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Trials, tribulations, triumph

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kelly Goonan
  • 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Dobbins Airmen gathered at Verhulst Hall, May 14, to listen to Hershel Greenblat speak about his Holocaust survival during World War II.

Born inside a cave in Ukraine, Greenblat spent his first year and a half underground while his parents fought with resistance groups. He stressed the importance of his parents’ will to survive, even in the face of such atrocity and devastation.

“My parents did everything they could to keep their children safe,” he said. “My mother was injured in the leg by shrapnel during a firefight between German and Russians but she never gave up her will to survive.”

Cold, dank, and dark was his reality until the family moved further east to a town called Krasnodor, in search of medical care for his injured mother. They continued their hiding wherever anyone was willing, be it attics, basements or the forests.

Greenblat elaborated on how cruel the Nazis and Russians were to those they were told to eliminate, and relayed a story his mother told him about a notorious Nazi killing squad called Einsatzgruppen.

“This ‘killing squad’ marched nearly an entire town of Jews up to an open field, gave them shovels, and told them to dig six-to-seven feet deep trenches,” he said. “When they were done digging, they were instructed to line up next to the trenches. The Nazis then shot them in the back of the head. This continued until the trenches were full.”

When the war came to an end in 1945, the family, along with over 180 other individuals, boarded a cattle car to escape to a displaced persons (DP) in an American-controlled zone in Austria.

“We were fearful that the Russians would catch us,” he said. “It was known that the Russian soldiers would light on fire cattle cars full of refugees.”

They made it. It was in the Beth Bialik DP camp, just outside of Salzburg, Austria, where they finally felt safe and were treated humanely.

“After the nine-week journey, with no bathing facilities or bathrooms and little food, we were covered in lice, roaches, and feces,” Greenblat said. “When the American Soldiers greeted us, I wasn’t scared.” He explained that the Soldiers weren’t armed and did all they could to make them feel comfortable and safe.

“I’ll never forget the gentleness of how we were treated,” he said. If it weren’t for the American Soldiers and the Allied-Forces, thousands upon thousands of people would have perished during the Holocaust, he added.

There were no floors, no windows, and rats all over but his father and mother did all they could to ensure the family was safe and fed. After almost two years in these living conditions, the family was transferred to another DP camp with much better accommodations.

“It was like living in a resort!” Greenblat said. “We had windows, doors, a floor and our own room.”

Five years later, the family boarded the USS General C. C. Bellou, a Squier-class transport ship for the U.S. Navy in World War II, where they traveled to the United States.

“My father woke me up in the middle of the night,” he said. “He told me that I needed to come to the top deck and see something. What I saw was the most beautiful and seemingly welcoming statue.”

Greenblat was looking at the Statue of Liberty and shortly after the family would be in-processed at Elis Island and transported to Atlanta, Georgia to begin their new lives.

“It’s my profound honor to speak to you on behalf of my family,” he said. “I want to thank you for what you do because we wouldn’t be here without the U.S. Forces.”

Greenblat emphasized how important his entire family’s survival was dependent upon the steadfast resolve of his parents.

“It is because of my parents unwavering will that my sisters and I were able to escape the horror of the Holocaust,” Greenblat emphasized. “I want everyone to remember, and that it never happens again.”