Ben Fainer has a light in his eyes and a skip to his step that you don't usually see among most men in their 80s. Unlike the 11 million others who were killed during the Holocaust, Fainer's story has a happy ending. He lives his life with that morbid truth in the back of his mind and the numbers 178873 tattooed on his arm.
Fainer was liberated by American troops on April 23, 1945, as a 16-year-old in Cham, Germany. And on April 26, 2013, Fainer spent the day at Fort Leonard Wood, thanking the troops for their service and telling his story of tragedy and triumph.
The light in Fainer's eyes grew dim quickly when he briefly spoke about the atrocities he witnessed during the six years he spent as a forced laborer in concentration camps, having witnessed his fellow man being shoved into gas chambers and exhausted workers being shot in the head. He became especially emotional when he spoke about losing his mother and family.
"The dearest thing to my heart was my mother and she's gone now," he said. "She was the greatest mother in the world. But life goes on and this world keeps on turning, right?"
Fainer spent most of his time speaking about his well-rounded life in America with his wife, Susan, who was "sent from the heavens" and their seven children.
"I have a wonderful life in America that's beyond compare," he said. "People here just don't realize how great this country is. I've been all over the world and America is the greatest."
After his wife passed away in 1995, Fainer moved to a retirement community in Florida where he befriended a rabbi and asked him to give him his bar mitzvah, since he missed the opportunity, spending most of his teenage years in concentration camps. The local newspaper covered the story of a 74-year-old's bar mitzvah.
A few weeks later, Fainer received a phone call.
"I see in the West Palm Beach newspaper a Holocaust survivor was liberated in Cham, Germany, by the 26th Infantry Division of the United States," The voice said. "I happened to have liberated you."
"Sir, you just gave me a heart attack," Fainer replied.
Fainer and the man, Norris Nims, became great friends until he passed away a year ago, just a few days short of 100 years old. Fainer said he was very grateful for men like Nims.
Fainer thanked the troops for their service.
"I do a lot of things with the Army," he said. "The Army did a lot for me."
He also complimented the soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood specifically and said the installation has a lot of very intelligent soldiers.
"You do a lot of great things here," he told the soldiers in the crowd. "I think you guys should tell the civilians of all the wonderful things you did here."
Page 2 of 2 - Fainer also said that he doesn't hold any grudges against the German people for what happened to him during the Holocaust. He said that a German woman once cried in his arms, apologizing for what her people did to him.
"Your people did not do anything to me," he told the woman. "It was Hitler and his Nazis. The Germans didn't do anything to me. Don't cry."
Fainer recently wrote a book, "Silent for Sixty Years." He will be dedicating the proceeds from the book to soldiers, the Holocaust Museum in St. Louis and schools.