Holocaust survivor praises 'heroes' of World War II, wonders about today's heroes

Holocaust survivor Walter Reed speaks to the Rotary Club of Quincy during the club's noon meeting Tuesday at the Quincy Holiday Inn. As a young teenager, Reed was jailed on Kristallnacht in 1938. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Mar. 26, 2013 7:27 pm Updated: Apr. 9, 2013 8:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Walter Reed's matter-of-fact tone did not seem to provide his soft-spoken proclamation its proper justice.

"I am a dying breed, a Holocaust survivor," he said.

Reed, who lives in Wilmette, Ill., was addressing a hushed luncheon crowd of about 100 at the Downtown Rotary Club on Tuesday.

The 89-year-old is active in Rotary International and a member of the Speakers Committee of the Illinois Holocaust Education Foundation.

Reed told the crowd of the "heroes" from both within Germany and neighboring countries who helped thousands of Jewish children escape the tyranny of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. At one point, the soft-spoken Reed referred to the Gestapo, which served as Hitler's brutal secret police, as "those bastards."

Like many Jewish families in Germany at the time the Nazis were rising to power, Reed's parents helped him get out of the country as a member of the "Children of La Hille," a Jewish children's refugee colony.

On his own at age 14, Reed worked his way through an escape labyrinth that took him to Belgium, France, Switzerland and Portugal before he was able to emigrate to the United States. He repeatedly praised those from other countries who helped the Jewish children escape -- the United Kingdom took in 10,000 alone -- and referred to them the "heroes of the Holocaust."

After he left his home village near Bavaria, Reed never saw his parents or two younger brothers again. They were part of the 6.5 million Jews murdered by the Nazi regime, many in concentration camps where "3,000 to 4,000 a day, 365 days a year" were put to death, Reed said.

Reed eventually arrived in New York City in late 1941.

"I arrived about three months before Pearl Harbor," he said.

In 1943, Reed was drafted into the U.S. Army and eventually landed in Normandy in June 1944. He was assigned to military intelligence, interrogating German prisoners at the front with the 95th Infantry Division.

After the war, Reed helped the U.S.-led coalition "de-Nazify" the German government, then returned home and attended the University of Missouri-Columbia on the GI Bill, studying journalism.

Reed also sounded a warning.

"The atrocities, the bad ideas are (still) happening today, they are still being perpetuated," said Reed, specifically mentioning the North Korean regime. "What is our role? What can we do to be heroes to these people?"

A retired public relations executive, Reed travels the nation talking about his experience. He recently returned from a cycling trip in the Tyrolean Alps and is writing a book on "Heroes of the Holocaust."

At Tuesday's meeting, the Rotary Club also presented a $10,000 check to the Salvation Army. The amount represented the final portion of its $20,000 commitment the club made last year to assist with the construction and renovation costs tied to the Salvation Army's Emergency Shelter and Family Services Center at 501 Broadway.

The new $2.2 million Salvation Army shelter opened last week.

Maj. Andrew Miller of the Salvation Army lauded the Rotary Club's efforts.

"The Salvation Army is grateful for this generous gift," he said. "This shelter is the only one within 100 miles of Quincy that serves both single men and women, as well as families. By combining our Family Services office, food pantry and emergency shelter into one location close to the Kroc Center, we will be able to serve our community much more effectively."