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January 31, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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January 31, 2014

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PAGE 12A courtesy Frank Towers The post-Holocaust lives led by those whom Frank Towers, pictured here in 2006, and his U.S. Army comrades saved in 1945 are a source of gratification for him. By Hillel Kuttler BALTIMORE (JTA)--Even at 96, Frank Towers still recalls the stench of the prisoner train when its doors were opened nearly seven decades ago. "Not to be believed," he said. It was April 13, 1945, when the U.S. Army's 30th Infantry Division, to which Towers be- longed, freed prisoners from the Bergen-Belsen concentra- tion camp in Germany who had been packed onto a train 40 to 50 cars long bound for Theresienstadt. They had been on the train for six days before it was stopped at a railway siding near Farsleben over a bureaucratic dispute. HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 31, 2014 Ex-U.S. soldier, t lf, engineering reunions of prisoners he helped free After many of the train's guards fled, some 200 Jews escaped. The escapees soon encountered a reconnais- sance group from the 30th and led the soldiers to the train, where the remaining guards surrendered. Once the doors were opened, the prisoners "just fell out," said Towers, a first lieutenant and now a resident of Brooker, Fla., near Gaines- ville. "They were so happy to be liberated, they wanted to hug us--but we didn't want them to touch us because we didn't know what diseases they were carrying." Now Towers is determined to find the approximately 700 former prisoners he estimates could still be alive today from the 2,500 liberated by his unit. He says he has located 235. He's had help from awoman in Israel who has located scores of survivors in Hungary--her father, a Budapest native, was among the saved. About a decade ago, Tow- ers established a website,, for the benefit of his cohort, and posted an appeal for the train sm, vivors to contact him. A woman inAustralia responded first, and "the whole thing snowballed" from there, he said. On May 18, 2011, a reunion in Rehovot, Israel, drew 50 of the train's passengers and more than 400 of their descen- dants. The survivors also flew in Towers and his son, Frank Jr., for the event. "To be able to thank him for his service andwhat he did o Custom Print Marketing Inwtations & ts Digital &- Offset Printing Brochures - Booklets Direct Mail Services Forms & Le E00lo00s 407-767-7110 205 North Street. Longwood, FL 32750 - Mentn T Ad d Receive 18A Dcxnt - HANDYMAN SERVICE Handy man and General Maintenance Air Conditioning Electrical Plumbing Carpentry Formerly handled maintenance at JCC References available STEVE'S SERVICES Call Steve Doyle at (386) 668-8960 ,, , .... Let a Doctor of Education with 4 college degrees and more than 30 years of teaching experience Dr. Betty Arsenault Member of IECA work one-on-one with your child. Study Skills, Elementary and Middle School Math, Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Geometry, Reading Comprehension, Language Arts SAT I ACT 1 FCAT [ TOEFL I GED My Students Experience Success 409 Montgomery Road, Suite 165 [ Altamonte Springs, FL 32714 ] ] 407-869-8444 for our country and the world was so important to me," said Col. Todd Cyril, a Pentagon official who as defense attache at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv addressed the reunion attendees. "The train vignette is itself a great story, and what Frank has done to bring these people together is an even greater story." Towers has since met an- nually in Floridawith smaller groups of survivors: in St. Petersburg in 2012, and the last two years in Boca Raton, including on Jan. 7. In Febru- ary, some of the survivors plan to attend the 30th Division's reunion in Savannah, Ga. In Bergen-Belsen, the sur- vivors had been held in the "star camp," allowing them to wear their own clothes-- albeit with the yellow Stars of David--rather than inmate uniforms. Mostly they were foreign nationals, with many hold- ing entry documents to prestate Israel and South American and other coun- tries. They were held for future exchange with the Allies for German prisoners of war and lived in far bet- ter conditions than other camp inmates. Indeed, the trains from which they were rescued were passenger cars, not cattle cars. Here's what Towers and his unit did: They evacuated the liberated from the approach- ing battle zone. Towers, who at the time was serving as a liaison officer between the division's headquarters and the regimental headquarters of the 743rd Tank Battalion, helped round up 50 trucks, ambulances and other mili- tary vehicles to relocate the freed prisoners. The U.S. soldiers ordered local mayors to requisition housing, food and medical care for the survivors, said Steven Luckert, the U.S. Ho- locaust Museum's curator of permanent exhibitions. Those requiring treatment, includ- ing for typhus, were taken to three buildings in Farsleben and nearby Hilersleiben that became ad-hoc hospitals. Ap- proximately 20 prisoners had died on the train, Luckert said. