Local News

Vets, Holocaust Survivors Reunite With Hugs, Tears

Posted March 28, 2008 5:19 p.m. EDT
Updated March 28, 2008 5:53 p.m. EDT

— Elisabeth Seaman was 6 when she and her mother were taken from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in 1945 and crammed onto a train with 2,500 others.

"I remember it being extremely crowded," Seaman said. "People (were) dying on the train."

Piled on top of each other for days, they endured a horrible trip, most likely meant to be the end of the line as Allied troops closed in on their German captors.

"Either the train was to be driven into the Elbe River, or it was to be blown up," said Seaman, whose father died in Bergen-Belsen.

American troops from Fort Bragg rescued those in the train near the town of Magdeburg, Germany, during the closing days of World War II. Four other trains from the camp were never found.

The Holocaust survivors from that train had an opportunity Friday to meet the soldiers who saved their lives 63 years ago. The gathering in Fayetteville was emotional for all involved.

"When the doors were opened on the freight cars, some of those people literally fell out like cord wood," said veteran Frank Towers, who said he was still haunted by the memory.

William Gast was a member of the 743rd Tank Battalion, 30th Infantry Division, which liberated Magdeburg.

"(It was horrifying) to see a pregnant lady sitting in a chair shot through the head ... with a baby in her arms," Gast said, choking back tears.

To survivors like Ernest Kan, who was among 30,000 slaves who worked in a German munitions factory in Magdeburg, Gast and other American soldiers were heroes.

"It was a moment I'll never forget," Kan said, noting he was moments from execution when the soldiers arrived. "He gave us back our life and our freedom, and I will never forget it."

Gast said he appreciated the opportunity to meet the survivors after so many years.

"The best part is ... to know these people are living their life like human beings," he said.