Rare footage of the moment US soldiers liberated thousands of Jews from a Nazi death train in northern Germany has been uncovered by a Holocaust researcher, with some of those who were on board since spotting themselves or family members in the silent, black-and-white film clip that’s been posted on YouTube.
Known to many as the Miracle at Farsleben, no one had ever seen any documented moving images of the historic event, until now. The film was recently found in the US National Archives by author Matthew Rozell, who in 2016 published a book about the train’s liberation titled A Train Near Magdeburg.
On April 7, 1945, just a month before the end of the war in Europe, 2,500 Jewish prisoners from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany where Anne Frank had recently been murdered, were put on the train to be transported to their deaths at the Theresienstadt camp in Bohemia near Prague as the Nazis tried to hide their atrocities. But the train was forced to reverse because of the advancing Russian army in Bohemia. On April 13, the train was forced to stop near the town of Farsleben north of Magdeburg due to bombings by Allied forces advancing in the area and await orders.
The Times of Israel reports that at almost exactly the same time, a US army tank and a jeep full of American soldiers arrived on the scene. That prompted the Nazi guards on board the train to flee, before being rounded up. They had been awaiting orders on what to do with the passengers. Some say those orders were to kill them all by driving the train off a broken bridge across the River Elbe. When the Americans opened up all the carriages they liberated the Jews, saving their lives.
The Israeli news outlet quotes George Gross, a tank commander, as saying: “Everyone looked so starved and their faces sick. And there was something else. When they saw us, they began to laugh with joy, if you can call it laughter. It was more like an outburst of pure, almost hysterical relief.” A Jewish American soldier, Abraham Cohen, told them he was also a Jew and showed them the Star of David hanging around his neck.
Author Matthew Rowell posted the film to YouTube complete with the National Archives’ comments:
Summary: Numerous scenes, freed Jewish prisoners in groups along railroad tracks. Their expressions furnish a clue to the suffering they endured. Individual shots: men, women and children, some of them in various stages of emaciation. Flashes of US soldiers distributing food. The group surrounding the soldiers push forward to receive meagre bits of food. Village being shelled by German artillery from across the Elbe River.
Since the film was made public, several Holocaust survivors have come forward saying they recognised themselves and family members in the footage. In Israel, 90-year-old Jacob Barzilai spotted himself as a 12-year-old with his mother and sister. He told Ynet’s Channel 12 that: “It was inconceivable, incomprehensible, and I couldn’t breathe, that I found what I had looked for over [many] years. We arrived at Bergen-Belsen as five people and only three of us returned. I lost my father and my grandfather there.”
82-year-old Miriam Mueller who was just four years old when she was rescued from the train, told Ynet that although she couldn’t identify herself in the film, “It brought up all sorts of memories. I had a hard time breathing afterward. I said that this cursed war is just endless. We keep returning to it. Today, I have 26 grandchildren and 40 great-grandchildren.The blessed Lord has performed a miracle with me.”
Dula Kogan who was also on the train identified her father in the footage. “We were really facing death and suddenly you see how you yourself were saved from death. It is hard to believe that the moment is documented,” she told the Israeli news outlet.
Photo: YouTube – US National Archives