran, I see a large deer guide out of the woods, pause and look my way, and vanish just as soon as it appeared. Is it obscene to find in this place now a feeling of inner peace, to find beauty in the stillness of a grey afternoon? Maybe so. But I feel it.
Back inside, Bernd is talking to our group at the Exhibit where the evacuation transports from the exchange camps are outlined with the photographs of Major Benjamin and Dr. Gross. He explains that between April 6 and 9th, 6700 men, women and children were evacuated on three transports. The “lucky” train was liberated by the Americans on April 13. Friday. One train did make it to the destination of Theresienstadt, where the occupants were liberated the last day of the war. On April 23rd, the third train was liberated by the Red Army at Trobitz, across the Elbe.

 Bernd Horstmann, Custodian of the Book of Names,  Matthew Rozell, History Teacher, July 5, 2013. Bergen Belsen, Evacuation transports exhibit.

Bernd Horstmann, Custodian of the Book of Names, Matthew Rozell, History Teacher, July 5, 2013. Bergen Belsen, Evacuation transports exhibit.

Bernd explains that as the exhibition was being planned, his colleague Christian discovered the photographs that I had been given by the Dr. Gross to place on my website. It altered their vision of the exhibition and he described their excitement as the corroborated the testimony of the soldiers with the photographs. Yes, this is the Farsleben transport. Yes, this is the transport that the Americans called “The Train Near Magdeburg”. My fellow teachers ask questions, and learn more about the exchange camp. They are putting faces to the victims when they see the pictures. I am happy to share this experience with them. I am here, and I am seeing it for the first time with them. They are part of this experience, at our first major stop on the trip. Later, on the bus, some are excited to see the Benjamin photo in the official Bergen Belsen guidebook. In my being caught up in the presence of the moment, I neglected to purchase one for myself, but there it is. I was not even aware of it.
Back out to the camp. The solemn monuments marking the mass graves. 1000 Tote. One thousand DSC00490dead. 2500 Tote. Two thousand five hundred dead. And on and on, elevated mass graves. On to the commemoration room. Candles are lit, stones are placed, the prayers are recited in Hebrew and English, led by Pauline, the only other New Yorker on the trip with me. We are all moved. I think of Carrol Walsh, the tank commander who led me to this story, the liberator who did not want to be called a hero, or even a liberator. His own memorial service is today, half a world away, but I am here in this place to remember him as well. It is altogether fitting and proper. And perhaps it is also something destined to be.

This evening we depart from Hannover to Berlin. It is pretty crazy and unsettling at the Friday evening platform. 27 people have to run for the train, as the track has changed, with hundreds of others. Our original seats are taken, so we have to find other due to a mixup. But we do not lose anyone, and as I settle in next to a kind stranger, made welcome, I notice our station stops along the way- Brunswick. Magdeburg. We are roughly following the route of the train, and the 30th Infantry Division in 1945. What take us 35 minutes to cover, takes 6 nights and 7 days in April 1945.
Today was also something destined to be, the culmination of something incredible I am still trying to figure it all out- but this trip is helping me to place in proper context the elements of the greatest crime in the history of the world. As we leave this place of obscene beauty and peace, I think of  the I think of  the survivor’s words:

Remember Me.

Remember. Bergen Belsen, July 5, 2013.

Remember. Bergen Belsen, July 5, 2013.

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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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  Monday, April 29, 2013
Frank this morning at the Museum - P. Fredlake

Frank this morning at the Museum – P. Fredlake

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Dachau. I also got this photo from Peter Fredlake, the director of National Outreach for Teacher Initiatives at the USHMM which he took this morning in Washington.  Big day for Frank!

WASHINGTON (AP) — Elderly survivors of the Holocaust and the veterans who helped liberate them are gathering for what could be their last big reunion at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Some 1,000 survivors and World War II vets are coming together with President Bill Clinton and Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust activist and writer, on Monday when the museum marks its 20th anniversary. Organizers chose not to wait for the 25th milestone because many survivors and vets may not be alive in another five years.

Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wiesel, who both dedicated the museum at its opening in 1993, will deliver keynote speeches. On Sunday night, the museum presented its highest honor to World War II veterans who ended the Holocaust. Susan Eisenhower accepted the award on behalf of her grandfather, U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and all veterans of the era.

The museum also launched a campaign to raise $540 million by 2018 to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and to combat anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and contemporary genocide. It has already secured gifts totaling $258.7 million. The campaign will double the size of the museum’s endowment by its 25th anniversary. Also, a $15 million gift from Holocaust survivors David and Fela Shapell will help build a new Collections and Conservation Center.

Museum Director Sara Bloomfield said organizers wanted to show Holocaust survivors, veterans and rescuers the effort will continue to honor the memory of 6 million murdered Jews, in part by saving lives and preventing genocide in the future.

“We felt it was important, while that generation is still with us in fairly substantial numbers, to bring them together,” Bloomfield said, “to not only honor them, but in their presence make a commitment to them that not only this institution but the people we reach will carry forward this legacy.”

The museum continues collecting objects, photographs and other evidence of the Holocaust from survivors, veterans and archives located as far away as China and Argentina. Curators expect the collection to double in size over the next decade.

This week, the museum is opening a special, long-term exhibit titled “Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity During the Holocaust.” It includes interviews with perpetrators that have never been shown before, as well as details of mass killings in the former Soviet Union that were only uncovered in more recent years.

Curator Susan Bachrach said the exhibit and its research challenge the idea that the Holocaust was primarily about Hitler and other Nazi leaders. Surveys at the museum show that’s what most visitors believe.

“That’s very comforting to people, because it puts distance between the visitors and who was involved,” Bachrach said.

