About 170 people came to Fair Lawn’s Congregation Shomrei Torah last Saturday night to hear two personal reminiscences about the liberation of Nazi concentration camp inmates ““ one from 92-year-old Harry Feinberg of Elmwood Park, who was a tank commander in the 4th Armored Division under General Patton, and the other from 87-year-old Abraham Peck of Fair Lawn, who was liberated after surviving seven work and concentration camps.
The program, in commemoration of Veterans Day, also included a screening of a documentary filmed by synagogue member Maury Heller about the two men’s perspectives, and the presentation of a presidential proclamation to local Jewish veterans.
“We’ve heard a lot about the Holocaust side of World War II, but not too many people have heard the story from the perspective of a fighter,” said Mendy (Milton) Aron, who organized the event with his wife, Honny, and fellow Shomrei Torah member Irving Gerber. “And even the stories that Abraham Peck told, most of us hadn’t heard,” he said.
Peck talked about how when the liberating soldiers came into Allach, a Dachau subcamp, he was so starved that he ignored the shooting going on around him, and focused only on getting something to eat. One of the American soldiers told Peck to get down and even built a hasty foxhole for him. Then the GI spoke to Peck in Yiddish, and revealed he was from a place called Brooklyn.
“The highlight of the program was the concept of having a liberator and one who was liberated tell their impressions of that day,” Gerber said. “Since that evening, I’ve received at least a dozen calls from people who said it was such a valuable educational tool. People don’t know about this aspect of the war, and to see and hear it firsthand is very powerful.”
Aron, whose father was a World War II veteran, reported that you could hear a pin drop during the 50-minute film. “I’ve seen this movie 10 times, so that night I watched everybody watching it, and they were spellbound.”
Following the film, Peck thanked Feinberg, as a representative of all American veterans, for saving his life, even though they did not actually meet that day in 1945.
“This was especially moving, because Mr. Feinberg mentioned in the film that he saved a survivor’s life in a camp and always hoped that one day his telephone would ring and the person on the other end would be the person he saved,” Aron said.
Fair Lawn Deputy Mayor John Cosgrove presented a proclamation, signed by former President George W. Bush, in tribute to 40 local veterans. He handed it to synagogue member and World War II veteran Harold Wahl. Aron had arranged for the proclamation before a Veterans Day program 10 years ago, but it did not arrive from Washington in time to be presented then.
“I held onto it, and when we put this night together, we chose Harold Wahl to represent everybody in the military. He also liberated a camp,” Aron said.
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin, spiritual leader of Shomrei Torah, expressed words of honor and praise to the men listed on the proclamation, 10 of whom were in attendance.
The evening ended with a surprise 67th wedding anniversary cake for Wahl and his wife, Libby.
“The evening was a tremendous success. Everything we set out to do was accomplished,” Aron said. “A picture was painted by two men that will be remembered for a long time.”