Tag Archives: #WWII

Holocaust Stories Needed!

“You really need to talk to Harry.”

My friend Marilyn Glaser gave me this advice before one of our Friday night Shabbat services in our Florida synagogue. I was aware that Harry Lowenstein was a Holocaust survivor. But Marilyn, the shul president, knew I was a writer, and she knew his story needed to be preserved.

By this time, I had been writing for the (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World for over four years. The majority of my stories had been about my family: growing up in a small North Country town in New York; meeting my husband in 1973 to learning to live with him after our retirement in 2010; raising two children; moving to “The Sunshine State” in 2015. Up until that point, I had not tackled biographies. Fortunately, Harry was a willing story teller.

 As I sat at his kitchen table, I was riveted by his description of four years of hell, first in a ghetto and then in Nazi concentration camps. After liberation, Harry returned home to find that every one of his relatives had been murdered by the Nazis. He eventually made it to the United States, married Carol Sainker, raised three children, and owned and operated a clothing store in Kissimmee. Meanwhile, he was determined to carry on his family’s legacy. “I saw a synagogue burn,” said Harry, “and I was determined to build another one.” With the contributions from friends and fellow Holocaust survivors, the Lowensteins raised enough money to build our synagogue.

After Harry’s story was published, my writing became more diversified. I was still writing my sometimes funny, sometimes poignant family stories, but I also took pleasure from interviewing what I referred to as “ordinary people with extraordinary lives.” A woman who has raised over $150,000 for cancer research after losing her 32 year old daughter to leukemia. A man whose introduction to a doomed ship as a boy resulted in his becoming a “Titanic fanatic;” a group of former Catskill workers celebrating a reunion.

But the stories that moved me the most were about who lived through—or died in—World War II. Jewish soldiers. Concentration survivors who were haunted with their memories until their passing. Righteous gentiles who had rescued others from the horrors. 

I have never been shy about my retirement avocation and never fail to tell friends and strangers I am a writer. This summer, I shared this information with Eva Nozik, who was visiting Summit County, Colorado. 

“My aunt, Golda Goldin Gelfer, who recently passed away, was a Holocaust survivor,”Eva said.”You need to talk to her children.” 

She set up a Zoom call with Anna Livits and Sofia Zukerman, Golda’s two daughters, and other members of the Goldin family. The Nazis, they told me, invaded Glusk, Belarus, on June 22, 1942, Golda’s 14th birthday. Six months later, Germans and local supporters rounded up and murdered over 1000 Jews, including Golda’s mother Elke and her two sisters, Chaisoshe (19) and Malka (8). Golda and her father Meir escaped certain death by hiding in an attic and eventually finding their way into the forest. The two soon joined Soviet partisans in their efforts to sabotage the Nazi offensive until Belarussian liberation on July 4, 1944. Several revisions (and many nightmares about the Holocaust) later, it was finished and ready The Jewish World’s next issue.

Even before it was published,, Anna expressed her gratitude. “I don’t have enough words to thank you for the work you have done,”she wrote me in a December 13 email. “I had a dream today that my mom was smiling. It’s like  she was in peace that we remember her family, Elke, Chaisoshe, and Malka.”

The descendants of Meir and Elke Goldin have more stories to tell. They are eager to recount Golda’s time in the woods, her life in the Soviet Union after the war, her move with her children to the United States. They also want me to connect with the son of a cousin who survived “murder by bullets” by falling into the pit.And, by the way, they have a friend whose parents survived the Warsaw ghetto. 

Meanwhile, I have other stories on my “To Be Written” file. My cousin Eric (Z’L) Silverman came over on a stolen visa just before the war. Trudi Larkin Wolfe’s parents, both concentration camp survivors, recently passed away, but their oral history is preserved on video as part of Stephen Spielberg’s Shoah project, and she and her sister will fill in any gaps. Ruth Gruber, a brilliant Jewish woman who was appointed by the FDR administration to oversee the Oswego Project, a refuge for Jews that is the subject of a New York State Museum exhibit. And I made a promise to a friend that I would write an article about his father, who came to the United States in the early 1900s via, of all places, China.