So, the museum set out to look at ordinary people who looked on and were complicit in the killing and persecution of millions of Jews through greed, a desire for career advancement, peer pressure or other factors. It examines influences “beyond hatred and anti-Semitism,” Bachrach said.

Focusing only on fanatical Nazis would be a serious misunderstanding of the Holocaust, Bloomfield said.

“The Holocaust wouldn’t have been possible, first of all, without enormous indifference throughout Germany and German-occupied Europe, but also thousands of people who were, say, just doing their jobs,” she said, such as a tax official who collected special taxes levied against Jews.

In an opening film, some survivors recall being turned over to Nazi authorities in front of witnesses who did nothing. “The whole town was assembled … looking at the Jews leaving,” one survivor recalls.

Steven Fenves was a boy at the time. He recalled how in 1944, Hungary, allied with Nazi Germany, forced his family out of their apartment. The family was deported to Auschwitz, where Fenves’ mother was gassed.

“One of the nastiest memories I have is going on that journey and people were lined up, up the stairs, up to the door of the apartment, waiting to ransack whatever we left behind, cursing at us, yelling at us, spitting at us as we left,” he said in an interview with the museum.

The museum located images of bystanders looking on as Jews were detained, humiliated and taken away.

Non-Jews were also punished for violating German policies against the mixing of ethnic groups. For the first time, the museum is showing striking, rare footage of a ritualistic shaming of a Polish girl and a German boy for having a relationship. They are marched through the streets of a town in Poland, where the film was located in an attic. Dozens of people look on as Nazi officers cut the hair of the two teenagers. They are forced to look at their nearly bald heads in a mirror before their hair is burned.

“It’s hard not to focus on the cruelty that’s being perpetrated on this young couple,” Bachrach said. “But what we really want people to look at … is all the other people who are standing around watching this.”

Other items displayed include dozens of bullets excavated from the site of a mass grave in former Soviet territory and registration cards from city offices in Western and Southern Europe labeling people with a “J” for Jew.

The federally funded museum’s theme for its 20th anniversary is “Never Again: What You Do Matters.” The museum devotes part of its work and research to stopping current and preventing future genocides. A study released by the museum last month found that the longer the current conflict in Syria continues, the greater the danger that mass sectarian violence results in genocide.

Much more is still being learned about the Holocaust, as well, Bloomfield said. The museum is compiling an encyclopedia of all incarceration sites throughout Europe. When the project began, scholars expected to list 10,000 such sites. Now the number stands at 42,000.

The museum opened in 1993 as a living memorial to the Holocaust to inspire people worldwide to prevent genocide. A presidential commission called for such a museum in 1979. Since opening, it has counted more than 30 million visitors. The museum also provides resources for survivors. It has partnered with Ancestry.com to begin making the museum’s 170 million documents searchable online through the World Memory Project.

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As the museum turns 20, officials understand that the demise of those who survived the prison camps as children means looking backward in a different way.

30th ID Colors, Capitol Rotunda, April 11, 2013

30th ID Colors, Capitol Rotunda, April 11, 2013

Tonight is the Nation Tribute Dinner. Frank, Leslie and Elisabeth are there- two survivors and their actual liberator. Tomorrow they get interviewed near the 30th Infantry Division Flag, recently installed in the main foyer of the Museum as a liberating division. About time. I nearly cried when I saw it paraded into the Capitol Rotunda for the Days of Remembrance  commemoration this year. First time! I really think the project helped get the 30th on the recognition radar screen…here is a good article, found on USA Today.

WASHINGTON — The adult survivors of the Holocaust are mostly gone now, and those who survived as children — and were old enough at the time to remember their ordeals — are now in their 70s and 80s.

It won’t be long before no eyewitnesses remain.

That’s why, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum marks its 20th anniversary Monday with more than 750 survivors, museum officials are calling it one of the last large gatherings of those who managed to escape Hitler’s death machine.

For those who have dedicated themselves to teaching future generations about the Holocaust and its victims, the demise of the survivors means looking backward in a different way — a way that no longer includes people looking others straight in the face and recounting what they saw and what they lived.

You can read all the documentation of the Holocaust in the world, said Diane Saltzman, director of survivor affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, “but hearing somebody’s voice, sitting across the table or across the room from a human being, there’s no true substitute.”

Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, wants his classes to understand this.

“I tell my students annually that they have a special responsibility,” he said. “They are the last generation that will be able to say that they personally knew survivors of the Holocaust. It is a big change, just like it was when the last Civil War veteran passed from the scene.”

The Holocaust, now “perceived history,” will become “received” history, Sarna said. The challenge is that it doesn’t recede from memory.

Holocaust educators take heart in the many institutions and younger people committed to ensuring that future generations will know about the 6 million Jews who died; of the concentration camps, gas chambers and crematoria set up to carry out Hitler’s “Final Solution”; and of the 5 million Roma (Gypsies), gay people and others murdered because the Nazis deemed them, like the Jews, unworthy of life.

That’s the mission of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said Saltzman, which has hosted some 35 million visitors since it opened just off the National Mall in 1993. The institution is full of audio and video testimony from survivors, artifacts from their lives before and after they were sent to concentration camps, and films and diaries that document the genocide.

“The museum stands as that eyewitness going forward,” Saltzman said. “We are the repository of all that evidence, and all of those memories.”

From the Washington museum to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem to smaller museums around the world, these institutions preserve history that will soon no longer be passed on firsthand. So, too, does Holocaust literature, from Anne Frank’s famous diary to Night, by survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who will give the keynote speech at the Washington museum’s anniversary Monday, alongside former president Bill Clinton.

The Shoah Foundation, based at the University of Southern California, has videotaped testimony from more than 51,000 survivors since film director Steven Spielberg started the project in 1994, when there were about 350,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide.

