They were men and women who came together from all across the United States, from Canada, and from as far away as Israel. For several, it was their first face-to-face meeting with each other in more than sixty years.
CARROL “RED” WALSH
How could a young guy like me be 88 years old! I’m not sure how many more reunions I’m going to go to. I never thought I would see anybody on that train again. It’s amazing. Just amazing.
The occasion was to commemorate an event that occurred on April 13, 1945, as American armies rolled across Europe, liberating millions from the dominion of the Third Reich. On that day, the Army’s 743rd Tank Division came upon a sight near Magdeburg, Germany, they never expected to see. Freight train cars alone on a track, and filled wall to wall with over two thousand men, women, and children, all of them Jews.
CARROL “RED” WALSH, TANK COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY 743RD TANK BATTALION
I remember the moment I remembered seeing this long freight train, long string of boxcars, and I can remember pulling the tank to the right and driving along the side of the train and seeing all these people that were on these boxcars. It was totally unexpected and when I saw their condition I was overwhelmed, I can remember thinking “What are we going to do with all these people and for all these people?”
This fateful wartime incident might have remained known only to those who were directly part of it, had it not been for a Web site created and managed by Matthew Rozell. A high school history teacher in Hudson Falls, New York, and a teacher fellow with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Rozell conducted several interviews with men and women whose lives were directly caught up in the events of the Holocaust. It was during an interview with Carrol “Red” Walsh, a tank commander with the 743rd, that the story of the train car outside Magdeburg came to light.
MATTHEW ROZELL, HISTORY TEACHER, HUDSON FALLS HIGH SCHOOL
And at the tail end of a two hour discussion, taped conversations I had with him in his daughter’s living room, his daughter chimed in and said “Dad, did you tell Mr. Rozell about that train that stopped, that you had to go and investigate?” He said “Oh, that’s right, that train.” And he launched into about how it was a beautiful April day. He and another tank commander went down and investigated this train stopped by the side of the tracks. They found it full of Jewish refugees. The other tank commander, he told me, was still alive in California, and actually had photographs that he took of the liberation. And this Dr. Gross allowed me to place the photographs on the Internet. We put those on our school Web site, and they sat there, not a lot of Web traffic. But all of a sudden, I got an e-mail from a grandmother in Australia who had been a 7-year-old girl on that train. And she said that she clicked on the Web link, the photographs opened, and this was the day of her liberation in 1945. She said she fell out of her chair.
It was very organic the way it all unfolded. I would open up my e-mail inbox and there would be another message from a new survivor, somebody that I wasn’t aware of before. These people are coming to me individually. They’re not aware of each other for the most part before finding my Web site on the Internet, for example. So it’s just kind of unfolding.
RENE ROBERGE, DRAMA TEACHER, HUDSON FALLS HIGH SCHOOL
At this time, I would like to call to the stage the rest of our soldiers and survivors, beginning with Mr. Francis Currie. [Applause]
The surviving veterans of the 743rd are modest about their accomplishments, but this did not prevent the audience of students, teachers, town residents, and Holocaust survivors from honoring them at a special reunion event held at Hudson Falls high school in September 2009.
WILLIAM GAST, U.S. ARMY 743RD TANK BATTALION
It’s a gratifying and emotional experience to reunite with some of the survivors, to meet them face to face, and to call them my friends.
LESLIE MEISELS, SURVIVOR, TRAIN AT MAGDEBURG
Those brave American soldiers, they were saying that they didn’t do anything heroic, they just did their job. But with that job, they gave us back our life, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. [Applause]
It was a heady four days for the guests of honor and their families, a time to reminisce and reconnect, a time to enjoy each other’s company, and reflect upon what brought them together.
BUSTER SIMMONS, CHAPLAIN, 30TH INFANTRY DIVISION
We were there. But it’s still tough to wrap your mind around the situation that presented itself when those people were liberated on that train.
ELIZABETH SEAMAN, SURVIVOR, TRAIN AT MAGDEBURG
None of them put themselves up as being something special, and they have a great sense of humility, and also a great sense of love. I feel that love just emanating from them to me and the others, and I think the sense of love that they have I think is also what has kept them going and giving all their lives.
“And so we choose history teacher Matt Rozell, the Holocaust survivors on that train, and those American soldiers who kept them and their story alive.” [Cheers, applause]
Matt Rozell’s spotlight as ABC News Charles Gibson’s person of the week was a fitting conclusion to this special event. At the farewell banquet following the broadcast, Rene Roberge, the Hudson Falls high school teacher who served as the program’s master of ceremonies, told liberators and survivors alike what he had learned from them.
Share the truth. The moral responsibility you had as a liberator to free a people from harm at a moment’s notice, and, as a survivor, to save a generation from becoming complacent. You were heroes then. You are my heroes now.
I think we were in the right place at the right time, in the sense that we had people who are now at the stage in their life where they really wanted to send a message before they leave this earth. To see how it touched these students so deeply, that is where the real gratification is for me, and that’s what this whole week was all about. Don’t forget the past. You have to remember what happened. You can’t just be a bystander.
FRANK TOWERS, PRESIDENT, 30TH INFANTRY DIVISION VETERANS of WWII
You know, I bid those people goodbye and thought I’d never see them again. So now here we are 65 years later, to come this full 65 years and, we’re coming together, and it’s a rewarding experience.
Watch a story about how a teacher fellow from the Museum reunited Jewish prisoners with U.S. Army soldiers who liberated them from a train near Magdeburg, Germany, on April 13, 1945.