And for John, it was a different April

(Canscene) — Don’t introduce a Holocaust denier to my brother
John. What happened to him in April 1945 two days after my experience related in Remembering Another April is living proof of the unspeakable horror of Nazi death camps.

He and his wife Betty were visiting us recently. One Sunday afternoon, we were relaxing after a family gathering the previous night when Betty expressed the wish to watch my DVD of The Young Lions, the memorable film of Irwin Shaw’s equally memorable novel about three men — two Americans and one German — soldiers in World War II.

Toward the end, an American unit, in which the two GIs played by Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin are serving, liberates survivors of a Nazi death camp. Earlier, the German officer (Marlon Brando) has stumbled on the same camp and witnessed in horror what has transpired becoming mentally disoriented.

And in Real Life……..
John reminded us that on April 15, along with comrades in the Royal Artillery’s 63rd Anti-Tank he entered the Bergen-Belsen camp, which had surrendered to the Allies on April 12 with official occupation set for three days later.

Stiffened corpses were still being buried and the stench of death lay all about. The well-fed soldiers found that the sight of the emaciated survivors made it almost difficult to believe that these were humans. Although news of the liberation of other death camps was common knowledge, the immediacy of Bergen-Belsen remains something that no one still living who entered that camp will ever forget and which they know no motion picture can ever quite recreate.
Survivors at Belsen walk past 1000s of shoes
Survivors at Bergen-Belsen walk past piles of shoes

That I was not among the men of the 63rd Anti-Tank on that day I owe to a turn of fate. Having been posted to the regiment in July, 1940, after being chased out of France, I served with it until being sent in 1944 to Italy as an Italian-speaker to serve in various Intelligence positions. I had been able to claim my younger brother when he had been conscripted to military service.

So today, when I speak out against Holocaust deniers, I know I have the next best evidence to having been there myself.

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