Curriculum programs in schools introduce children in the U.S. and elsewhere to the Holocaust, and these programs will continue, even when survivors aren’t part of them anymore.

Norman Frajman, 83, thinks of that day. He was 10 years old when World War II began, and has sharp memories of life in the Warsaw Ghetto and of the Majdanek death camp in eastern Poland, where his mother and younger sister died. All told, he lost 126 members of his immediate and extended family.

“I probably wouldn’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I remember all that happened to me during the carnage,” said Frajman, who now lives in Boynton Beach, Fla., and has been sharing his testimony with schoolchildren for more than 30 years.

But not with young children. “The atrocities are indescribable. I can’t address anyone at the elementary school level,” he said. “It’s too graphic.”

For all the graphic details available from survivors, and primary and secondary texts and film, Holocaust denial still thrives on the Internet and in many parts of the world where anti-Semitism has strong roots.

Even in the presence of Holocaust survivors, there are people who insist the genocide never happened, Sarna said. The hope, when there are no more survivors, is that the museums and the video archives will make it “impossible for most people to accept the word of the deniers.”

In the meantime, as long as he is able, Frajman will tell his story and teach about the Holocaust in hopes of preventing another one. “Yesterday it was directed against the Jews. Tomorrow it could be against Christians, the next day against Muslims — unless people heed and listen,” he said.

But he is optimistic that his words and those of other survivors will resonate long after he is gone.

“Judging by today’s young people that I encounter when I go to schools to speak, we are in for a better tomorrow,” Frajman said. “They listen. They are very perceptive. They take it to heart.”

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 In April  2008 I was accepted into the  United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellowship Program. I was called out of my classroom to the principal’s office-wondering if I was in trouble, I was relieved and excited to learn that he had just received a phone call from Peter Fredlake, the museum official in charge of educational outreach, and that I and 13 other teachers from across the country would be heading to Washington DC for a week that coming summer.

dsc024721I cannot fathom that it was only 5 years ago. How my life has changed.

Since then I have been honored by the Museum director, had a Museum film made about me, and spoken on behalf of its educational program. I’ve helped to gather artifacts for donation to the Museum, and recently helped facilitate the transfer of the liberation photographs to the Museum photo archivist. And next week, I will be proud as the 30th Infantry Division flag is installed in entryway to the Museum, now formally recognized as a liberating division. I’ll probably cry when I return to the Museum this summer and see for myself that it has taken its rightful place.

It all begins with an idea, a vision, though no one knows what doors will be gone through to get there.

As the Museum commemorates it 20th anniversary this month, I’d like to share Michael Berenbaum’s piece below.

April 3, 2013

How the  U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum changed my life

By Michael Berenbaum


My daughter, Ilana, then a young college student, asked if she could go with me to the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, on April 22, 1993 (the date was tied to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising’s 50th anniversary). I said: “I will be leaving very early.” She responded: “I’ll be up.”

I couldn’t wait to get to the museum that morning. First of all, my home was in chaos. My sister and brother-in-law were in from Israel for the occasion. My mother came up from Florida. A couple of days before, they’d had an automobile accident, and, as a result, my mother was in a wheelchair. More importantly, the opening of the museum, which once seemed so far away, had finally arrived. I felt like a bridegroom on his wedding day or an expectant father after 14 years of gestation, filled with joy and anticipation, anxiety and excitement, even a bit of fear.

Ilana, for her part, was normally allergic to mornings. In those days, the only way she would be up at 6 a.m. was if she had pulled an all-nighter. But true to her word, she was ready to go. Then, no sooner had she gotten into the car, she turned to me and said: “It is time to quit.”

I was stunned. “Give me time to enjoy the opening,” I replied lamely.


I had been involved with the creation of the museum on and off for some 14 years. I began my professional life as a young academic teaching at Wesleyan University and serving as university Jewish chaplain when something rather unexpected happened. I was invited by Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg to head Zachor, the Holocaust Remembrance Institute of the National Jewish Conference Center, which he had founded. Then, just after I began my work there, President Jimmy Carter turned to Elie Wiesel to chair the President’s Commission on the Holocaust. Wiesel, in turn, asked Greenberg to be its director. Greenberg had just left City College to direct the Conference Center and was deeply committed there, so he accepted this unprecedented challenge with the understanding that he would not have to move to Washington and would serve only in a part-time capacity. He turned to me to move with my family to Washington, in January 1979, to serve as deputy director for the commission, which in reality meant leading a two-, then later, a three-person staff. We had just moved into a new home in Connecticut, my son, Lev, had been born the spring before, and Ilana had just started kindergarten, but opportunities like that do not come along often, so off we went to Washington.

The commission made three basic decisions in the first nine months of its work. President Carter had charged it with recommending an “appropriate national memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.” And the commission decided upon a “living memorial,” a museum to tell the story of the Holocaust, an educational institution but also an academic research institute, library and archives to teach the Holocaust and its lessons, to enhance scholarship and learning as well as a “Committee on Conscience” to warn of any impending genocide and arouse the conscience of the nation and of world leadership to combat genocide.

Banners commemorating the 20th anniversary hang on the 14th Street entrance to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Second, the museum also would be built in Washington, where it would have to address the American experience as well as the national ethos. Some had argued for New York, then as now, the city with the largest Jewish population in the country. But since museums are always in dialogue with their visitors, the choice of Washington was to prove defining.

Third, the museum would be a public private-partnership, built on public land with private funds and gifted to the American people. At the time, we were in the middle of an energy crisis, a period of high inflation and high debt — or what seemed high at the time — and President Carter, in particular, was not anxious to undertake new expenditures. Working from January to September 1979 we submitted a report to the president, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Council was launched early the next year, first as a presidential initiative and later by a unanimous act of Congress, but not before there was a major struggle between the chairman and the president over the definition of the Holocaust.

