tv Matthew Rozell A Train Near Magdeburg CSPAN November 6, 2021 12:15pm-1:01pm EDT
now app or wherever you get your podcasts. you can also watch about books online anytime at booktv.org. >> c-span's american history tv continues now. you can find the full schedule for the weekend on your program guide or at c-span.org/history. >> hi, my name is matt row sell, i'm a retired history teacher from upstate new york. and this is my presentation regarding my collection of world war ii interviews that i did over the it's 20 years -- the past 20 years. and one story in particular about a train that was liberated by a tank battalion from the u.s. army in the closing days of world war ii and what these soldiers found and what it led to 65, 70 years later. it's called the train near
magdeburg, and it's about the eyewitness accounts of the holocaust and our world war ii generation. a little about me, i am a retired history teacher, as i said, graduated from the same high school i taught at. i am currently writing my ninth book. i write world war ii oral history. i'm also a united states memorial museum teacher fellow from 2008-2009. i've won a few awards, the organization of american historians in 2010 gave me their national award. i did a lot of extends thive travel, awarded scholarships to study at the authentic sites of the holocaust. my own state, new york, awarded me their highest award for teaching of the holocaust. and i studied in jerusalem for three weeks. again, delving, deep dive into the holocaust. so this is a story bringing
together the things that i learned. i did write a book about it. oh, i was also named a righteous human being by the greater glen falls community, jewish community in 2018. they gave me this nice, nice granite stone to commemorate my achievements and bringing together survivors of the holocaust with their american liberators. and it's in village park. it's really nice. and, no, i'm not buried under it yet. okay, so this is he. again, i started teaching in the late '80s, and this is the some of my world war ii cohort. i thought it was really important to send more than the required one or two days and the history teaching of world war ii. so in the late '80s, i would invite these veterans to come into the classroom. and one thing i found out was
these veterans, they were ready to tell their stories. and i encouraged my students to take home these simple surveys that i made up, in fact, i bribed them with extra credit and said have your grandfather, or your grandmother, your parents in some cases, fill in these sheets and get them back to me, and maybe we'll start to invite them in. and that's exactly what we did. so i'm going to flip through a couple of these sheets. i found them last night. i did a deep dive into my archives, and this is probably from late 1980s. this gentleman was 66 years old at the time. and as you know, our world war ii generation is leaving us in droves. so this is at least 30 years ago. he was a machine gunner on iwo jima. were you wounded? yes, shot by a machine gun. huh, okay. so more kept coming in. this gentleman was from the european theater of operations,
and he was a medic, a surgical technician. and, oh, he was 75 at the time. was combat seen, were you wounded. combat was seen, our hospital was hit by german tighters, me-109s, from christmas eve through the month of january, 1945. so he's definitely talking about the battle of the bulge here. i had a question at the bottom, what, what does it feel like to know that you were part of a great historical epoch, the defining event of our century s. and he wrote i'm glad i was part of world war ii. went the japs bombed pearl harbor, everybody wanted to go. there weren't too many left in hudson falls, our hometown. we felt it was our duty to fight for our country. so i got a few of these back. this gentleman was a machine gunner. battle of the bulge.
was combat seen? yes. he was wounded twice. here's a man who was in the pacific. lost three men from our ship, went ashore and everything was calm, then the japanese opened up with mortars from caves. what does it feel like to know you were a part of this event? it was a job to be done, and we did it. pretty common response. i ended with this question, what experiences or advice can you share with our young people of today to help them help make the second world war more relevant. if you're ever called up for service during that time, do the best you can to depend on each other. you have to survive. survival was what it was the about. working together. another one, war is not a gung ho thing. war is hell. we lost almost half of our company, and we didn't see as much fighting as some of the
other companies that lost most of their men. one company ended up with 17 out of 200 men left. we must live in's. so there's a message -- live in peace. there's a message for our young people. did not enter into combat because of the death of two brothers. the law statement thed that as i received a letter from a major general in washington, d.c., and we've seen some of those telegrams, the death notices that were delivered to the families. he continues with this one, describe any memorable experiences, what is your situation like that maybe helps define you today, he said i will never forget came when i was notified through the red cross of the death of my two brothers. i was stationed at hickman field in hawaii. here's another gentleman. i thought this would be the end, the war to end all wars. i was a little bit angry at
first to find so many changes such as unemployment and some veterans' benefits and just a $250 bonus from new york. i never used the 5220 club, $20 a week for 52 weeks. i think that this new generation is in for some hard times. too much alcohol and drug abuse. my prayers are for my grandchildren to get a good education and that they will never are to go to war. at the time of me being involved, it was a very hard time in my life. it was a very patriotic feeling at the same time as it is now. he continues, it is the with my thoughts that a person young or older person of this great country of ours, the good old usa, should be so proud that they show it in their everyday life. the wars of this country, we have had many over the decades for the freedoms that many take for granted.
