Unyielding Valor

The heroic sacrifice of Abraham Matza

The start of an interesting research.

In April 2017 I had the honor to guide around several people from the USA, who had a special interest in the story of Abraham Matza.  Marcia Ikonomopoulos (New York), Rose Attas-Ferrari, her daughter Lisa and Jaime Longoria (Texas) who is a descendant of 289th veteran José Longoria.

Marcia, author, Rose, Lisa and Jaime; Forge a la Plez, April 2017.

According to Jaime it was thanks to Abraham’s actions that he was able to walk here with me in the area where his father was in January 1945. Rose: “Abraham’s mom and my grandmothers cousin was  my and my siblings babysitter on many occasions. I loved when she babysat for us, she always brought goodies over. My dad came over on the same ship as her when they immigrated to the USA. So she was well known to both sides of the family.”
Researching the events that lead to the death of Abraham was not easy to do.
To be fair: The documents of the 289th Infantry Regiment are insufficient to zoom in as deep as possible.
But, because of the importance of this story, I gave it a try. With all the papers I tried to reconstruct the events on 4, 5 and 6 January 1945.

Escape from Greece to New York.
Moise Mazza

Moise Mazza (In the US: Morris Matza) was born on 20 May 1885 in Preavia(?)/ Turkey.
He moved to Ioannina, Ipeiros, Greece.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 7,000 Jews in Ioannina, but due to fear of political instability, compulsory military service and economic decline, several thousand Jews began emigrating, heading to New York City. In 1910 the Jewish population was 3,000 and on the eve of the Holocaust it was 1,950. On March 24, 1944, 1,860 Jews were seized by the Nazis and deported to Auschwitz. In 1948 there were 170 Jews living in the town, and by 1967 their number had dwindled to 92.” (source: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ioannina)
Among the deported were many family members of Morris. They all were killed in Auschwitz.
More info: https://www.kkjsm.org/the-holocaust-in-ioannina
Moise left Greece and arrived in New York with the RMS Campania on 18 November 1907.

Morris his wife, Esther (Astro) Cohn, was born in Rogaiame(misspelled in the US documents)/ Greece on 30 June 1888. She moved to the US in 1920.
Morris and Esther married in 1922 in New York.
Their first known address was 1790 Madison Avenue in New York. They rented their appartment for 28 dollars a month. Morris worked as a cook in a restaurant. It is unknown if Esther worked at that time.
The couple had three children: Abraham, Stella (27 January 1927) and David (1 May 1930).
On 14 July 1943, at the age of 18 years Abraham was drafted in the army. At that time he was working in a Candy story, “the Famous Delicatessen”.
Abraham was assigned to the brand new 75th Infantry Division, 289th Infantry Regiment, C company.

Civillians in Ioannina
Campanina passengers list
The RMS Campania
Going to war.
Abraham Matza

On 10 December 1944 the 75th Infantry Division moved from South Wales to the French shore, arriving in Fréville the next day. On 20 December they arrived in Tongeren/ Belgium by train.
From here they walked on foot to Overrepen, arriving at 21.00hrs on the same day. The next day the troops moved to the Belgium Ardennes in the town of Palenge.
The following days were used to set up defensive positions in that area. First fights broke out on 24 December 1944 with elements of the 2nd SS “Das Reich” Division that had broken through American lines in Manhay.
At 08.00AM three battalions jumped off and seized the high ground 1500 yards south of the Erezée-Grandmenil road by 12.00PM.
Company C had been sitting on that ridge for a whole week now. Word had come through that other units of the 289th Regiment had a long and bitter fight in and around the little town of Grandmenil. On 27 December they managed to retake it, with help from the 3rd Armored Division.
The fighting had diverted to the hills overlooking the valley of Forge a la Plez. SS troops had managed to find a gap between companies I and L and attacked the little hamlet of Sadzot in a last attempt to break through the American lines. Although the Germans had no support of tanks it was a bloody battle. Again the 3rd Armored Division, together with the guys of the 509th PIR pushed back the Germans. But the cost was high.
They expected another German counteroffensive in the same area. German troops were still seen on the other side of the valley. Around the Bergister farm movement of troops was seen, even though they had been shelling that place.

Map about the situation 28 December 1944.
Taking the bridge over the river Aisne.

