Author couldn't travel to Germany for WWII train liberation anniversary
By GRETTA HOCHSPRUNG | The Post Star | Published: April 16, 2020
Stars and Stripes is making stories on the coronavirus pandemic available free of charge. See other free reports here. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here. Please support our journalism with a subscription.
HARTFORD, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Author Matthew Rozell was planning to travel to Germany to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the train liberation near Magdeburg.
“I’m supposed to be there right now,” said Rozell, who, due to the coronavirus pandemic, couldn’t travel from his hilltop home in Hartford to the small German town where Americans liberated a train of Jews 75 years ago on April 13, 1945.
A ceremony was supposed to take place at the site Friday, but that, too, was canceled due to the pandemic.
Instead, a lone German high school student named Johanna Mücke placed flowers on the base where a monument was to be dedicated. Mücke’s class had worked on an award-winning project about the liberation.
About 15 Holocaust survivors, the children of the liberators and tank commanders, German politicians — about 100 people in total — were planning to travel to this small German town this week.
Rozell, himself, was going to give a speech at the Friday event.
“We’re disappointed that we can’t be there,” Rozell said, adding, “I take immense gratification that there’s a high school kid in her class 6,000 miles away on top of this thing, and they’re not forgetting it. I think that’s really important, especially considering the fact that they’re German.”
The story of the train started in Rozell’s classroom when he was a history teacher at Hudson Falls. Rozell was interviewing veterans for the Hudson Falls High School World War II Living History Project he started.
An interview with retired U.S. Army Sgt. Carrol “Red” Walsh of Johnstown unearthed the story, which turned into Rozell’s second book and an upcoming documentary film to be aired on PBS.
In April 1945, near the end of World War II, Army Sgt. George Gross and Walsh were deep in the heart of Nazi Germany, part of the U.S. 30th Infantry Division and the 743rd Tank Battalion, when they spotted a train sitting on the tracks.
The train contained 2,500 Jews, who were saved at the last moment from extermination.
Rozell and filmmaker Mike Edwards were planning to capture the ceremony in Germany to be used in the film as well as conduct additional interviews with Germans connected to the liberation.
“We were going to film it all,” Rozell said. “And we were going to go to Bergen-Belsen, which is where the train originated from.”
Monday was the 75th anniversary of the train. Wednesday was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, the Nazi concentration camp.
Rozell gives credit to the students and their teacher for studying this part of their history and commemorating the 75th anniversary with Mücke’s flowers.
“This whole project started in my history class here,” Rozell said, “and I’m retired now, but these kids over in Germany with their teacher, I don’t know, it’s kind of like coming full circle in a way.”