many of your young men have given their lives for us that we can be free in this country. thus, we should honor them in any way that we can. one of the kids wrote their grandfather's response. he felt he had a job to do, and he did it. he tries to forget it now. i like this one. succinct. damn glad when it was over. and then, finally, this is the one that struck me the most, i don't know how you can make the young people of today understand what it was like to go through a nightmare like a world war ii. and that hit me, because i don't know, i wasn't there. i was born 16 years after the war ended. but to go through a nightmare like a world war ii, how do you make a person understand that? you really can't. but i took this as a challenge. so i sent the kids out, we went into the community, we taliban to collect these oral -- began
to collect these oral histories while we could. the veterans many times came into the classroom. we had big assemblies in the school library where they would collectively or individually tell their stories. and they appreciated it. they made a bond with the younger generation that perhaps this bridge -- besides their own grandchildren -- they might not have had before. and there was a mutual, mutual appreciation, and it was beautiful. so i continued going on doing these interviews, and one day in the summer of 2001 i was invited to go to a house, one of my students' grandfathers who was this town for the summer. he was a retired new york state supreme court justice. and he told me a story that would eventually wind up changing not only my life, but his life, the life of his american combat veteran friends and the lives of the holocaust survivor that is he came upon on
april 13, 1945. and the interesting thing about this story, he almost didn't tell me this story. he was a tank commander in the 743rd or tank battalion. i sat down with him to get his story from leaving law school in albany, new york, to basic training, to shipping overseas, to being the lowest form of life landing in normandy in july of 1944, a wow gunner on one -- bow gunner on one of the life tanks that were working with the infantry as they were pushing through the battle of normandy, up into belgium, the battle of the bulge, crossing the siegfried line and then, finally, into germany. so he told he ten months of stories. and some of them were funny. he was a funny guy. his name was red walsh. carroll "red" walsh.
he was 80 years old at the time, very spry. and we got to the end of our interview, it was two hours long. great conversation with the man. and his daughter chimed in, she'd been very quiet in the background, and she said, dad, did you tell mr. rozell about that train? and he said, no, i didn't. so he started to tell me this story that would wind up changing probably thousands of lives at this point. so his friend, red walsh is on the, he's on the right, and his other buddy with the i'm and his arm around his shoulder was george gross. and they were both in the 743rd tank battalion. they both won battlefield commissions in those ten months, so they each commanded their own light tanks. and on april 13, 1945, the 743rd tank battalion -- which was attached to the 30th infantry --
was pushing toward the yalta river. they and their major were pulled out of the tank column. somebody said there's a train stalled up by the tracks, and we need to figure out what's going on because there appear to be individuals, civilians wandering around this train. the major's name was clarence benjamin. he was from oakland, california. he jumped in the jeep with his driver. he had these two tanks, gross' tank and walsh's tank, follow him on this scouting mission. they were on their way to fight a major battle which would take place a couple of days later, one of the final battles in world war ii right on the river. the soviets are coming in, the red army, on the other side. the americans are pushing through central germany, but this train is in the way. so the major pulls up, he stands up in the jeep, and he snaps
