Veterans and former prisoners of war. Photo: Richard Chaitt.
A vanishing breed who refuse to allow their memories to die.
It is not often that one gets to see and honor a true hero in person let alone dozens of them. But that is exactly what an audience of 325, including 75 students from the Hebrew High schools of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, Adath Israel and Har Zion, experienced firsthand on Sunday at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood in a moving program to honor Concentration Camp Liberators, POWs, and veterans from the U.S. Military, IDF and Russian Army. The program was the brainchild of Ed “The Sage” Snyder of TBH-BE, and co-sponsored with the Israel Advocacy Committee and Men’s Club. It was an incredible and moving program, that recognized the service and heroism of thirty men and women who have served defending liberty and freedom. But unfortunately, the liberators who are in the mid 80s-90s are an all too-fast vanishing breed who will no longer be around to testify in person as to the atrocities they witnessed.
More after the jump.
Veterans: (left to right) Paul Seres (Ebensee; liberator of Mauthausen); Sidney Parmet (POW at Stalag 7B, from 45th Division); Arthur Seltzer; Frank Hartzell (11th Armored Div.; liberator of Mauthausen); Alexandra Bucharova (Russian Army, 16th Army, liberator of Majdanek). Photo: Richard Chaitt.
The program began with welcoming remarks and greetings from Lou Balcher of the Israel Consul General’s Office. Ed Snyder then introduced the program, and deliberately and overtly focusing his attention on the student section of the audience, our future leaders, so they could see and connect for themselves with the Holocaust and its horrors — and the brave men and women who served to defeat them. Ed then called the names of the veterans in attendance, starting with the liberators from the U.S,. Military: Arthur Seltzer, George Gunning, Arthur Goldstein, Frank Hartzell, Paul Seres, Morton Horrow, Marvin Davidow; Alexandra Bochova, a woman liberator from the Russian army; and POWs Stanley Malamut and Sydney Parmet. A member of the Catholic War Veterans was also in attendance to show solidarity. All other veterans in attendance from the various services were also recognized and all stood at their seats. Some came in with walkers, but all stood up. The audience was clearly moved by their presence.
Ed then introduced the guest speaker, Arthur Seltzer of Cherry Hill, whose Jewish War Veterans post, he boasted, was the largest in the country. Ed read a partial list of service medals Mr. Seltzer was awarded, which included the Bronze Star, and the list was astounding. Mr. Seltzer then took to the podium, wearing his JWV cap and medals, and recounted how as an 18-year-old after graduating Olney High School, he was drafted as a communications specialist, and in 1943 transported to England via the ship Queen Elizabeth. He described in vivid detail training for D-Day landing, and showed a dollar bill that had the signatures of 36 members of his squadron before the landing. He was weighed down with 70 pounds of communications equipment on his back and was essentially dumped over the side of the transport boat at Omaha Beach, fighting his way up, thousands of men and bodies strewn everywhere, very much like it was depicted in the movie Saving Private Ryan. He was in the 3rd-4th wave; in the 1st-2nd wave there were 60-80% wounded/killed. According to Mr. Seltzer, General Eisenhower had virtually no “Plan B” in case the invasion was thwarted. He then described how they were successful in beating back the Germans who were shooting down at them from the bluffs.
|Photograph taken May 6, 1945, the day after the official liberation of the Mauthausen main camp. Prisoners surround an M8 Greyhound armored car. Previous day’s liberation reenacted for photographers at the request of Gene. Eisenhower. The Nazi eagle over the gate had already been removed by the prisoners and the banner put up by the Spanish political prisoners reads “The Spanish Anti-Fascists Salute the Liberating Forces.”|
He operated communications equipment from a trailer with officers, and they fought their way through France, Ardennes Forrest and the Battle of the Bulge. He was with the 7th Armored Division and they liberated the 101st. They got marching orders that if they came to POW camp to get the US soldiers out, virtually at all costs.
On April 28, 1945, he arrived in Munich, and headed towards Dachau, a town eight miles outside the city. The war was coming to an end. His division, 20th Armored, was to go to the Elbe River to meet up with the Russian Army. The transport driver told them they were coming up to a POW camp, but then he was told to look more closely, and through binoculars he saw the inmates were not wearing army uniforms as POWs customarily did, but rather black and white pajama-like outfits. Up until that time, he said that the word “Concentration Camp” never came up, they did not hear of one, not know what one was. They cut the chain link fence to the camp, and they saw “a sight you could not believe someone could do this to another person.” There was a sign that said “work makes you free” in “German. He was only 20 years old and clearly not prepared for it. The smell, the stench: “can’t describe how bad the odor was.” Then he saw smoke coming out of a smoke- stack that was hidden by trees, and thought it was a factory. Instead, he learned later that it was the crematorium that was still burning and hot. Mr. Seltzer then turned to the students and said that he hoped that when they graduated college that they vote to make sure that people in Washington make sure this never happens again, as it is now also happening in Africa.
|Nazi eagle being pulled down by Mauthausen survivors, May 6, 1945|
He he never spoke about all this when he returned from the war, and never intended to. However, when his granddaughter was in 5th grade and had a homework assignment about the Holocaust, which is mandatory education in New Jersey- which he stated he hoped would be in the entire country- and volunteered him to speak to her class, he could not disappoint her, and has been now speaking ever since. He lamented that all too many people say this never happened.
He continued with the story, about how they stopped the inmates from attacking the six Germans who were left to guard the camp. They did kill the vicious, trained
tokill German police dog, however. Those six guards were taken captive and heavily interrogated.
His job in the signal corps was to take photos of the camp, which he did personally, and on orders from General Eisenhower who said to take as many photos to document it as he could because people will never believe it happened. What he saw and witnessed firsthand was mind-numbing: ashes from the crematorium that were still warm, mass graves and pits with bodies and bulldozers, starving inmates, many like walking skeletons, in thin pajamas or naked. Soldiers instinctively gave their K-rations to the prisoners, who could not handle it and got violently ill. They liberated 3700 prisoners.
He then showed some of the photos he took, warning in advance that they were graphic, and if the audience wanted to turn away they could. No one did. The photos showed many of the scenes common to those seen in Yad Vashem, the U.S. Holocaust Museum and other museums and exhibits-only these were taken by him personally.
One thing a liberator does, he said, was to try to find someone he liberated. He then related how his niece found a survivor in Ohio who he had liberated, and it turned out to be a boy who was 14 at the time and was pictured in one of his photographs. They had a very long, engaging talk. He ended his presentation by saying that he hopes his story will never be forgotten.
The Collaborative Hebrew High School of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El and Adath Israel then presented Mr. Seltzer with a special certificate for his service.
He took some questions from the audience. He said that being a Jew in the units he served in was not an impediment, no one felt they could not take orders from him- he was in charge of 24 soldiers, and he told them if anyone felt so, they could take it up with his commanders; no one did. He said he also felt that many of the non-Jewish soldiers took what they saw at Dachau very hard, could not believe that follow Christians could do such things. Many in the audience stayed for a long time afterward speaking with the liberators and veterans.