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    Dachau survivor and liberator meet 6 decades later

    PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The way Ernie Gross and Don Greenbaum laugh and tell jokes with the ease of old friends, it's easy to assume the dapper octogenarians have known each other forever.

    In reality, they only met a few months ago. Their familiarity doesn't come from shared memories of a childhood playground or a high school dance but a far darker place: Both men were at the Dachau concentration camp on the day its 30,000 prisoners were liberated by American soldiers in 1945.

    Greenbaum, 87, and Gross, 83, don't think they met that day in Dachau but nevertheless share a bond. They met after Gross, who lives in Philadelphia, saw a mention in a local newspaper last November about Greenbaum, a Philadelphia native now living in suburban Bala Cynwyd.

    "Ernie wanted to thank me for saving his life, quote unquote, even though there were 50,000 other men there with me," Greenbaum said, with a hint of unease, during an interview at Gross' home. "And we sat and had lunch together and discussed what happened 66 years ago."

    Gross, then all of 85 pounds (39 kilograms) after nearly a year of sickness, abuse and constant hunger, had no doubt April 29, 1945, was his last day on earth. Greenbaum, a soldier with Gen. George Patton's Third Army 283rd Field Artillery Battalion, arrived that day at Dachau expecting to seize ammunition, clothing and food that was kept for the Nazis' notorious SS forces.

    They were both wrong, it turned out.

    The men, who talk about their experiences at local synagogues and schools, now are working together to find other Dachau survivors and liberators in the area to share their stories. They acknowledge that recounting the horrors of the Holocaust isn't easy but believe it's their duty.

    "As we got near Dachau, about a mile (1.6 kilometers) outside the camp, there was an odor we couldn't identify," Greenbaum said. "When we arrived, I saw the boxcars. They were full of bodies."

    History would come to call it the Dachau death train: some 40 cattle cars holding more than 2,000 men and women evacuated from another camp — and left to die on the train — in the final weeks of World War II.

    "We had at that time never heard the expression 'concentration camp,' we never heard of a death camp," Greenbaum said. "None of us had any idea."

    Gross, a Romanian Jew, was 15 when he and his family were taken from their home, deported to a ghetto in Hungary and eventually packed on a standing-room-only boxcar to the Auschwitz death camp in southern Poland in 1942. At the urging of a man next to him as they waited in line to be processed, he lied and told the SS officer he was 17.

    Any younger and he'd be deemed incapable of hard labor and, he was told, immediately killed.

    "The same guy who told me to lie said to me, 'Do you see that smoke in the sky where the sun cannot get through? This is going to be your parents in about two hours," he recalled. "My parents and younger brother and younger sister ... that's the last time I saw them." Of his two older brothers also sent to labor camps, one — his favorite — also died.

    In a state of starvation, and after months of daily beatings and backbreaking work, then-16-year-old Gross was shoved onto another boxcar, this time headed to Dachau, near Munich, Germany. It was supposed to arrive a day before the liberation, on April 28, but American bombings delayed the train.

    When he arrived the next day, barely able to walk, Gross knew he would soon be murdered: hanged, shot, gassed, he didn't know. He was so close to death that he didn't care.

    "We were standing in this long line and we already knew where we were going," he said. "I was close enough that I could see the crematorium and, all of a sudden, I see the German soldiers throwing down their guns and running away."

    The first contingent of Americans had arrived.

    "If they would have come an hour later, I would not be here to tell this story," Gross said in accented English underscoring his eastern European roots. "They took me right away, they knew I am falling apart, and they put me in a sanitarium to recuperate."

    Greenbaum said his company arrived shortly after the first wave of American troops and spent only a couple of hours at Dachau before moving on to their next mission. The SS at Dachau were captured, killed or in hiding by the time he arrived.

    "We met a priest there who took us through the camp. He showed us what was there; the prisoners were walking skeletons," he said. "We called the troops behind us to notify them about what we had come across and to bring food and clothing and blankets and the whole bit. Then we left. We had to keep going."

    After the war, both men went on with their lives and tried to leave their wartime nightmares behind.

    Gross came to the U.S. and settled in Philadelphia, where he started out slicing lox in a delicatessen and ended up owning three delis of his own, married and had three boys. His first wife, who died 19 years after they wed, was from Czechoslovakia and also spent time in a concentration camp. The couple never discussed those times — not even where they were imprisoned during the Holocaust — and his children only know his story by hearing him speak at public events.

    "I never told my wife about myself, I never told my sons. I wasn't up to it," he said. "After so many years, I decided I better start speaking to people to know who I am and where I come from."

    After his second wife died about 15 years ago, Gross said "something in me was healing and I was able to overcome it."

    "When you are bitter, it takes energy," he said. Constantly smiling and a consummate joke-teller, he says he tries to make one person laugh every day. Usually, he succeeds.

    Greenbaum, whose military career also includes the Battle of the Bulge and a Purple Heart medal for being wounded in combat, returned home, married and also never discussed the war until he saw a Holocaust denier on television 20 years ago.

    "That motivated me to speak because I saw what happened," he said. "This fellow's on TV saying it never happened. I was there and I saw it. Ernie and I, we both were there ... we know."

    • Coel  •  Las Vegas, Nevada  •  1 day 4 hrs ago
      Because my father was a civil engineer in civilian life, the Army Air Force loaned him to the army after the war was over to help do a comprehensive survey of all German concentration camps. What he found there along with his colleagues was literally Hell on Earth.

      My father was severely traumatized by what he saw, and later on in his life, it caused him great pain until the day he died. And mind you, his parents were morticians and he had seen death daily starting from when he was a little boy.

