it took me several weeks , until I was able to digest your stories to the exent, that I will now try to put down some of my thoughts.
Your picture and your way of reporting ( and of course all the terrible descriptions) , don't leave me any more, completely possessed and fascinated me.
My first reaction was to jump and run away, but I could not do that' could not flee reality. But how am I going to cope with the reality ?
Many of my age try to push away any thoughts of our history, by saying:
"It wasn't my fault " or " I didn't take part in it" leave me alone with the stupid Nationalsocialism "
Of course we are a new generation, but still our history remains with us. It cannot be denied, under no circumstances should it be forgotten, we carry the responsibility, to see that this will never happen again anywhere in the world. I think, that is what you meant, when you said: " You are our hope"
Actually , it is this sentence that impressed me most, because it surprised me.
I felt quite sick during the lecture, becaause I was ashemed, after all I have grandparents whose past lies in the second world war and was always denied. hidden-and then your almost redeeming sentece, that meant so much strengh, willpower and responsibility.
I would like to promise you, that I will do my utmost, not to disappoint your hopes.
But there is something else in me, that I could hardly formulate, it is the question : what did i feel when I listened to you:
I didnot want to feel pity, because pity paralizes. I didnot want to hat all those, who did this to you, either directly or indirecty by looking away. because hatred doesn't get people anywhere, only blocks. Ididn't want to feel pride, because ,I (my generation respectively) am maybe your hope...
I admire you for strength, your courage, your perseverence and your will to live, although you also embody the opposite: weakness, vulnerability, fear and fragility.
To be honest, Iam glad to have met you, glad not ever to be able to erase you impressive picture out of my memory.
At the end I have a small story for you, that happend to me to-day, when I went for a walk with my dog in the woods and was dreaming to myself, my dog discoverd a small starved, timid animal in the bush, a furry black something, that will hopefully turn into a grown tom-cat one day.
Although these two kinds of animals normally hate each other, because they speak two different languages, my dog immediately addopted this tender creature, guards it's every step, loves it like a son.
This gives hope, Sara the hope that something like this can exist in the world !
Of course I took the little kitten home and will try to bring it up with love, but it is so weak, that I'll probaly sleep very little to-night, for fear that it might die.
I wish you all the the imaginable best, and strong support, that will not permit you to break on your own tales and experiences.
(reprint was permitted by the author)
Those energies that are buried there in the mass graves are bubbling from under the earth. The stormy colors of autumn with all the intensity of bubbly lives.
They seem to dance the dance of life, not fighting the Angel of Death, the one we were so scared of his visits!
When we approached the "tranquility" fields, our feeling was of coming to a friend's reunion. I saw the stream of people rushing to the silent stone wall, where different languages were engraved telling things that words couldn't have described. I looked at the fields where entire worlds had been sown. Worlds of love, hopes for happy lives that had been dreamt by wonderful people. I felt as though their souls were hovering above and had come to the reunion with us.
Like all the others I had expected to see there the guests that were so afraid to meet their wandering ghosts over the mass graves.
The mixture of colors like a flame of a loud scream.
Among the voices: the bass, the piccolo, children's fresh tones, mothers' sopranos. Those men, women and children who had looked the Angel of Death straight in the eye and hadn't been able to overcome him.
What are those spirits bringing to the reunion? Criticism, we didn't help them enough to survive?
Those minutes were very difficult. We had hardly saved ourselves. It sounds maybe corny, but there it simply wasn't at all.
One cannot die for another. Each one of us struggles with his own personal energy.
Just a few of us had had "superior" energies, like my mother, may she rest in peace. She had collected food from whoever had given up a spoon of his food and had given it to the most needy. The most important fact was that she had fed the dying and had transferred her energy to whoever she had succeeded to save. She had almost paid for it with her own life.
I remember the dying people's eyes. They had hope in them and the permanent question: "Will we be able to survive another day?"
I have a memory that keeps coming back to me. It's about a man from our shack (barek). He was standing next to his bed talking to his neighbor. Looking into his eyes I saw, death. Sure enough the next day he had passed away.
We, the children had a game. We made a bet every day: "Who will die tomorrow, the next day, etc?"
We had identified The "Angel" the scary one!
