Archives for posts with tag: Mauthausen

LeRoy “Pete” Petersohn, 1945

Pete Petersohn 2001-v3

LeRoy “Pete” Petersohn, 2001

I’d like to introduce you to a really important person who unwittingly made a huge difference in my life. His name is LeRoy “Pete” Petersohn and he was a medic in the United States Army during WWII. He’s the other protagonist in my book, along with my mother-in-law, Hana. He’s truly the yin to her yang. Without him she wouldn’t exist. I’ve been working on the chapters about him recently and well, Memorial Day just snuck up on me. I want to dedicate this post to him, because without him my husband would not be here, and as you can gather, neither would my children. Pete saved Hana’s life when he discovered her at three-weeks-old at Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945, and swiftly administered medical care that staved off fatal infection. He was a war hero through and through.

He died in 2010 at age 87, but I did have an opportunity to meet him in 2008 when he was presented with the Golden Shofar Award in Albany, New York. I am in regular contact with his youngest son, Brian Petersohn, who has been generously sharing all of his father’s clippings, writings, photos and other war-related mementos with me over the past few years. Most endearing, however, are Brian’s own memories and stories of growing up with him. He sounds like one of those dads every kid wishes he or she could have, someone who’s loving, kind, fun and funny. It gets emotional at times, but it’s been so beautiful to share my journey with one of Pete’s kids. Pete really feels like family now, and indeed, he is. Thank you Brian, for bringing your father vividly to life for me and for the future readers of the book.


The eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I remember and I honor you. With me, this is personal: Without you my mother would’ve perished in the death camp. Thank you to that one vet who saved her from certain death and to the countless others who risk their lives every day to save the innocent. – Thomas Berger (aka, my husband)

This blog post is in honor of LeRoy “Pete” Petersohn, who made my husband’s existence, and subsequently my two children’s, possible. Below is an abridged version of his obituary from the Beacon News, his employer of 44 years.

LeRoy Emil Petersohn LeRoy “Pete” Emil Petersohn, 87, of Montgomery, [Illinois] passed away Monday June 14, 2010 at his home. He was born August 14, 1922 in Aurora the son of the late Emil and Minnie (Schmitt) Petersohn.

Pete retired from the Beacon News after 44 years and was a 60 year member of the Chicago Typographical Union. He was a life member of Montgomery VFW and a member of the American Legion.

A veteran of World War II, in October 2008 he received a prestigious Shofar of Freedom award from Temple Israel in Albany, NY; for being a liberator, witness, and providing much needed medical care to the victims of the Holocaust at  Mauthausen Concentration Camp near Linz, Austria. He was a medic with Patton’s Third Army, Eleventh Armored Division Headquarters Combat Command B. He entered the war at Bastogne, Belgium and received his purple heart during the Battle of the Bulge. He was an original liberator at  Mauthausen concentration camp, while there he convinced his Major that a very ill, three-week old baby was worth saving. Sixty years later, the baby and he were reunited during a celebration of the liberation, at Mauthausen. Their story has recently been published in a book titled The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust, by Michael Hirsh. In 2005 he received the Golden Badge of Honor from the Austrian government.

He is survived by a very close and dear friend Dolly Wilson of Montgomery, his daughter Sandra Whiting of Black Forest Colorado, sons, Gary (Bobbie) May of Aurora Colorado, David (Sally) Petersohn of Oswego, Randy (Donna) Petersohn of Lombard, Brian (Debbie) Petersohn of Montgomery, a special niece Bonnie (Dwight) Evinger McConnell of Montgomery and a very special “Baby” Dr. Hana Berger Moran of Orinda, California, 13 grandchildren, 10 great grandchildren, numerous family members and an unbelievable amount of wonderful and supportive friends.

That “very ill, three-week old baby worth saving” refers to my mother-in-law, Hana Berger Moran. Her only child, Tom Berger, is my husband and the father of my two children, third generation Holocaust survivors.
Thank you Pete. It was an honor to meet you in Albany when you received the Golden Shofar Award. My family and I are forever grateful for your service.