      And it wasn't just the Jews that were sent to these camps. Someone from every country, from every race, from every religion, from every background, were put to death in these camps and that's why we have to guard against this thing happening again somewhere, even in our own backyards.
    • snake  •  1 day 6 hrs ago
      Record those WW2 stories before your relatives die..The Smithsonian is collecting the stories...
      It's hard for some to talk about it...But it will be preservering their story for future generations, and for your family..We so need to remember their stories...
      Thank you all you brave men and women who helped to free Europe from such cruel tyranny!
    • Lisa  •  Scotts Valley, California  •  1 day 7 hrs ago
      My father was in the first wave, in the 10th armored, before Greenbaum's group. It was dark of night and it smelled like nothing he could ever talk about. Our family visited Dachau in 1981. I'd never seen my dad cry until that day we went there. He said the smell is still there.
    • rip greens  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      My wife & i went to Dacau 3 years ago. It was a horrible place to say the least. I feel for anyone that had to be in that place.
    • poorwhiteboyfroms.e.d.c.  •  Washington, District of Columbia  •  1 day 7 hrs ago
      They are refered to as the greatest generation for a reason. Just men who went and did what needed to be done. The horror that many saw they never talked about, never complained. Until they are near the end of thier days can they even speak of what they experinced. God Bless every one of them.
    • Frau Leigh - USMC Mom  •  Chesapeake, Virginia  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      My grandfather died at the hands of the SS. I was lucky enough, myself, to come to America after WWII. Anyone who says the Holocaust did not happen does not know history. A history, unfortunately, that can too easily repeat itself if we are not on guard. God bless the US Army!
    • Rolanda  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      and do you know who most of these people are who deny the holocost? they are young individuals who weren't there, not old enough to have been there and told by someone who wasn't old enough to be there that it didn't happen its a made up smoke screen. My grandpa was in that war, he wasn't a liberator, but he did get to see some of those who were liberated as he helped them find if possible other family members. he remembered that he couldn't believe half of them were still walking, much less alive. literally skeletons with skin stretched over them. he never spoke of it, we found his letters and journal later after he died in 76.
    • lk-'52  •  1 day 7 hrs ago
      Many Catholic priests were kept in Dachau.
      A recently departed friend of mine was one of them...
    • Howdy  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      How easy we forget just how inhumane one human can be to another, now imagine how inhumane a movement of bigoted humans in control of a government, the damage that can be done.
      Ernie Gross and Don Greenbaum, thank you for reminding all of us. why we must continue to fight those that would control or end our freedoms.
      Peace be with you.
    • john  •  1 day 6 hrs ago
      I have been there twice. Many German school children were there being introduced to their history. Sober experience for many I'm sure. It could happen again if we don't teach the truth of it.
    • C  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      My father was one of the liberators of Dachau. I know it is real
      It took me years to get him to open up about it.
    • Ronald J  •  Modesto, California  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      If you can get to Germany, visit the camp at Dachau. I did when I was over there and there was a museum with photos of the actual conditions under which people were "kept" until they died. Prisoners in the camp were shot if they stepped off the pathway on the side nearest the perimiter wall because it was thought that anyone who did so was attempting an escape. The health or lack thereof of the prisoner was not considered. One trip, a couple of hours, spent there will cement in your mind that the Holocaust was real and NO ONE can deny it. The President of Iran and people like him can deny it, and they are the people who should be forced to visit the sites like Dachau. Maybe then they would not say such stupid things. Although, considering the mindset of those deniers, stupid comes naturally. The Germans put the words Arbeit Macht Frei over the gate, meaning Work will make you free, but there never was a prayer of freedom for those held there.
      It is good that the liberator and the liberated got together.
    • Clancy  •  St James, New York  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      Bill Thomas

      either you are an adolescent who dropped out of the third grade or you are an ignorant adult. Or both. Something tells me you are an ignorant adult. To get on this website and make IGNORANT remarks about what happened to these people you dont deserve to be alive.
      So go back inside your hole and shutup. There you go, one less IGNORANT thing on the street
    • Elizabeth G  •  Washington, District of Columbia  •  1 day 7 hrs ago
      To the liberators and survivors of all concentration camps, keep talking about your experiences, however painful. It is vital that our youth and future generatuions, know and understand that we must never let this happen again. Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.
    • david  •  Liberty, New York  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      And of course, one of the first comments is by some fool who questions whether it happened. My Father fought in the Pacific, but all who served deserve our respect. Those who deny the truth belittle the memories of all the soldiers and victim's of the nazi's who died, and those who fought to free them. Now, due to the sacrifices of the US soldiers of WW II, any idiot can post whatever kind of garbage he wants...
    • Nick  •  San Francisco, California  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      My grandfather was a liberator at Dachau while he was in the army during WW2. He wouldn't go into detail about his experiences ,except for the fact that he said "Regardless of my reasons for enlisting to fight in the war, it wasn't close to the feeling I got when I saw the looks of appreciation from the people at the concentration camp. The look he would give me when he told me the story explained everything. It gave him his purpose for being there in the first place,
    • Dan  •  Concord, New Hampshire  •  1 day 5 hrs ago
      It is sad that veterans like Mr. Greenbaum after 60 years rebuke people who say that the holocaust never happened. There are many books out there with actual pictures, many testimony from not only the survivors, but the people who liberated them, and I didn't even get to the film footage that has been archived. When they call them "The Greatest Generation" it was for a reason. We should live to that standard!
    • RonM  •  North District, Taiwan  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      God bless them both!
    • 4RAVENS  •  Prairie Grove, Arkansas  •  1 day 7 hrs ago
      all of the sick twisted skinheads who say this never happened are calling mr greenbaum a liar. he is more man and a better american than all of you put together
    • VIRGINIAN  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      May God continue to bless you both. AJ in Iran isn't a nice person. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest his armpits.
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