GLENS FALLS — Clara Rudnick lived in the cellar of a house for seven months with three others. It had a dirt floor and one light. She could only eat and drink food at night in order to stay hidden. She was 17 years old.
“One morning we heard a lot of noise upstairs. I peeked through the hatch door. I saw Nazis and they saw me. When I ducked down, the Nazis started shooting at us. A bullet grazed my stomach, but killed Mr. Buerstein (a family friend) instantly.”
Rudnick had finally been captured by Nazis soldiers after months on the run. She ended up in a death camp in Stutthof, Poland — the first concentration camp ever built by the Nazis outside of Germany. Out of the 110,000 people brought there, 85,000 died.
“I felt doomed.”
These are the words written by Rudnick, 94, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Queensbury.
Rudnick shared her gripping story through Nicki Fedele, a senior from Queensbury High School, Wednesday night to a room of over 100 people at the Salvation Army building on Broad Street. The evening was for the “Liberation from Nazis” American Legion speaker series on World War II.
The program featured students from Glens Falls High School and Queensbury High School who told the stories of what the instant loss of freedom was like.
Audience members cried during the 45-minute presentation.
Fedele told how Rudnick’s family had been mowed down with machine guns and burned alive. She had to dig graves with her fingers to bury bodies and was being starved.
But that’s not the part of the story Rudnick focuses on.
“God allowed me to survive four years of the Nazis. … I tell this story so you can teach everyone that this terrible part of history must be remembered, and it really did happen” is the message she’s been sharing for years in the United States and Israel.
It’s the same message other immigrants who were liberated from the Nazis at the end of World War II told, as well as two U.S. Army soldiers of the 1944 invasion of Normandy, both teenagers at that time. One jumped with the 82nd Airborne Division and the other went ashore at Omaha Beach.
That latter was Henry Gurney’s story, who was a private at Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy. Today, he lives in Whitehall.
Walton Stanton, a senior at Glens Falls High School, told his story.
“My message to students is that freedom is not free,” Stanton read from Gurney’s story.
“D-Day was the largest invasion in history. It had to be. We could not afford to lose.”
“Our troops ran like hell in the barrage of artillery, machine gun fire and mine explosions. … You could see an arm here, a leg or head there and bodies floating in the bloody water along the beach.”
Stanton said he felt honored to read Gurney’s story.
“To tell and take the experiences and lessons of what he went through ... it’s unbelievable. He was about my age when that happened,” Stanton said.
Wednesday night was the first time the students and survivors met.
Other liberators thanked God for the U.S. Army and the freedom that was returned to them and their home countries.
“You live in the best country in the world and you are lucky to live here,” Rudnick wrote.
“I would have died a horrible death like the 6 million others if it had not been for the U.S. armed forces. … God bless them, God bless all of you and God bless America.”