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March 13, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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March 13, 2009

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PAGE 10A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 13, 2009 Survivor recounts hellish time in Ahlem camp By Erin Elliott American Jewish World In the fall of 1998, Joe Rozenberg and his wife were eating dinner and watching the evening news in their St. Louis Park, Minn., home. Suddenly, a story aired about a manwhowas one of the libera- tors of the Ahlem concentra- tion camp, which had been set up outside of Hannover, Germany, during World War II. Rozenberg stopped eating. "When I heard that, that man liberated Ahlem, it was such a tiny camp, I was surprised," Rozenberg said. "I couldn't eat anymore because I was really anxious to find out who that man was."With the help of his son, Rozenberg found out the man was Vernon Tott of Sioux City, Iowa. "I called that Mr. Tott in Sioux City, Iowa, and we got in touch," Rozenberg said. Tott's story is chroni- cled in "Angel of Ahlem," a documentary scheduled for screening last week as part of the Sabes Foundation Min- neapolis Jewish Film Festival. In 1944, Tott was 19 years old and was being shipped overseas with the U. S. Army. In Louisiana, he stopped at a pawnshop and purchased a small camera and one roll of film. When Tott's unit, the 84th Infantry Division, liber- ated the small concentration camp of Ahlem, he used the courtesy of Joe Rozenberg Joe Rozenberg, pictured in Hannover, Germany, in 1945. camera to take 19 black- and-white pictures of the survivors--a small group of Polish Jews, including Rozen- berg--and the conditions in which they had lived, The pictures ended up in a shoebox in Tott's basement until 1995, when Tott answered an ad in a veterans' newsletter for the soldier who had taken the photos at Ahlem 50 years ear- lier. "[Tott] was working at a slaughterhouse in Sioux City, Iowa, but he was retired at the time, and he started to spend all of his time looking up survivors of that concentra- tion camp," Rozenberg said. "When I found out, I started to correspond with him, and Erin Elliott Joe Rozenberg, in his St. Louis Park apartment in March 2009. I wrote him a letter, and he wanted to know everyone's past history. So I wrote him my letter, how I remember liberation." A native of Lodz, Poland, Rozenberg described his family as "blessed" until 1942, when his mother and brother were killed by Nazi soldiers. Rozenberg, then just a teenager, was forced into the Lodz Ghetto with his father and four sisters before being shipped toAuschwitz in 1944. At Auschwitz, Rozenberg was separated from his family and stayed at the camp for three weeks. "It was three long, long, long weeks," Rozen- berg said. "It's amazing how long it can be sometimes." Rozenberg then signed up to work at the Continental Gummiwerke Rubber Factory at Stocken, near Hannover, where he stayed for three months before being marched off toAhlem. There, he worked 12-hour shifts in an under- ground mine, and witnessed beatings and hangings. "At Stocken, only four or five people died," Rozenberg said. "At Ahlem, it was like flies. People died right and left." In April 1945, Rozenbergwas no longer able to work. The Ger- man soldiers took those still healthy enough to march and abandoned the others in the barracks. "Decimated, dirty and cold," those left behind looted the kitchen. "It was really like nature, like survival of the fittest," Rozenberg said. "Maybe I got a few crumbs." For the next few days, Rozen- berg and others hid behind the barracks, in an abandoned German cottage in the woods and in the camp's flooded mineshaft. Finally, they heard the trucks of the American soldiers. "I remember when we went out and saw that it was Americans, we went into the camp and I remember we took a bed sheet from the S. S. barracks and we put it out," Rozenberg said. "The Ameri- cans suggested that we put a white sheet on a pole so that means no fighting here. They drove in, and they brought in food and a lot of help. We stayed there for another two days and we were liberated on the 10th of April." Rozenberg and later his oldest sister--the only member of his family to survive--recovered at the Heidehaus Sanatorium in Hannover. With the help of the Swedish Red Cross, the siblings lived in Sweden for several years and Rozenberg came to Minnesota in 1958. Rozenberg and Tort met twice in person. Once was at the 10th anniversary of the U, S. HolocaustMemorial Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2003, when Tott presented the survivors with a book of the information he had compiled about Ahlem. "Tott spent the rest of his life to convey the story of Ahlem and look- ing for any survivors in the world," Rozenberg said. "He tried to ID people by name in the photos he took. He did everything he could and spoke about what his experience was like at liberation." Rozenberg and Tott spoke several times on the phone and exchanged many letters until Tott's death from cancer in 2006. Rozenberg, now 83, has three children and eight grandchil- dren. He took his family to Poland in 1996 and was able to find his family's home, his school and his grandfather's grave. "It should be told over and over, as we tell the story of Passover--the exodus from Egypt," Rozenberg said of his experience. "This is so new, it should be taught in every class." Erin Elliott is the com- munity news editor of the American Jewish World in Minneapolis, Minn., www. Camp Gan Israel-Orlando set for summer session Malky Lessel (1), Samantha Davis, Celia Bishop and Anael Cohen gear up for some seri- ous water tubing last summer at Camp Gan Israel-Orlando. Taxes and laws are ever-changing. Is your financial advisor up-to-date? Is your money earning up to its potential? 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Mitchell Walk. President, AAIdS Camp Gan Israel-Orlando is accepting registration for the summer session at its Windermere/Gotha camp. The camp caters to Jewish children of all ages and is part of the largest and fastest growing networkofJewish day camps in the world, according to camp organizers. Gan Israel is dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish children from diverse backgrounds and af- filiations. CGI of Orlando of- fers custom tailored activities, both classic and innovative. Camp officials say the counselors are chosen for their personal warmth and ability to understand and care for each child as an individual. Counselors have prior camp experience and are well trained in safety. Each counselor is a role model for the children, promising them friendships that will last forever. Their mission is to seamlessly create a dream summer of arts, athletics, adventure, and friendship, all within a Jewish framework. Camp Gan Israel has been accredited by the American Camping Association since 2005. "We are proud to have met over 300 standards for health, safety regulations, programming, staff train- ing, food preparation and transportation," says Chani Konikov, the camp's direc- tor. "It requires a lot of work and organization to carry the accreditation, but it gives parents the confidence that our camp is truly top notch." Friday Shabbat parties, challah baking, weekly Judaic themes and kosher food hunts all bring to life the values and beauty of Jewish traditions, she says. Also, special events for the entire family are scheduled throughout the summer. They include a Shabbat dinner and farewell performance. Each camper can express his or her creativity, custom designing a part of their week by choosing from a variety of electives. Camp Gan Israel offers a water activity program, supervised by certified Red Cross lifeguards. Campers have daily swim time in the pool, and there is boating and wakeboarding in the lake. In addition to specialty activities, such as horseback riding, food decorating andwoodworking, CGI offers archery, a ropes course, leather crafting and theater. An array of sports also is available including soccer, baseball, basketball and foot- ball. Experienced instructors teach fundamental sports techniques as well as team- work and sportsmanship. Camp Gan Israel's arts and crafts counselors encourage children's natural creativity and imagination, says camp officials. Crafts incorporate Jewish themes as well as projects both fun and useful. Camp officials say that camp would not be complete withoutweekly trips featuring excursions to destinations such as fun gym for the little ones, skating, amusement parks, natural springs and a trip to a marionette theater. Camp runs Monday through Friday from June 29 through July 24. For registration informa- tion, call 407-354-3660, or visit for a camp promo video and gen- eral info.