4 January 1945
The first battalion was ordered to take the Aisne river line, which laid right below them. At 16.15hrs companies C & K jumped off and started their advance. The terrain was immensely difficult. The snow and steep hills slowed down their progress. At the other side, companies L & E jumped off 15 minutes later in the same direction. Between them lay the “saddle back road boundary”, which divided the steep hills. 
Company L located several machine gun nests around the Ferme de Bergister.
At 18.01hrs company C was ordered to take the railroad bridge (vP475865) and make contact with CCA of the 2nd Armored Division. Because of the darkness, tracers could be used so CCA knew about their location.
At 20.30hrs companies K, L and E were still about 75 yards away from the river line and there was no contact with company C. Company K made 11 POW’s and knocked out one MG nest.
At 21.30hrs company C reached the railroad bridge and sent a signal up, but there was no response from CCA yet. Company K on their left was trying to make contact with company C, unsuccessful.

5 January 1945.
At 02.25hrs company K finally made contact with company C, which was still waiting at the railroad bridge.
Company B was moving forward on the right side of company C at 08.30. They had to clear the arty fire mission position at vP470865 (see map), but the men in that area were too close to it.
At 08.10hrs all companies were finally at the riverline and defensive positions were set up.
In the meantime, the 2nd AD was heading towards Forge a la Plez, coming from the area of Amonines.
TF ‘C’ continued clearing Amonimes – Dochamps road and Bois de Tave to the south and West thereof and maintaining a reserve force prepared to move to assist TF ‘A’ or TF ‘B’ on order. Forward elements had cleared the road to the point (most likely; BK) 475860 by dark 6 january.”
We marked this coordinate vP475860 on the map with “A”.

Click on the map for a big format.

All the information I have, stopped at this moment in time. None of the sources speak about a German counterattack.
A search with metaldetectors in January 2024 gave us some indications where the Germans had attack and how company C might have retreated. Earlier fieldresearch revealed Garand ammo and German equipment (shovel and gasmask pieces)
Based on some personal statements I decided to write down the following part in this story. Please do understand this part is speculation, beside the first part about the farm).

The counterattack.

Company C had to take the railroad bridge at Forge a La Plez. The hamlet consisted of a few houses and a big farm, belonging to the family Sadzo. In that time it already was a sawmill. During the war, the farm was part of the Belgian resistance. During the first days in January 1945 it got bombed by the Americans because several Wehrmacht soldiers, who were having a New Years’ party, started shooting at a US reconnaissance plane. After SS soldiers told them to stop because it would come back with a bomb, the shooting stopped. But the SS guys were right: An airplane returned and dropped the bomb, killing several German soldiers. They were buried next to the little chapel, on the other side of the road.

Forge a la Plez
Railroad bridge
The river Aisne and Railroad

The railroad came from the farm “Forge a la Plez” and swung over the river in the direction of the towns of Amonines and Erezée. Right under it ran the river Aisne. The river ran wild and it was impossible to cross it. The whole terrain was covered in a thick layer of snow and the temperature was way below zero. Thanks to the snow and a clear sky there was some visibility during the night.
The valley made this terrain extremely difficult. Both sides had steep hills and many small streams were coming down from it.
Company C had expected to connect with the troops of the Combat Command A/ 2nd Armored Division. Although there were noises of vehicles on their right side towards Amonines, nobody had shown up yet. Several flares were sent up as a sign the company was on the spot.
Company K was on their left and behind them on the hill, but hadn’t contacted them yet. They had taken several POW’s and had taken out a few machine gun nests. There was still enemy activity on the other side of the road at the Bergister farm.
Companies B and F were coming in their direction on the south side of the river.
Around 02.25AM contact was made with K company. The entire defensive line stretched out from the firebreak to beyond the Forge a la Plez farm.
The men closest to the bridge were listening to every little sound that was coming from the other side of the river, but it was very difficult to tell what they heard in this dark moment in time.
Have you ever tried to listen to sounds when everything is dark around you? You are starting to hear noises that aren’t there, but you also might ignore noises that are really there.

