~the real story behind the photograph that is becoming iconic~
A high school history teacher sits down with a World War II veteran to record his experiences. Out of the conversation comes the inspiration for a series of events that changes many lives and helps to “repair the world”.
I’ve said for years, since I was first privately shown it by the American tank commanders whom I interviewed in 2001, that this photo would be destined to become one of the iconic photographs of the twentieth century.
Now it looks as if many people agree with me-since being discovered at my website, it’s now apparently been labeled as one of the 40 Of The Most Powerful Photographs Ever Taken “A moving collection of iconic photographs from the last 100 years that demonstrate the heartbreak of loss, the tremendous power of loyalty, and the triumph of the human spirit.” (You can also find it in this online collection.) It’s also been viewed over 15 million times at the Old Photo Archive on Facebook..
Look at it. Think about it.
The back story….
The short version of this story is that on Friday, April 13th, 1945, in the heart of Nazi Germany, American soldiers saved 2500 helpless human beings from probable death. They ended a horrific episode endured by these people and gave them new life. I personally know two of the three Army officers who were present when this photograph was taken, and a third who transported the victims out of harm’s way the following morning. And as a history teacher, I worked to reunite them with the hundreds of Holocaust survivors who were liberated by them personally on those days. In greater detail, I have the REAL STORY behind what happened in my new book.
And an even greater story is unfolding now, across time and space, through tragedy and triumph, with tears and with laughter.
We are tripping the wires of the cosmos.
Can you even imagine what unfolds as they re-meet each other after 65, 70 years? The liberating soldiers uniting with the actual people they saved?
In this blog we tell the stories.
Throughout the past decade or so I have worked very hard to bring the story of the American soldiers and the Holocaust to light. I did my private own interview with tank commander Carrol Walsh in July 2001. Walsh mentioned the train, almost as an afterthought following two hours of conversation, when prompted by his daughter, and directed me to George C. Gross, the other tank commander present who had taken additional photographs of the train liberation.
He gave me his blessings, his pictures, and his beautiful narrative of the incident, which I posted to my World War II oral history website in 2002. There it sat for four years, and then we heard from our first survivor in Australia, a grandmother who had been a little girl on the train. I organized reunions and today we have had over a dozen of them, with the first occurring at our high school, mixing students with the survivors and soldiers from all over the world.
Today, with the help of liberator Frank Towers and survivor’s daughter Varda Weisskopf of Israel we have tracked down nearly 275 survivors who have been very moved to discover the American soldiers who freed them, fellow survivors and later, even some of the medics who nursed them back to health. I’ve created this blog to chronicle the unfolding of this story. Y If you would like to subscribe for updates, there is a button to the right of this page.
And below you can find the photographs, as originally annotated to me by George Gross, one of the tank commanders.
~The George C. Gross photos~
We have not yet found the mother and daughter in the photo here, though we have an idea of who they are. But we have found many others who do recognize themselves in Dr. Gross’ photos. You see, Dr. Gross had a small Kodak Brownie camera that his wife sent to him in combat. Before I helped the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum acquire them in 2013, they had never been seen outside of family and friends.
What makes these photos so special is that they reveal the moments of liberation. Still, it is important to be clear that most existing photos of the Holocaust, and Jewish prisoners and trains, are the horrifying images of victims being transported or offloaded at death camps to be murdered. So this photo is a rarity, and should not be considered an exemplar of the real horror that unfolded; rather, perhaps it derives its power as a testament to the power of the good, as well as the evil, that men are capable of.
In the words of a recent Israel documentary,
Trains in the Holocaust usually carried people to the last stop of their lives. The train of which Matt Rozell heard was a different one. It was going from death to life.
Holocaust survivor Ariela Rojek, right, was 11 years old in 1945 when she and 2,500 other concentration camp prisoners aboard a train near Magdeburg, Germany, were liberated by American forces including 1st Lt. Frank Towers, left with his son Frank Towers Jr., center. “You gave me my second life,” Rojek told Towers Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, at Hudson Falls High School during an event reuniting soldiers and survivors.
(Jason McKibben Glens Falls Post Star)