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Posts Tagged ‘World War II Living History Project’

Seventy one years ago, it began. Hitler’s last gamble would claim more American lives than any battle in U.S. History. Frank Curry was there, and on a cold winter day in December, saved five men and kille scores of Germans singlehandedly. Frank was in the 30th Infantry Division, which liberated the Train Near Magdeburg; he came to our school.

The morning of December 16, 1944. A lonely outpost on the Belgian frontier.

“Both the enemy and the weather could kill you, and the two of them together was a pretty deadly combination.” Bulge veteran Bart Hagerman. Photo: George Silk/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images Dec 20, 1944

In subzero temperatures, the last German counteroffensive of World War II had begun. Nineteen thousand American lives would be lost in the Battle of the Bulge. “Hell came in like a freight train. I heard an explosion and went back to where my friend was. His legs were blown off-he bled to death in my arms.” The average age of the American “replacement” soldier? 19.

Of the sixteen million American men and women who served in WWII, four and a quarter hundred thousand died on the field of conflict. In 2015, on the downward bell curve slope, nearly 500 veterans of World War II quietly slip away every day. The national memory of the war that did more than any other event in the last century to shape the history of the American nation is dying with them. The Germans threw 250,000 well trained troops and tanks against a lightly defended line on the Ardennes frontier in Belgium and Luxembourg, which created a pocket or “bulge” in the Allied offensive line, the objective being to drive to the port of Antwerp to split the American and British advance and force a separate peace with the Western Allies. What ensued was the bloodiest battle in American history. It saddens me that it comes as a shock to many Americans today that the “Battle of the Bulge” didn’t originate as a weight-loss term.

On a personal note, I have had the privilege of interviewing many of the veterans of this battle. In the high school where I teach, I have been inviting veterans to my classroom to share their experiences with our students. As their numbers dwindled, I smartened up, bought a camera, and began to record their stories. And for the past decade, I have been sending kids out into the field to record the stories of World War II before this generation fades altogether. These men and women have helped to spark students’ interest in finding out more about our nation’s past and the role of the individual in shaping it. In our books we have worked to weave the stories of our community’s sacrifices into the fabric of our national history. And that, to me, is what teaching history should be all about. After all, if we allow ourselves to forget about the teenager who bled to death in his buddy’s arms, if we overlook the sacrifices it took to make this nation strong and proud, we may as well forget everything else. I shudder for this country when I see what we have all forgotten, so soon. But if you are taking the time to read this post I suppose I am preaching to the saved.

I will close with the account of a nineteen year old infantryman who in fact survived the battle and the war, and who I was able to introduce to many Hudson Falls students on more than one occasion. Sixty-nine years ago this December, a day began that would forever change his life.  Frank is now the only living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II left in New York State and New England.

In the winter of 1944, nineteen year old Private First Class Currey’s infantry squad was fighting the Germans in the Belgian town of Malmédy to help contain the German counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge. Before dawn on December 21, Currey’s unit was defending a strong point when a sudden German armored advance overran American antitank guns and caused a general withdrawal. Currey and five other soldiers—the oldest was twenty-one—were cut off and surrounded by several German tanks and a large number of infantrymen. They began a daylong effort to survive.

Francis Currey MOH and Ned Rozell March 2010-Ned is friends with the last WWII Medal of Honor recipient in NY and NE, Frances Currey. Yes, the special edition GI Joe he signed for Ned is 19 yr. old Frank!

Francis Currey MOH and Ned Rozell March 2010-Ned is friends with the last WWII Medal of Honor recipient in NY and NE, Frances Currey. Yes, the special edition GI Joe he signed for Ned is 19 yr. old Frank!

The six GIs withdrew into an abandoned factory, where they found a bazooka left behind by American troops. Currey knew how to operate one, thanks to his time in Officer Candidate School, but this one had no ammunition. From the window of the factory, he saw that an abandoned half-track across the street contained rockets. Under intense enemy fire, he ran to the half-track, loaded the bazooka, and fired at the nearest tank. By what he would later call a miracle, the rocket hit the exact spot where the turret joined the chassis and disabled the vehicle.

