October 9, 2007, - 7:22 am
Dr. John Withers, Rest in Peace: Courageous Black WWII Hero Risked Career to Save Holocaust Survivors From Dachau
By Debbie Schlussel
On Sunday, America lost a great hero–John Withers. The Black World War II veteran risked a dishonorable discharge and the loss of his academic career in order to hide and save two dying Jewish teens he liberated from the Dachau concentration camp. It was an especially great risk in those days of segregation.
In 2003, the Wall Street Journal ran this incredible front page story by Bryan Gruley about Withers’ heroic efforts risking his future for two strangers and how decades later he was reunited with one of them, now an American citizen.
Today, the Wall Street Journal runs this touching obituary on this great American:
John Withers, a World War II lieutenant who risked a dishonorable discharge to help two young Holocaust survivors, died Sunday.
Mr. Withers, who was 91 years old, was the subject of a page one article in The Wall Street Journal on Nov. 25, 2003. The article described how Mr. Withers, as a leader of an all-black Army supply unit in 1945, broke military rules to hide two Jewish-Polish survivors of the Dachau concentration camp. He spent more than a year mentoring the two, whom his soldiers had nicknamed “Peewee” and “Salomon.”
Mr. Withers, who had grown up in segregated Greensboro, N.C., said he identified with the boys “very strongly and instantaneously” and that they taught him that “it is possible for someone — me, anyone — to overcome the obstacles in his path without losing himself and face prejudice without becoming prejudiced in return.”
He lost touch with them after he returned to the U.S. in 1946. But in 2001, Mr. Withers was reunited with Peewee, by then a successful Connecticut businessman named Martin Weigen. The reunion inspired Mr. Weigen to unburden himself of his own stories of losing his parents and sister during the Holocaust, and time he spent at Auschwitz and other camps. Mr. Weigen died in October 2003 at the age of 75.
Read more about John Withers’ amazing life and heroism and how he overcame segregation and prejudice to achieve his dream of a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago – he was one of 12 to graduate from the prestigious university with that degree at the time (in the days when there was no affirmative action whatsoever):
* For Lt. Withers, Act of Mercy Has Unexpected Sequel: U.S. Officer Broke the Rules To Let His Men Take In Young Dachau Survivor
* Holocaust & Humanity: John Withers Bio
* The Boundless Compassion of John Withers
* An interview with Dr. John Withers II about reuniting his father with the man whose life he saved
Watch a video interview with John Withers. (Scroll down to middle of page, “Mapping Our Tears – Lt. John Withers.”)
John Withers, American Hero & Patriot, Rest in Peace.
Tags: America, Broke, Bryan Gruley, businessman, Connecticut, Dachau concentration camp, Debbie Schlussel On, Greensboro, John Withers, John Withers Bio, John Withers II, John Withers Risked Everything, leader, Lieutenant, Martin Weigen, Mercy Has Unexpected Sequel, North Carolina, officer, Salomon, the University of Chicago, the Wall Street Journal, United States