this photograph for his after-action report. and you can see the drama in this photograph. so walsh showed me the photograph, and he told me that i should get ahold of george gross in california, till alive -- still alive, retired professor, university of san diego. because gross had a camera too that day. there's the photo in the actual after-action report which is buried in the national archives, and this photograph remain buried until it was shown to me by walsh and gross. several of the photographs that were taken by dr. gross, he put these -- he gave me permission to put this story on our school web site because by this time i was taking these interviews. the kids were helping me transcribe them, and we were putting them up on a world war
ii living history project page which got two or three hits a day, and dr. gross wrote up this beautiful narrative of his remembrances. now, his tank stayed with the train overnight. walsh's tank was ordered to continue on. they had a battle to fight. and this is one of the reasons that walsh actually -- for him, it was just another day in combat, as you're going to hear from him later in this talk. and not to make light of it, he says, but so many things were happening. don't forget, he almost forgot to tell me this story. so the photographs went up on our school web site, and unbeknownst to me at the bergin bell sum memorial, the notorious concentration camp in northwest germany -- today there's a memorial there, which i visited -- theman there, the historian there had found my photographs, and they were literally sharing these
photographs that dr. gross gave me permission to put on our web site with survivors who were actually on that train. and out of the blue one day, i was actually giving a test in my classroom. i think it was 2006, so this is four years after i put these stories up and the photographs, i got an e-mail from a woman in australia, you see her picture here. she was a 7-year-old girl that day on the train. and she said that when she saw the web site and the photographs of the day of her liberation, her salvation, she fell off of her chair. she started to cry. she got on the phone, and she found dr. gross, and i put her nor touch with carroll walsh, and today -- [laughter] lexie and her family are close friends with the families of walsh and dr. gross. ..
less than a month later i heard from another survivor and by the following fall, i heard from tomorrow. these people were very, very highly educated professional men. on this. [reading of names] probably 450 or 500 children what they were families in a special camp and bergen-belsen hence you don't see the pajama type uniform. i got to thinking, i said walsh is right here, it's september 2007, i know two of the guys, one is a physicist in new york city and doctor peter says coming into visit, he was a
brain surgeon from king's college in london from a very highly educated men. they came up to the high school. i arranged it so they could meet their liberator. i had a friend in the associated press and he came up and did a story but before we went live, he said you better get your teachers and secretaries ready because i think this story is going to go viral. this wasn't 2007. biro meant a different thing back then but he was right. that's exactly what happened. they left in the school auditorium for the first time, we had a lovely breakfast, students were everywhere invited to breakfast. obviously they were in the audience listening to the testimony of these men and they laughed and went on their way. we recorded everything.
the newspaper article when it hit the water, it got picked up all over the place. the next one, a friday, september 14, 2007, i went shopping for a new computer, staples. the salesman was trying to get me to buy a monitor to go with it, he pushed the button and the monitor flickered the lights and this was the home screen. it was the front page news, the yahoo news page back when yahoo was a thing, low and behold there is the picture of the photographer took right in my classroom and it did go viral. it shut the service down in the school for the weekend. i broke the internet. by the end of that weekend, i've heard from 60 more survivors. the story went everywhere.