Moving to another position, Currey saw three Germans in the doorway of an enemy-held house and shot all of them with his Browning Automatic Rifle. He then picked up the bazooka again and advanced, alone, to within fifty yards of the house. He fired a shot that collapsed one of its walls, scattering the remaining German soldiers inside. From this forward position, he saw five more GIs who had been cut off during the American withdrawal and were now under fire from three nearby German tanks. With antitank grenades he’d collected from the half-track, he forced the crews to abandon the tanks. Next, finding a machine gun whose crew had been killed, he opened fire on the retreating Germans, allowing the five trapped Americans to escape.

Deprived of tanks and with heavy infantry casualties, the enemy was forced to withdraw. Through his extensive knowledge of weapons and by his heroic and repeated braving of murderous enemy fire, Currey was greatly responsible for inflicting heavy losses in men and material on the enemy, for rescuing 5 comrades, 2 of whom were wounded, and for stemming an attack which threatened to flank his battalion’s position.

At nightfall, as Currey and his squad, including the two seriously wounded men, tried to find their way back to the American lines, they came across an abandoned Army jeep fitted out with stretcher mounts. They loaded the wounded onto it, and Currey, perched on the jeep’s spare wheel with a Browning automatic rifle in his hand, rode shotgun back to the American lines.

After the war in Europe had officially ended, Major General Leland Hobbs made the presentation on July 27, 1945, at a division parade in France.

source material Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier.

 

Frank signs autographs at our school.
Frank signs autographs at our school.

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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.

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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!”

BY RACHEL MURPHY
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.

http://romeobserver.com/articles/2013/03/15/news/doc5140d89a9dd53321768186.txt?viewmode=fullstory

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It was six years ago this evening, we shared a meal on the eve of Shabbat, after watching ourselves on a national broadcast that reached millions. Why does it seem, so long ago?

Maybe because it all seems so unbelievable- that out of the darkness of the past, on a day when the sun dawned clearly and was warming the Earth in its mid-April morning ascent, a low rumble was heard by  hushed and huddled groupings of tormented humanity as they strained to hope for friends amidst their lurking murderers. As the metallic clanking grew louder, over the horizon broke the earthly angels, two Sherman light tanks and an American Jeep with the emblem of the white star. A cry broke out. They realized they were saved, and the American major snapped a photograph at the exact moment the overjoyed survivors realized it.

And out of the past on a warm September day, we brought them all together again. Who would have believed that 62 years later, a high school in a quiet, rural part of the world would  bring the soldier-liberators and the rescued survivors together from the US, Canada, Israel and elsewhere? All because I couldn’t let go of a good narrative history, and pursued the story behind the photographs that proved it really happened?

And think about the risk you run, inviting hundreds of octogenarians to come to a high school for half a week to mingle with thousands of high school and middle schoolers? Talk about sweating bullets. What if they are uncomfortable? Cranky? Complaining? What if the kids I can’t control are rude? And what if one of these “old” folks, who I don’t even know, dies on our watch? I would lie awake at night wondering if I was out of my mind.

But the miracle came to be-for the two dozen or so elders who could come, tears flowed, wine spilled, and our “new grandparents” danced with young teenagers who adored them, but only after the risk was accepted, with the enthusiastic help of Mary Murray, Tara Winchell-Sano, and Lisa Hogan, Rene Roberge and others. Have a look at the videos, and feel the love. We created ripples, and tripped the wires of the cosmos, and the reverberations are still echoing. To date, with Varda Weisskopf’s and Frank Towers’ help, the list is at 275 survivors whom we have found. And how many generations has it effected?

This is the subject of my second book, due out this next summer. In the meantime, I am working on a shorter work of what I have learned in teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. So take a look at the videos, and remember the words of the liberator:

“Here we are! We have arrived!”

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April 15th 1945                                                                                                                   Somewhere in Germany

You will probably be wondering who I am and what business I have, writing to you.- I am one of the millions of soldiers of the United States Army, who is fighting for all the oppressed peoples of the world and hopes to have reestablished decency and honor to all mankind, with the defeat of Hitlerism.

