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WWII veteran recalls liberation of Buchenwald

World War II veteran William Langfan inside his Palm Beach home with his son Mark. [DAMON HIGGINS/


Seventy-five years after a young William Langfan and other American soldiers liberated the World War II concentration camp, the images remain powerful.

“Nine guys were in my outfit. I was the only Jew. We walked through the gates. I sat on a wood bench. The inmates walked up to me slowly. All men. So skinny. We spoke Yiddish. They could barely talk,” said the 97-year-old Palm Beach resident.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp. Events marking both events are planned throughout the world.

Buchenwald was liberated on April 11, 1945.

William Langfan, the youngest of a family of three girls and two boys, grew up in a six-story apartment building in Manhattan. His parents immigrated from Lithuania in 1906. His mother Mary was a homemaker. His dad Max was an interior house painter.

Langfan remembers the construction of the George Washington Bridge, the iconic double-decked suspension bridge over the Hudson River.

“We threw snowballs at the workers. They threw them back,” he chuckled.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Langfan was a studying economics as a junior at the University of South Carolina. The 19-year-old enlisted in the Army Coast Auxiliary. Liverpool, England was his first stop. He was assigned to anti-aircraft duty and eventually marched with Gen. George Patton to Berlin.

Langfan and his son Mark are scheduled to be honored with a Generation to Generation Award on Feb. 16 at The Colony by the Palm Beach Synagogue.

“We created this award just for them for their love of Israel, their kindness and their generosity,” said Rabbi Moshe Scheiner.

A retired Realtor from New York City, the elder Langfan has donated Torah scrolls and made donations to Palm Beach Synagogue, the Aitz Chaim Synagogue and Temple Beth El.

He has lectured in Israel, Canada, France and throughout the Unites States to promote Zionism. His articles and letters have been printed in publications from the Jerusalem Post to the Palm Beach Daily News. He established endowments at schools such as Cornell University, University of Chicago and Yeshiva University.

“He is devoted to democracy,” Scheiner said.

Mark Langfan lectures and writes, continuing his father’s commitment to Israel.

“The big lie is that Israel is the cause of instability in the Middle East. In fact, Israel is the first and last line of defense for NATO and America in the Middle East,” said Mark, 39.

A slender man who speaks precisely, William Langfan talks matter of factly about landing at Normandy. He speaks with pride about the Battle of the Bulge and marching with Patton.

But his eyes narrow and his fingers fold tightly in his lap when he remembers Buchenwald. About 56,000 inmates were killed inside the concentration camp before American soldiers walked through the gates in April, 1945.

“We must remember: Never again,” he said.

The Palm Beach Synagogue is marking Holocaust Remembrance Week with a special photo exhibit. For information, go to or call 561-838-9002.


© 2020 The Palm Beach Post