As Americans and as Jews, we come to the Shoah from (at least) two different directions. Identifying with the victims (as we all must and do), we are filled with all the same emotions: horror at the scope of the tragedy, resolution to combat anti-Semitism wherever it rears its head, and resolve never to let the memory of the martyrs be forgotten. But as Americans, we also identify with the liberators, with the bravest of the brave who fought on the ground in Europe and who, in the end, brought Germany to its knees, liberated the camps, and saved the lives of countless others that would have died had the war dragged on for months...or even for years.
I'd like to write to you today specifically about the liberators, whose stories are less often heard than those of the survivors. This, I believe, is unfortunate for several reasons. For one thing, the youngest among the liberators are considerably older than the youngest survivors--there were children among the survivors who were hidden during the war and there were even some few child survivors of the camps. (For example, among the 2,819 individuals liberated at
I've also been thinking about the liberators for two other reasons. One, because one of them, Herman Horowitz, who was with General Patton's 7th Armor Division and who personally participated in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen and Ohrdruf, is going to be our guest speaker this year on Yom Hashoah. It seems to me that no Shelter Rock family should pass up the chance to take children and grandchildren to meet this man and to hear his story. The war ended 63 years ago. There are no liberators, I don't believe, younger than 80. These people were there. They saw it all...and they met and talked with many among the liberated who died within days or weeks of liberation. Their testimony is priceless...and it will only be available to subsequent generations on audio or videotape. But it is available to us in person...for the sole price of showing up and listening. (For another liberator's account of what the American Army found at Ohrdruf, a satellite camp just north of
As we prepare to sit down at our seder tables, it would behoove us all to resolve not to pass up a single opportunity to hear the stories both of survivors and liberators from their own mouths, thus unadulterated by the insight of (even well-meaning) historians. That, I believe, would be a worthy response to the story we read in the Haggadah...because, although we cannot meet any of the former slaves who fled
I have heard several liberators speak over the years. Of them, the most compelling was an elderly woman I met in