NEW YORK – Rick Carriar, 89, remembered the first face he saw through the barbed wire fence on April 10, 1945, his 20th birthday.
“The eyes were black saucers, the face was covered in sores,” Carriar remembered. “The odor was getting to me. I fell to the ground and was sick. And that’s when the second face appeared.”
Carriar was a member of the US forces that stormed the Normandy beach on D-Day – “a very noisy day,” he said – and was part of a company following Patton’s troops across Europe, scavenging abandoned German camps for supplies. One day, Carriar was in a small Polish town and asked the minister of the local church if there were any camps nearby. He and the minister got into a car and drove a short distance. That’s when Carriar said he saw the art deco gate and the faces peeking out behind it. He had discovered Buchenwald.
After taking a swig of whiskey to revive his nerves, he took out his pliers and cut an oval in the barbed wire. The next morning, Carriar said he directed the US troops to the site of the camp, where it was liberated at 3:15 p.m.
“I was turning 20 years old,” Carriar said. “That was the day I became an adult.”
Sixty-nine years later, Carriar stood at the opening of the new exhibit “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness” in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library at the UN on Tuesday night, wearing full uniform, covered in medals and honors.
Along with two survivors and two alumnae of commemorative walks from Auschwitz to Birkenau organized by March of the Living, Carriar lit six remembrance candles. They listened to the emotional tale of Max Glauben, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and several camps, where most of his family was murdered.
Glauben immigrated to the US as an orphan after the war.
“I’m not too good with names,” Glauben said, “but first I would like to thank the liberators.”
Carriar raised his hand in greeting and smiled.
“Look at the progress,” Glauben continued.
“70 years after the Holocaust, our story is being told for the new generation, in the United Nations, which was an impossibility 70 years ago.”
Glauben was 10 when he was forced to help build the wall around the Warsaw Ghetto.
When the ghetto was burned, he was discovered in a basement and placed on a boxcar “that was filled with human beings, standing room only, that made a five-day ride,” Glauben said. “No food, no facilities, yes there’s human waste, and the lid of the box car resembles the top of boiling pot of water.”
Glauben lost his mother and little brother in Majdanek, and then later his father. He eventually ended up in Flössenburg, where he was liberated. After the war, he said, he’s dedicated much of his time to sharing his story. In just the past week, he had spoken with 1,600 young people all over Texas, where he now lives.
“I married – I didn’t give up – I have three children and seven grandchildren,” he said with much pride. “Everything is possible. There are many of us who sometimes give up. But the moral of the story is never underestimate the power of what you can do when you don’t give up.”
Fanya Gottesfeld Heller, a survivor from Ukraine who was 15 when the war broke out, said she has also led several Marches of the Living since the program opened in 1988, and currently spends much of her time speaking at schools to share her story with children.
“We have to do it,” Gottesfeld Heller said, “because soon there will be no survivors.”
Gottesfeld Heller and her family were hidden in a literal hole in the ground by a Polish peasant during the war.
“We were hungry, we had typhus. I don’t know how we survived,” she said.
The desire to share the stories and preserve the memories ran deeply through the whole evening. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor said in his remarks that “today we stand on the brink of time when the Holocaust will change from memory to history. As a generation of Holocaust survivors dwindles, the torch of remembrance and education must be passed forward… We must be the global guardians of remembrance and prevention.”
The chairman of March of the Living International, Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, told The Jerusalem Post that he was happy the UN was hosting this exhibit.
“The UN represents the core of all the governments of the world, all in the same place,” he said. “There are so many tour groups coming here every day, and we have declared that they should be able to see the exhibit, so that the rest of the world should carry the message forward.”
Speaking to the Post before the exhibit, Prosor said he felt the UN needed to do more to preserve the Holocaust memory, and individual countries needed to “scrutinize their pasts to create a better future.” He pointed to the recent apology of the Hungarian ambassador, at an event marking the deportation of the Hungarian Jews, as an example.
The March of the Living exhibit opened on Tuesday and will be installed at the UN through the end of February.