Dear Friend of Israel,
Memory is a funny thing. We can experience something so moving, or hear or see something so beautiful, that we are sure we’ll remember it always. But then months or years pass and we try to recall that vacation memory or that sacred encounter, and we find it’s less clear — faded with time and age and a million other details from our day-to-day lives.
Even God knows our tendency to forget. Time and again he instructed the Israelites to build an altar at the spot of a miracle to jog their memories and to remind them to tell their children about what happened. Because some things are so wonderful, so miraculous — the parting of the Red Sea, deliverance from a huge invading army — that we simply have to remember.
And other things are so horrifying — like the Holocaust — that we simply can’t forget.
This is the concept behind Michael Hirsh’s new book The Liberators. Hirsh, a Vietnam veteran and seasoned author, interviewed more than 150 U.S. soldiers who liberated the Nazi death camps at the close of World War II. As Hirsh writes in the book’s introduction, “The soldiers on the scene were certainly, and importantly, American witnesses to the Holocaust — a condition that, as you’ll learn, often had lifelong negative consequences.”
The goal of this book is to capture these eyewitness accounts before they are gone. At the time of the interviews, the veterans ranged in age from 83 to 96. These firsthand accounts, vital pieces of world history, are disappearing as the surviving liberators die, taking their experiences and testimonies with them. And as Arab leaders and Palestinian schoolbooks continually deny the horrific reality of the Holocaust, these accounts are even more important.
In the pages of The Liberators we meet Norman Fellman and Morton Brooks, two U.S. Army veterans who talk about spending time in several different concentration camps as prisoners after it was discovered they’re both Jewish. Melvin Waters, a volunteer civilian ambulance driver, shares about a woman at the notorious Bergen-Belsen camp who “fought us like a cat because she thought we were taking her to the crematory.” Phyllis Lamont Law, an army nurse, recounts the seemingly impossible task of caring for thousands of walking skeletons — and the hope of “saving a few” so that they could live to experience their hard-won freedom.
The Liberators is a difficult yet needed book. Remembering the sights, smells, and sounds was not easy for these veterans, and for some it was the first time in decades, if not the first time ever, they had shared these heart-wrenching memories. By doing so they have given the rest of us eyewitness accounts that will help us ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust are never repeated.
One of the recurring refrains of Holocaust discourse is “never forget.” The Liberators helps us with this most important of sacraments: remembering.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
President, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews