Witnesses for Change: Stories of Liberation

Witnesses for Change: Stories of Liberation

Martin Aaron

Martin relates his experience of being liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in April 1945. Martin Aaron was born April 21, 1929, in Teresva, Czechoslovakia. Growing up in the nearby Jewish community of Sapanta, Romania, Martin recalls experiencing antisemitism, which intensified after Hungary annexed the area in 1940. In 1944, the Hungarians and Germans forced Martin, his parents, and five siblings to move into the Tacovo ghetto before they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Upon arrival, Martin was separated from his parents and four of his siblings, who were murdered there. He remained in Auschwitz-Birkenau for one month before he was sent on a forced march, first to Bunzlau and then on to Nordhausen and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. After being liberated by the British Army from Bergen-Belsen, Martin spent time in two displaced persons’ camps, finally leaving for the United States in March 1948. In the United States, Martin worked as a tailor and served the United States Army in Korea. At the time of his interview in 1997, Martin was married with three children and two grandchildren.

  • Martin Aaron

    Martin relates his experience of being liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in April 1945. Martin Aaron was born April 21, 1929, in Teresva, Czechoslovakia. Growing up in the nearby Jewish community of Sapanta, Romania, Martin recalls experiencing antisemitism, which intensified after Hungary annexed the area in 1940. In 1944, the Hungarians and Germans forced Martin, his parents, and five siblings to move into the Tacovo ghetto before they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Upon arrival, Martin was separated from his parents and four of his siblings, who were murdered there. He remained in Auschwitz-Birkenau for one month before he was sent on a forced march, first to Bunzlau and then on to Nordhausen and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. After being liberated by the British Army from Bergen-Belsen, Martin spent time in two displaced persons’ camps, finally leaving for the United States in March 1948. In the United States, Martin worked as a tailor and served the United States Army in Korea. At the time of his interview in 1997, Martin was married with three children and two grandchildren.

  • Rose Kaplovitz

    Rose describes her realization that the war had ended and her experience of being liberated from Ober Altstadt labor camp in Czechoslovakia in May 1945. Rose Kaplovitz was born Rozia Zaks on September 6, 1930, in Sosnowiec, Poland. Rose remembers her childhood in the Jewish community on the Polish-German border as relatively happy and secure. However, on the second day of the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, Rose witnessed her brother’s execution by German officers. In 1942, Rose and other family members were moved to the Sosnowiec ghetto while her two older sisters were sent for forced labor in Ober Altstadt, Czechoslovakia. Through information gleaned from the sisters’ postcards, Rose’s parents decided it was safer to volunteer thirteen-year-old Rose to join her sisters in the labor camp, where she worked spinning thread for two years. Rose and her sisters were liberated by the Soviet Army in May 1945. After learning the rest of their family had been murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the three sisters were able to join a children’s transport to the United States in September 1947. At the time of her interview in 1995, Rose was living with her husband, fellow survivor Henry Kaplovitz, in Florida and had three children.

  • Charlotte Chaney

    Charlotte shares her experience as a U.S. Army nurse who participated in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany in May 1945. Charlotte Chaney was born Charlotte Ellner on October 15, 1921, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Charlotte was trained as a nurse and then volunteered for the Army Air Corps in 1944. That same year she married United States Navyman Bernard Chaney. In May 1945, Charlotte was sent to Europe as a part of the Red Cross, not knowing she was about to take part in the liberation of Dachau concentration camp. Charlotte, who was Jewish, was among a group of nurses who accompanied American soldiers when they entered Dachau concentration camp. There, she helped clean up the camp and nurse survivors back to health. Charlotte returned to the United States in August of 1945, where she continued her career in nursing. At the time of her interview in 1995, Charlotte was living with her husband in Miami, Florida, and had one daughter and two grandsons.