After hearing Golda’s story at the most recent meeting of SOL Writers, my group of fellow writers said that I am “a woman on a mission.” “You make the unbearable bearable,” one said. “Keep writing.”

Despite my passion, I initially questioned about pursuing more stories about this terrible time in humankind’s history.The Holocaust has already been the subject of innumerable novels, memoirs, plays, movies, and, and even children’s books.

I found the answer in a teaching from Pirkei Avot, a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims from Rabbinic Jewish tradition. It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work,” wrote Rabbi Tarfon (46 CE-117 CE), “but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21) When the Anti-Defamation League reports that Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms have “cracks in enforcement” that allow Holocaust deniers to disseminate hate speech; when a school administrator in Texas can tell a group of educators during a training session to “have an opposing view” when teaching the Holocaust; when 77 years after Soviets liberated Auschwitz, anti-semitism is on the rise; I must continue to tell the stories. My writing will certainly not “complete” the work of masters such as Elie Wiesel, Victor Frankel, and Steven Spielberg. But I cannot use that as an excuse.Whether my articles and, in the future, my book is widely read or languishes in an Amazon warehouse, at least I did not “desist.”

But I need help. If any of you have a Holocaust story you would like to be preserved in writing, please contact me via email at shapcomp18@gmail. com. Those who were lost as well as those who survive deserve to have their lives remembered and honored. Never again.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

An Unsung Hero Rescued by Three Teenagers

Before leaving for Colorado in 2017, my husband Larry was checking our packed bookcase for something to read during our week’s stay. He walked into the kitchen holding Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project. 

“Have you read it?” Larry asked.

“I don’t even remember having it,” I responded. 

Larry opened the front cover and found a note from Cindy Smith, a friend of ours from Clifton Park who had moved to Arizona several years before. 

“Thought you would enjoy this,” the note read. “My daughter Heather is good friends with Megan Stewart, one of the people in the book.”

“You HAVE to read this book, Marilyn!” Larry repeated both on the plane and on quiet moments in Frisco. I complied, and I soon was as enraptured as Larry. As schools and colleges across the country open, the story within  a story of a high school project that brought world recognition to a virtually unknown Holocaust heroine is worthy of retelling. 

In September 1999, Norm Conard, a high school social studies teacher in the small rural community of Uniontown, Kansas, encouraged his students to participate in an extracurricular project for the annual National History Day event. Conard gave a ninth grader, Elizabeth “Liz” Cambers, a folder with a clipping from a March 1994 issue of the US News and World Report entitled “The Other Schindler.” Circled in red ink were few paragraph about Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker. “She gave nearly 2,500 children new identities, and buried their real names for safekeeping,” read the first paragraph. The article outlined how the Polish social worker successfully smuggled Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto and to safety. When Cambers asked Conard if Sendler was famous, the teacher said that he had never heard of her.”You could check it out,” said Conard. “Unsung heroes. Anyone can change the world, even you.”

Cambers was intrigued and decided to use the snippet of information as a springboard for a National History Day project. Conard recruited two other students to work with her: classmate Megan Stewart, and an eleventh grader Sabrina Coons. Their research in the upcoming weeks included information from The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) and first-hand accounts from Holocaust survivors in the Kansas City area who were willing to share their stories. The team decided that they could best represent Sendler’s story in the form of a ten minute play, which they called Life in a Jar, depicting scenes of Sendler interacting with the captives in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Over the course of the next three months, the team learned more of Sendler’s story. Most Polish gentiles did little in 1940 when Hitler herded 500,000 Polish Jews behind the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto while awaiting liquidation. Sendler, a Roman Catholic, mange to obtain a permit through her job as a social worker to enter the ghetto on the pretense to look for signs of typhus. Shocked by the deplorable condition, Sendler joined ZEGOTA, an underground group dedicated to helping the Jews. Realizing the inevitable tragedy unfolding, she persuaded parents and grandparents to allow her to bring children to safety. 

