Hamodia Magazine January 20, 2010
proceeded to free Belgium and Holland.The Siegfried Line, Germany’s heavyWestwall of defense, had to be penetratedbefore they could enter the heart of thebeast itself.The 30th Infantry Division, a unit of theAmerican Army National Guard, valiantlylaunched an attack on this Germandefensive line. They were the first Alliedunit to have entered Belgium and Holland.Now they were leading the way into inlandGermany. As the Americans, British, andFrench were closing in from the westernfront, Soviet troops were advancing fromthe east. The combined operation wouldresult in German surrender on May 7, 1945.It was a group closely associated withthe 30th Infantry Division, the 743rd TankBattalion, that chanced upon the idle trainparked on the railroad tracks.It happened as they were pressingforward to liberate Magdeburg, seventy-seven miles southwest of Berlin. The 743rdTank Battalion was sent ahead to scout outthe area in search of a German ambush. Onthe way, they entered the town ofFarsleben, just sixteen miles ahead ofMagdeburg. They did not discover anyGerman resistance, only that hapless train.The Heaven-sent emissaries had arrived.Seeing the Allied unit approaching, theGerman crew rushed to the car attached tothe locomotive and tried escaping bydriving it away. They were soon taken overby American backup troops.Liberation had arrived. The train thatwas meant to be a death sentence for overtwo thousand helpless Jews was now atrain to life.It was Major Clarence L. Benjamin of the743rd Battalion who encountered a groupof roaming Finnish soldiers, escapees fromtheir prisoner-of-war camp. Having heardthat a German train was approaching, theynotified the American trooper. Benjaminrushed back to the battalion and orderedtank commanders George C. Gross andCarrol Walsh to drive up with him toinvestigate.Finding the long train of grimy cars filledwith gaunt bodies, sixty and seventypacked to a car, the Allied soldiers werestunned. The train, a remnant of World WarI that was referred to as a “40 and 8,” had amaximum capacity of forty people or eighthorses per car. There were over 2,500suffering Jewish souls on board. Up untilthat moment, rumors of German cruelty tocivilians had been taken as propagandameant to encourage Allied soldiers. Thiswas their first confrontation with thevictims whom the Germans had tried sohard to hide.“They were packed in there so tightlythat they did not have room to sit or liedown, so they just had to stand uprightuntil they collapsed and crumpled to thefloor because of exhaustion,” described Mr.Frank W. Towers, lieutenant of the 30thInfantry Division, who arrived at Farslebenlater that evening. In a recounting of thestory, titled “The Death Train at Farsleben,Germany, 13 April 1945,” he stated, “Theyhad no ... facilities except a single bucket inone corner of the car, which most could noteven reach as the sudden necessity arose.We had liberated a few Allied P.O.W.camps and fed DP camps, but this was thefirst of the ‘tortured Jewish victims’ that wehad read about but never seen before.”Once they realized freedom had come,those who were able ran toward theirliberators, greeting them with deepemotion. They crowded around theirsaviors and communicate their stories inwhatever English they knew. The kindsoldiers shared whatever edibles they hadhandy, but it was far from enough.As the rest of the battalion andassociated troops arrived, food and clothingwas rounded up from the nearby town ofHillersleben. The German inhabitants hadbeen warned to vacate the town. Theformer Bergen-Belsen prisoners werebrought to Hillersleben to recuperate andwere told they could settle in any of thehouses they saw. For many, it would be thefirst time in years that they had slept in asoft bed rather than on a cramped woodencot or a wooden “shelf” in a barracks. Sadly,though, some had died on the train, whileothers died after their liberation from frailtyor because their bodies could not toleratethe food they ate.
This author interviewed severalsurvivors of the Farsleben train. Althoughtheir general experiences aboard the trainwere similar, each shared their own stories,emphasizing different details, since eachhad been affected in a unique way. For all ofthem, however, memories of the fateful daythat restored them to life are very clear andpoignant.Mr. Benjamin Zev Vorst, born inHolland and currently living in London,was deported from his native country toBergen-Belsen along with his parents andthree siblings. “It was a very big exception,”he stresses, “that all six of us survived,
... We didn’t have to wear thestriped suit because we were children. I waseight years old.“We left the camp on Shabbos, 7 April1945. Even though it was Shabbos, myfather said we had to travel because cholera[typhoid] was spreading and killing peoplein the camp.“We had to walk to the train, and it wasalready getting dark. The Germans didn’tlook at any identification papers. They justwanted us out of there. It was a long way tothe platform, but we had to walk all of it.My father put us right in the front of thecrowd because we heard that anyone whoended up in the back of the march would beshot. This wasn’t the case here, though,because they didn’t have enough soldiers.Not many Germans were looking after usbecause they had all been ordered away tostop the advancing Allied armies. We were