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Holocaust survivors reunite with their rescuers
Holocaust survivors reunite with their rescuers

HUDSON FALLS - In 1945, the stories in Stars and Stripes told of Nazis torturing Jews.

Frank Towers, then a first lieutenant with the U.S. Army 30th Infantry Division, thought the story was propaganda by the U.S. military to get soldiers to fight harder.

His views on the brutality of the Nazis changed on April 13 of that year, three weeks before the end of World War II, when he and a small tank battalion found a train the Nazis left behind near Magdeburg in central Germany.

The train had been bound for a death camp. Its cargo: 2,500 Jews locked inside old boxcars. Each boxcar carried 75 to 100 men, women and children who had been packed together for six days with little food, their sanitary facilities limited to a bucket.

For the soldiers, the sight was a revelation of the racial hatred driving the Nazis.

Towers' encounter with the holocaust survivors ended after they were brought to a safe location.

The encounter resumed Wednesday, when Towers and other soldiers were reunited with some of those very survivors at Hudson Falls High School for a three-day event to discuss their memories of April 13, 1945.

"It's a very emotional meeting for most of us," said Towers, who today lives in Florida. "Most of these survivors had never met each other before."

The event featured various stories, like the one of George Gross, a tank commander who used a small Kodak camera to take photos of the survivors, some fleeing from the train, others pausing to rejoice over their newfound freedom.

Gross has since died. His son, Tim Gross, came to Hudson Falls to talk about his father.

Another speaker was Carrol Walsh, who, like George Gross, was a member of the 743rd Tank Battalion. Walsh recounted the conditions the survivors endured on the train and the shock of the soldiers who found them.

Towers shared his tale about providing care for the survivors and transporting them to a safe location before he was ordered back to the battle zone.

Then there was Steven Barry, who was 20 when he was freed from the train nearly 65 years ago.

"I am standing here despite the odds, and the odds were not good," Barry said.

But along with allowing holocaust survivors and former soldiers the chance to share their tales, the reunion was also a history lesson for students in the audience.

One message they often heard was to never forget the holocaust.

"It was very moving. It was emotional, even for me as a student," said Erica French, a Hudson Falls junior.

The school became involved in the lives of the soldiers and survivors in 2001, when history teacher Matt Rozell interviewed one of the tank commanders, the grandfather of one of his students.

He and his students posted the information on a Web site. It included the photos taken by George Gross. Holocaust survivors discovered the Web site. That led to a reunion in 2007.

Through stories by the media, other soldiers and survivors learned about the 2007 reunion and contacted the school.

Barry, a Florida resident, was stunned to find that such a reunion had occurred. After contacting the school, he learned Towers lived two hours away from him. They later met and became friends.

This week's event was scheduled so other soldiers and survivors could meet one another, as fewer of them are alive today.

On Wednesday, during a lunch at the school, Barry went around the room to shake hands and share stories with soldiers and survivors.

When he came across one war veteran, he leaned over to express his gratitude.

"What you guys did for me, and I'm sure I speak for everybody, is restore my faith in humanity," Barry said.

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