Sendler and others in the network took babies and children past the Nazi guards using many means of escape—smuggling them out in carpenter’s boxes, coffins, and ambulance, Once the children were outside the ghetto, she set up adoptions in the homes of Gentile Polish families or hideaways in convents and orphans. In order to keep track of the children, she and her network made lists of the children’s real names, put them in glass jars, and buried them in her garden. 

The three teenagers’ research stopped short of finding out what had happened to Sendler. Through the JFR, they learned that a son lived in Warsaw but letters to him went unanswered. Efforts to find Sendler’s burial place were futile as well. 

In late January 2000, the three teens performed a well-received dress rehearsal in Uniontown. Soon after, the JRF: shared stunning news. Sendler was alive and living in Warsaw, Poland.The girls immediately wrote a letter to the address given describing their play, asking several questions, and sharing their admiration for her courage. “You are one of the great women of the past century,” they wrote.

In February 2000, Mr. Conard and the three girls drove to Columbus, Kansas, for the state competition, where Life in a Jar won first prize in the performance category. News of the play spread rapidly, and they were swamped with numerous requests to perform throughout Kansas. 

Soon after,Sendler responded in Polish to their initial letter. With the help of a translator, they were able to understand in her own words why y she pursued the dangerous undertaking.  “During the war, the entire Polish nation was drowning but the most tragically drowning were Jews,” Sendler had written. “For that reason, helping those who were most oppressed was the need of my heart.” 

Further correspondences unlocked the other missing pieces of the story. In April 1943, Sendler was captured by the Nazis, severely beaten, and sentenced to death. However, the Polish underground bribed a guard at Pawiak Prison to release her, and she went into hiding until the war ended. Sendler subsequently married and had three children, one who had died in infancy.Ironically, her son Adam had died of a heart attack on September 23, 1999, the exact day that Mr. Conard had handed the original folder to Cambers. 

Under the “long shadow of Communism,” almost all references to the Holocaust were buried. In 1991, when the Iron Curtain fell, public recognition of the tragedy and celebration of the rescuers was stymied “by another kind of occupation,” the resurgence of anti-Semitism. Sendler’s story, like the jars with the names of the rescued children, had been buried until the high school students uncovered it.

Cunard and the three teens traveled to Washington DC in June 2000 for the national competition. Although Life in a Jar did not win a prize, the project had already taken on a life of its own. “This is way beyond National History Day,” said Dr. Cathy Gorn, Executive Director of National History Day, soon after the awards were given “You started out as students of history and you’ve become agents of history.” 

Immediately following competition, the group was invited to New York City, where they performed in front of an emotional audience of JRF board members, staff, and Holocaust survivors. “You tell a simple story,—a simple and dramatic story,” said one survivor, “that tells a simple and dramatic truth.”

When they returned to Uniontown, the group received requests to perform their play from groups throughout the United States. It was at one of their presentation that they encountered a miracle: John Shuchart, a local businessman, was so impressed with their performance that within two days he had raised the money for the group to go to Poland to perform the play in front of Sendler. 

In May 2001, the three teens and five adults flew to Warsaw.  Throughout their visit—during their numerous tours, interviews, and meetings with international press and public and private groups, Cambers, Stewart and Coons, were treated as “rock stars.” The highlight, of course, was their emotional meetings with Irena Sendler in her small Warsaw apartment. “You are our hero—our role model,” Conard said in a toast. “We will carry on your mission—your deep commitment to respect for all people. L’Chaim!”

The group made five more trips to Warsaw before Sendler passed away on May 12, 2008. In April 2008, Hallmark Hall of Fame released a movie version of Sendler’s life. Jack Mayer’s book was released in 2010 and was listed as one of the top ten Holocaust books for The Life in a Jar students continue to share her legacy through the play, the www.irenasendler.org web site, through schools and study guides, and world media. Founders and original performers.  Liz Cambers-Hutton and Sabrina Coons-Murphy still participate in the project when possible. Megan Stewart Felt works as director of the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes, which works with students and educators across diverse academic disciplines to develop history projects that highlight role models who demonstrate courage, compassion and respect. 

