Anna Salton Eisen found the old photos of Jewish prisoners who survived the Holocaust in a file that her late father, George Lucius Salton, kept most of his life.
The Texas woman recognized the names of some of the teens and young men from the stories told by her father. For three years, the baby-faced captives lived among the dead and dying in barracks and boxcars as Nazi kidnappers moved them from Poland to France to Germany.
But suddenly the familiar names had faces.
“Seeing the faces of each of them really brought the story to life,” said Eisen, who discovered the photos while moving her mother, Ruth Salton, 99, from Florida to the Dallas area in the summer. latest.
Eisen, 62, said she felt compelled to learn more about the confidants who had meant so much to her father, who died at 88 in 2016.
George Salton was 17 when the US military liberated the Wobbelin concentration camp in Germany on May 2, 1945. Over the following years, the survivors dispersed throughout the world. Most have lost contact with each other.
But 76 years after American soldiers cut barbed wire and realized the prisoners’ impossible dream of freedom, Eisen set out to reunite the relatives of the survivors. Thanks to the speed of modern technology, it has succeeded.
When Eisen began her research, she relied on names written in pencil on the backs of photos or mentioned several times in Salton’s 2002 book, “The 23rd Psalm: A Holocaust Memorial.”
As she browsed through Nazi-era data, official documents, concentration camp listings, and post-war records stored online in the Arolsen Archives of the International Center for Nazi Persecution in Germany, the girl of the Holocaust survivor verified the names and dates of birth of the survivors.
Through Ancestry.com, Eisen explored passenger lists from ships that took Holocaust survivors to other countries, Social Security cards documenting name changes, obituaries, and family trees.
Searches on Google and Facebook led Eisen to the children and grandchildren of his father’s friends, most of whom never knew – until now – the full story of what their loved ones went through.
Todd Nussen, a history teacher at Oceanside High School, New York, reacted with shock – and excitement – when Eisen texted him in late July asking him about his namesake grandfather, Tobias Nussen, who died in age 52 in 1973.
“Now I have the details. Now I have the facts,” said the 40-year-old educator.
Following Eisen’s search, the family members of eight Holocaust survivors first met on a recent Sunday.
Some exchanged hugs and tears in person at a New Jersey hotel suite.
Others connected via Zoom from Israel, Sweden and Texas.
“It just gave me chills,” Bobbie Ziff, 67, a Jackson, New Jersey resident, said of the emotional rally, which came together less than four months after the photos were discovered.
Ziff is the daughter of Tobias Nussen and the aunt of Todd Nussen.
In America, his father built a new life for himself and owned a lunchroom in Brooklyn, New York, Ziff said. He never spoke about the Holocaust, but he often had nightmares and cried out in his sleep.
In the photo of another of the photos Eisen found: Motek Hoffstetter.
His daughter Aviva Findler, a retired teacher who lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, said her father, like many other survivors, refused to talk about the Holocaust.
“During the reunion, I found out that he was highly respected by his friends, which made me really proud and sad,” Findler said.
For much of his life, Eisen’s own father believed in keeping the past in the past.
The other survivors did the same, not wanting to dwell on their rotten teeth or explain why they refused to waste even a single piece of bread.
“It’s an injury,” said Ruth Salton of what she and her 63-year-old husband went through growing up. “We didn’t want any of our kids to carry the things we’ve been through.”
George Salton proudly served in the same US Army that had saved him. He obtained degrees in physics and electrical engineering. He held a senior position in the Pentagon and held a leadership position in the aerospace industry.
But eventually, her three children – especially Eisen – demanded answers about her childhood.
With Eisen’s help, Salton recounted the details of his family’s Holocaust experience in his 2002 memoir.
“Each day merges with the next, filled with hunger, sleepless nights, forced labor and the constant threat of beatings, selections and executions,” he wrote.
For his part, Eisen is in the process of writing his own book, “Pillar of Salt: A Daughter’s Life in the Shadow of the Holocaust”, which is due out next April. She is cooperating with filmmaker Jacob Wise on a documentary based on her father’s experience and its impact on the second generation.
Eisen said the title of the book reflects his Jewish faith.
“I felt compelled to look back even though I had been warned not to,” she said, referring to the biblical account of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt.
“It wasn’t easy for me to bring the truth to these other families. It was painful. But it was their story, and it was theirs.”
It is important, she believes, to keep the reality of the Holocaust alive.
Aaron Eisen, 30-year-old son of Anna, is co-author of “Pillar of Salt”.
“My grandfather, when he was giving speeches, said that the Holocaust was incomprehensible, that we cannot understand how it happened,” said Aaron Eisen, who attended the rally in New Jersey. “But I think over time we start to understand, and what my mom is talking about is that there is still so much to learn.”
As Ruth Salton nears her 100th birthday, even she now understands the importance of telling the story, she said.
“This is the only way to continue,” she said. “I’m so happy the kids are interested. The kids want to tell the story, and the kids can now live and feel what we’ve felt our whole lives.”