Looking back to the railroad bridge

Minutes passed by. There was gunfire coming in and some mortars started to fall in, behind the farm. . That was worrying. The men of Abraham’s platoon were hesitating. Were the Germans preparing a counterattack?
More mortars were fired from the area of the Bergister farm and several flares were fired. Suddenly there was movement on the other side of the road! The Germans were attacking and they were much closer than they thought.
The men of C company started to return fire. Machine guns were firing in bursts, Garands were firing in the dark. The men could hear Germans shouting orders and they were heading in big groups towards the bridge! They used the Sadzo farm as cover.
There was no other way than to retreat to the rear to set up a good defensive line.
One of the guys got hit. It must have been Pfc John T. Rodgers from Indiana. In the rear someone was screaming to retreat, but most of the men were pinned down by incoming fire.
On the other side of the bridge and the river one could see flashes that came closer.
First platoon was firing to the other side of the bridge and they heard splashing in the river from men who were shot and fell in the river. A few hand grenades were tossed towards those sounds and the German gunfire was silenced for a moment.

Map about the counterattack; click for big picture

This was the moment to get to the rear. “Start running!”, somebody screamed and everyone jumped up and started to move to the entry of the path that led to their former position. Another man was hit: Pfc Lloyd Rauch from Akron Ohio. Everybody was rushing to the path leading uphill. They could hear the Germans on the other side of the railroad bridge, screaming and shouting, firing their weapons.
They reached the path and started the climb. All of a sudden Matza screamed. He got hit in the leg and he fell.
Several men rushed back to pick him up. “No no no, leave me here.”, Matza screamed. He grabbed his BAR from the ground and started to crawl towards an abandoned foxhole. His friends were in doubt. They had to hurry, there was no time for discussion. One of them grabbed Matza’s arm, but Abraham looked him straight in the eye. “Run or die, man. There is no time left. Retreat and I will take care of these Krauts. I have several clips left. Go!”.
Matza rolled in the big foxhole and started to grab his clips.

Possible escape routes

Bullets were flying everywhere and the Germans were attacking the bridge again. Matza looked one more time at his friends who had started to run. The last one looked back one more time, hesitating. It was José Longoria, one of his best friends. He disappeared in the dark.
There was no time left to reflect. There was no time to think clearly. There was no plan.
His mind narrowed, his adrenaline level was pitch high. The sounds around him were more clear and everything around him looked more bright. It felt as if God was guiding him.
There they were: several Krauts were coming over the bridge. Behind these guys he saw more of them. Matza loaded his BAR and aimed, making sure they did not come to close. The recoil felt different this time. The first ones fell. Others jumped in a ditch on the left side of the bridge and they started to fire at him.
Matza moved just a bit more to the right of the foxhole and fired again at the approaching Germans. They fell right in front of the bridge. More troops started to cross it. A hand grenade exploded two meters away from him. Matza moved to the right side and shot again. Several Germans were screaming. He saw two men diving to the right side of the bridge. The terrain dropped down a bit towards the river and this could give them an advantage to come closer. In front of him lay another six clips and three hand grenades. Matza placed the bar to the right side of the foxhole. His instinct was right: the two Germans ran towards him and he took them out. But at the same time three Germans came running towards him from the left side. Matza fired his BAR. They fell as well.
Another empty clip.

While reloading he saw six men diving to his left where another path led up. Matza threw a hand grenade in that direction. The explosion killed several of them.
He was realizing that this attack had an end. And he was realizing that he would not be the winner. He would not walk out of these woods alive. Never could he kill them all.
He prayed, while firing the next clip. He was praying for his family that stayed behind in Greece, when his parents moved to the USA. He prayed for his mom and dad that they would be forever safe. He prayed for his dear little sister Stella and his youngest brother David. And he prayed for his friends, hoping they would safely reach the top of the hill.
Matza was sweating. He rammed the last clip in the BAR and again moved to the left. The Germans preferred the right side. He saw a group of about ten men coming closer. Matza grabbed his last hand grenade, pulled the pin and waited. He could hear them talk to each other. They probably were figuring out if he was dead. Matza threw the grenade. The Germans did not notice it and several of them got killed.
Because of the blast, Abe missed the next group that pulled up from the left side. Matza fired his BAR until he heard a click: no more ammo.
He looked over the edge of his foxhole. There were many bodies around him. Abe breathed slowly. He heard several men moaning. There was movement around the bridge, but nobody attacked. For a moment it looked like the world stopped. Matza bowed his head and made a last prayer. He prayed this would be over as soon as possible. He closed his eyes and thought a last time about his parents, his brother Dave and his sister Stella. They would be proud on him.
He heard multiple boots on the hard frozen ground running towards him.
Then everything went black.

The next day.
Jaime Longoria standing in a foxhole of company C/ 289th Regiment; April 2017.