Professor Michael Glowinski, who had been rescued by Sendler when he was eight, summarized the feelings of all who had been touched by the Righteous Gentile. “Now you girls—you are rescuing Irena’s story for the world. You rescued the rescuer.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the Heritage Florida Jewish News, a weekly subscription-based newspaper in Central Florida, in the September 6, 2019 issue.

A Memorial Day Tribute to a Jewish Hero

Albert Gellman Circa 1944

Private Albert Gellman was mad as hell.  It was June 1944, and his United States army unit of the 34th Division had been cut off behind German lines. Two of his buddies had just been killed in the battle, and Gellman knew “someone had to do something.”

This was not exactly the life a Jewish man from Albany had imagined. The son of William and Tilli Gellman, the twenty-six year old private first class had grown up with his parents and two sisters in a house on Washington Avenue that his father, a Russian immigrant, had built in 1923.

After attending Phillip Schuyler High School, Gellman became a partner at the Modern Food Market on New Scotland Avenue. In 1940, he married Marion Rosenthal, and their son Stephen was born in December 1942. Thirteen weeks later, Gellman received his draft orders and reported to basic training with the 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division.

Initially stationed in North Africa, the regiment was soon sent to Italy to participate in the Battle of Anzio, a massive campaign launched in 1944 to capture Rome from the Axis Powers. Gellman and his regiment were given orders to push through the boot of Italy. “My father later told me the conditions were horrific,” his son Steve Gellman recounted. “Rain and snow impeded their path, and they often encountered mountainous terrain where the infantrymen had to climb hand over hand up cliffs.” Gellman, terrified of heights, was not comforted by his commander, whose only advice was as follows: “Don’t scream if you fall because you will expose others.” Many lost their lives falling silently to their death. 

On June 1, 1944, Gellman’s regiment was engaged in an assault against strong enemy forces in the vicinity of Castelleone, Italy. Four US tanks preceding the attack were knocked out of action by enemy anti-tank guns holed up in a group of Italian farmhouses. Gellman and fellow members of his  squad withdrew to a shallow ditch in front of area.

The  Americans shot at the enemy soldiers who were seen inside the buildings. One of the Germans hoisted a white flag of surrender, but the enemy soldiers refused to leave the safety of the farm house. 

The lieutenant asked for volunteers to take the guns out. Gellman had learned Yiddish while growing up. He believed this language skill, along with his very limited knowledge of German, would help. The 26-year-old private first class volunteered with Private Smith, another member of the regiment, to charge a machine gun emplacement guarding the left flank of the farmhouse. 

In his haste to reach the building, Gellman forgot his carbine rifle. That didn’t stop him. Brandishing a .45 revolver and loaded grenades, he ran into the yard yelling  “Komm raus Mit deinen Händen! (Come out with your hands up!)” Four Germans were so  startled that they dropped their weapons and immediately surrendered. While Private Smith was taking those prisoners back to their platoon  Gellman sprinted to the first house and told the solders in Yiddish to surrender.  By the end of the day, with the help of more Yiddish and some strategically lobbed hand grenades, Gellman had almost singlehandedly taken over thirty prisoners and had destroyed some of the German anti-tank guns.

 Using the information Gellman provided,  the army notified US navy destroyers off shore. The ships’ artillery leveled the farmhouse, taking out the remaining guns and any German soldiers who had refused to surrender.

Three days later, Gellman used the same technique to single-handedly capture an additional four German soldier who were holed up in an Italian farmhouse near their abandoned German tank. 

Gellman and his regiment saw more action in Northern Italy through the next several months. In the spring of 1945, Gellman was hospitalized with back pain and extreme battle fatigue. It was in the Italian hospital that Gellman was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for combat heroism.The award included the following, “Private First Class Gellman’s intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 34th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.” He was also presented with the Italian Military Valor Cross.

Gellman returned to the United States on a hospital ship. After a brief respite in the Army’s reassignment center in Lake Placid, he finished out the war as a military policeman in Albany. 

