Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day: My Wife's Uncle Buddy

I first posted this blog about 2 years ago:

I got a letter from Linda's Uncle Buddy.

For Christmas, Linda's dad Tony gave his brother Buddy a copy of Third Winter of War: Buchenwald, my book about my dad's experiences in that camp, and Uncle Buddy wanted to tell me about it.

The letter means a lot to me, and you'll see why when you read it.

Here's his letter:

Dear John,

I read the poems you wrote. I found them very moving. I'm no whiz kid about understanding every line you wrote but I could feel the sadness, the hurt, and the agony in your poems. I hope when people read these poems they will realize how these people in the camps suffered and how they were tortured.

I guess I feel it more because I saw it. It took me 50 years to talk about it. I still think about it, and my nightmares that come and go.

The camp we took back in April 4, 1945 was a sub-station to Buchenwald. It was called Ohrdruf.
Be well, our love to you and Linda and Lillian
Uncle Buddy

PS. Don't ever stop writing.


That was the letter, and as I said, it means a lot to me.
I knew Buddy had helped liberate the concentration camp at Ohrdruf. A couple years ago a video came out called Nightmare's End: The Liberation of the Camps. It's a powerful documentary about the soldiers who freed the camps.

When I was still teaching, I would sometimes show this film in my American Lit class when we were talking about the literature of the World War II period. The response would pretty much be the same every time I showed it. I would roll the video tape and turn off the lights. The film would come on. First, there would be silence. Then there would be weeping. At the end of the film, I wouldn't turn the lights back on right away because I knew that students wanted some time alone with their thoughts and emotions.

I saw this documentary maybe a dozen time, and it always moved me. And what always moved me most was watching Uncle Buddy and listening to him.

In the documentary, he's being interviewed by a person who's off camera. All we see is Uncle Buddy, and he just starts talking about going into the camp, and what you realize immediately is that his memories of that day he came to Ohrdruf, April 4, 1945, are as new and intense as they were then. He was in his late teens when he came upon the camp, and in the video he's in his late 70s. Fifty years have gone by and the memories are still new, still intense. What he saw will never leave him. It will always be there.

He can barely talk about what he remembers seeing, but he forces himself to go on and what he says about the prisoners in that concentration camp is simple and human and profound: "They were just people."

Thanks, Uncle Buddy.