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