At issue was whether the term Holocaust applied only to the 6 million Jews who were murdered, or to the 6 million Jews and the non-Jews who were victimized by the Nazis. President Carter wanted a broad definition, and Wiesel, who had dedicated his distinguished career to preserving the Jewishness of the Holocaust, would not work under the Carter definition. Wiesel had solved the problem of how to deal with non-Jewish victims of Nazism, with language: “While not all the victims were Jews, all Jews were victims.” and. “The uniqueness of the Holocaust is its universality.”

I was caught in the middle, between the president and the chairman, and was summarily fired. Disappointed, I thought that I would never have the opportunity to help build the museum that had just been conceived. I taught, I wrote, I directed the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington.

I began to write about several of the issues that had been central to the commission’s concerns on the Americanization and later the nativization of the Holocaust — the clash between the stories retold on American soil and those which predominate in Israel and elsewhere, and the authentic and inappropriate ways in which past recollections are used to justify the present and to construct a future. And I continue focus much of my writing on this very same issue today, more than three decades later. I also wrote on commemorating the Holocaust and on the issue of the uniqueness and universality of the Holocaust, contending that only by including non-Jewish victims of Nazism could we understand the singularity of Jewish victimization during the Holocaust.


Many people falsely presume that to compare two events — genocides, in this case — is to equate them. In reality, only in comparison can we understand what is distinct about each. We must compare and contrast in order to understand.

Seven years elapsed, and Wiesel resigned as chairman on the eve of his departure to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In the interim, the council had been through several directors and several plans — none successful. I had remained close to the survivors with whom I had always had a special affinity — none more so than Miles Lerman and Benjamin Meed, and I was invited to rejoin the project to preserve its neshama (spirit), first as a consultant and later as project director.

My writings served me well, because I had been struggling with the question central to the museum’s mission: How do you move the audience of that time back 50 years and introduce them to a European event in the heart of the U.S. capital, the locus of the American national experience? How do you transmit an understanding of the Holocaust to the American people so that it resonates with the American narrative while still doing justice to the event? Would Jews — the prime creators of the museum — be courageous enough to bring a Judeo-centric story to the center of American life, and would the American people be interested or dismiss the museum as parochial?

I drew upon everything in my own life experience as a postwar child, born to American parents but taught by refugees and survivors, and attending an Orthodox synagogue established by people who had fled Frankfurt and Antwerp just after Kristallnacht, rebuilding their lives and re-creating the world they had left behind in Europe on American soil in the freedom of the new world.

The museum had been given prime land adjacent to the United States Mint — indeed, a crematorium had once been on the site, where dollars going out of circulation had been burned — and adjacent to the National Mall. Situated at the intersection between the museums of Washington, and the monuments of Washington, the site is also within blocks of the White House and Capitol Hill.

“By the Waters of Babylon we sat and we wept as we remembered Zion,” the Psalmist said.

The place from which you remember an event shapes how the event is remembered.

By its very nature, however, the museum would have to stand in contrast to its surroundings. Everywhere else, Washington’s museums celebrate human achievements in art, science, history, technology, scholarship and learning. The monuments pay homage to the great men (and, soon, women) of history — Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. And governmental Washington is power personified. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum would demonstrate what could happen when human genius and technology, when men of history and the power of government are let loose without the restraints of “checks and balances,” without an appreciation for the “inalienable rights” of all, without separation of powers, without appreciating that all men are created equal.

After several false starts, we had a building replete with symbolism, created by master architect James Ingo Freed. The design included three floors of exhibition space, so the story of the Holocaust would have to be told in three chapters, leading to the question: Does one rise and then descend, or does one climb stairs from floor to floor? As we decided on descent, it became clear that the transition between the National Mall and the Holocaust experience would need to begin in the elevator. Three floors meant three acts to the drama: the World Before and the Rise of Nazism 1933-1939; the Holocaust 1940-1945; and then Resistance and Rescue, Liberation, the Nuremberg Trials and the survivors rebuilding their lives, first in the displaced-person camps and then in the United States and Israel. There were large exhibition spaces and bridges leading to four square rooms, followed by stairs. To fit an exhibition inside such a building, the bridges would serve as transition spaces, the sequential exhibition spaces that followed would lead to a story in four segments. The stairs would mark a descent deeper into the story, more engrossed in the Holocaust narrative.


Still, there was no exhibition.

We created a team. No single individual can create a museum; it takes a village of lay people, donors and professionals, historians and curators, fundraisers and institutional builders working together, despite differences, toward one unified goal. Jeshajahu “Shaike” Weinberg, who had created Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv, came in first as a consultant and later as director to build the museum’s infrastructure to give us the benefit of his wisdom and of his experience. Martin Smith, a distinguished documentary filmmaker, also came on board and was joined by Ralph Appelbaum as the museum’s brilliant designer. I was the scholar of the team and most often the public face to the community, scholars, educators and donors, and we worked so closely that our ideas became enmeshed and often we cannot recall who first advanced the concept.

We knew the museum must become a storytelling institution. The two most powerful means of contemporary storytelling are novels and movies. But while film has a captive audience and moving imagery, a museum is just the opposite; its audience moves, its imagery is captive. (Those who have been to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles can see a hybrid of the two, as that museum uses light and sound to keep its audience walking through its exhibits.) We believed that if we got the narrative right, if we made the story compelling, we could encourage the audience to walk through the exhibition at their own pace and still get the story.

But the story had to be personalized. Six million is a statistic. One person’s experience is a story. We decided that visitors would get an identification card so the events they were to see would be encountered through the lens of the victim whose story they carried with them.