  • Kurt Klein

    Kurt describes liberating survivors of a death march in May 1945, in Volary, Czechoslovakia, including his first encounter with his future wife, Gerda. Kurt Klein was born July 2, 1920, in Walldorf, Germany. As the Nazi persecution of German Jews intensified, Kurt’s parents decided to send him and his siblings to live with distant relatives in Buffalo, New York, where he worked in various jobs, including the printing business, trying to raise enough money to bring his parents to the United States. Kurt was drafted into the United States Army in 1943. After participating in the Normandy campaign in 1944, Kurt served as a prisoner-of-war interrogator. While in Czechoslovakia, Kurt met his future wife, survivor Gerda Weissmann. At the end of his service toward the end of 1945, Kurt proposed to Gerda before returning to the printing business in Buffalo. A year later in August 1946, Kurt and Gerda married in Paris and then settled in Buffalo. During the war, Kurt's parents were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they perished. At the time of Kurt’s interview in 1995, he and Gerda had three children and eight grandchildren, and were living in Scottsdale, Arizona. Kurt’s unique point of view is that of both a survivor and a liberator.

  • Gerda Klein

    Gerda describes being liberated by the United States Army and encountering her future husband, U.S. Army Lt. Kurt Klein, in Volary, Czechoslovakia, in May 1945. Gerda Klein was born Gerda Weissmann on May 8, 1924, in Bielsko, Poland. Gerda and her brother, Arthur, grew up relatively unaware of the spread of Nazism, until Poland was invaded in 1939; soon after, Arthur was taken away on a transport. In April 1942, Gerda and her parents were ordered into the Bielsko ghetto. Two months later, Gerda, her mother, and father were separated, and Gerda was sent to the Sosnowitz transit camp in Poland. She never saw her family again. After that, Gerda was moved from camp to camp. In January 1945, Gerda was sent on a death march from the Grünberg labor camp to the Helmbrechts labor camp in Germany and from there continued into Czechoslovakia. Gravely ill during the forced march, Gerda was liberated by the American Army, including her future husband, Lt. Kurt Klein, in Volary, Czechoslovakia. In August 1946, Gerda and Kurt were married in Paris before rreturning to Kurt's home in Buffalo, New York. There, Gerda would eventually work as a columnist for the Buffalo Evening-News. At the time of her interview in 1995, Gerda was living with her husband in Scottsdale, Arizona, and had three children and eight grandchildren.

  • Bernard Bermack

    Bernard relates his experience as an American GI liberating the Gunskirchen concentration camp in Austria in May 1945. Bernard Bermack was born April 3, 1922, in St. Louis, Missouri. Bernard entered the United States Army on October 7, 1942. After receiving training as an artillery specialist, Bernard went overseas as a member of Patton’s Third Army. In May 1945, he was dispatched to serve in an aid organization, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). After returning home in March 1946, Bernard worked as an auditor in Los Angeles with the Southern California Gas Company. At the time of Bernard’s interview in 1998, he and his wife, Audrey, had two children and two grandchildren.

  • Irene Weiss

    Irene recounts her experience of being liberated by the British Army from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in April 1945. Irene Weiss was born Irene Traub on August 2, 1919, in Halmeu, a small Jewish community in Romania. In March 1944, Irene, her parents, and seven siblings were deported to the Szatmar ghetto in Transylvania where they stayed for two months. In June 1944, Irene was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where she was separated from her parents, who would perish in the gas chambers, and began work as a forced laborer. In October 1944, she was taken to the Guben forced labor camp in Germany. In January 1945, Irene was sent on a three-week death march to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. There, Irene was liberated by the British Army in April 1945. She married her husband, fellow survivor Joseph Weiss, in February 1947. After living in communist Romania, Irene and Joseph immigrated with their two children to the United States on September 24, 1964, where Irene found work as a dressmaker. At the time of her interview in December 1994, Irene was living in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and had four grandchildren.

Liberation

As the Allies retook control of lands that had been occupied by the Germans, they came across many Nazi camps. In some instances, the Nazis had tried to destroy all evidence of the camps, in order to conceal from the world what had happened there. In other cases, only the buildings remained as the Nazis had sent the prisoners elsewhere, often on death marches.

However, in many camps, the Allied soldiers found hundreds or even thousands of emaciated survivors living in horrific conditions, many of whom were dying of malnourishment and disease.

The liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camps began in Eastern Europe when Soviet troops reached Majdanek in July 1944. Soon they found many other camp sites, some of which were camouflaged from the outside. The British and American troops who were approaching from the west did not reach the concentration camps of Germany until the spring of 1945. What they found were tens of thousands on the verge of death, as well as piles upon piles of corpses. The Allied liberators tried to help the survivors, but many died anyway in the weeks after liberation.

—From Lesson 8: Echoes and Reflections–A Multimedia Curriculum on the Holocaust