The truth is, that in all reunions we have with us all those spirits attending. Those who were left behind.
We remember them – they're just standing there in front of us.
We are the ones who are carrying those horrible memories and cannot detach ourselves from those sights. We remained to carry the heavy burden of the memories in our dreams, in times of happiness and sorrow.
My dear brothers, they didn't pay with their lives in vain. Their wandering spirits reach us here, to the land they haven't succeeded to come in her gates. We remember and miss them forever!
Our fate is to fight the Jewish wars that have never ceased.
Their graves are living witness to what humanity was able and dared to destroy!
Am I able not to be scared of what distraction are humans able to cause to one another???
Sara Atzmon (Gottdiener)
The people of Israel have always lived due to miracles, from ancient times until today.
One of those miracles is – me standing here today celebrating the 60th birthday of the State of Israel and 63 years of my liberation from the death camps.
Who could ever have imagined the meaning of the "Extermination Plan" to have 11 million Jews disappear off the face of the earth! Our "big luck" was that "only" 6 million of our people had vanished in the gas chambers.
Three years after that horrible war, the State of Israel was established by only 600,000 Jews and I was fortunate enough to be among them. Again, Jewish blood was spilled like water, but this time our Jewish boys fought proudly and bravely holding arms in their hands. Once again a miracle occurred and a people that had lost a third of its sons and for 2 thousand years had been considered to be "an eternal victim" had won the war over 7 states that had had regular and organized armies. We, so few of us non organized warriors won! This deep and memorable experience fills my heart with gratitude.
I remember then, that with all my optimism I only hoped to stay alive, but deep in my hearth I feared I wouldn't survive.
In my most positive dreams I couldn't imagine what I would really achieve and what would happen to me as the years passed by.
In those horrid days we had to seal our minds and hearts otherwise we wouldn't be able to live another day. It had taken us years to break this seal and fully digest the horrors and the miracle that had followed.
I Sara (Hedwig) Gotdiner, who survived Bergen-Belzen, is engulfed with honor and love that you bestow here upon me today.
I simply cannot grasp it.
I want to thank you dear audience from the bottom of my heart for bringing me here and coming to share my memories with me.
As a little child that was in hell, giving me the feeling that most German people have changed and that there is a God in heaven, (no matter what is the name He is given).
I want to share with you a few answers I gave young people in Germany and all over the world.
They asked: "What kind of people had existed here that had done all those terrible things to you? How could it altogether have happened? "
I answered and explained:" The people are the same people you know today, but the difference is that the basis of their bringing up and education was endless hate." This endless hate blurred their common sense and understanding. They couldn't and wouldn't see how human dignity was being crushed to the ground.
For young people nowadays it's very difficult to grasp the whole situation.
Do only people who suffer pray to their God? Does only our own suffering bring a person close to his God and to his fellow man? Does suffering bring us to a closer understanding of our fellow man's suffering?
Is a person without some belief and hope in human dignity able to lead other people and look them straight in the eye? Can such a person lead others and at the same time look down at them and check their race, whether it's black, white, yellow or Jewish?
At home I was taught to pray at a very tender age, before I even understood the meaning of the words.
I always felt it gave me release; I even had my own prayers.
Anxiety always caused me to look for my own solutions.
I had to believe that after what had happened there, better times had to come. I had thought that my prayers would change everything for the best. Therefore I didn't stop praying and hoping.
I had prayed when it seemed there wasn't hope anymore and I wanted so much to live. I think my prayers and the enormous will to live gave me the strength and hope to live yet another moment, another day! All this time I hoped and thought to myself: we couldn't just be killed without somebody coming to save us!
So it happened, that during each war in recent years, the sirens, the fear and anxiety were stopping my breath. My imagination ran away with me and in my mind I saw a lot of light and trough it, figures coming to save us.
One of my strongest memories is the way the brutes have come and shaved my father's beard, he was ashamed to look at us. I was very sad then and thought that my father would smile again when his beard grew.
I also remember how frighten I have been to walk to school while the non Jewish kids hit us and called: "Dirty stinky Jews, go away, go to Palestine".
When the town of Debretzen was bombed and the Jewish Ghetto wasn't, we were again blamed only for being Jews.