Still, however smart you may think yourself to be, you are much better off if you are also lucky, and the museum has a piece of unbelievable luck. Communism was falling, the Soviet Union was in a steep and inexorable decline, and communist officialdom was looking to turn toward the West and away from Moscow. The museum project came along seeking to obtain artifacts just at a time when contact with Washington was welcomed — and here was a U.S. government project on a Jewish theme. Due to the political skill of Miles Lerman, then chair of the museum’s International Relations Committee, who spoke the native languages and could navigate his way about Eastern Europe — a former partisan, he could drink with the best of them, and that was so necessary in Eastern Europe — we were able to obtain on loan or as a gift many of the thousands of artifacts that comprise the museum, including the railcar of the type that was used to transport Jews from ghettos to death camps and the authentic barracks from Birkenau in which we depict the experience of the death camps. We also obtained one of the two milk cans that Emanuel Ringelblum used to bury the Oneg Shabbes archives in Warsaw; and 5,000 shoes, a dissecting table and a crematorium door from Majdanek, which shape the visitors’ understanding of gassing. Because of the plethora of artifacts, we were able to give the visitors a sense that a story lies behind each artifact.

And even Weinberg, who had pioneered the idea of an artifactless museum, had to change his ideology and help create an evidentiary-based, artifact-grounded exhibition.

We integrated films into the museum experience; 70 audio programs and three major films — one on anti-Semitism and one on the Nazi rise to power. Because the museum is situated in Washington, it had to tell the governmental story: What did America and the West know?  When did it know it? And, most importantly, what did it do with such knowledge? So the visitor pauses in the middle of telling a European story to tell the American story. Twice, the visitor has the choice of seeing any one or all of five short films on pre-World War II American policy on the top floor, and on the bottom floor of the exhibition, the wartime record of the American government. There was no pressure of museum staff or officials to soften the story and make the U.S. government look good. We felt compelled to tell the truth as we knew it, the whole truth as best we could.

We wrestled with the question of how to end the museum; our initial thoughts were trite, and an important story must have a significant ending. We came to the realization that the only ones who could bridge that world with our world would be those who have actually lived in both worlds. The museum could only end with the voices of survivors telling us their stories, brief glimpses into the concentration camp universe, specific understandings of the choiceless choices they were forced to make, moments where they felt some dignity and times when they felt the full measure of their defeat, of their loss. Those who were there were allowed to speak, and they reminded us that for every story that we heard there were 6 million stories that could not be told.

Some wanted an uplifting ending. After all, Americans like it when people live happily after. But although there are many uplifting stories told, in those 90 minutes we experience the whole of humanity — evil incarnate, goodness personified, courage without end, and the most craven of cowardice and everything in between.

The day the museum opened was the coldest April day in the history of Washington. The field beyond the museum, which would hold the massive crowds attending the opening — the survivors and their children and grandchildren, liberators and their families, donors and their descendants who were so very proud of what they had enabled to rise, as well as ordinary Americans who would form the core of the museum’s visitors — held knee-deep mud. The heads of state were there — presidents and prime ministers from many of the countries occupied by the Germans. The invitation to Franjo Tuđjman, the Holocaust-denying president of Croatia, had caused the museum considerable embarrassment. We had followed the advice of the State Department not to create an international incident. We should have remembered that we answered to a higher authority.

More than one survivor said that this was not ordinary rain: “The heavens were crying.” Perhaps they were. The Museum of Tolerance and New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust opened in rainstorms; Yad Vashem opened on a frigidly cold evening, so rare in May.

Menachem Rosensaft, child of Holocaust survivors, put it ever so wisely: “Every once in a while you learn that there is a God. No one should have enjoyed this event, and they couldn’t. And the presidents of Romania and Hungary, France and Germany —and even the president of the United States — were chilled to their bones at this ceremony, as they damn well should be.”


We had a dream that if we built it, they would come.

The farmer from Iowa and the factory worker from Detroit, schoolchildren from Maine to Florida, from Oregon to Texas, teachers and scholars, soldiers and policemen, heads of states and ordinary citizens — in the days and years that followed, the number of visitors exceeded even our most exalted of dreams in quantity — we dreamed of 1 million; we averaged almost twice that number — and, more importantly, in quality. Jews and non-Jews, Americans of all races and creeds, ages and educational backgrounds. Museums in Washington tend to be white institutions — not so the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I turned to my daughter that morning with tears in my eyes. I understood that we had all paid a price, a steep price for the creation of this institution. I had worked on it 24/6 for many long years while raising my children, and having them in my sole custody. I had gone from youth to middle age. I had lost my father. I had divorced. My children had endured my absence and at times my distracted presence. They had grown up surrounded by ongoing discussions of death and destruction. Ilana had written her college essay on growing up with Zyklon B in the garage, just behind her tennis racket and skis. This was my life, and I chose it, but because of that choice it became theirs. I asked her indulgence: “Allow me to enjoy the opening,” I pleaded. And so she did.

Was it worth it? Surely it was.

Was the price to be paid steep? Yes. Would I do it again? In a minute; yet, hopefully, differently.

Still, my daughter intuited something I did not then know. I was soon to face an existential problem: What do you do after you have done everything you wanted to do? I was in my mid-40s, too young and too poor to retire. And stuck in the notion that for some of us, there is more challenge in creating something than in managing it.

Ilana and I spoke deeply that day. I told her that I could now die. Now she was stunned. I reassured her, seeing the look on her face: “Don’t worry, hopefully I won’t; and I have much, so much, to live for — but I could die and face my Maker saying that what I had done with the talents and the opportunities that I was given was worthy of a life. That feeling has never left me.

