A story and a lesson

To the Editor:

One of my Christmas cards was returned to me today marked “Undeliverable.” Having known the lady to whom the card had been addressed, I can only assume that she was gone. Her name doesn’t matter now, in fact her given name was taken from her when she was about 16 in Eastern Europe, and she was assigned a number which stayed with her for two years in Auschwitz concentration camp, from which she was transferred to Bergen-Belsen Camp in early 1945 and from which she was eventually liberated in May of that year by the British Second Army in Germany. She weighed 50 pounds that day.

Troops of the Scottish Regiment reacted with stunned horror when the German commandant asked them to take over the cruel and obscene guard duty of the Nazi personnel. Instead he and his cohorts were assigned to hand dig enormous mass graves, one of which I remember was marked “3,000.” The statistics were staggering and unbelievable, and I have my own Brownie camera photographs to prove it; such as those of the gibbet and the crates of burned and crushed human bones destined to be used as fertilizer.

Across the nearby Baltic Sea lay peaceful Sweden which had managed to remain neutral all during the terrible war raging nearby. Now as Germany collapsed, utterly defeated, the Swedes rallied to help assuage the awfulness of the concentration camps and took thousands of those inmates who had at least some prospect of survival. The woman to whom I referred earlier was one of those fortunate enough to be accepted by the Swedish people. She underwent a long physical and mental rehabilitation. I do not know how or when but eventually she came to America, married and lived in or near Seattle, Washington. For years she tried to find anyone who had been among those who liberated the Belsen Camp, and eventually she did find some of the American Field Service volunteer ambulance drivers who had in fact worked with the British Army personnel in the Camp.

I did not work inside the camp, but rather outside ferrying missions to ambulance trains or army field hospitals nearby. To handle the needs for this camp alone, the British flew in two complete field hospitals.

In 2003, at a Field Service reunion in Washington, D.C., this remarkable woman addressed us, expressing her appreciation and saying when offered a seat by the microphone, “No! I won’t sit down. I’ll stand to tell my story.” This was the lady whose Christmas card was returned to me this week. I will never forget her nor will my wife who had dinner with her at the same meeting.

And yes, war may not be the answer, but neither is pacifism, for in the final analysis, right must eventually stand up and be counted, even if it means pulling a trigger.

Tom Hale
Vineyard Haven