In Israel today is the Holocaust Day commemoration.
All the eyes are crying and we all remember. We cry for the parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and all the unborn children to the parents who were murdered.
Six months ago I participated in the dedication of a new museum in Bergen-Belzen, where I was imprisoned.
I received the honor to greet in Hebrew.
With your permission I'll read part of it now…..
To the opening of the new museum in Bergen-Belzen I bring greetings from the State of Israel.
The State of Israel developed in spite of the piles of ashes that piled up here, from burning bodies. Yes, not only Jews were burnt here but the Jewish Nation was marked to be destroyed by all means. Maybe this is what provides the State of Israel secondary value and validity to flourish as she flourishes nowadays.
The sad thing is that what happened here, happened in the cradle of world culture. Most European countries participated in the annihilation of the Jews with all forcefulness, only on account of Jews being Jews, and the world stood at a distance and did not do a thing.
Since then, the Jewish nation learned that it must defend itself, and we indeed do, as blood thirsty murderers only alternate when relating to the state of Israel or the Jewish Nation.
I want to congratulate the initiators and establishers of the museum, and in particular the Minister of Education, Mr. Bernd Busemann, the Fund Manager, Mr. Wilfried Weidman, as well as all the people that have engaged in the holy work of perpetuation here in this place over the years.
We, who were here in real time, lost parts of our bodies and soul.
Every time that I arrive, I search for that childish happiness of mine that was lost here.
In my mind I hear the prayers and souls of the poor people that could not hold on still hovering around in this space. In hearing the prayers of these white naked skeletons screaming with open mouths, I am once again that little girl watching in fear, hoping that maybe they will come back to life. But this does not happen. At night time, just as I heard my opposed neighbors weeping after seeing their dear ones lead to the altar, my fears prevail that we will all die then and there.
But we survived, and maybe we are here to tell this generation, who will pass it on to the next generations, that these victims, in their death, ordered us life and screamed the outcry of the Jewish Nation.
I, Sara Atzmon from Israel, a native of Hungary, at the age of eleven was imprisoned here at Bergen-Belzen for about half a year with another twelve family members. Today, my husband Uri who was born in Israel and I, gave birth to six children, and have twenty two grandchildren god bless them. Close to twenty years now, I paint, sculpture, present and lecture my memories before thousands of young people in Israel and around the world. I try to describe the course of perdition that I went through here with my family members. Thank god it did not succeed.
Yes, the Messiah came for the Gottdiener family twice. The first miracle happened from within the earthquake and boiling lava that burnt and mangled entire communities. Whole families disappeared without leaving a memory or refugee. And we, the Gottdiner family, in spite of the death paths and agonies, had a "miracle ". Despite the sixty family members that were murdered and burned in various ways, almost a complete tribe had survived.
Out of sixteen Gottdiner siblings - thirteen survived, even though only eight are alive still today. All of them are living in Israel except for one brother and his sons. The number of offspring has multiplied itself by twelve.
Some four months ago, we, the survivors, gathered with our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to mark sixty-two years to our arrival in the country of Israel which occurred ninety days after the release from the camps of the death. Our promised land was not yet called the State of Israel. In the gathering participated one-hundred and fifty Gottdiner family members out of two-hundred family members that were born after the persecution. Therefore, when history states that six million Jews had been murdered, one needs to understand that nowadays they would be more than 60 million. Imagine the amount of burnt hands and feet that need to be counted, in order to arrive at the number sixty million.
As a twelve year old girl arriving in Israel, I was so excited and happy, that I wanted to run around shouting that I am alive and that I am a free Jewish girl. Immediately we learned Hebrew and how to defend ourselves with sticks in face to face combat. Indeed, we had not been able to conquer the seats of college and university as we were busy trying to redeem the new-old country and to get back the soul of life that was almost lost.
Lessons of the homeland we learned in the new-old country that was not given to us on a silver tray. Bible lessons were given during battles and between wars or quieter times. We built, ploughed, seeded, gave birth to children and tried to teach them the values of life in mutual respect.
Most of my brothers that are still capable, deal in perpetuation throughout the year by visiting campuses, schools, army bases, etc.