What do you do with the rest of your life? I now answer that day by day through new challenges, and wonderful and important opportunities to serve, grow, learn and contribute.

 http://www.jewishjournal.com/ yom_hashoah/article/how_the_u.s._holocaust_memorial_museum_changed_my_life/

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Today is the 68th anniversary of the liberation of the train. We’ll have 80 for the final banquet tonight.

I am here in Louisville, KY at the reunion of 12 WW2 soldiers of the 30th Infantry Division and 5 Holocaust survivors who were given new life by these guys 68 years ago. And lots of 2nd generation and 3rd generation-sons and daughters, children and grandchildren, many here meeting their liberators for the first time.

In many ways it is a spiritual event.

Frank gave the introduction and described his role in transporting the prisoners from the train to safety. I spoke on how there were too many random “quirks of fate” to attribute this present gathering to coincidence. Had my wishes come true, and had I never returned to my hometown as I had hoped when I left it for college, the room would have been half empty. I would have never interviewed the tank commander who told me his story. None of these survivors would have known the rest of the story, so to speak; perhaps the soldiers too-

John D. thanked me afterward, describing his time carrying his rifle across Europe as a combat infantryman nearly seventy years ago. He told me now he knows, after meeting the survivors that he helped to liberate, what the true meaning of FREEDOM is, and what he fought for. He thanked me, a teacher. I resisted. He insisted. That about blew me away.

There was more to come.

Kurt and Gideon, “new” survivors, gave testimony for the first time to their liberators. Emotional. True freedom. Kurt remarked that he felt it when the Americans uttered “One Only” as nearly two dozen survivors were shown a clean room after liberation and proceed to attempt to occupy it. To be able to close the door when entering a bathroom, alone.

Eve, Kurt’s daughter, remarked through tears how she knew emotions would overwhelm, but she carried on and read fellow 2nd Generation survivor Sandy’s poem “I am a Survivor”.

She spoke of how difficult it was to grow up, with her two loving parents, knowing what they had been through-how do you, as a teen,  issue the normal teenage complaints when your parents had had it so much worse when they were your age? She ends beaming at her audience through wet eyes, the soldiers of World War II and their families who are returning the love in spades over this weekend.

Later I was very moved at Friday dinner when Gideon’s daughter gathered the children and others in the front, after calling our attention, and thanking God for these soldiers coming into their lives on April 13, 1945 and again now. Candles were lit, prayers were said, and Shabbat was ushered in, and we broke bread together, Gentile and Jew, survivor and soldier, sharing laughter and tears.

More later. For now would like to leave you with an account of the liberation by survivor Aliza Vitis-Shomron, who was recently featured in an AP article about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. She, too, was a teen in the spring of 1945…


In Bergen Belsen

It is spring outside. The news we get from the older German soldiers who treat us humanely is that the end is approaching. Beyond the fence of the Dutch camp there is an open field. The wind brings in a horrible smell from there. In the distance we can see circles of smoke rising, and dark figures busy round the fire. What are they carrying? They are corpses for which there is no room in the crematorium, they are burning them on the ground one by one. Their ashes mingle with the soil, the rain creates human mud.

“All are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” – said the Lord.

Maybe that is God’s will – if He exists at all.

Human beings: beautiful, with black eyes, blue eyes; writers, teachers, students, disappointed lovers, proud, cowardly, selling fish on the market, fathers and mothers and those who had not yet tasted love. “The Chosen Jewish People” burnt like dung in the field.

At the beginning of 1945 the winter was hard. What may have saved us from starvation and death were the Red Cross parcels that arrived in March.

At the beginning of spring 1945 the cannons thundered. We felt that the end for the Germans was near, and there were many indications that it was so. The main one was that they stopped giving us food. Every day we stood at the fence along the main road, waiting for the soup which came late, often only in the evening.

Evacuation from Bergen-Belsen

Allied planes fly above us making a dull sound and there is nothing to stop them. A few days ago there was an air battle between English and German planes, right above the camp. I hid with the others under the bunks, not that I was afraid, but a shrewd thought was on my mind: Now, just before liberation and the end of the war, I could be killed by an allied bullet or bomb…

I am sure there is no God, only chance rules my life. There is no one to pray to, no one to beg – maybe my lucky star that has protected me until now will continue to do so… Will I manage to survive? A sweet feeling of revenge fills me as I realize that our murderers are also suffering and being killed! My strength        has waned, my feet are swollen from hunger, I have become apathetic to my surroundings.

On the 8th [7th] April, an unexpected order came to prepare for evacuation. We heard the thunder of cannons in the distance, they said that the city of Hanover was in the hands of the allied armies. And they are approaching the little town of Celle. Evacuation? Where? To the gas chambers?

There was a terrible smell in the air. I was hardened, cynical, no longer capable of feeling anything. After the terrible murders in Block Ten, adjacent to us, nothing could move me. I remembered I had to survive to tell the world about my friends. I hugged my mother and sister. They mustn’t separate us!

Mother consults uncle Leon Melamed. Aunt Irena, practical as usual, is already packing the most important things. “There is nothing we can do,” she says with typical decisiveness. “We have no choice. There is no point in staying in a camp that is no longer getting supplies of food. We’ll starve before they come to liberate us.” We agree with her. We get into a long line, men, women and the children who are with us, hundreds of Jews from various blocks.

The people’s faces mainly express uncertainty and acceptance of the situation. We again pass by the piles of skeletons, new ones every day. In the huge concentration camp on the other side of the road we see shadowy figures moving.

Mother and I take the few remaining clothes, the notes I have written in the camp and on the Aryan side, and a passport photo of father. We have no personal documents, nothing reminiscent of our previous life. Mother has only a silver fruit knife that she took with us when we went to the “selektzia” in Warsaw. My legs won’t carry me. We have to go eight kilometers to the railway station in Celle. The road seems endless, the body is weak and not used to moving. Every step calls for an inhuman effort. We crawl along slowly.

