Jennifer Delgado for The Chicago Tribune, June 9, 2013:
Estelle Glaser Laughlin was only 13 when she and her family were taken to a Nazi death camp in Poland. Albert Wiener was a Jewish teen from Brooklyn drafted into the Army during World War II who hoped to end the persecution of European Jews.
The two strangers connected by the Holocaust gathered Sunday with other WWII veterans and survivors to share their stories and pay tribute to each other’s heroism and perseverance.
“Whenever I meet a veteran, I say, ‘You’re my angel,'” said Glaser Laughlin, now 83, of Lincolnshire. “When they came (to liberate the camp), it was like the gates of paradise opened.”
To mark the 20th anniversary of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, about 2,000 people attended a Chicago ceremony honoring 125 Holocaust survivors and 27 World War II veterans from the Midwest.
The event at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel also underscored a turning point in history. Many of the survivors and veterans will die over the next several years, leaving behind their stories, memories and belongings from that era, museum officials said.
But museum officials assured them that they and their experiences will never be forgotten.
“We know they’re not going to be here forever,” said Sara Bloomfield, the museum’s director. “When they’re all gone, it is our institution’s mission to become the sole authentic witness to the Holocaust.”
Wiener, 88, recalled wartime stories, like when he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, one of WWII’s deadliest clashes.
The Evanston resident said he didn’t liberate any Holocaust survivors, but he still feels a connection to them, especially because he’s Jewish. When he looked around the room, he couldn’t help but feel thankful, Wiener said.
A few feet away, Glaser Laughlin chatted with other survivors and their families. The native of Warsaw, Poland, remembers craving water when she reached the camp because ash and debris covered her lips and filled her lungs.
Nazi soldiers sprayed water from hoses over her and others, forcing many to scoop water from the ground, she said.
“This moment here is very emotional for me,” she said. “It just brings back a flood of memories. It brings back to my mind the courage of my heroes.”
Steen Metz, 78, speaks about his Holocaust experience whenever he can.
The Denmark native spent 18 months at a Nazi camp in Czechoslovakia after he and his family were arrested from their home in 1943. His father died six months later of starvation, though Nazi soldiers insisted he died of pneumonia, he said.
Metz said it made him feel stronger telling his story surrounded by others who also had lived through the horror.
“Some survivors today, they still don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “I want to make sure the next generation never forgets.”