“World War II was nearly over. In less than three weeks, Hitler would be dead. Yet in spite of the changing political climate, the Allies held fast to their focus of destroying key targets throughout Germany.
“One of these targets was Mittelbau-Dora, a subcamp of Buchenwald concentration camp, located on the outskirts of Nordhausen, a small town in the Harz Mountains in central Germany. Nordhausen was home to the production of the V-2 rocket, a short-range ballistic missile that specifically targeted London.
“On April 3 and 4, 1945, bombing raids of the Royal Air Force destroyed three-quarters of the town. In mere minutes, 1,220 tons of bombs were dropped on Nordhausen, transforming the 1,000-year-old picturesque city into a mass of burning rubble and death. Twenty thousand people were rendered homeless, and nearly 9,000 people lost their lives.
“My mother, two sisters, and I were there when it happened. I was 4 years old, and the events of those days are my first conscious memory.
“On a foggy morning, exactly eight years later to the day, our ship’s captain announced that we were about to arrive at our destination – New York City harbor. People, mostly Italians, stood on the deck anticipating the moment. We maneuvered our way to the bow of the ship, looking forward as the engines slowed. Out of the fog we saw her emerge – the Statue of Liberty welcoming us. Many people wept openly. Others just stood silently and in utter amazement as we approached the harbor and saw the enormous skyscrapers materialize. I almost burst with excitement. I could not believe my eyes… we had arrived in America.
“It had been a long, winding, tumultuous, and most unusual journey to that day, but the doors had finally opened wide to our new, and wonderful home. My mother’s dream, and ours, had come true.
“In the years that followed, I heard my family speak about a box of valuable belongings intentionally left behind for safe keeping by Jews rounded up, and deported to concentration camps. My Jewish uncle Siegmund, had sustained a serious head injury as a soldier during WWI, and had been entrusted with these precious items. People thought that he would not be transported due to his severe injuries, and because of his status as a local hero. They were wrong.
“Sixty years after our arrival in New York, I stepped onto a jumbo-jet in San Francisco, headed to Berlin. I was on my way to research the recovery of that box and the secrets that it held. It was the beginning of a dangerous, and extraordinary mission.”