He was later presented with New York State’s Conspicuous Service Cross, three Bronze  Stars, and numerous other awards. Asked later how he felt about his actions, Gellman downplayed his moniker as a war hero. Gellman said, “I was shaking in my boots,” he later recounted.  “After all, I’m still a civilian at heart.” 

After the war, the Gellmans had two more children, David and Toby. Gellman initially ran an open-air fruit stand on Upper New Scotland Avenue. In 1948, he opened Al’s Market, adjacent to Modern Food Market, which he operated until 1955. Gellman continued to work the wholesale food industry for Service Food Company and Archway Bakery until his retirement in 1980. The family were members of Congregation Ohav Shalom.  He was also a member of  Jewish War Veterans Albany Post 105, the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans and Albany City Lodge of Knights of Pythias. 

His son Steve said that his father rarely talked about the war while he and his siblings were living at home. If he did, Gellman emphasized to his family his role. “I never killed them,” Gellman insisted.  “I just captured them.”

Steve, however,  clearly remembers one incidence in which he saw another side of his father. Just before his bar mitzvah, Steve was walking with his parents to synagogue when a drunk yelled an anti-Semitic epithet at his mother and then kicked Gellman. Steve watched as his father changed from the gentle man he knew to a killing machine. “Dad picked the man up, slammed him against a car, and put him in a headlock.”  The Gellmans did not press charges against the man, but Steve never forgot the expression on his father’s face. “It was like he was back in Italy,” Steve said.

It was not until forty-eight years after the war that Albert Gellman was able to confront his own demons. In 1998, the 76-year-old decorated World War II veteran entered counseling for post traumatic stress disorder.  The memories of horrors of war and the guilt and shame he carried for “leaving my buddies behind” finally surfaced and left him frequently in tears. 

It was after he had been to counseling that he was able to finally talk to his family about what he had endured. He had seen men blown up, had been begged by fellow GI’s in flames to be shot; he had killed German soldiers. These memories haunted him until his death at the age of 83 in 2001.

In 2006, Albany County Executive Mike Breslin and the Honor-A-Veteran Committee commemorated Gellman at a ceremony which included flying a flag in the late soldier’s honor. And the honors may continue. Gellman is currently one of 157 World War II Jewish War Veterans being considered for an upgrade to the Medal of Honor. Steve, who served in the US Air Force from 1960 to 1964, is working with the JWV to realize this goal. “With or without the Medal of Honor, I regard my father as a hero, a man who was bigger than life,” said Steve. “He sacrificed so much for this country, his time, his physical and emotional health. He truly represents The Greatest Generation.”

Thanks to Stephen Gellman, Albert Gellman’s son, for providing newspaper articles and other documents that were used to write this article.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York. in the May 16, 2019.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Heritage Florida Jewish News, a weekly subscription-based newspaper in Central Florida, in the May 31, 2019, issue.


Veterans Day: A WWII Jewish Sacrifice Remembered

A body of an American solider lying peacefully in the snow in a battlefield in Belgium. A Jewish boy in Brooklyn orphaned twice by World War II. And the  world-renowned photographer who connected the two. This is their story.

Samuel Tannenbaum was born on July 10, 1942, in Washington DC to Henry and Bertha Fiedel Tannenbaum. Less than two years later, Henry was drafted into the United States Army,  Bertha and Sam moved to  Williamsburg section of Brooklyn to be closer to their families. After training at Fort Meade, Maryland, Henry was assigned to the 331st Infantry regiment, 883rd division and was shipped to England. His rifle platoon subsequently fought in battles in France and Luxembourg, which garnered Henry several medals.

Between December 16, 1944, and January 25, 1945, on the border of Belgium and Luxembourg, Allied and German troops were engaged in what would later be known as The Battle of the Bulge, one of World War II’s deadliest fights. On January 11, Tannenbaum and his division were ambushed by German soldiers. Only one person—Platoon Sergeant Harry Shoemaker—survived.

