One survivor upon seeing himself: 'I couldn't breathe'

Newly found video shows moments US troops saved thousands of Jews from Nazi train

Researcher finds archived video of liberation of Bergen-Belsen camp prisoners near Farsleben in 1945; survivors identify themselves in clip

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Rare footage of the moment when US soldiers liberated thousands of Jews from a Nazi death train has been uncovered by a researcher, with some of those who were on board since spotting themselves or family members in the silent, black-and-white clip.

Though many photographs exist of the so-called Farsleben Train, liberated on April 13, 1945, it is the first time that moving images of the dazed, relieved prisoners greeting their GI rescuers have emerged.

The film was recently found in the US National Archives by author Matthew Rozell, a Holocaust researcher who in 2016 published a book about the train liberation titled “A Train Near Magdeburg.”

Rozell published the clip to his YouTube channel on July 29 along with the archive remarks.

“Summary: Numerous scenes, freed Jewish prisoners in groups along railroad tracks,” the comments read. “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 meager bits of food. LS, village being shelled by German artillery from across the Elbe River.”

Hebrew media outlets tracked down some of the train’s survivors who are now living in Israel

Screen capture from video of Jacob Barzilai, his mother and sister, group right, as they were liberated from a Nazi death train near Farsleben, Germany April 1945. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Holocaust survivor Jacob Barzilai, 90, spotted his 12-year-old self and his mother and sister.

He told Channel 12 that in the past he has seen “innumerable” photos of the train’s liberation, but despite careful perusal had never before been able to find himself or any of his family.

“It was inconceivable, incomprehensible, and I couldn’t breathe, that I found what I had looked for over years,” he said.

Speaking to the Ynet news outlet, he recalled: “We arrived at Bergen-Belsen as five people and only three of us returned. I lost my father and my grandfather there. In the clip, I saw my mother, my sister and myself. I was very emotional seeing the footage. I was at a loss for words.”

His appearance in the video was first noticed by his son, Eran Barzilai, who then brought it to his attention.

“When I showed the clip to my father, he was very moved,” Eran Barzilai told Ynet. “He has been talking about these moments all these years, and suddenly there is video documentation that we had never seen before.”

Miriam Mueller, 82, was just four years old when she was rescued from the train. Though she was unable find herself in any of the new footage, she told Ynet: “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, and there is another one on the way. The blessed Lord has performed a miracle with me.”

Screen capture from video of Holocaust survivor Dula Kogan as she watches footage showing the liberation of a Nazi death train that she was on, July 2023. (Channel 12. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Dula Kogan, who was also on the train, was shown the footage by Channel 12 at her Tel Aviv home and quickly identified her father.

“We were really facing death,” she recalled. “And suddenly you see how you yourself were saved from death. It is hard to believe that the moment is documented.”

As Allied armies advanced against Germany in the closing stages of the war the Nazis tried to hide the atrocities they had committed in concentration camps.

On April 7, 1945, 2,500 Jewish prisoners from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp were put on the train and were set to be transported to Theresienstadt. However, on April 13, the train was forced to stop near the town of Farsleben due to bombings by Allied forces advancing in the area. Some of those on board escaped the train and met up with soldiers from the 30th Division of the US Army who then returned to liberate those still trapped in the carriages.

When the handful of Nazi soldiers guarding the train saw an American tank and jeep coming over the hill, they fled. US soldiers then flung open the doors to the carriages and the occupants poured out.

George Gross, a tank commander, said: “Everyone looked like a skeleton, so starved, 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.”

As prisoners encountered the liberating troops, a Jewish US soldier, Abraham Cohen, told them “Ich bin euech a Yidd,” a Yiddish phrase meaning “I am also a Jew,” and then showed them a Star of David hanging around his neck.

Matthew Rozell speaks during a presentation at the 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World War II National Annual Reunion in Nashville, Tennessee, March 5, 2010. (Josh Anderson/AP)

Matthew has researched the liberation event and since 2001 has interviewed US veterans who helped rescue the train.

The discovered video also includes scenes of a meeting between American, Russian, and English soldiers on the bank of the Elbe River after the liberation of the city of Magdeburg.

In 2015 a freelance reporter was able to identify a woman and her child who featured in one photo from the liberation scene.

Frank Towers, one of the US soldiers who liberated the train, gave an interview in 2016 during which he talked about his efforts to make contact with some 700 survivors he believed were still alive at the time.

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