by Fran Morris
As I read the story, “The Holocaust Train That Led Jews to Freedom Instead of Death,” printed in Haaretz, I felt like I was watching a movie. The story line was such that I almost felt like I was part of the movie myself. Except the story being told was true.
According to the article, the death train left Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany on April 7, 1945, one of three such trains, taking prisoners to another camp to get rid of them. Unbelievably, each train carried about 2,500 prisoners. The article also stated that only one train reached the Theresienstadt concentration camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia after a few dozen of its passengers were killed by aerial bombings.
One version of the story stated that the S.S. Personnel on the train had been ordered to destroy the train and drown all the prisoners. However, this particular train stopped in a valley between two mountains and a river. The Germans fled, leaving behind “two elderly soldiers to guard the Jews, who were overcome by young people among the prisoners.” In a book by Matt Rozell, author of “A Train Near Magdeburg,” Rozell quoted one of the liberators, Sgt. George Gross, “Our taking of the train, therefore, was no great heroic action but a small police operation. The heroism that day was all with the prisoners on the train.”
Upon their liberation the smorgasbord of emotions of the people that ranged from disbelief and fear to joy was human, not acting on a screen. The two people in the photograph who were sitting on the hillside observing the people gathered together beside the train, not knowing what would become of them, also seemed to be captivated by the scene.
All that changed when the “Cavalry” showed up. There must have been a moment of silence, as their minds took in the reality, that they had been rescued, and weren’t going to die, after all. And to top it off, at least two of the rescuers were fellow Jews! That is not surprising to us, but to those who had been imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps and suffered, maybe not physically, but scarred emotionally and mentally, it must have been totally unbelievable that not all Jews in the world were hunted down and killed as many of them were. After the shock of the deliverance, a bit of “survivor’s guilt and remorse” must have been mingled with the joyfulness, relief, and realization that they, indeed, were a free people.
It is their accounts, and the stories of all Jews, and non-Jews who helped the to save them, which keep the anti-Holocaust rhetoric from erasing the truth. Who knew about the train that carried the Jews from one concentration camp to another as bombing was approaching? We only know now because of some photographs stored in a shoebox in a home in San Diego, California. Are there other shoeboxes with pictures and letters that have not come to light?
These stories, and others, will be discovered, as all will be revealed.