Gavriela is carrying her five-year-old brother on her back. Her face is red with the effort. The child has no strength left, he is apathetic. Their mother walks beside them and slaps him gently on his face. Her legs are also swollen from hunger. I walk on. I can’t help them, I have no strength left.

Suddenly a man walks up to me. I recognize him: It is my neighbor, from the next bunk. Without a word he puts his arms under my armpits and drags me along. I lean on him with all the weight of my body. I didn’t get to know him, although we “lived next door”; and now he is helping me!

Who can understand the depths of good and evil in the hearts of men! This small deed, the hand held out in support at a critical moment, imbued me with hope and strength to continue on my own.

People begin to drop their belongings. We also stop every fifteen minutes and sadly throw down a few things. At the end of the march my backpack only holds a little food and two or three items of underclothes.

This experience has affected my life-long attitude to things. Losing things or parting with them means nothing to me, causes me no sorrow. They certainly have no value in themselves, only if they are connected to some precious memory.

My legs are swollen and hurt. I can’t feel them any longer. I long to sit down, to rest, to close my eyes and disappear… I struggle constantly against this urge. Mother is dragging herself along, but walks erect, as always. Mirka walks along well. Suddenly we see railway carriages. Surprisingly, they are normal “pullmans”, not freight cars. The exhausted people lie down on the platform. At the station we are given a little food and water. The journey has begun.

The most precious turnips

We traveled by train for eight days. The train moved little, it remained standing a great deal. The frontline was everywhere and chaos all around us. German families flee with their belongings in all directions in carts and on foot. Have they been encircled? What a cheerful thought! Our leaders and various oracles, experts in solving riddles and interpreting rumors, say that the Germans want to use us as hostages. Besides our group, hundreds of Dutch, Greek and Hungarian Jews are with us on the train, all supposed to be exchanged, from the special camps in Bergen-Belsen. In the meantime the most important thing is to get hold of food.

During one of the stops I saw people jumping from the train and rolling down. I also wanted to do so, but my sister was quicker and out already. I joined her. We rolled down the high embankment to a wonderful pile of animal feed, yellow turnips. I filled up my dress feverishly, grabbing as much as I could carry and hop – climbed back. But at the moment when all the children and youth began climbing up, guards on the roof of the train opened fire on us. The Germans were apparently surprised and reacted late. I ran and lost my sister. I didn’t see a thing, but I was determined to get the turnips into the carriage. The bullets whistled around us, but I didn’t drop the turnips. I didn’t even look back to see who fell and who survived. Only on reaching the top, under cover, did I look back in great fear, in search of Mirka. She stood up next to me, trembling but smiling. We had food for the rest of the journey.

The danger is not over yet…

After a six-day journey we approached the frontline. We realized that we were apparently traveling southeast. The “experts” say that we are approaching a large city in central Germany, Magdeburg, on the banks of the Elbe.

One day the officer commanding the military escort called our representatives. He was well-mannered and received them politely. Hela Schüpper wrote in her book: “The commander took off his military cap and turned to the Jews in fear: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the end of the war is near. What shall we do?’

Engineer Solovieczyk advised him to surrender to the Allies and put up a white flag on the roof of the train.” Our representatives came back and described the amazing meeting excitedly: The German asked the Jews for advice! Maybe he’ll also ask them for help? That’s a good sign.

In the night the whole escort team fled, using the locomotive. What will happen now, to us? We were alone. Slowly, people started leaving the carriages, the train was standing in the middle of a field. I also got off, with my faithful friend Tusia (Rina Altbecker). We saw a small pond not far away, and “our people” were catching little fish there. Those among them with initiative found a tin, made a fire and cooked the fish. We joined in, glad to share the job.

We breathe fresh air, the sky is clear, it is spring. Although we are weak, exhausted by hunger, hope is reflected in all the faces. Of course, there are also some “ravens”, prophesying that the Germans will not give up as long as they can harm us, but who listens to them? Mother is also pessimistic.

Visiting a village

Mirka and I join the stream of people going to the nearby village of Ferstleben [Farsleben]. The village houses are pretty, clean, surrounded by gardens with fruit trees. We entered a garden in fulllbloom. I knocked on the door of the house. A woman wearing a big apron came out. Her face expressed amazement at the two figures facing her. Evidently we looked like ghosts.

“Kartofel, Kartofel, bitte,” (Potatoes, potatoes, please) I whispered. At that moment the woman started to scream. I didn’t understand a word. She pushed us out. I ran to the trees and began to shake them, so the blossoms fell off the branches. A large stone flew at me. We ran away.

That was the first and last time I asked for food. I felt ashamed. Mirka and I decided not to tell mother about it.

The fate of the certificates

That night we were right in the frontline. We spent the night lying under the carriages. We did not dare flee from there, there was nowhere to go. To hide in the German village? They’ll chase us away like dogs and hand us over to the authorities. We had no choice but to remain in the carriages and underneath them. Whatever happens to the others will also happen to us. Cannon shells flew above us with a terrifying noise. They may have aimed at the train… It was a miracle that we survived till the next morning.

Before dawn the locomotive returned with our escort. People who got out of the carriages in the morning were amazed to see lots of pieces of paper floating on the small pond. They looked strange, and they had not been there on the previous day. When they went to look at them, they were devastated: these were our certificates and other papers protecting us! So we did have such papers. It wasn’t just a deception by the Germans!

