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Local Soldiers learn from grateful Nazi survivor

10:07 PM, May 16, 2010   |    comments
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By Mike Bush

(KSDK)-Sometimes, to understand the present you have to eavesdrop on the past.


Men and women from the U.S. Army's 318th psychological operations unit based at Jefferson Barracks spent Sunday morning listening to 80 year Ben Fainer turn the pages of his life story.


"Everyone that hears him speak is very moved and touched, " explains Capt. Cesar Millan.


Fainer was a young boy in Poland when Adolph Hitler's Nazi's invaded in 1939.


"When they came in, I was a little less than 9 years old and they rounded up all the jews is a day or two, "  recalls Fainer.


He was immediately separated from his family. He and his father were sent to a hard labor camp while his mother, brother and two sisters were sent to the Auschwitz death camp. Though just 9, he had to grow up fast.


"You can't be scared. You have to think of only one thing. Staying alive, " he says.  "My name in the camp was 178873 and it was tattooed on my left arm. "


Over the next six years, he was moved to five different Nazi camps. With very little food and very little sleep, he says it would be like marching from one hell to another.


"And if you fell asleep, you got a bullet in your head and kicked to side, " he says.


Though he tried never to think of it, he knew from word of mouth what became of his brother, two sisters and his beloved mother.


"They went into the showers and after the showers they were gassed.

I have tears in my eyes. It tears me up every time I think of my mother, " he explains with voice cracking.

Of 260 relatives in the Fainer family, Ben and his father were among only six who survived.


Still, he can remember the joy of the date April 23rd, 1945 at 10:00 in the morning.  The camp guards finally dropped their weapons when the Americans came over a hill in the pouring rain


"Of course, within minutes they came out with their hands in the air and we were jumping for joy, " he remembers. " The feeling was indescribable."


Ben's story is why Capt. Millan brought his troops to the St. Louis Holocaust and Learning Center on Sunday.


"It's important for us to remember that it could happen again and for us specifically trained to combat it keep us educated and the history of it makes us a well rounded soldier, " explained Capt. Millan.


Many of these soldiers have been to Iraq and Afghanistan and some of them will be going back as early as this summer.  Ben has never forgotten what the US military did for him and he's carried his gratitude over a bridge of generations.


"I have great respect for those who made a difference including my grandfather and it makes me resolved that we also standup and fight similar enemies, " said Staff Sgt. Peter Vaughn who was in the audience.


"I'm just proud as heck to wear this uniform, " adds Sgt. Travis Hackney.


When Sunday's presentation ended, the appreciation did not. Ben Fainer shook the hands of every soldier and his message was clear.


"To make sure not another Hitler or Stalin or Mussolini or any of those evil guys don't come into this country or any other country to do harm like Hitler did, " says Fainer.


One man living through the pain of yesterday to help the heroic men and women who will help shape tomorrow.









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