Memorial and Remembrance Library at Veterans Home
“I knew this was going to be a great day,” said Gene Greenburg, “I got my phone out to get the GPS to find the Veterans Home here and I noticed the address…I’m from Las Vegas when you see 1111 you know it’s going to be a good day.” For many Monday, March 18 was a great day. For WWII Veteran Bill Pollard, his son Larry Pollard, and life-long friends Stan and Gene Greenburg it was a day when a dream and a promise became a reality. That dream is the Memorial and Remembrance Library at the Cameron Veteran Home. The promise was to continue to share the story of Abe, Helen, Samuel, and Simon Greenburg and the Holocaust.
The Memorial and Remembrance Library at the Cameron Veterans Home is the first military library to be housed in a Veterans Home in the United States. It was Bill Pollard’s vision and passion that started the library. The library consists of books and films relating to each branch of the U.S. Armed Services and each period of U.S. military history. Over 200 books were gifted to the library, including several high-quality books on WWII donated by the Cameron Public Library. The Memorial and Remembrance Library currently consists of four wooden bookcases, model replicas of U.S. war planes from each era gifted by a private donor, a couple computers provided by the Cameron Veterans Assistance League, and framed photographs depicting scenes of WWII. The crown jewel of the library, according to Bill, is a book that was donated about the Lodz Ghetto. The very same Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland where the Greenberg family originated.
Bill served in the Army during WWII as a combat medic. When the Nazi’s surrendered, he was sent to Dachau to liberate and medically treat Jewish prisoners. He is an eye-witness to the horrors and atrocities inflicted there. Bill only really began sharing his military story over the past decade. As Jerry Steele said during the ceremony, “Every war has its own message and every soldier his or her own story”. Bill came to realize that too many young people did not know or understand the lessons of the Holocaust and WWII. Bill has a passion for history and having been an eye witness to the atrocities of that time, Bill has a problem with Holocaust deniers. He made it his mission to make the library a resource for youth and the community.
Larry Pollard, Bill’s son, did not grow up hearing his father’s story. The war was something Bill did not talk about. Larry became aware of the Holocaust the summer after his third-grade year. His family had moved into a new neighborhood in Kansas City and he became friends with a neighbor boy about his own age named Gene Greenburg. One summer day Larry asked his friend why his parents had numbers tattooed on their arms. According to Larry, “I became Gene’s first student on the subject of the Holocaust. He told me about his parents, about his older brothers and what happened to them, I had thought his only brother was Stan”. When Larry heard that his father wanted to create a Memorial and Remembrance Library at the Veterans Home, he immediately thought of his friends the Greenburg’s and reached out to his childhood friend.
What Larry didn’t know was that Gene Greenburg had dedicated more than 40 years of his adult life to educating people about the Holocaust; fulfilling a promise he made to his father to tell their story. Both of Gene’s parents were survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. Two of his older brothers, Samuel and Simon, died in those camps. “I’ve been teaching for a long time. I always let the students know that survivors are heroes because of what they went through,” Gene told the audience, “What makes today special for me, is to be in a building with a lot of heroes. Guys like Bill and the rest of you here. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. If it had gone on one more day, Stan and I, might not be here…We owe everything to you”.
Gene’s older brother Stan shared their family’s story. How his parents were married and had two children in Poland before the war. Like so many they were taken, the first stop was Auschwitz. Their father was taken to work in a coal mine and their mother worked in a munition’s factory. They both survived. After the war their father made it back to Lodz to see who he could find. A neighbor recognized him and had seen his wife in a displaced persons camp in Germany. Their father somehow made it back to Germany to the camp where his wife was. She was away when he arrived but would be back in a couple hours. He said he would return in a couple hours. When his wife got back to camp, she wanted to go find her husband, but the other women literally sat on her. They had been denied so much; they would not be denied seeing one of their own reunited. The reunion was a blessing to the Greenburg’s and to those that witnessed them rediscover one another.
According to Stan, people like Bill Pollard who were eye witness to the Holocaust are vitally important, “They are witness to the fact that this is not a made-up story. There weren’t hundreds of people killed. This were 6 million Jews as well as 2 or 3 million other people – gypsies, people who were mentally defective, or whatever the “master race” thought was unacceptable. They did a horrible thing. We just cannot forget what happened, never forget what happened, because it is entirely possible that it could happen again somewhere.”
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and world-renowned author, once said, “For the dead and living we must bear witness”. And bear witness is precisely what Bill Pollard did and what the Memorial and Remembrance Library at the Cameron Veterans Home is designed to do.