In the photograph, the woman’s face is torn between joy and despair. Clutching the hand of her young daughter, she’s one of 2,500 Jewish prisoners who have just been liberated from a Nazi train moving them from Bergen-Belsen to Theresienstadt. On the hill behind her the rest of the prisoners spill out from the train, looking baffled by their sudden freedom.
The photograph, as Haaretz’s Ofer Aderet reported last October, was taken by Major Clarence Benjamin on April 13, 1945. It’s one of several in which Benjamin chronicled the train’s liberation by American troops. The train, which was on the sixth day of its journey between Bergen-Belsen in Germany and Theresienstadt in the former Czechoslovakia, was one of three to make such a journey, only one of which reached its destination.
Now, it appears the woman and her daughter have been identified. Aderet has reported that after he wrote about the image in October, the woman’s granddaughter sent him an email. Aderet identified the granddaughter only as N., and said she reported that her grandmother, who was 35 at the time the photograph was taken, and her mother, who was 5, returned to their native Hungary after the war.
N.’s mother is now 77, but declined to meet Aderet, wishing to preserve her privacy.
Reporting the development, Aderet didn’t disclose whether or how he had verified that N.’s grandmother and mother were the photograph’s subjects.
The group of images of which the photo was a part was made public by Matt Rozell, a California high school teacher who was, in the early 2000s, working to document the experiences of World War II veterans. Rozell interviewed Capt. Carrol Walsh, a veteran who had been among the first United States troops to approach the train, and Walsh connected him with Sgt. George Gross, a fellow veteran, who sent Rozell the photographs. After posting them on his high school’s website, then working with the Bergen-Belsen Holocaust memorial site to publicize them, Rozell began receiving emails from people identifying themselves in the photographs.
Realizing the potency of their stories, Rozell began researching the train and the prisoners it conveyed. This past fall, he published a book about the experience, titled “A Train Near Magdeburg: A Teacher’s Journey into the Holocaust and the Reuniting of the Survivors and Liberators, 70 Years On.”