The duty of explaining is sacred. We must explain to today's youth that they are the last to meet living survivors, that they are our hope that the message to the next generations will be passed on because they are the ones that met survivors. We are the remaining living evidence, remember the atrocities that were done by humans with abysmal hatred in their mind and in their soul. The atrocities were done to people that looked exactly like them out of hatred and jealousy that was fed to them from childhood and brain washed them over the years.
No, we do not hate and we do not teach our children to hate. We saw and learned what hatred leads to.
According to the Hebrew calendar, about a month ago the Jewish New Year began.
I would like to greet all this holy audience with a year of peace, health and creation.
Shalom and Sehen Sie Sie spatter in Israel.
by Frank W. Towers | 2008-07-17
The 30th Infantry Division had just liberated Brunswick, and our next objective was Magdeburg on the western bank of the Elbe River. Unknown to us at this time, the Elbe River had been designated as the “political boundary” between the Allied and Russian Armies.
In between Brunswick and Magdeburg was the city of Hillersleben, where there was a large German Luftwaffe airbase with many 2 story barracks buildings, for the Nazi German personnel, who had recently been evicted by the 30th Infantry Division during the capturing of Hillersleben.
At this point, a small task force, led by the 743rd Tank Battalion, with infantrymen of the 119th Regiment was mounted on these tanks. As they were forging ahead towards Magdeburg, they entered the small town of Farsleben, about 10 km north of Magdeburg, with the mission of clearing out all of the German soldiers who may be waiting there for us, and may have set up an ambush.
Only very recently, I learned that a Mr. George C. Gross, and a Mr. Caroll Walsh, were the two tank commanders involved in this task force which found and liberated this train.
Upon entering and capturing the village, no German soldiers were found who may have been intent on setting up an ambush when we appeared. However, the lead elements of the 743rd Recon discovered a long freight train on the railroad track, which had been guarded by several Nazi guards. The engine was standing ready with a full head of steam and awaiting orders as to where to go. The guards and the train crew fled the area as soon as they realized that they were well outnumbered, although they were rounded up in a short time.
As the train was sitting idly by, while the train crew was awaiting orders and making a decision as to where to go, many of the occupants of some of the passenger cars had dismounted and were relaxing on the ground near the train.
This train which contained about 2,500 Jews, had a few days previously left the Bergen-Belsen death camp. Men, women and children, were all loaded into a few available railway cars, some passenger and some freight, but mostly the typical antiquated freight cars, termed as “40 and 8” a WWI terminology. This signified that these cars would accommodate 40 men or 8 horses.
They were crammed into all available space and the freight cars were packed with about 60 – 70 of the Jewish Holocaust victims, with standing room only for most of them, so that they were packed in like sardines.
Why those people had not been exterminated earlier, we never did learn. However, the Nazis were attempting to move them out of Bergen-Belsen so that the advancing Allied Army would not see the condition of this mass of frail humanity, if it could be called that. They had been moved eastward from the Camp, to the Elbe River, where they were informed that it would not be advisable to proceed further because of the rapidly advancing Russian Army. The train then reversed direction and proceeded to Farsleben, where they were then told that they were heading into the advancing American Army. Consequently, the train halted at Farsleben and was awaiting further orders as to where to go next. The engineers had then received their orders, to drive the train to, and onto the bridge over the Elbe River, and either blow it up, or just drive it off the end of the damaged bridge, with all of the cars of the train crashing into the river, and killing or drowning all of the occupants. The engineers were having some second thoughts about this action, as they too would be hurtling themselves to death also This is the point at which they were discovered, just shortly after the leading elements of the 743rd Tank Battalion arrived on the scene.
It was believed that this train was initially enroute to Auschwitz or Buchenwald, to be a part of the “Final Solution”.
Some of these prisoners had dismounted from the passenger cars and were milling about near the train and relaxing, as best they could, under the watchful eyes of their Nazi guards. Those in the freight cars were still locked in the cars when discovered, but shortly they were released.
The men of the 743rd Tank Battalion and the 119th Regiment, who discovered this train, could not believe what they were seeing, nor what they had upon their hands at this moment. Upon speaking to some of those victims, a few of whom could speak a little English, they began to learn what they had uncovered. Each one had a slightly different story to tell, so there is no way of accurately knowing what the real story was. Now after 60 plus years, and having heard the stories from their parents, there is a good possibility that there may be some inaccuracies or exaggerations.