*****

My friend Varda in Israel sent me a copy of this letter she recently received from the widow of  Mr. Shmuel ‘Tommy’ Huppert of Israel. In it, an American soldier is taking the time to write to the husband of a Holocaust survivor to let him know that his wife and young son (Tommy) have been liberated, and that they have survived the horrors of the Holocaust and the carnage of ‘Hitlerism’.

Young Tommy and his mother, Mrs. Hilde Huppert,  were liberated at Farsleben on the transport from Bergen Belsen on April 13th, 1945. They managed to get to Palestine shortly after liberation, bringing with them many, many orphaned children, including my friend Lily Cohen.  Hilde’s manuscript, Hand in Hand with Tommy, was one of the first Holocaust memoirs completed after the war and a cathartic way for her to attempt to come to terms with what had happened.

It took years to be properly published, as it was originally rejected because it was ‘too soon after the war’. Later, at 93 years of age, Hilde was asked if there was anything specific she wished to convey to American readers of her book. She replied, ‘Tell them I will never forget those American GIs who liberated us from the Germans…I can still recall their amazed faces in that dusty jeep and the U.S. Army symbol. I remember kissing one of them, and I want the American people to know that I am grateful to them.’

 


READ ALL ABOUT IT IN MY BOOK HERE


One of the soldiers, on the Sunday following the Friday liberation, took the time to send this note on her behalf to her husband in Palestine. It now resides in the collection at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Authority.

4-15-45 Gartner to Huppert 1

April 15th 1945                                                                                                                      Somewhere in Germany

Dear Mr. Huppert,

You will probably be wondering who I am and what business I have, writing to you.- I am one of the millions of soldiers of the United States Army, who is fighting for all the oppressed peoples of the world and hopes to have reestablished decency and honor to all mankind, with the defeat of Hitlerism.

Two days ago, it was the priviledge (sic) of our unit, to be able to liberate a trainload full of people of all nations imaginable, who were being transferred from a concentration camp near Hannover, to some other place. Our advances were so swift, that the SS guards, left this particular train where it was and took off.

That is how I became acquainted with your wife, Mrs. Hilde Huppert, who asked me to drop you this note, saying, that both she and your son Tommy, are both healthy and well and now being well taken care of by our military governmental authorities. In actual fact, your wife wrote a message for you on a piece of paper in pencil, which she asked me to convey to you. Unfortunately, however, the penciled lines faded in my pocket, and I can no longer read what was written on it. The contents of the message, though, was to let you know that your wife and son are both safe and sound.

I am sure that your wife will soon be able to get into contact with you directly through the Red Cross, and I hope that in a none too distant future, your family will once more be peacefully united.

Sincerely yours,

Cpl. Frank Gartner

Fluent in many languages, Gartner was the translator for the 743rd Tank Battalion’s commander, Col. Duncan. He was originally from Estonia, and resided in Los Angeles, California.

BOOK HERE

If anyone knows more about Frank Gartner, please contact me at matthew @ teachinghistorymatters.com.. 

Transcribed by Alanna Belanger’15 and Alexis Winney ’15.

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My good friend in Israel let me know that the April 15th  commemoration of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem in Israel was a moving event and sent me the link to the video of the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation. While my work at piecing together the  narrative and the story behind the Major Benjamin photograph was not detailed, the photo which now seems to be becoming a cornerstone of the history of Holocaust liberation is all throughout the ceremony and especially at 8:31. One of my friends, a survivor who had been a six year old boy on this transport that Major Benjamin photographed at the moment his jeep arrived at the train, notes,

The photograph wouldn’t be there if not for your effort. It was presiding on 1.5 hrs of national ceremony in the presence of Israel’s president, prime minister, the entire government, the top army guys, survivors, chief rabbis and was nationally broadcast. You have a direct hand in this.