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of George Gross The former inmates who were transported by train from Bergen-Belsen were photographed in Farsleben, Germany, shortly after their liberation by U.S. troops on Apr. 13, 1945. The convoy required sev- eral round trips to transport everyone late that afternoon and evening. "We feel that Frank is a hero, but he says he's not," said Mattie Tugendhaft, 76, who was hidden during the Nazi occupation of his native Netherlands and whose wife, Myrna Reens, and father-in- law were liberated from the train. The Tugendhafts hosted the January gathering at their winter home. Eventually the survivors es- tablished new lives elsewhere and Towers returned to his hometown of St. Johnsbury, Vt. He attended college and in 1950 moved to Florida, where he worked as an office manager at the University of Florida. The Tugendhafts became wealthy as owners of duty-free shops at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport. Others freed from the train made their marks, too, like Warsaw native Micha Tomkiewicz, a physics profes- sor at New York's Brooklyn College. Towers evinces pride relat- ing the names of the Jews who became surgeons in Jerusalem and in London, and engineers, lawyers, teachers, businesspeople and house- wives. But a hint of shame--in himself--accompanies his voice across the phone line, too. "The whole thing has taught me to be more tolerant of people," he said from his home. "In the past I was criti- cal of Jews and other people, but it was not the right thing to do." Last April 11, the flag rep- resenting the 30th Infantry Division assumed a place of honor during the National Days of Remembrance cer- emony, an annual event com- memorating the Holocaust at the U.S. Capitol's Rotunda. It was added to the 35 others af- ter the U.S. Holocaust Memo- rial Museum in Washington and the U.S. Army Center for Military History determined in late 2012 that members of the division had liberated Holocaust survivors. The flag, which now hangs at the Washington museum, does not honor the heroism of Towers and his compatri- ots at Farsleben. Instead, the division is recognized for its liberation the day before of Weferlingen, a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. According to Luckert, only divisions that liberated in- mates in concentration camps qualify for the honor. Towers is trying to find the U.S. soldiers from Farsleben; the drivers, medics and other staff in the military vehicles would've numbered at least 100, he thinks. So far, he's been unsuccessful. Two sergeants at Farsleben who attended past Florida re- unions--George Gross, who photographed the group at the train tracks shortly after liberation, and Carrel Walsh, who went on to become a judge--have died. Talking about his unit's efforts at Farsleben, Towers said, "We were trained to fight a war. We weren't trained to be humanitarians. But these people were dumped in our laps andwe couldn't just leave them." Please email Hillel Kut- tier at if you know the whereabouts of those who were liberated from the train at Farsleben on April 13, 1945. If you would like "Seeking Kin" to write about your search for long- lost relatives and friends, please include the principal facts and your contact in- formation in a brief email. "Seeking Kin" is sponsored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shuchat, a lifelong uniter of the Jewish people. ?voming personal: Kerry-Ya'alon stir indicates policy differences By Alex Traiman Leaked comments Israeli Defense Minister Moshe [Bogie] Ya'alon made about U.S. Secretary State of State John Kerry's approach to Israeli-Palestinian con- flict negotiations caused a diplomatic stir last week. Yet Ya'alon's reported re- marks--which character- ized Kerry's approach as an "obsession" and as "messi- anic'--appear to have less to do with any personal dislike of Kerry and more to do with how Kerry's pursuit of a two-state solution is at odds with the defense minister's understanding of Israel's security needs. Ya'alon on page 14A Flash90 Israeli Defense Minister Moshe 'Boogie' Ya'alon gives a statement to the media during a visit to the IDF Central Command on Jan. 7. The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Jan. 14 quoted Ya'alon as saying U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's approach to Israeli- Palestinian conflict negotiations is an obsession" and "messianic," igniting a dipiomatic stir.