They immediately unlocked all of the freight cars and allowed these pathetic victims to be released and dismount from the cars and enjoy their first taste of Freedom. Many were hesitant at first because they had been advised by their Nazi guards that “if and when they ever became prisoners of the Americans, they would be executed immediately.” Little did they know what to expect at the hands of these savage Americans??
Being packed in these antiquated freight cars for a long undetermined time, with only a once a day dispensing of rations, consisting of a thin and cold potato soup, it was surprising that more of them were not dead.
They were packed in there so tightly that they did not have room to sit or lay down, so they just had to stand upright until they collapsed and crumpled to the floor because of exhaustion. They had no sanitary facilities except a single bucket in one corner of the car, which most could not even reach as the sudden necessity arose. The consequence was that most, in having to relieve themselves, just urinated and had bowel movements, and just let it run down their legs! Such a stench!!
Such humiliation for these people to have to endure!
Needless to say, the stench from the cars was almost unbearable, and many of our men had to rush away and vomit.
We had heard of the cruel treatment which the Nazis had been handing out to Jews and political opponents of the Nazi regime, whom they had enslaved, but we thought that it was propaganda and slightly exaggerated. As we went along, it became more apparent that this barbaric savagery was actually true. The stories of German inhumanity were being corroborated before our own eyes. The condition of these people had deteriorated to the lowest level imaginable.
During this European war, I was a 1st Lieutenant and was a Liaison Officer between the 30th Infantry Division Hq. and the 120th Regimental Hq During this time I was closely associated with a 1st Lt. Floyd Mitchell, (now deceased), who was the Liaison Officer from the 743rd Tank Battalion. We became very close friends during the war, exchanging many stories and assisting in our duties along the way. It was through Floyd that I had the experience of visiting the site of this tragic scene at Farsleben.
After the initial discovery and capture of Farsleben, the 743rd Tank Battalion had to move on towards Magdeburg and assist in the reduction of this city as quickly as possible. At this point, the custody of guarding this very sad group of humanity fell to the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion.
First of importance was getting food, water and medical assistance to these victims. Our 105th Medical Battalion was called upon to survey this group and give immediate attention to those most in need. The 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Dettmer immediately contacted the Burgomaster of Farsleben, and without any hesitation, ordered the Burgomaster to order his citizens to gather up all of the food, clothing, soap and sanitary supplies, to help the situation that these victims found themselves in. Secondly, they were ordered to offer them any housing facilities that were available, particularly for the elderly and those families with children
The German people caused these victims to be in the situation in which they were found, so therefore it was felt that it was their responsibility to rectify what they had done to them over the past five years.
At first they rebelled at these orders, but upon the threat of execution of the Burgomaster, and with a pistol held to his head, the citizens of Farsleben complied and went about the task which they had been ordered to do.
At this time the Burgomaster began to cooperate, and told his citizens to take some of these Jews into their homes and give them some comfort, which they did, very grudgingly. This was the first taste of “Home” for many of them after some months or years of inhuman incarceration.
Since my duties as a Liaison Officer were at a minimum at this point, I was placed in charge of procuring sufficient vehicles from our Quartermaster Company and other units, on which these 2,500 Jewish victims could be loaded, and to relocate them to Hillersleben, about 10 km distant.
It must be noted here that in most cases, it was not possible to drive directly from “point A to point B” which may in fact be only 5 – 10 km. With bridges on all main roads either bombed or deliberately blown up by the retreating German army, it required navigating over many secondary and unimproved farm roads to find a suitable route to get from “point A to point B”, which in some cases was 25 – 30 km.
Having driven over these roads for the previous few days, I was relatively familiar with these deviations, and was thus chosen for this job.
After loading up these Jewish victims on our trucks and navigating the convoy over a devious route, we arrived at the designated site in Hillersleben, where their custody was turned over to the American Military Government for further processing.
Initially, they were deloused! Their bodies and clothing were totally infested with lice, so they were heavily dusted with DDT, stripped of their clothing, which was burned, given a shower, then re-supplied with adequate clothing, which had been furnished by the people of Farsleben.