When Shoemaker escaped and returned to regimental headquarters, he told the sentry, Corporal Tony Vaccaro, the details of the massacre. Vacarro and Shoemaker returned to the site the next morning . The two stared at the horrible carnage.If the soldiers had survived,  the Germans had murdered the wounded and had stripped the corpses of their watches and other valuables. Then the Germans had rolled their tanks over the dead and dying, crushing them into grotesque, mangled shapes.

Only one figure looked peaceful and untouched by death. The prone body of a lone soldier lay face down, his boots, backpack, helmet and rifle showing through the white snow that blanketed him.  Vacarro pulled out his Argus C vintage camera and captured the scene. Afterwards, Vaccaro and Shoemaker cleared away the snow to discover the dead soldier was their army friend, Private Henry Tannenbaum.

Henry Tannenbaum was buried in Henri-Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium with plans to bring his body home. Bertha Tannenbaum. his widow, falsely believed that the transfer would adversely affect her four-year old-son Sam’s war orphan benefits. She was against reinterment. Henry’s family fought Bertha’s decision and won. Henry’s remains were returned to New York in 1946. The disagreement caused the widow’s estrangement from the Tannenbaums, isolation from her family and her growing mental deterioration. In her mind, Bertha believed that Henry was still alive and working secretly for the FBI. Sam’s childhood was filled with his mother’s shouting at the ghost of her husband, several psychotic episodes, and even an attempt to kill her son and then commit suicide. “The bullet that killed my father also destroyed my mother’s mind and ended my childhood,” said Sam.

With “my father dead and my mother crazy,” Samuel was forced at a young age to raise himself. He took care of household chores, did the shopping, and, through conniving, even paid the bills. When he was thirteen, he arranged for his own bar mitzvah, fortuitously connecting with his father’s family through a Hebrew school classmate. Upon graduating high school, he moved into his own apartment and, supporting himself with a war orphan scholarship and odd jobs, graduated  from Brooklyn College.

While Sam was in college, Bertha was evicted from her apartment and was committed to a state mental institution. The eviction resulted in the destruction of the family’s belonging, including all artifacts of Sam’s family’s history. Outside of his name and the date of his death, Sam knew nothing about his father. Sam married (Bertha didn’t come; she thought it was another FBI plot), had a daughter Lisa, and divorced. Bertha met and fell in love with Sam’s fiancee Rachel, promising her that Henry would return in time for the wedding.

Meanwhile, with the help of the extended family, Sam was putting together pieces of his father’s past. Henry was regarded as intelligent with a great sense of humor. He had graduated from the same grade school, high school, and college as his son. Henry worked for the Office of Price Administration and taught Sunday school at a local synagogue. Henry had an inherited bleeding disorder which probably caused  the private’s  quick and peaceful death in Belgium on that bitter cold January day and that unfortunate disorder was passed on to his son.

In 1986, three years after his mother died, Sam invited his father’s family to his daughter Lisa’s bat mitzvah. His first cousin, Henry’s niece, gave Sam a victory mail correspondence that identified Private Henry Tannenbaum’s regiment. Sam now had the tool he needed to further research his father’s military history.

In 1995, he and his wife Rachel journeyed to Seattle to attend the first meeting of the American World War II Orphan Network, (AWON), an organization composed of the Gold Star children and others classified by the Veterans Administration as War Orphans.

At a second  AWON meeting in Washington DC in 1996,  Sam met several people from Luxembourg who came for the express purpose to meet and thank the children of their liberators. Sam invited several to his home. One of the guests, Renee Sclhoesser, a journalist, published the Tannenbaum story in a series of articles in a Luxembourg newspaper. Another attendee, Jim Schiltz, was also impressed with Sam’s search. When he returned to Luxembourg, Schiltz found a book of photographs of World War Two and specifically, of the 331 Regiment in Luxembourg taken by the sentry Tony Vacarro.

The picture taken on battlefield in Ottre was not the only one Tony Vaccaro had taken.  Michaelantonio Celestino Onofrio Vaccaro had carried his  Argus C with him when he, along with thousands of other Allied soldiers, stormed the beaches at Normandy on D-Day. Tony —at first surreptitiously and then with his superiors’ approval—went on to take thousands of pictures of Allied campaigns in Normandy and Germany.

