Peter Lantos



I am here today for my mother and I had travelled on the train which was liberated by the 743rd tank Battalion of the 30thDivision on 13 April 1945 outside Farsleben.

As a child of five, I was prisoner 8431 in Bergen Belsen. We had been deported from Makó, a provincial town in Hungary during the fateful summer of 1944. After spending five months in Austria, we arrived in Bergen-Belsen on 7 December 1944. My father died there of starvation, but my mother and I survived. When we finally had returned to Hungary at the end of summer of 1945, we learned that 21 members of my family had perished in the Holocaust.

In Hungary I trained to become a doctor of medicine at the Medical University of Szeged where I qualified in 1964. I was fortunate for I had received a Wellcome Research Fellowship to work in London for one year. With a small suitcase and five pounds in my pocket I flew to London. After one year the fellowship ended, but I decided not to return to Hungary. As a punishment and a warning to other people not to follow my example, the still communist government of Hungary put me on trial. In my absence I was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

In London, I pursued a career in clinical neuroscience and was appointed professor at King’s College London. After I retired I decided to recollect memories of our deportation and stay in the concentration camp. Since I remembered little, to rekindle my memories, I made the same journey from London as we had made 60 years earlier from Hungary. I had collected a large store of information and this in fact turned into a book, Parallel Lines – a Journey from Childhood to Belsen. This memoire has been reprinted four times and translated into Hungarian, German and Italian. And the research for the book combined with luck and perseverance led me to George Gross.

In my memory our liberation stood out as a most dramatic event. I clearly recalled that our liberators were Americans. But who were they? How can I find them? Which unit had liberated us? Determined to get the information I wanted, I started my research.

In one of the military archives I came across documents indicating that it was the 30th Division which had been in that area. From this fact it did not take long to come across the 30th Division’s website which had a noticeboard designed for questions. And it was there I posted my notice in December 2000. I asked whether anybody would remember liberating a train carrying about 2,500 prisoners from Bergen-Belsen.? Within a few days I received a couple of responses. One arrived from a young woman living in Connecticut whose father had served in the 30th Division. She sent newspaper articles describing the rescue of our train. I also had a couple of similar emails. However, it was only five months later in May 2001 when I did receive the letter I was waiting for. It was from George Kennedy, editor of 30th Division News.

Having seen my note on their website, he decided to reproduce it in the next edition of their newsletter. A few days later he received a letter from Carroll Walsh, commander of one of the tanks that stopped our train. Walsh named another soldier, George Gross, who was with him when they arrived at our train. A few days later, on 30th May a long letter arrived from George Gross. It began: “Greetings over a continent, and ocean, and fifty-six years! I am the George Gross who commanded one of the two tanks that came across your train and chased the few remaining SS guards away.”

This was the beginning of my friendship with George which had lasted until his death. The encounter of the passengers of the trains and the American soldiers have been told and described many times before.

It was difficult to believe that we were free. What was obvious even for a child of six that everything had suddenly changed. Gone were the SS guards. No one gave order and terrified us. As we wondered around my mother found a small stream – or was it a ditch only? – and we tried to wash the grime of the concentration camp and of the never-ending journey away. People were milling freely around and then they started to form a line to introduce themselves to the soldiers.

George Gross describes this in a most moving way:
We stood in front of the tank as a long line of men, women and little children formed itself spontaneously, with great dignity and no confusion, to greet us. It is a time I cannot forget, for it was terribly moving to see the courtesy with which they treated each other, and the importance they seemed to place on reasserting their individuality.

George had a camera and took photographs of the occasion. Of course I did not know, let alone seen these until after we started our correspondence. One day a large letter arrived. Carefully wrapped in an envelope, I found nine photographs: all but one taken by George. He explained that they were all taken after the liberation of our train by a rather simple camera. Luckily one of George’s two sons was a professional photographer whose expertise had improved the quality of pictures a great deal. One of the photos shows a group of some of the children on the train. Looking carefully and using a magnifying glass I had recognised myself in the group.

From the train we were transferred to Hillersleben, an estate composed of modern houses and built for the officers of the Wehrmacht. We stayed there until August. By that time this area had become the Soviet Zone of Occupation.

We returned to Hungary where my mother with two of her surviving brothers started a new life. They have resuscitated the family business of a large timber yard until the communist government closed it down as a capitalist private enterprise.

It was after my retirement when I decided to find the missing mosaic of my past; more precisely what happened to my family during the war? To rekindle my memory I decided to make the same journey from London we had sixty years earlier. And this research lead me to George, probably the most extraordinary discovery. After having exchanged emails for three years I visited him in San Diego in 2003. It was quite an extraordinary reunion. I do not know which of us was more moved. He introduced me to his wife of 61 years, Marlo, to his two sons: Tim, an archaeologist and John, the professional photographer who copied and enlarged the photographs his father had taken on 13 April 1945. It was an occasion I will remember till my dying days.

London 29 July 2022