Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for February 25th, 2023

Nature mixes it up

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At Schroeter Neighborhood Park on February 15th I came upon this rotund white snail shell that had somehow gotten bits of brown leaf debris in it. If you’re wondering about size, a ruler said the shell is about 32mm long and 25mm across at its widest.


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Mathematicians will tell you that if you look at a sufficiently large set of events you’re likely to find one or more striking coincidences. In fact, mathematicians would add, the strange thing would be to look at a large number of events and not find one or more striking coincidences. Nevertheless, we humans seem to be wired to attribute meaning to them when they do happen.

The other day my photographer friend Bob Hirsch in Buffalo released the seventh installment in his series “Photography and the Holocaust: Then & Now.” I read through it, and at the end I followed one of the notes to another article, “The True Story of The Holocaust Train Rescued From The Heart of Darkness – Friday, April 13th, 1945.” It tells how, “Near the end of the war in 1945, Jewish prisoners from the Bergen-Belsen death camp were being transported by rail to another camp when their German guards abandoned the train. The US Army happened upon the survivors. Two soldiers took photographs. And from those pictures, decades later something wonderful happened.”

The wonderful thing decades later was the reunion of some of the people who had survived. Here’s the testimony of one of them, Lisette Lamon:

It was a beautiful, balmy morning in April 1945, when I entered Major Adams’ makeshift office in Farsleben, a small town in Germany, to offer my services as an interpreter. It made me feel good that I could show, in a small way, the gratitude I felt for the 9th American Army, which had liberated us as we were being transported from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Orders found by the Americans in the German officer’s car directed that the train was to be stopped on the bridge crossing the Elbe River at Magdeburg, then the bridge was to be blown up, also destroying the train and its cargo all at once. The deadline was noon, Friday the 13th, and at 11 A.M. we were liberated!

With the liberation had come the disquieting news that President Roosevelt had died, and while I was airing concern that the new President, Harry Truman, (a man unknown to us) could continue the war, a sergeant suddenly said, “Hey, you speak pretty good English. I am sure the major would like to have you serve as his interpreter.”

Major Adams had not been told of my coming, so he was startled when he saw me. No wonder! There stood a young woman as thin as a skeleton, dressed in a two-piece suit full of holes. The suit had been in the bottom of my rucksack for 20 months, saved for the day we might be liberated, but the rats in Bergen-Belsen must have been as hungry as we were and had found an earlier use for my suit. For nine days we had been on the train, and this was the only clean clothing I owned.

Major Adams quickly recovered from his initial shock and seemed delighted after I explained why I had come. He asked how his men had treated us, and I heaped glowing praise on the American soldiers who had shared their food so generously with the starving prisoners. Then he took me outside to meet the “notables” of the German population, and with glee I translated orders given to them by the American commander. The irony of the reversal of roles was not lost on me nor the recipients; I was now delivering orders to those who had been ordering me around for so long! The Germans were obsequious, profusely claiming they never wanted Hitler or agreed with his policies and hoped the war would soon be over.

When asked to come back the next day, I was delighted but hesitated, wondering if it would be appropriate to ask a favor. Major Adams picked up on my hesitation, so I asked him to help me contact my family in America. We had emigrated to the U.S. in 1939, but after six months I returned to Holland to join my fiancé who was in the Dutch army. My parents knew that eight months after we were married my husband was taken as a hostage and sent to Mauthausen concentration camp where he was killed in 1941, but they did not know if I was alive, not having heard from me in more than two years.

Major Adams gave me a kind glance, saying, “Give me a few handwritten lines, in English, and I will ask my parents to forward the letter to them.”

When he saw the address on the note he looked at me, his mouth open in total amazement, and then he started to laugh – his parents and my parents lived in the same apartment building in New York City!

And so it was on Mother’s Day that his mother brought to my mother my message:

“I am alive!”


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 25, 2023 at 4:24 AM

Posted in nature photography

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