Dachau Survivor and Liberator Talk About Meeting After 67 Years
THE SURVIVOR AND THE LIBERATOR: Holocaust survivor Ernie Gross, left, and World War II veteran Don Greenbaum, will speak about their unique connection at a program at Adath Israel in Lawrence on March 18. Greenbaum was among the U.S. Army soldiers to liberate Dachau, where Gross was a prisoner, but the two didn’t meet until 2012.
By Anne Levin
The first time Ernie Gross and Don Greenbaum crossed paths was on April 29, 1945. Gross, then 16, was standing in line to be exterminated at Dachau.
The notorious concentration camp was where thousands of Jews were killed during World War II. Greenbaum, then 20, was a corporal in the United States Army, which had arrived to liberate the prisoners at the camp.
It would be another 67 years before the two men, both of whom live in the Philadelphia area, discovered each other’s identities. Gross had read about Greenbaum in The Jewish Exponent newspaper, and reached out to him. Since then, the men have become friends and collaborators, telling their story at schools, community centers, and houses of worship. In 2015, they traveled together to Germany to join other survivors and U.S. Army liberators in a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.
Their next presentation is Sunday, March 18, at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrence. “The Survivor and the Liberator” is part of The Eleventh Annual Sacks-Wilner Holocaust Education Program.
“Survivors of the Holocaust are getting older and there are fewer and fewer of them around,” said Adath Israel Rabbi Benjamin Adler, who arranged to present Gross and Greenbaum through the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center of Philadelphia. “We want to make sure their stories continue to be told.”
Adler heard of the two men after they spoke at his son’s school in Philadelphia. “He told me it was very compelling,” he said. “I reached out to the Holocaust Museum and Education Center and asked if we could bring them here. I thought it would be very meaningful for our annual program.”
Gross, who lives in Philadelphia and is retired from the food business, is 89. He is the only one left in his family of nine. Five died in the Holocaust. The family was deported to the Auschwitz camp in 1944. Gross avoided the gas chambers in the initial selection process by following a tip to lie about his age and say he was 17 instead of 15, according to an article in The Jewish Exponent. He was sent to different work camps, and nearly starved to death before being forced to march, barefoot, to Dachau. Greenbaum’s unit approached, as Nazi officers fled, while Gross and others who survived the march were about to be taken to the crematorium.
Gross and Greenbaum have taken their story to North Carolina, Florida, and several locations in the Philadelphia area. “Don starts, then he introduces me,” Gross said. “I go through my life. I speak for about 40 minutes, then we open it up for questions.”
Finding Greenbaum has added a new layer of meaning to Gross’s life.
“I knew an American soldier had liberated me. I was already in line to go to the crematorium. If he had come an hour later, it would have been too late. So I was searching for him for more than 60 years,” said Gross. “Every time I bought a paper, I would look. I saw this article in the Exponent about him, how he was one of the soldiers. I called him, and we are friends ever since.”
The March 18 program at Adath Israel is at 4 p.m., and is free. The synagogue is at 1958 Lawrenceville Road. Visit www.adathisraelnj.org for information.