A man who helped liberate prisoners from Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp described May 5, 1945, as a beautiful sunny morning spent at the gates of hell.
During a program at Heidelberg University Monday evening, George Sherman, who enlisted in the Army when he was 17, recalled thousands of people being killed there.
Sherman and Don Behm served in the 11th Armored Division and helped liberate the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp where James Lichtman, a native of Szatmar, Romania, and Emery Grosinger, a native of Transylvania, were imprisoned, according to information from Heidelberg.
The four men shared stories as part of the "Survivors and Liberators Reunited: Heidelberg Remembers the Holocaust" program in Seiberling Gymnasium Monday evening. The program was part of Heidelberg's Genocide Awareness Week, and the university is making a donation to Wounded Warrior Project in honor of the men, who received two standing ovations during Monday's discussion.
Behm - a 1951 Heidelberg graduate who had been drafted at 18, went overseas in January 1945 and was a tank commander - recalled his unit going down the road in column formation and being told prisoners were behind a gate.
The soldiers didn't have any idea what they were going to see, Behm said.
PHOTO BY JILL GOSCHE
Stewart Behm (right), a 1990 Heidelberg graduate, pays tribute to veterans as members of the “Survivors and Liberators Reunited: Heidelberg Remembers the Holocaust” panel look on in Seiberling Gymnasium Monday evening.
"(Government officials) could've warned us a little bit," he said.
Behm said he didn't hit the gate too hard because he knew soldiers would have to reclose it, and the door swung open. Prisoners came out of the concentration camp and kissed the tank, and soldiers entered the camp.
Up until that time, soldiers weren't sure why they were overseas, but when they entered the camp and saw bodies piled up, they knew what they were fighting for, he said.
Behm recalled the soldiers being shocked.
"We survived. ... We fought the war and we won, I think," he said.
Grosinger was 12 at the time he went to a concentration camp and said he was one of the youngest survivors. He recalled prisoners being sorted into groups to either work or be eliminated. He said as a child, he was oblivious to what was happening. He said he didn't grasp the magnitude of what was happening and thought he was invincible.
"My father was shipped away," he said.
Lichtman said he had been hoping some day Americans would arrive, and he doesn't know how he survived.
"I always had that will to live," he said.
Lichtman said he loves the United States, which he said still is the best country in the world.
"God bless you all," he said.
Behm's son, Stewart Behm, a 1990 Heidelberg graduate, told his father and the other three men they had done their job and told their stories, and it now is time for the next generation to tell their story.
"Gentlemen, what you did will never be forgotten," he said.
Behm encouraged those attending the program not to forget what they had heard. He also told them to remember that veterans have a story to tell.
"Then listen. ... Thank them for your freedom," he said.