Settled in to their new surroundings, here they were given appropriate medical care according to their needs, and fed with adequate but rationed food,+ they were eventually processed for repatriation to their homelands.
However, most of these Jews were from Poland, Russia, Hungary and other Eastern block countries, so with the total destruction of their homes, loss of families and the serious prospects of coming under the jurisdiction of the Russians, most were fearful about their future. Most chose the option of remaining in Germany, or the possibility of being repatriated to some other Western European countries. Eventually, many were finally repatriated to Palestine, South American countries, for which many had passports, England, Canada and to the United States of America.
At this point, I reverted back to my original duties through the next month and the end of the war, and pursued our duties of Occupation in this devastated land, and finally returning to the United States in August of 1945.
In the next 60+ years, not much thought was given to these victims, as we thought that they were now in good hands, and would be starting out on a new life somewhere in the future. We had our own problems. We were soon alerted to be shipped to the Pacific to help in the finalizing of that phase of the war in the Pacific Theater, and bringing the end of WWII to a close.
Then it was “Home to take up our lives where we had left off 4 – 5 years earlier”.
From then on, we had little time to worry about these Jewish victims of the Holocaust. We were busy finding jobs and raising our families.
Fast Forward 62 years:
Through a quirk of fate, I received an e-mail message from a friend, indicating that I should look at the attached Website. Out of curiosity, I opened the Website, and I was astonished at what I was about to see! ( http://hfcsd.org/ww2/ )
This Website was entitled: “The World War !! Living History Project” with a subtitled article: “A Train Near Magdeburg”! Sounded familiar.
It seems that a teacher, Matt Rozell, in Hudson Falls High School, near Albany, NY, had organized a project on the Holocaust, and this segment was a part of the project. The story that was told by two former members of the 743rd Tank Battalion, just dovetailed into my recollections of this account.
Also, attached to this Website were several e-mail messages from survivors of this tragic event, but one in particular caught m y eye – it was a message from a daughter of a survivor. This one really intrigued me because this girl’s mother, Jean, (nee: Gusia Weinstock), who was a 15 year old girl, along with her parents, had been survivors of this “Death Train from Bergen-Belsen”. She and her parents were among those that I had convoyed to Hillersleben!! They soon relocated to Liege, then to Brussels in Belgium, for a few years. Then they emigrated to the U.S.A., settling in Brooklyn, NY
In about 1950, Jean married Sol Lazinger 6 months after they met, who was a 30th Division veteran!! This is what intrigued me.
I contacted Lisette, the daughter, by e-mail, and then soon we were on the phone, she telling me briefly about the odyssey of her parents. Next, I called her parents, Jean & Sol Lazinger, and we had a very nice and informative conversation with each of us giving our versions of the “Death Train” episode in April 1945.
Sol had been in the U.S. Army and was assigned to the 30thInfantry Division as a replacement in August 1944. He was seriously injured near Essen, Germany in October 1944 during the Rhineland Campaign. He never returned to the 30th and was sent back to the U.S.A. and discharged, and was never aware of our 30th Infantry Division Veterans organization until this time.
Now at this point, Matt Rozell has been in contact with several Holocaust survivors, and has interviewed each one, and getting some real in depth stories from them. He had organized a Reunion of these Holocaust survivors and their liberators that he had been able to contact, this past September, and perhaps another will be scheduled some time in the near future..
It seems quite ironic, that after 60+ years, that I should come in contact with this Holocaust survivor, that I had assisted in giving a new start in life in 1945….
Plus, another Holocaust survivor from Magdeburg, Germany, Ernest Kan, who had been incarcerated as a Slave Laborer in the Polte Ammunition Factory, at Magdeburg.
How many more of these survivors are there out there who were liberated by the 30th Infantry Division and attached units??? Perhaps we will never know.
I am now working with Matt Rozell to try to organize another Reunion this next March, in order to bring these survivors, their liberators and even more victims that may be found in the next few months, together for another Reunion. We are all getting to be of an age where time is running out for us, so time is of essence.
Frank W. Towers © 2008
30th Inf. Div. Veterans of WWII