candida, united states, israel. over the course of the years that followed, we've heard from hundreds of holocaust survivors survived and went on to live because of these gentlemen. we hosted three reunions at our high school. 2007 for the first one, 2009 abc world news keep up, were they are persons of the week. that was really cool. we did a final one at the high school in 2011. we also did one in israel, a big one. we had 11 reunions overall. i became an official lay member if you will of the 30 infantry division world war ii mission, i met the president who happened to be the liaison officer between the 30th infantry division and 743rd tank
battalion. frank was the soldier, he was in his mid- 20s who was the man who took these people saturday, the 14th of april 1945 and got him out of harm's way. there was an abandoned chairman off the base, a proving ground for their advanced weaponry, there were hospital and barracks and german nurses and german doctors and this is where the people stayed for six weeks to get healed up. the russian took over the site at the end of the war. i wrote the book, "a train near magdeburg", it took ten years and it all came together about this time in 2016. i tried to tell the story of the holocaust as part of the presentation today, the story of what the soldiers went through, their end of the story, normandy
into belgium, battle of the bulge, then the liberation scene. then i write about the liberation day and the book concludes with the liberator's and survivors meeting each other. we have a documentary in the works, it should be on pbs in spring, 2022. i knew i had to get the book out of me but i had a lot of questions. for example, how many people were murdered in the holocaust? you probably know that number if you are an educator like me, you think you know the number but what does the number look like? can you picture 6 million dead jewish people? how many camps were there? that's a really good question and it's an ongoing one as you will see in the next slide. put back together, who's responsible for the biggest crime in the history of the
world? how do you make 6 million people disappear in the course of four and a half years? was a hitler alone? i think we know the answer to that which raises more questions. how are the people on this train, a snapshot of european jewry persecuted by the nazis and others? in other words, researching the story, i found most of the occupants of the train were from a particular exchange camp and bergen-belsen and the camp was set up so the jews could be used as bargaining chips when the times got tough and they were getting really tough in 1945. they had certificates that indicated foreign government were interested in their well-being so they were going to be used as bargaining chips. that was the plan. can i make people care today about what happened nearly three
generations ago? i should add, while most of the people on the train were of hungarian descent, we had people from the netherlands, we had people from all over europe. there were greek jews on the train. they all have stories and they fit into the big picture called the holocaust. okay so we are collecting the testimony but then you have to ask yourself, why is it important to listen to those people as first witnesses? happens when the stories are no longer with us? once people absorb the stories, do they have the moral responsibility to act on the lessons? is there such a thing as being a witness when you yourself were not there if you listen to this testimony? about three years before i finished the book and 12 years after i met judge rauch, supreme
court justice, by the way, this article came out in the new york times. the holocaust just got more shocking. 42500, did you know that number? this is from an article thoughts eight and a half years old. the scholarship began around the time i interviewed judge walsh and it's continuing to this day. the research catalog 42500 camps throughout europe, figure so staggering that even survivors had to make sure they'd heard it correctly. the new numbers are unbelievable. that's a hard word, unbelievable because some people say it never happened, this is not believable because it can't be true it's so fantastic. when you study the holocaust, you realize how much you don't
know. you might think you are an expert but believe me, that changes. bergen-belsen was what a historian called the final stop of the holocaust because by the time of 1945, springtime, the americans are closing in on one side, the british and americans and the french and the soviets closing in on the other, this is april 18, this map here shows you red dots and the red dots are concentration camps, this is from a book from the late 1980s, there's probably 300 docked here, the bigger read, the bigger camps. in the east, you had major killing centers but bergen-belsen was where many of these prisoners from other camps were being shipped to stay out of the way of the armies so by the time the british liberated the camp april 15, the transport
left the week before, they found 60000 people, 10000 were fed, 800 died the day the british 11th armored division in the bergen-belsen cap, 800 people got to see their liberator's and die. another 13000 have since died this billboard was put up in the camp and probably about two or three weeks after the british came in. it was quite an experience to visit there. this was the first monument put up by the jewish community. i went there with a bunch of teachers in. [two bells tolling] we were studying the holocaust and to this particular truck was set up originally by survivors
and they took it to bergen-belsen first so i got to see all of this. is a photograph. you have to remember when the camp was liberated, these people had nowhere to go. number one. number two, no country will honor them so many of them stayed in bergen-belsen, it became a whole different thing after that. for five years, some of my friends were here, children spent their teenage years and bergen-belsen becoming to canada or the united states. it's a peaceful place today, it is beautiful. here is our class, we are walking in nature, it's a park stroke. this is the scene in the woods in april 1945 taken by the british. this is what the british soldiers walk into and this is what the survivors of the train near magdeburg were leaving.
