Honoring a liberator
By Deb Silverthorn
Salutes were up and flying high for Dallas’ Sam Kogutt during the 2020 B’nai B’rith Youth International Organization, the international convention hosted this past February, pre-pandemic, in Dallas.
Kogutt, who helped liberate two Nazi concentration camps, received BBYO’s Stand UP Award, given to those who show commitment to the values of BBYO and Judaism.
“This great American story touches our teens, it touches anyone who hears it, but the in-person connection at BBYO’s convention was tremendous,” said Fran Berg, who serves on the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC). Dallas’ Jeff Beck, Dr. David Patterson, Virginia Prodan and Fort Worth’s Roger Nober are also THGC commissioners. “We had a full schedule this year, to be sharing all of their stories, and it turned into our last outside experience of 2020.
“The kids were looking at these men, in their mid-90s, who served this country when they were just about their age,” Berg said. “We saw the absorption of the moment, in their hearts and eyes, in a way you never could from a textbook.”
Kogutt helped liberate the Siegen and Flossenburg Nazi concentration camps, serving as a corporal ammunition bearer during World Ware II, a member of the 97th Infantry Division, 303rd Regiment. He was assigned to battles against the Nazis in the Ruhr Pocket in Czechoslovakia in 1945.
Kogutt joined Kenneth Christopherson, a liberator of Dora-Mittelbau, and Chester Rohn, a liberator at Mauthausen, in being recognized by BBYO in this 75th anniversary year of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps.
The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission created an exhibit in collaboration with Texas Tech University, that focuses on 21 liberators. The Honor Roll has identified 512 of the reported 700 Texas liberators, including Berg’s father-in-law and former Dallas resident, Lee H. Berg, of blessed memory.
“What an incredible morning honoring these men and other Texans who liberated the Nazi concentration camps,” Fran Berg said of the BBYO convention.
“It was BBYO’s distinct honor to welcome Mr. Kogutt and our other honorees to the main stage of BBYO International Convention to pay tribute to them on behalf of tens of thousands of Jewish teens worldwide,” said Laura Ross, BBYO associate vice president of programming.
Kogutt grew up in Bay City, Texas, and moved to Dallas after completing his service and graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1949. He has been a longtime member of Congregation Shearith Israel and was married for 66 years to Irene of blessed memory. The couple built their company, Dart Manufacturing, and became the parents of three sons, Jeff (Judy), Michale and Randy (Niloufer Mistry); grandparents of Asher, Benjamin (Merissa), Elan and Jake; and great-grandparents of Adira, Arielle and Micah.
“It was exciting, really overwhelming the support and respect we could feel from everyone there,” said Jeff, who joined his father onstage at the convention, as the three veterans received BBYO’s awards. “It was a very high honor and it will always be a wonderful memory.”
As the liberators stood on the stage, the audience of more than 5,000 was asked to turn on their phone flashlights and rise if they were the descendants of Holocaust survivors. Around the ballroom, thousands of phone lights flickered.
As Kogutt left the stage, a BBYO’er from Norway approached, thanking him for saving her grandmother’s life. At that moment, a young lady and her hero, generations and thousands of miles between them, were together in heart.
To follow the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, visit thgc.texas.gov. To share in the Texas Liberator Projects interactive experience, visit texasliberators.org.