By Shari Spark
Holocaust Resource Center Coordinator
Editor’s Note: Donald Burdick, a liberator and war hero who worked closely with the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley's Holocaust Resource Center to share his story and educate teens about the Holocaust, passed away in October at age 93.
It’s difficult to know where to begin when describing the life of a master of Holocaust education. Donald Burdick, war hero and liberator, was such a giant. While he spoke often of his experiences in WWII and the Battle of the Bulge, Don did not come to grips with the events of the liberation of Dachau until 2010. A report in The Morning Call led to his becoming a frequent speaker to teens in the Lehigh Valley. Don’s message of “Don’t tell me the Holocaust didn’t happen. I was there. There was a Holocaust” made a huge impact on hundreds of teens.
The seven pictures Don took serve as tangible evidence of the Holocaust. The fact that he did not share his memories or his photos for 65 years does not diminish his story; if anything it made his story even more urgent, as if he needed to share it as often and to as many as possible. Told with humor, grace, horror and sadness, the retelling of his liberating Dachau on April 29, 1945, included his vivid and overwhelming memory of the smell of death, how he and his troop-mates were made to search train cars of corpses while looking for German troops, and the sight of blood and feces smeared on the walls of buildings where bodies were stacked like cordwood.
But most moving was Don’s description of the regret he felt knowing that survivors had not truly been liberated: What did the word "liberation" mean? Where would these victims go? Who would they find waiting for them? What kind of life could they return to? These thoughts haunted Don forever and moved him to tears at many of our presentations.
By his words and the very fact that he chose to present his memories, he was making a profound difference. Students who heard Don’s stories will surely take his message of telling the truth about the Holocaust to heart, and have, themselves, been empowered to share the legacy of that terrible event.
The rise of Holocaust denial spurred Don to tell his story. Now it is our turn to share the truth as Don remembered it so that present and future atrocities are recognized and hopefully prevented.
Rest in peace, Don, and may your memory forever be a blessing.