another shot, a compound, here's a shot from probably week after liberation 1945, these pictures were taken by the british army. another photograph, probably about the same place this was photographed back in 1945, pretty graphic. i don't show these slides wisely. with students, you have to be judicious, even the older ones. they get a quick scroll sometimes. there is me walking through the woods, qc a gutter channel running toward the tree. same photograph, 1945. this was shortly after the photograph was taken. you may know her, you definitely know her sister, it's margo and frank. did you know they died in
bergen-belsen? after the discovery from another month, to a camp in the netherlands and then to auschwitz in the fall of 1944. they wound up in bergen-belsen where they probably died, we know they died but we don't know exactly when. they were sick. march, february, 1945 only a few weeks before the camp was liberated, this particular monument says here lies 800 dead. this may be where those two beautiful girls wound up. it's a cemetery and these are mass graves. here lies 1000 that april 1945 all over the grounds of the bergen-belsen memorial today. it's pretty graphic. a lot of the people obviously died from starvation and disease, typhus was rating through the camp and probably
killed some of the train occupants were typhus victims themselves. not a pleasant way to go. the british camp burned to the ground in the middle of may, about a month after liberation. mainly to combat the spread of this typhus disease. today it's not they found on oul website and they talk about the train transports so the trains, the transports, the people exchanged papers and left the camp in april sixth, i believe the first train left followed by another to in the next couple of days, they were headed to the camp that's blue at the bottom
of the map, is actually the last concentration camp liberated, liberated by the russians on the last day of world war ii. they were trying to get these people out so they could do something with them and they wound up deciding to execute them in the end. here are the three trains, the trains liberated by the americans april 13 that walsh was part of from parcel event. the blue line is the river, the yellow line is the root of that train but there are two others liberated as well. the first one was liberated by the americans. the second one actually made it through, we are not exactly sure what happened to the people. the third one was liberated by the russians across the river on 23rd. here is my rent, steve barry and
his liberator judge walsh and this is when they meant for the first time in florida. i heard from steve that weekend after we did our very first reunion. he said he was drinking a cup of coffee and opened up the newspaper and he spit his food out and he said this is the train i've been looking for for the last 60 years. they found out they live about an hour from each other in florida so there was a reunion arranged i'm going to give you a link, you can watch the video of their union. they describe the scene of the liberation from their own perspectives. the letter at the end that judge walsh wrote to steve barry is in the archives and the united states holocaust memorial museum, we did a presentation there from the director himself served bloomfield, stood up and they asked if i could get that letter and the gentleman agreed
to it so it is significant for them. he says you don't owe us anything, we owe you everything for everything that was done to you in the world did nothing about it. frank karas from the man on the left sitting next to frank junior, his son, a vietnam veteran, the little polish girl who was 11 years old, she's like my mom, she lives in toronto canada and boy, they hit off. frank hit it off with everybody. this is frank in jerusalem between tel aviv and jerusalem where -- look at the expression on these girls faces, they were on the train. he got to the 55 survivors and about 500 descendents who probably wouldn't happen alive if it hadn't been for frank. the 743rd tank battalion, it was a great time.
leslie from toronto, 17-year-old hungarian boy, this is with his granddaughter he called his revenge. just loved to meet his liberator's. my beauty, she was for. she was an orphan. she was raised by other women she had a great story. i visited her in israel a few times. she just recently passed away. leslie is gone, steve is gone. arielle is still alive though. a cute little girl. when 2011 came around and we did our last reunion, it was hard to get people to come because they are not really young people anymore. the phone rang in my classroom, my school put a phone in the classroom, there is an outside line, it's kind of unusual at the time because the secretaries
were from all over the world, survivors soldiers looking for me. i hadn't heard from anybody and fourth years. the phone rang in the middle of a lesson and i picked it up during my break and it was this man, walter kings and he said i was a combat medic from i took care of these people the soldiers went off and fought their battles, i stayed. he had a pretty dramatic story. i don't know if you ever heard of this guy but he was a guest of the president in 2019, state of the union address. he survived the massacre at the synagogue and pittsburgh, he was in the parking lot when the gunman came out, in other words, he was late and many of his friends died. so i read the story and washington post about how he
narrowly survived and of course they made a big deal about the fact that he was a holocaust survivor who was saved before and they started to talk about this train. sure enough, he was on back train so we arranged the film producer and i for judah and falter to me in pennsylvania in walter's hometown and i'll show you that clip which will be in our film. ♪♪ >> it was a long time ago. over 70 years. that's a lifetime. ♪♪ sadly, a time when your memory becomes dim.
