For years, March of the Living has tapped Holocaust survivors for trips bringing Jewish teenagers to Poland and Israel, but the program’s latest educational mission focuses on the liberators.
On Monday afternoon, March of the Living brought 16 World War II veterans from across the country to the Double Tree Hilton, at 135-30 140th St. in Jamaica. The veterans shared their stories of liberating concentration and extermination camps with each other before preparing to step on a plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport and returning to Poland to meet some of the Holocaust survivors rescued there more than 60 years ago.
“All these fellas that you see here, they were trained how to fight, they were trained how to put guns together ... but nobody prepared them for what they saw,” said Arthur Flug, executive director of the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives at Queensborough Community College in Bayside.
March of the Living, a nonprofit, hosts educational trips to Poland and Israel so that Jewish youth and others can learn about the Holocaust, but this time the liberators as well as survivors will meet with the teens.
Liberators preparing for the five-day journey — which was scheduled to take them to the notorious extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Jewish quarter of Krakow and Oskar Schindler’s factory — took the opportunity to get to know their fellow travelers at the hotel. Many said they had not spoken about the experience of liberating the camps for decades.
“It brings back the memories like it was yesterday,” said Harvey Segal, 87, who liberated the Leipzig-Schoenfeld concentration camp in Germany with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division and now lives in Randolph, Mass. “I get chills up and down my back. It’s just an emotional moment.”
Don Greenbaum, 87, who lives in Bala Cynwyd, Penn, was wounded in Aachen, Germany, in 1944 but recovered in time to fight the Battle of the Bulge and liberated the Dachau, Germany, concentration camp in 1945 with the 283rd Field Artillery Battalion. He said many of the liberators have similar stories despite the differences in where they were and with whom they served.
“We all smelled the odor,” Greenbaum said. “We all saw the bodies. We all fought the enemy.”
Flug said the idea for involving liberators arose from discussions with David Machlis, March of the Living’s vice chairman, and David Widawsky, now the associate director of the Liberator Project for March of the Living.
Flug said for him the thought of talking to liberators came after a WWII veteran’s daughter came into his office and asked him to talk to her father. Flug said the former soldier had cried telling his story.
“These fellas saw what nobody else saw,” Flug said.
Widawsky said they had been planning the trip since September and hope after they return the liberators will continue to tell younger generations of the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Bernard Storch, 89, who lives in South Nyack, N.Y., left his home country of Poland and was taken to Russia as a prisoner days after the war began. His mother and two of his younger brothers died in Auschwitz while he was gone, but when he was able to leave following Germany’s invasion of Russia in 1941, he enlisted in the Polish army and liberated four camps: Sachsenhausen in Germany and Sobibor, Majdanek and Chelmno in Nazi-occupied Poland.
“It’s very emotional,” Storch said of telling his story, “but I find it’s very important to the future generations and everybody else.”
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cn
©2012 Community News Group
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