Me, a lowly teacher, whose work for an evening is presiding over presidents and prime ministers. I am proud and hope that the story is told over and over, and that it serves the memory of the victims, the survivors, and the liberators well. I just can’t believe sometimes this path I have been down, since the day 14 years ago when I took the time to listen to a war veteran, and began to backtrack his story.  There are other forces at work here, I think… and there is a cosmic force that reverberates in you when you teach the Holocaust from the heart.

Teachers out there, you all know the power of what we do. I hope this serves as an affirmation.

 

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Matthew Rozell is a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow and teaches history at his alma mater in upstate New York. His work has resulted in the reuniting of 275 Holocaust survivors and the American soldiers who freed them.

His first book, ‘The Things Our Fathers Saw’, is being released to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. His second book, in progress, is on the power of  teaching, remembering the Holocaust, the Benjamin photograph and this “Train Near Magdeburg’. He can be reached at marozell at gmail dot com.

 

 

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"The anguish of the liberation and return to life". Note the Benjamin photograph on the banner.

“The anguish of the liberation and return to life”. Note the Benjamin photograph on the banner. From the Yad Vashem website.

Fourteen summers ago I sat down to listen to an old gentleman in a rocking chair. A  war weary tank commander in 1945, he told me stories of his World War II experiences and then showed me a picture that his major had taken on April 13, 1945. You see, he was there. It would be the first time in decades that this picture had seen the light of day. And because of its discovery, and what we would do with it, thousands of lives were about to change.

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Authority in Israel, contacted me in December 2014 to inquire about using the Major Benjamin photo. I did immediately send them a high resolution copy. My friend in Israel writes, ‘[The photograph above was taken] during the main ceremony at  the Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem. This photo shows the President of Israel Reuven Rivlin make his speech. You can see your photo there at the middle (banner) and I now think it was there throughout all the ceremony.’

I hope that whoever was present or sees this photograph will visit our website to learn the powerful story behind this amazing photograph in the context of the 70th anniversary of the liberation. No wonder the survivors of the train refer to April 13th as the day they were reborn. Below is the proper information.

Matthew Rozell

From Yad Vashem:

Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah in Hebrew) is a national day of commemoration in Israel, on which the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust are memorialized. It is a solemn day, beginning at sunset on the 27th of the month of Nisan and ending the following evening, according to the traditional Jewish custom of marking a day. Places of entertainment are closed and memorial ceremonies are held throughout the country. The central ceremonies, in the evening and the following morning, are held at Yad Vashem and are broadcast on the television. Marking the start of the day-in the presence of the President of the State of Israel and the Prime Minister, dignitaries, survivors, children of survivors and their families, gather together with the general public to take part in the memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem in which six torches, representing the six million murdered Jews, are lit. The following morning, the ceremony at Yad Vashem begins with the sounding of a siren for two minutes throughout the entire country. For the duration of the sounding, work is halted, people walking in the streets stop, cars pull off to the side of the road and everybody stands at silent attention in reverence to the victims of the Holocaust. Afterward, the focus of the ceremony at Yad Vashem is the laying of wreaths at the foot of the six torches, by dignitaries and the representatives of survivor groups and institutions. Other sites of remembrance in Israel, such as the Ghetto Fighters’ Kibbutz and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, also host memorial ceremonies, as do schools, military bases, municipalities and places of work. Throughout the day, both the television and radio broadcast programs about the Holocaust. In recent years, other countries and Jewish communities have adopted Yom Hashoah, the 27th of Nisan, to mark their own day of memorial for the victims of the Holocaust.

Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 2015 will be on Thursday, 16 April. The State opening ceremony will be held at Yad Vashem on Wednesday 15 April at 20:00.

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

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

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

0417151104-00

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

We stop and we pause, to reflect and remember.

Key take-aways from my presentation:

 

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Barry:  Is this a beautiful person?

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

 

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April 17th. (1945)

Dear Chaplain;-

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

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

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

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

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

As ever,

Charles.

March 11th, 2009

Dear Mr. Rozell:

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

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

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

Thank you,
Mark A.

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Friday the 13th. Today is the 70th anniversary, to the day.