♪♪ he would say in another lifetime. ♪♪ >> i remember the train stopped in the middle of a forest. everybody panicked. everybody felt they were going to come and kill us all and sure enough, we heard a rumble of a tank and it opens and a soldier popped out. >> response to seeing the star on the green tank and jeep is one of unbridled joy for the survivors who were not too young to understand it meant liberation and they were now saved. ♪♪
>> is our guy. he's the one. >> i know. ♪♪ >> that was a pretty great moment. a week later, walter came one of my talks in pennsylvania and met another survivor from brooklyn. it was beautiful. he died the following november he was 95. he said he read my book four or five times. there's a chapter about him in it and he said i'm not reading it because i'm in it, i'm reading it because i want to learn more about the holocaust. the family put the book in his coffin and he was buried with it. at the end of my story for now. i do have several books and it's
all history testimony if you're interested, you can go to my website, matthew rosa matthew rozell. i know you probably have some questions and i probably went a little too fast for here we are and if you have any other questions, feel free to ask. ♪♪ >> exploring people in event et al. the american story on american history tv on oral history, veterans from world war ii to the iraq war share their experiences war and its aftermath. the civil war to programs and robert e lee, director of university virginia under for civil war history discussing her book and of war. unfinished fight. it examines portable uncertainty weeks following the end of the civil war new york times columnist, alec with his book,
robert e lee, the confederate generals life in detail from refined up bringing in virginia's highest his society. his career in the u.s. army in his leadership defining the confederate cause during the civil war. watch american history tv every weekend. find a full schedule on your program guide or watch on time online anytime see standout work. ♪♪ >> c-span on the go, watch the days political event live or on-demand anytime, anywhere on our new video app. c-span now. access top stories. all free. download c-span now today. ♪♪ >> sunday on in-depth, with conversation with author and new york times columnist off on republic and politics and conservatism in america. recently released book, deep
places talking about its five-year struggle with mime disease. other titles include the decadent society, privileged bad religion. join the conversation with your phone calls, facebook comments, text and tweets. sunday live noon eastern on book tvs in-depth on c-span2. before the program, be sure to visit c-spanshop.org to get your copies of his books. ♪♪ >> to world war i historians join us to narrate in 1921 silent film on the journey of remains of unknown american world war one arlington national cemetery. >> how does this unknown soldier being honored come about? >> it goes back to the beginning of the warfare you see expand during world war i, you get a lot more on identifiable remains, it's a lot in the civil war but people were struggling with the fact that the could not
figure out who many of these casualties were so great britain and france in 1920. an unknown soldier in each of their country. in great britain, and france under the one in paris. the u.s. decided to do something similar to that, the idea was started by hamilton of new york who submitted legislation to bury an unknown soldier. >> the casket is being carried down to the united states capitol, a seen modern americans will be familiar with similar ceremonies in our time put on the year that will make its way over through the streets of washington and over to arlington cemetery. let's watch for just a minute. [silence]
[silence] >> that is where today you see the larger part of which was not yet constructed at this moment. >> there is the final shot of the arlington national cemetery. we see white headstones marking the graves of the fallen. >> i think it's.to pause for a moment and think about the meaning the unknown soldier had at the time. it was at that one yes but also thought to be a memorial factor connect different american conflicts that stretch beyond world war i and honor all those who served in our nations armed
forces and that continues strongly until today. >> you're watching american history tv, exploring our nations past. veterans from world war ii through the iraq war told their stories and recorded oral history interview which have aired in their entirety on american history tv. ... we had no idea what was going on. we had no idea what was going on. suddenly around me and i did not know what was going on. i guess i had my back is only think i could come up with as to a reason. suddenly, marines around me