Jewish World War II Vet in ‘National Geographic’ Special
Documentary that aired Thursday, May 20 features veterans who served on the front lines in Europe.
Morton Waitzman, a World War II veteran and former Emory University professor living in Atlanta, was featured Thursday, May 21, on an international “National Geographic” documentary “World War II in Europe: Voices from the Front.” According to a press release by the World War II Round Table in Atlanta, “National Geographic” associate producer Bethany Jones described Atlanta as “the goldmine for living World War II veterans.”
“I think it’s a big thing, as far as I’m concerned, and of course as far as the local community is concerned, this is very substantial publicity,” Waitzman said. “National Geographic” came to the apartment he shares with his wife a few weeks ago with a camera crew and so much equipment it filled the apartment, he said.
“I offered up about two dozen World War II veterans willing to be interviewed for the project and NatGeo immediately booked airline tickets to Atlanta,” Jeffery Johnson of the Round Table said in a press release. “A tight production schedule allowed for a selected few to make the cut and interviews were filmed in January in Dunwoody during the Atlanta World War II Round Table’s monthly meeting. I’m happy their stories of courage and sacrifice will be told by some very talented people at NatGeo.”
Waitzman is one of five Atlantans who appeared in the documentary commemorating the end of World War II in Europe, including fellow Jewish Atlantan Hilbert “Hibby” Margol of Dunwoody, who was among the first U.S. soldiers to liberate Dachau, Johnson said.
The documentary focuses on the end of World War II in Europe, as it is the 75th anniversary this year. Waitzman was with the 29th Infantry Division when he landed on Omaha Beach in France on D-Day, he said. “That represented the beginning of the end of the fight to defeat state Nazism. I emphasize that you should be aware that Germany was the source of Nazism with Adolph Hitler. But there’s Nazism all over the world – right here in Georgia. We’re a hot bed,” he said.
He was with his division during the liberation of Paris in August 1944. From France, they fought across Europe and liberated Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland. “And of course we went out there with the Battle of the Bulge in Germany,” Waitzman said. He went on to liberate various slave labor and concentration camps.
“Eventually, early May 1945 we met the Russians and the war was over at that point,” he said. “I was there at the beginning of the end of state Nazism.”
Waitzman was at sea on the way to Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped. He started to sail home and was discharged in 1946, then went to school. Waitzman became a professor at Emory and taught there for about 40 years, retiring in 1991.
His interview with “National Geographic” goes into more detail about his experiences in World War II, and records of his time in the war can be found in The Breman Museum’s archives.
Waitzman is active in the World War II Round Table in Atlanta and has been featured in numerous interviews, including a big CNN production about the war. “This was different,” he said of the “National Geographic” documentary, explaining how it’s a global production. The camera crew left his apartment and flew to Moscow to do interviews, then went to London. “It’s a big thing they were doing,” he said. “It is going to be shown worldwide and multilingually. Everybody knows ‘National Geographic’ and the quality of their work. … I was happy to work with them because I think the story has to be told.”