Jewish Geography (there's an App for that)

A few days ago I saw my neighbor and friend across the street talking to an older woman I didn’t recognize. She motioned for me to come over, which I did.

Turns out the older woman’s mother was a Holocaust survivor. My neighbor was excited to introduce us because of the book I’m writing about my mother-in-law who, as some readers of this blog know, was born in a concentration camp.

This older woman, whose name I never got, asked me which camp my mother-in-law was born in.

Freiberg,” I said.

Her face clearly registered disappointment.

“Well, she was born in Freiberg but liberated in Mauthausen,” I countered.

“Oh, I thought it was Auschwitz,” she said with obvious discern. “That’s where my mother was. Most people didn’t survive Auschwitz, but my mother did.”

I sensed pride in her voice.

For some odd reason I wanted to impress her so I told her that my mother-in-law was sort of in Auschwitz because she was a two-month old fetus in her mother’s belly at the time. Surely that would give her pause, yes?

Nope. She shook her head. My straw-grasping failed to impress.

Then it hit me. I was playing Jewish Geography, but the concentration camp version. This was sick. Twisted. What was I doing?

Luckily the conversation ended almost as quickly as it began because the older woman’s car was parked in front of a fire hydrant; she had to skedaddle before the parking police swooped in.

Now that I’m out there (meaning here, on this blog) and working hard to get this book written and out to the public (meaning in book stores and libraries), is this Concentration Camp version of Jewish Geography going to be a regular occurrence? It’s not that I don’t want to connect with other people — I do! — but not in a hierarchical competitive way. It felt so awkward and I was rather uncomfortable. This incident reminds me of my post about survivors trying to one-up each other in their suffering.

What do you think?

Paul Seres, liberator of KZMauthausen; credit:

I have a special place in my heart for the liberators of  KZMauthausen, as that’s where my mother-in-law was rescued within an inch (and three weeks*) of her life.

If not for the American troops that stormed its gates on May 5, 1945, the entire chain of events that led to the birth of my two children would not have happened. So, when I read about Paul Seres, an 86-year-old retired pharmacist from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, I got giddy.

Daniel Rubin, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed Seres:

“In 1945, [Seres] was a medic who’d marched across France to Germany with Patton’s Third Army. By Austria, he’d earned two Battle Stars.

‘I didn’t know what concentration camps were,’ he said. ‘None of us did. As a soldier, you fight the war that is in front of you.’ 

Pvt. Seres had just turned 20. He was a Central High School grad from Wynnefield, raised as a Jew. When drafted, he’d finished three years at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. He spoke some German and Yiddish.

As they rode through the town of Ebensee, they saw old women waving white towels from their windows, announcing, ‘We are not Nazi.’ Approaching the camp, he recognized a strong smell from his school years: chlorine.”

Many Holocaust survivors and their liberators can’t bear to talk about the events they witnessed, my mother-in-law and her Army medic hero included.

“For years, Seres didn’t talk about what he encountered – the dead and the dying, the prisoners who wanted to borrow guns so they could hunt down their captors. But there wasn’t a day that he didn’t think about it.

Seres reached out to Rubin after reading his column a few weeks earlier about how survivors can find out more information about their relatives who died in the Holocaust. The two men met up at Seres’ apartment; Seres unfolded a map of Europe across his dining-room table.

 ‘I was just a kid,’ he said, ‘a kid that grew up. I had never been outside of Philadelphia, or maybe Atlantic City.'”

*My mother-in-law, Hana Berger Moran, was born three weeks before Mauthausen was liberated. A U.S. Army medic peeked inside the filthy blanket she was swaddled in and discovered her malnourished and infection-ravaged body. He rushed her to his unit’s chief surgeon who operated on her immediately, thus saving her life. Stay tuned for the book…