The next morning the American units regained their previous position.
Abe’s best friend Jose Longoria went back and started to look for Abe. He found Matza’s body with about 20 -30 bayonet stab wounds. He also found about 40 enemy dead all around Abraham. Pfc. Matza gave his life protecting the men of the Second Platoon and he took a heavy toll on the Germans before they got to him.
However: according to the IDPF of Abraham, he died of a gunshot wound to the head. The IDPF does not mention stabwounds of bayonets.
Abe was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his enormous sacrifice.
In our opinion he had to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Abraham is buried on the US cemetery Henri Chapelle: Plot E, Row 1, Grave 60.

Remembering Abraham.

Several veterans of the 289th Regiment left statements behind about Matza.
Philip R. Bradley, Forward Observer Team, 897th Field Artillery Battalion:
“It has been an honor to have served our country under the command of then Lt. General Henry Fluck. He and Abraham Matza are the only true heroes known to me of those times and places. All of us were required to be brave. Most were, but Henry Fluck had the burden of command under circumstances where only genius could succeed. He did. Therefore, we did.
Abraham Matza, a BAR man, the son of German refugee Jews, wounded, volunteered to stay behind to cover the withdrawal of his platoon of C Company. He died saving his comrades. Fluck and Matza, two magnificent soldiers, must be remembered by us all.”
William Hitchcock (3rd Platoon)
One soldier, as I was told later, Abraham Matza, who was hit in the leg, was told to crawl back towards the firebreak. He told his Sgt. that it was a slight wound and that he would cover the platoon’s withdrawal as he was a browning automatic man and the platoon would need this fire power.
PFC Matza gave his life protecting the men of the Second Platoon and he took a heavy toll of Germans before they got to him. I heard he got the highest award. Sgt. George McCall told me that Matza had parents in the slave labor camp being held by the Germans.
Author unknown, D Company 1st Bn, 289th Infantry Regiment 75th lnfantry Division
“Besides the terrors of the darkness and the extreme cold, we were fighting the SS and Volksgrenadier troops, some of Germany’s best, desperately thrown into the Bulge in the mighty effort to retake Liege. Against two squads of these stood Pvt. Abe Matza of ‘C’ Company who gave a display of bravery typical of the riflemen about us.
As the Boche machine gun squads advanced, the ‘C’ Company BAR man opened fire and was in turn fired upon from another direction. Refusing to retreat with his squad, although wounded, he continued to fire his Browning Automatic Rifle until he received a bullet through the forehead. For his steadfastness to duty, Pvt. Abe Matza was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. Days later his victims were still there, in the grotesque positions in which they had fallen. One riddled body, frozen stiff by the cold, remained in a kneeling position, head bowed as if in prayer.”

Remembering Abraham Matza on the approximate spot where he was Killed In Action; Januari 2024
The Paradox.

Moise Mazza fled Greece and arrived in New York in 1907. His wife Esther did the same. Their goal was to raise their three children in a safe environment and in an economically stable country. Although they had to work hard and it must have been a tough time for them, they were safe.
Until world war two broke out and their son Abraham enlisted in the army. Where Moise and Esther made a daring discision by leaving everything behind in Greece, Abraham returned to Europe to fight Fascism. He paid the ultimate price for his sacrifice.
Jaime Longoria was right on that cold day in April 2017, while we were standing on that railroad bridge: He owed his life to this brave young man, who decided to stay behind and cover the retreat of his friends like his father, José.
May Abraham Matza rest in peace.

I also want to commemorate two other brave soldiers who where Killed In Action on this same day. Both men were also from company C.
John T. Rodgers; ASN 35700735
Lloyd Rauch; ASN 35234532
May they rest in peace.

In a short while we will publish a video about this story too!

Many thanks to:

the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue & Museum
– Marcia Ikonomopoulos
– Jaime Longoria
– Rose and Lisa Attas-Ferrari
– Kristof  Nijs; editting and support
– Aimee Fogg-Gagnon
Myra Miller/ Footsteps Researchers
– Glen Mallen
– Jay Puckett
Joey van Meesen/ Snafu Docs
– Tom Konings (drone)
– Ben Konings (pictures and camera)
– The guys from Urk/ Netherlands, who helped me out with metaldetecting.

Used resources:

– AAR 289th regiment
– Morning reports Company C, B, K, L and I
– Journals
– Books of the 75thID
– Jay Puckett’s website about the 75thID
– National Archives
– Interviews online
The Jewish Virtual Library
– Ancestry
– Fold 3

Extra pictures: