Margraten, the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, is the only American military cemetery in the Netherlands. The US 30th Infantry Division liberated this site on 13 September 1944, and 8301 American military are buried here. The cemetery site has a rich historical background, lying near the famous Cologne-Boulogne highway built by the Romans and used by Caesar during his campaign in that area.
A few years ago we had the privilege to scatter our Father’s ashes there.
There are 179 Jewish American soldiers buried in the cemetery. I won’t tell the story of all of them, but I will tell the story of one of the brave men that secured my freedom. The fact that he is Jewish makes it even more remarkable. If he would have been captured there would have been no grave, he certainly would have been sent to the gas chambers and his body would be burned in the ovens.
I will also be retelling the story of Leo Lichten. Leo is one of the reasons why I kept going with my blog, or rather Leo’s nephew. Om the 14th of May, 2017 he wrote a wonderful email. At the time I was getting a lot of feedback, People telling me to stop bringing up World War II and the Holocaust. What surprised me more than anything else is that some were Jewish. However Leo’s nephew Robert wrote me the following email:
I saw your posting on Leo Lichten. He was my uncle. Thank you for honouring his memory in such a nice way. My mother is the little girl in the family portrait photograph included in your posting. She is going to be 81 years old in August. Mom is the only one left now. She was Leo’s half-sister. The older man in the photo is my grandfather, Solomon Wolf, Leo’s stepfather. The older woman of course is Leo’s mother (my grandmother), Molly Wolf/formerly Lichten. The beautiful young woman is Leo’s older sister (Mom’s older half-sister), Belle Lichten Mann. My grandfather passed away in 1966. Grandma Molly died in 1987, and Aunt Belle passed away in 2001. Leo’s biological father, Max Lichten passed away in 1984. Uncle Leo’s best friend, Paul Slater, is still alive and lives in Massachusetts. He is also a WWII combat veteran (Navy). Paul’s son is named Leo. Thank you again for taking the time to bring honour to Uncle Leo and his Comrades in arms also resting in Margraten.”
Leo’s story is at the end of this post.
Sgt Philip Abrahamson
Sgt Philip Abrahamson attended high school for 4 years and was a graduate of North High school and was employed in Brandeis store in the men’s department before he joined the National Guard in Council Bluffs, Iowa on 13 January 1941. He had been overseas with a tank destroyer unit since February 1944.
Sgt. Abrahamson was a communication chief with the 125th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Headquarters & Service Group when he was Killed in Action near Isenbruch, Germany.
CWO Gordon Parks received an order to send a party into Isenbruch to look for enemy activity. S/Sgt Abrahamson and three others were assigned the duty. The party saw no German troops or other activity but the order was given to go down a particular road. Abrahamson told Parks that they heard that the road was mined but Parks said he had orders to have somebody go down that road and see if there was any enemy activity. So those four soldiers went down the road in their armoured car and hit a land mine. It exploded directly under Sgt Abrahamson and killed him.
One of the men that survived this incident, Louis Nicastro, did not know the full story until he asked Parks about it at a cavalry reunion, some 45 years later. Parks added that Abrahamson had told him, “Gordon, I don’t think I’m going to be going home.”
On an early autumn day in 1944, the 125th was at the border of the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Chief Warrant Officer Gordon Parks received an order to send a party into Isenbruch, Germany, to look for enemy activity. Abrahamson and three others in an armoured car were assigned the duty. The party saw no German troops or other activity, but the higher-ups were insistent that they go down a particular road.
“Abrahamson told Officer Parks that they heard the road was mined,” Nicastro said. “Gordon Parks said he has orders to have somebody go down that road and see if there’s any enemy activity. On Oct. 3, those four soldiers go down the road and hit a land mine. It exploded directly under Sgt. Abrahamson and killed him.”
Private First Class Leo Lichten
Leo was born on 31 May 1925, in Manhattan to Max and Mollie Lichten. He grew up in Brooklyn, and was described by his best buddy Paul as, “a very noble, intelligent and courageous person.” He even saved Paul from drowning once when they were kids. The best buddy indeed.
Pfc Leo Lichten entered the service in New York City, New York on 11 August 1943. Because of his high intelligence, he was admitted to a special army training course for doctors, engineers and interpreters.
Despite his humble origins, Leo joined the prestigious Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), in August 1943. This initiative of the US military offered the smartest young men (with an IQ of at least 120) the chance to train as engineers, doctors or interpreters. Of course in exchange for several years of service in the army.
But unfortunately for Leo and his fellow students, the army decided to stop this training program in February 1944, because there was a threat of a shortage of soldiers. 110,000 young ASTP students left university for direct participation in the war. Most of them were sent to infantry units as Private First Class, as was Leo.
Leo’s company, Company A, was ordered on 20 Nov. 1944, to attack pillboxes (small bunkers) just outside Prummern to eliminate the enemy resistance in the small German town. The weather was cold and rainy, and the ground was muddy, making the battle even more difficult than it might otherwise have been. Leo storms one of the pillboxes but is killed by machine gun fire early in the fighting.
He was laid to rest in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, along with 8,300 fellow US soldiers and the names of 1,700 other who went missing in action.