Hosted by Club Shalom and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Penn Charter community gathered Thursday evening to hear the stories of Don Greenbaum, a soldier who helped to liberate Dachau, and Ernie Gross, a prisoner of both Auschwitz and Dachau.
Gross, 92, and Greenbaum, 96, first encountered each other when Greenbaum was one of the soldiers liberating the camp, but did not become friends and partners in Holocaust education until over 50 years later when an article in the Jewish Exponent gave Gross the opportunity to reach out to thank Greenbaum.
During their talk, held via Zoom, Greenbaum spoke of the sights, and especially the smells, of the camp he helped to liberate. He also spoke of his time as a both a soldier and young man of age 18-20 and the impact the experience of war had on the rest of his life. He explained how ill-prepared he was for the realities of war. Even though he had been trained by the Army to shoot, care for his gun, and dig a foxhole, he had not been prepared for the violence and inhumanity.
Gross spoke of the loss of identity he experienced when he was made to shave his head and had his name replaced with the number 71366. Holding up a small loaf of bread, he explained that it would have been a ration for eight people, and it was very important it was divided exactly evenly. Gross recalled his confusion when his family was initially forcefully locked into their synagogue and then loaded into train boxcars and transported to Auschwitz. He shared his fear when he learned that one line of prisoners was headed to labor camp while the other would not even survive to the end of the day. Gross also shared how he found his footing in the United States — he had several jobs, but it was his position as a lox carver that eventually led him to become the owner of a grocery store.
The evening ended with questions from the community. One question in particular seemed to embody the larger message the two men were sharing. When asked if they had any advice for helping to improve relationships between people, Ernie Gross answered simply, “Be kind to everyone.”