This account comes to me from a survivor’s son who lives in Hungary. He had read of Carrol Walsh’s passing on the internet and contacted me. It is Carrol who is commanding one of these tanks. Sgt. George Gross commanded the other, and took photographs.

I just came across this website . My father was on this train.
He passed away twenty years ago, in April 1992.

Here is an excerpt from his memoirs about his liberation day.
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Translation from my father’s Memoirs pp. 302-304.
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The day of April 13 1945 was a Friday and a sunny and windy day. In the morning, the SS opened the doors of the freight cars, after they had argued with each other whether they should kill us with their submachine guns. But the US troops were too close.

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Perhaps it was an older SS man who prevented our execution. Later that day, a Jewish woman, who had been his lover in the camp, saved him from becoming a prisoner of war or worse. She got him civilian clothes, I do not know how. The same woman became the lover of an American soldier later.
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Several hundred people wrapped in rags streamed through the open doors, if they could be called people at all. We were all mere skeletons.

The train was idling in a deepening, so I climbed uphill, across a road and to a field. I was pulling out potatoes planted on the field, when a motorcycle approached. It was a motorcycle with a side-car. There was an elegant SS or Nazi leader in the front: I could not decide, since he was wearing a mixture of uniform and civilian clothes. It must have been his wife sitting behind him and his child in the side-car. He pulled over and offered me a cigarette. I told him I did not smoke, so he closed his silver-looking cigarette-case and started the engine.
He seemed to hesitate about the direction he should take.

Prisoner taken. Photo by tank commander George C Gross, April, 1945.

Prisoner taken. Photo by tank commander George C Gross, April, 1945.

Then two small American tanks arrived. I was standing in the middle of the road, and noticed that the American soldier leaning out of the turret of one of the tanks aimed his gun at me.
The tank came closer and closer, and the soldier lowered his submachine gun. I must have looked terrible, so he did not take me for an enemy. I was lucky he had not shot me from the distance, since my small coat and boots vaguely resembled a military uniform. Lice were crawling all over my clothes and skin.

The few hundred former inhabitants of the concentration camp surrounded the tanks right away. Suddenly somebody remembered that the SS guarding us were still in the carriages. The SS were caught quickly, and lined up. The “intrepid” SS were trembling so heavily that their pants were flapping.

The first thing a Jewish woman asked from the soldier leaning out from the tank was money, and she received a dollar bill. She must have established her future with this dollar.

My attention was drawn to something else: in the rear of the tank there was a box of canned food. I climbed under the tank, emerged at its end, and pulled out a can. It turned out that I stole a can of oranges. This was my luck. I ate the potatoes charred in the can with the oranges, and probably this combination saved my life. Everyone who ate meat or anything greasy died within hours or within one or two days at the latest.

I felt fever in my body, undressed completely naked in front of staring women, and went into the ice-cold water of the lake next to the railroad. People warned me not to do this, but I went into the water, felt good, felt that I got rid of the lice and the burning heat of the fever. When I put on my rags again, I felt the fever ever stronger.

I asked an American soldier to sign the photo of my fiancee (I still have this photo). To my surprise, he signed the name Churchill. I thought he was joking. But he reassured me that his name was really Churchill.

(Once I read about a father named Churchill, who went to see his son’s grave in Vietnam during that war. The report mentioned that the father had been a soldier in World War II. He must have been my Churchill)

In the evening, there were news that we should flee, because the Germans pushed back the Americans. The Germans would massacre us for sure, the women had pulled out material for parachutes from a carriage in order to make clothes.

I was already so weak that I did not care whether the returning Germans would kill me: I stayed in one of the carriages, and fell asleep.

On Saturday, April 14, German peasant [horse-drawn] carts came for us by some order, so I was carried to Hillersleben. I dragged myself to the first floor of the first building, it looked like an office building, lay down under the sink of the bathroom, and fell asleep.

I am sure the American soldiers had no idea who we were and what we went through.

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First published in 2013. I am off to the last survivors/liberators reunion in Nashville Tennessee, this weekend.

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