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Pembroke high students hear about Holocaust firsthand

By Billie Owens

Here is a submission from the students in Pembroke High School's War and Holocaust Class. On Dec. 2 and again on Dec. 6, the class was visited by Ed Wiater, a local World War II veteran. Here's his story as related by the students he spoke with.

Mr. (Ed) Wiater grew up in North Tonawanda, and was drafted into military service. He eventually ended up with the 7th Army in the 14th Armored Division, and was part of a reconnaissance element that was given the task of finding the Germans.

As Mr. Wiater told us, “finding them wasn’t a problem!”

While serving in Europe during the spring of 1945, Mr. Wiater was sent to the area around Dachau, Germany. He explained to the students that the American forces had no idea what Dachau (a concentration camp) was, but that, “a putrid smell hung in the air.”

He vividly remembers the emaciated victims who seemed to simply come out of nowhere, and the box cars that were full of over 2,800 victims of Hitler's Third Reich. 

After being wounded just five days before the war was over, Mr. Waiter was sent to a hospital in Nice, France. Upon his recuperation, he was stationed near Dachau, and returned to the camp where over 35,000 victims of genocide perished.

Being fluent in Polish, Mr. Wiater was able to converse with the Polish soldiers who were at Dachau. They gave him a “tour” of this horrific mass murder site. He shared with the class that he stood in the gas chambers and crematoria; he witnessed the infamous “hanging tree” where hundreds of people were hanged for no reason at all.

He discussed how the inmates of Dachau were tortured by the prison guards and whipped for trying to simply help fellow inmates. Mr. Wiater’s message was one of remembrance.

We must never forget the mass genocide that was perpetrated in Europe from 1933-45 because those that condemn the past are doomed to repeat it, and as he pointed out, “the world did not learn from the Holocaust. Genocide has occurred again and again.”

Mr. Wiater came home from the war, and took advantage of the GI Bill. He enrolled in college, and eventually moved back to his hometown of North Tonawanda, where he became a journalist. He became the editor of the Courier Express (which ceased publication in 1982) in Buffalo. He continues to write editorial pieces for newspapers around the Buffalo area.

Mr. Wiater also was elected as a two-term mayor of North Tonawanda.

He has taken nearly 20 trips to Poland to help teach conversational English to polish students because as he said, “they know and can write English, but speaking it is a different ballgame.”

While on these trips, Mr. Wiater has made trips to numerous death camps across Poland and has paid respect to the nearly 6 million victims of the Holocaust.

The Pembroke War and Holocaust class was exceptionally fortunate for these two days to listen to the brief, yet so educational and enriching, story of a WWII vet named Ed Wiater.

 --The Pembroke Central War and Holocaust Class

Dave Olsen

That's great for the students and very generous of Mr. Wiater to share his story with them. The members of the Greatest Generation are leaving this life every day and there aren't many left. We saw in the daily poll from Dec 7 that many people don't really know much about that time period any more. My father and his 2 brothers were WW2 veterans, they talked with each other about it, but not much with us kids. All 3 are gone now and have been for a long time. My mother's brother was killed in France in 1944 and is buried there at Lorraine Cemetery. I have been reading more and more about his unit's history lately as you can find a lot of info on the internet now, it's interesting following his footsteps. They fought many battles. The village near where he died put up a monument and had a big ceremony in 2009 to mark the 65th anniversary of the battle. I've also been able to read many accounts from my father's unit as well and trace his steps. He went through a lot in the Phillipines and New Guinea and he was part of the occupation force of Japan. There is a project by the Library of Congress to record as many of these people's stories as possible, been going on for a while. May we never forget what the people of that generation did and saw.

Dec 8, 2010, 7:50pm Permalink
Kyle Couchman

You are absolutely right Dave. I think all history is important to us, we cant avoid repeating the mistakes of the past unless we know of them. My scuba diving hobby drifted towards wreck diving here in the state and in doing so I ended up learning alot about NY's nautical history.

As for the Holocaust lessons, they are many and still are still relevant today. Hate just begets more hatred and judgementality that leads us down a slippery slope.

Dec 9, 2010, 12:25am Permalink
Thomas Mooney

The more our kids know about history , the better they will be at leading us in the future . I commend Pemproke Schools and Mr. Wiater for giving the kids the first hand look into the past .

Dec 9, 2010, 11:52am Permalink
Michele Case

Excellent story, thanks Biilie for sharing this from my beloved school. I think it is great they have started this class to teach this part of our history. And using Mr Wiater, a sure attention getter! Let me guess, Mr. Greg Kinal? Or has he retired? Kudos as always to Pembroke Schools.

Dec 9, 2010, 3:09pm Permalink

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