I’m delighted to be here today to honor the memory of the liberation of the Stranded Train. RonaAratoThe story of the train and how we have come together, is truly amazing.

I often say “I married the Holocaust.” I grew up in Los Angeles in the 50s and knew little about it until I read books like “Exodus” in my late teens. When I met my late husband Paul I had just returned from a year in Israel and three months backpacking through Europe. When I showed him a picture of the Anne Frank house, he said “We were in the same camp.” I realized he didn’t mean summer camp. And that was the moment the Holocaust entered my life on a personal level.

Paul rarely spoke of about his experiences in Bergen Belsen and on the train. In 1994 I became an interviewer for the Shoa Foundation’s Visual History project. I hoped that interviewing survivors would help me better understand my husband’s experiences. I encouraged him to be interviewed. Like many survivors, Paul had never spoken of those years to his children or the people who knew him. He finally agreed to the interview. Paul wouldn’t watch the video so I watched it with our three children, Alise, Debbie and Daniel. And that’s where our part of the story would have ended if not a serendipitous find.

Daniel was surfing the Internet and clicked on the word Holocaust. It was a newspaper article about the reunion of Holocaust survivors with their American liberators thanks to Matt Rozell’s Living History project. I looked at the picture of the train that accompanied the article and immediately knew that it was the train Paul had been imprisoned on. Paul didn’t want to get involved so, I contacted Matt and he put us in touch with Frank Towers. His message was, “Paul, meet your liberator.” Those words melted my husband’s resistance. We were in!

We attended a reunion of the 30th Infantry in Charleston, North Carolina in the spring of 2010. There we met some of the soldiers and a few other survivors. At the end of the program, Matt announced that he would host a symposium at Hudson Falls High School in September.

This story is full of coincidences. Paul was an industrial designer. For over twenty years he worked with Frank and Leslie Meisels who ran a mold making business. They made the prototypes for the products Paul designed. Over coffee one morning Paul said, “You’re from the same district in Hungary that I’m from. Where were you during the war?” And they discovered they had all been on the train out of Bergen Belsen. When we learned about the symposium Paul told Leslie. He and his wife Eva attended the symposium in Hudson Falls and their daughters Judy and Edith are here today.

The first night of the symposium Paul and I walked into the hotel lobby and saw Matt. He introduced us to Carroll Walsh. Paul embraced him and said, “Give me a hug, you saved my life.” An Associated press photographer who was standing nearby snapped a picture of them. That is my favorite picture of Paul.

Those three days were magic. Paul was six years old when he was liberated. Talking to other survivors validated the memories that he had often questioned. After sixty-five years, he could thank the soldiers who had liberated him and his mother and brother. The students of Hudson Falls High School had decorated the halls with posters and maps. They hung onto every word of the veterans’ and survivors’ speeches and treated them like rock stars.

At the closing dinner we sat with the Walsh family. When I told Elizabeth’s son Sean that I’m a children’s book writer, he said, “You should sit next to my Aunt Sharon. She’s a children’s librarian.” I thought I told Paul on the drive home that I wanted to write a book but Sharon says I told her that night at the dinner. That book became The Last Train, a Holocaust Story. I’m proud that it has been read by thousands of young people and adults and has added to the knowledge of those terrible years.

Today is both a memorial and a celebration. It’s a memorial for the people who didn’t survive and for the suffering and loss endured by the people on the train. But it is also a celebration. Today is about liberation. It’s about survival and the courage of the men of the 30th Infantry who helped defeat the Nazis. And it’s a salute to the students in Farlesleben who learned this story and set out to mark it in stone, so they and future generations will know what happened and work to ensure it never happens again.

Thank you, Ron, for coordinating this wonderful day.

And to everyone here, and those who couldn’t attend, I will end my talk with that beautiful Hebrew toast – l’Chaim. To Life!