PHOTO: Moshe Lenske, seated, participates in a parade to honor American servicemen who fought in the liberation of France in 1944 during his recent trip to Europe. (Tom Hauck/Best Defense Foundation)
By ROCKNE ROLL
Moshe Lenske’s first trip to Europe was made under challenging circumstances. As a radio operator with the Ninth Armored Division, Lenske spend 90 days in combat during World War II, including participating in the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944.
The situation was more tranquil on Lenske’s most recent trip, where he and 42 other veterans from around the country visited Northern France at the beginning of June on a trip organized by the Best Defense Foundation. The group spent eight days visiting Normandy and surrounding areas, coinciding with the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the initial invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe.
Instead of being greeted by a vicious enemy, the returning veterans were greeted by applause and cheers almost everywhere they went.
“We were all fortunate. We were emissaries for America, for the armed forces. And loved to death by the Europeans, especially the French,” Lenske recalled.
Tom Hauck, who works with Best Defense Foundation and accompanied Lenske on the trip, remembers “the amount of energy that these people have for the soldiers because they liberated their grandparents and their parents.”
Lenske joined the army in 1943 and trained as a radio operator at Fort Lewis in Washington. After additional training in England, he was sent to Luxembourg where he was assigned to the Second Armored Medical Battalion as part of the Ninth Armored Division. The division received a Presidential Unit Citation for repelling fierce German counterattacks as American forces assembled to relieve Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
As a radio operator, Lenske had a different perspective on the battlefield than many other soldiers. Hauck recalls that he took the opportunity to talk extensively with his fellow veterans on the trip to connect their experiences to his own.
“When [Lenske] found out certain units had come through,” Hauck recalled, “[he would ask] ‘Hey, we were there these days. We were in these towns. What’s your experience? I think we did some medical work on your units,’”.
“They know what war is like because they’ve seen war. And all of these guys are battlefield veterans. They don’t talk about it a lot,” Lenske recalled. “It’s not table talk. It’s not peaches and cream.”
Lenske was one of five Jewish veterans on this trip; a group that all gathered together at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer around the headstone of Abraham Hirsch, who came to the United States alone as a teenager in 1935 and lost his parents and sister to the Holocaust. Hirsch committed himself to liberating Europe from fascism. He came ashore on D-Day and was killed in action shortly after. Lenske recalled the unique risks Jewish American soldiers took by fighting in Europe.
“A lot of American soldiers were captured, and the Germans passed a law that they wanted everybody to identify which American soldiers were Jewish,” Lenske said. “The Americans didn’t answer, so then the Germans picked out 300 at random by looks or by names or intuition or whatever, and they took those people and put them in a concentration camp.”
Hauck recalled a story he heard of Lenske writing to headquarters asking for assistance in securing shelter and food for Jewish civilians who had been hiding from the Nazis in a wooded area in Germany before being liberated by Lenske’s unit.
“He started asking people their names, where they’re from, their ages and started compilng the list and wrote to the high command, which was General Patton’s office, saying ‘hey, these people, they need places to live,’” Hauck said, “really advocating for them and he made a difference.”
This was Hauck’s third trip with Best Defense Foundation, which financed the trip through sponsorships at no cost to the veterans. He mentioned his trip over a Passover seder to a friend’s mother-in-law who lives at Rose Schnitzer Manor, and she knew Lenske had served in World War II. Arrangements were quickly made for Lenske to join, the most challenging of which was getting Lenske’s expired passport renewed on very short notice. After the trip, Hauck and Lenske made a presentation on their trip and Lenske’s combat experience to a capacity crowd at Cedar Sinai Park.
Hauck’s wife and children are Jewish, and the significance of the sacrifices made by Lenske and other veterans to defeat the Nazis is not lost on him.
“If I had lived 80 years ago in Europe, my family would have been in jeopardy,” he said. “So, it means a lot.”
“We’re all glad to be alive. We’re all lucky,” Lenske said of himself and his fellow veterans. “We’ve seen humanity not at its best.”