Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood during the Holocaust

By Anita Brostoff; Sheila Chamovitz | Go to book overview

Gusen: A Nurse's Tale
Marjorie Butterfield
First Lieutenant, 59th Field Hospital, 3rd Army

We arrived at Gusen Concentration Camp in Austria about two weeks after the camp had been liberated. I was an army nurse, assigned to the 59th Field Hospital.

The camp was surrounded by a high wall, the terrain barren, the buildings drab. Over a thousand men with shaved heads either sat dejectedly on the ground or aimlessly milled about. They were all so emaciated, they looked as if they could hardly stay alive.

Actually many of them didn't. Every morning, a truck picked up the dead bodies and took a full load to the cemetery nearby.

The patients in the hospital were suffering from tuberculosis, typhus, infections, anemia, and diseases caused by severe vitamin deficiency. When taking care of our wounded soldiers in the Field Hospital we had plenty of antibiotics, whole blood, plasma, and intravenous feedings. Here, there was a tremendous shortage of all these necessities. We felt helpless.

If ever patients needed to be comforted, needed tender loving care, these unfortunate souls did, but it was difficult because of the language barrier. All of us—doctors, nurses, and corpsmen—were given the opportunity to take German lessons. But progress was slow, and I hoped that I could convey by a tender touch or the look on my face that I cared.

Although we had enough food for ourselves, there was not enough for the patients. One day on my way to our mess hall I saw two men boiling chicken feet that had been thrown in the garbage, to make soup. I couldn't eat my lunch that day.

On the Women's Ward, there were only about sixty-five patients, and they were in better physical shape than the men. Many were well-educated and could speak English. They were of various nationalities and religions. They told me about the hardships, indignities, and cruelties they had endured. None of them knew what had happened to their families, except for those who had seen them killed or led to the gas chamber.

One day there was great excitement among the women. One of them had started her menstrual period! Stress and malnutrition had caused all of them to cease having periods. Since one of them became a “normal woman” they all felt it would soon happen to them too.

-286-

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