{After the war the mystery was solved: as I wrote, at the end of 1944 a group of two thousand Hungarian Jews from Budapest came to Bergen-Belsen, on their way to Switzerland. Our leaders gave them a list of our names, and they passed it on to the Swiss and Jewish institutions in Palestine, trying to save Jews. Apparently it was only then that they sent us the certificates; now at the end of the war, the Germans found them useless.}

But the Germans escorting us had a different plan for getting rid of us. They didn’t want to let the birds in their hands escape, even though the Allies had already encircled them on all sides.


Suddenly someone ran from carriage to carriage, screaming in terror: “The Germans want to drown the train in the river Elbe. Save yourselves!”

At the height of the panic, when we heard shots in the distance, we ran outside. People burst out of the carriages. Suddenly someone shouted:

“The Americans are coming!”

To our great surprise, a tank came slowly down the hill opposite, followed by another one. I ran towards the tank, laughing hysterically. It stopped. I embraced the wheels, kissed the iron plates.

The amazed soldier who came out called his friends and they immediately started throwing chocolate to us. They smiled in embarrassment and didn’t know what to do. We had won the war!

It was the 13th April 1945.

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Marc Silver

National Geographic News

Published April 8, 2013

 Note: This is from National Geographic. As the nations commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Week, I’ll be flying to Louisville for the annual 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World war II reunion to take part in the reuniting of 5 survivors with the division that liberated them. The 30th will also be honored with a flag in the annual national ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda. In April 2010 I was honored to be in attendance at the Rotunda ceremony with 121 liberators and dozens of survivors.

I will post more about these events later. In the meantime, if you have not read the news below, it is a staggering development.

The map of the Third Reich is being dramatically redrawn.

Thirteen years ago, when he started digging into the past to document the number and nature of Nazi-era ghettos and camps, scholar Geoffrey Megargee expected to identify perhaps 7,000 sites. He vastly underestimated his task. More than 42,200 sites will be named in the planned seven-volume encyclopedia that he is editing: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945.

This week is Holocaust remembrance week in the United States, with an official ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on April 11 at 11 a.m. For the latest insights into the Nazi era, we spoke with Megargee and Martin Dean, editor of volume two of the encyclopedia: Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe.

“To document this on a map and see how the Holocaust affected every single community throughout Europe makes quite clear the scope of the Nazi regime’s murder campaign,” says Dean.

Investigating the Sites

To be included in the encyclopedia, a site had to have housed at least 20 people and have been in existence for at least a month. In addition, it had to have been identified on a map—not the easiest thing to do when some towns in question have changed their names several times since  World War II ended.

The scholars drew upon past research and interviews with survivors but also sought records that have “disappeared into archives in a dozen different countries,” says Megargee. Many of the archives were behind the Iron Curtain until the 1990s, off limits to outside scholars. Even now some are restricted.

The sites include the extermination camps where gas chambers were built for “the final solution” of murdering the Jewish people. But that’s only part of the project’s scope.

“We’re not just looking at sites directly involved with the Holocaust,” says Megargee, “but [also] with the entire range of persecutory facilities that the Nazis and their allies ran.”

Forced Laborers Everywhere

Each listing has a careful yet hair-raising description of the site, drawing from records as well as survivor testimony. Many of the encyclopedia entries were forced labor camps.

“Think of what life was like in Germany,” Megargee says. “There were foreign forced laborers in every conceivable kind of business: farms, factories, retail shops, hospitals, railroads. You couldn’t go anywhere in Germany without encountering people being held against their will and forced to work. Their rights were being violated.”

And it would have been no secret to German citizens that these laborers were in their midst. “Even in a large city, you know who lives in your neighborhood—and who doesn’t,” Megargee says. “And you could see barracks where these forced laborers lived.”

Workers thought to be shirking their duties were sent to work education camps. They faced up to eight weeks of very hard labor along with beatings and possibly solitary confinement. If there was evidence of a change in behavior, the worker could go back to the forced labor camp. If not, he or she might be sent to a concentration camp.

The Work Education Camp Watenstedt-Salzgitter, established “in some woods just to the northeast of Hallendorf” in Germany, could hold about 800 female prisoners and 1,000 males at a time. The Encyclopedia entry mentions 492 documented deaths there in 1942 attributed to “weak heart” or “shot while trying to escape.” A survivor of the camp recalls an SS man “who beat the prisoners on their way to breakfast.” (There were Jewish inmates at this camp, but in most forced labor and work education camps in Germany, the internees were typically non-Jewish Europeans.)

Staggering Death Rate

Megargee says some of the categories of sites he found were “particularly surprising or horrible.” The so-called Care Facilities for Foreign Women and Their Children were essentially holding pens for female workers, typically from Eastern Europe, who had become pregnant. At an earlier stage in the Nazi regime, these women would have been sent home to have the child. After 1943, they were sent to the Care Facilities, where “the baby was either aborted or, after birth, would be killed by slow starvation,” says Megargee.

European Jews were first confined to ghettos. When the ghettos were shut down, most Jews were killed; only a few were selected for work and sent to forced labor and concentration camps, where they again were periodically selected to continue working or to be killed. The death rate for European Jews in the camps and ghettos was a “staggering” 90 percent, compared with 10 percent for the foreign workers held in German forced labor camps, Dean notes.

The Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos pays tribute to those many millions imprisoned and slaughtered by the Nazis by its memorialization of all the site names. On its pages a reader will find camps that few people have heard of, like the work camp at St. Martin’s Cemetery in Poznan, Poland, where Jews had to excavate Polish graves to look for gold teeth, jewelry, or brass, and even smash up the headstones for the Nazi war effort. And there are the infamous names etched in the world’s memory, like Auschwitz-Birkenau with its gas chambers.

“This is giving recognition to all of the thousands of places where people suffered and died,” says Martin, “that would otherwise fade from people’s consciousness.”


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