Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Another Hero Passes--Edward Herman---Rescued Concentration Camp Survivors

Ed Herman, left, and Robert Hilliard, Right, saved thousands of displaced persons in Germany at the end of World War Two. Ed passed away yesterday.

I just received the sad news that E. Edward Herman, who with Bob Hilliard helped change US policy towards concentration camp survivors in US-occupied Germany, has passed away.
Ed and Bob's story is told in my book "Untold Valor" as well as in Bob Hilliard's excellent book, 'Surviving the Americans', and in an acclaimed video entitled 'Miracle at St. Ottilien'.

Ed and Bob were Army Air Corps enlisted men in Germany. Bob had been wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and had been transferred into the Air Corps, where he held a job as a reporter for an air base newspaper. Bob was assigned to cover a concert staged by concentration camp survivors shortly after war's end. The concert was held at a former monastery named St. Ottilien, part of which had been converted into a hospital for the Holocaust survivors. At the concert, Bob noticed that most of the people at St. Ottilien still wore their striped concentration camp uniforms, and that nearly all were emaciated and sickly.

He noted that the freed concentration camp survivors, now called Displaced Persons, had no place to go, in most cases. Many were from Jewish ghettos that had been literally wiped off the face of the earth by Nazi pograms. These 'free' people now were kept in camps. Because of the danger of typhus and other communicable diseases, the American armed forces had strung barbed wire around many of the displaced persons camps to prevent the DPs from getting out and infecting the general population. Many DPs were still dying of malnutrition, disease, and neglect. Several had been shot while trying to sneak out of the camps to find food.

Bob returned to the American base and told his good friend, E. Edward Herman. Though he and Ed were privates, they decided they had to do something. And they did. By the time they were done, they had managed to get President Harry Truman to change US policy towards liberated concentration camp survivors. Truman sent a top deputy named Earl Harrison to Germany to investigate the situation firsthand. His report lambasted the treatment of the DPs. President Truman wrote to Eisenhower, saying, in part:

"As matters now stand, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them, except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of S.S. troops. One is led to wonder if the German people, seeing this, are not supposing we are following, or at least condoning, Nazi policy."

Both Bob and Ed were threatened with courts-martial for bringing the plight of the DPs to light. They stood fast and did the right thing.

It has been my honor to know these two great Americans for a number of years. Both were of great help to me when I was researching their story. It is a story known to only a small segment of historians, but one which deserves a much wider audience. For this reason, only two weeks ago, I nominated Ed and Bob for induction into the Jewish-American Hall of Fame.

Ed was a wonderful friend and a great man. He lived many exciting events in his life, and was one of the original catalysts behind supplying the new state of Isreal with arms and other material after its creation.

The world is poorer today because he is not in it. However, thousands of Jews and other concentraton camp displaced persons lived because of his efforts and those of his friend Bob Hilliard.

Here is a list of books and a video about these two great men:

Surviving the Americans: The Continuing Struggle of the Jews after Liberation, by Robert Hilliard. Written by the man who was there and helped save the Displaced Persons, this is the best book on the subject. I note Amazon has used copies from under two dollars.

Displaced: Miracle at St. Ottilien, a Film by John Michalczyk, available at this site: http://www2.bc.edu/~michalcj/displaced.html

A review of this fine film:

Displaced: Miracle at St. Ottilien (2002; 47 minutes) is a documentary based on the true experiences of US Army privates Edward Herman and Robert Hilliard, who were stationed in Germany at the close of World War II. They discovered the horrendous treatment of displaced Jews in St. Ottilien, a camp run by the US military. In an effort to alleviate the suffering, the two GIs stole food from their own mess hall and smuggled it into the camp. Then the two soldiers started a letter writing campaign which caught the attention of President Harry Truman, who ordered an investigation which led to the end to the abuse. The film is based on a memoir written by Mr. Hilliard. The world premiere, attended by Mr. Hilliard and survivors of St. Ottilien, was held at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in November 2002. A New England premiere was held at Boston College in February 2003 and was attended by Mr. Hilliard. It was recently featured at the Toronto and Boston Jewish Film Festivals.

Untold Valor, my own book, has an extensive chapter about Bob and Ed, and relies on first-person interviews with both, as well as with survivors of the death camps and their children.

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