After the war, Tony stayed in Europe through 1949 to document post-war life in Europe. When he returned to the States, Tony became a photo journalist for Life and Look magazine, photographing famous figures including John F. Kennedy, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Sophie Loren.  Throughout his career,  “White Death: Photo Requiem for a Dead Soldier, Private Henry I. Tannenbaum” had circled the world through multiple exhibits and books and had become the iconic image of the Battle of the Bulge.

Schiltz also found out that Tony was alive and living in New York City. In 1997, the orphan and the photographer met for the first time. Tony gave Sam a professional print of the photograph.Tony’s greatest joy besides meeting Sam and his family was taking a picture of Henry’s grave in Mount Hebron Cemetery, New York City. For Tony, that picture brought him closure after more than fifty years.

In 2002, Sam and Rachel Tannenbaum and Tony Vaccaro flew to Europe as guests of the grateful citizens of Luxembourg and Belgium. The Tannenbaums met with the countries’ war orphans. They visited the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery where Henry was originally buried.In Ottre, Belgium, Sam and Tony placed a wreath at the AWON monument, dedicated to “PVT Henry Irving Tannenbaum and other members of the 83rd Infantry Division.” For Sam, it was a “trip of a lifetime.”

Fifty-seven years after Tony first shot “White Death,” Sam Tannenbaum and Tony Vaccaro visited a beautiful tree-filled spot in Ottre, Belgium. The former battle field is now a Christmas tree farm called Salm Sapin in French. And in German? Thanks to at the famous German folk song now identified with Christmas, it would be associated by many with “O Tannenbaum.”

Sam’s home in Kissimmee, Florida, is filled with artifacts from his family’s history—pictures, books, his father’s medals, and a replica of the bracelet Henry was wearing before it was stolen by the German soldiers. “I may not have had the opportunity to tell my parents that I love them,” said Sam. “Through telling their story, I believe I am honoring them. And that, is, after all, what the Fifth Commandment tells us to do.”

Version 2
Samuel Tannenbaum next to his signed picture of “White Death,” photographed and signed by Tony Vacarro.

Originally published in Capital Region, New York’s Jewish World, November 9, 2017.

Sources:

DeStafano, Anthony M.  newsday.com. June 7, 2017. https://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/at-94-tony-vaccaro-looks-back-at-his-brutal-images-of-wwii-1.13710291?view=print

“Finding Hope in the Depths of War.”  Before It’s News. June 28, 2011. http://beforeitsnews.com/international/2011/06/finding-hope-in-the-depths-of-war-photos-757981.html

Henry Irving Tannenbaum’s Story. http://www.indianamilitary.org/83RD/UnUsedItems/Henry%20I%20Tannenbaum%20story.txt

Mix, Ann Bennett. Lost in the Victory: Reflections of American War Orphans of World War II. University of North Texas Press.

https://books.google.com/books?id=mGOgm3npFtMC&pg=PA122&lpg=PA122&dq=henry+tannenbaum+%26+white+death&source=bl&ots=BkmGCOB-Ai&sig=BwODYTEDkizLLT5IauOErLKzrpA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjE_MSfwo_XAhUPziYKHc5LAVM4ChDoAQg-MAU#v=onepage&q=henry%20tannenbaum%20%26%20white%20death&f=false PVT Henry Tannenbaum http://www.awon.org/awfather.shtml

“Pvt. Henry I. Tannenbaum and 83rd Infantry Division Memorial.” American War Memorials Overseas. http://www.uswarmemorials.org/html/monument_details.php?SiteID=503&MemID=770

Roberts, Sam. “Viewing World War II Through a Soldier’s Camera Lens”. New York Times. March 4, 2013. https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/viewing-world-war-ii-through-a-soldiers-camera-lens/

Tannenbaum, Samuel. Interview. Sunday, October 29, 2017. Kissimmee, Florida.

Under Fire: The Untold Story of Pfc Tony Vaccaro. HBO http://tonyvaccarofilm.com

awtannen