Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood during the Holocaust

By Anita Brostoff; Sheila Chamovitz | Go to book overview
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Germany, 1945: View from a Tank
Henry L. Marinelli
Captain, 493rd Armored Field Artillery, 12th Armored Division, 7th Army

Death Scene at Landsberg, Germany

Our 12th Armored Division had just crossed the Rhine river, on a flimsy pontoon bridge, moving into Worms, Germany. We had the German military army on the run, averaging fifteen miles a day.

In March of 1945, warm spring air had finally arrived. Our tanks motored along the beautiful countryside, past the farmers plowing fields, the trees and rolling terrain deceitfully picturesque. Ox-drawn carts with large oblong wooden tanks sprayed cow urine on the ground, causing a noxious stench.

In the distance, smoke came from inside the dense forest. Ordinarily, this scene is not unusual in day-to-day combat. But Captain Meuser, in the lead vehicle, felt something was curious about it. Motoring at a faster pace, we approached a dirt road. The column turned left through an open wire gate, into a large fenced-in enclosure. Several feet inside, our vehicles came to an abrupt halt. A panoramic view could be seen from the top of my tank.

Row after row of twisted, disfigured, starved, naked, charred, dead male bodies lay sprawled across the road, blocking our advance. Clouds of dark smoke rose above the camp, which reeked of burning tar and flesh. Flames burst out on all sides of the barracks, which were built halfway below the ground to prevent escape. No doubt, before our arrival the Germans must have poured gasoline on the roofs of the barracks with the internees inside.

A mix of emotions—disbelief, rage—overwhelmed us; tears blinded our eyes. After recovering from the shock, our first reaction amid the confusion and excitement was to aid any possible survivors. Scanning the thin disfigured bodies, I noticed a skeleton-like man doubled up in agony, unable to make a sound. His arm was outstretched, motioning for help. Lifting up his head, I tried to make him eat a piece of K ration, but he could not ingest the food. Just then, one of our medics shouted out, “Don't give them any food, the Red Cross is coming and will administer any care they will need.”

Suddenly three survivors appeared in front of me. They tried to communicate with me in German, but to no avail. Their faces were incredibly sad. All three were too emaciated to draw tears. The one clothed in a green and white striped uniform, with little energy left, gave me a weak but grateful smile. Through gestures I asked them to pose in front of the half-buried barracks, and

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Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood during the Holocaust
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