As the United States gets ready to dedicate a new memorial in Washington to World War II veterans, the country is also paying tribute to those who liberated Europe's Nazi concentration camps.
It was one of the most poignant moments of World War II. Allied soldiers, including Americans, Britons, Russians, Canadians, Australians, entering places of horror named Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Buchenwald. They were unprepared for what they saw and will never forget it.
At Washington's Holocaust Museum Thursday, U.S. Secretary for Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi paid tribute to American liberators of the Nazi death camps.
"The brave men and women of what has been called 'The Greatest Generation' brought the touches of justice equality freedom and peace to set ablaze the evils of Nazism," he said. "Their valor and sacrifice preserved America's freedom and brought the Holocaust to an end."
One of those soldiers is retired Colonel Willis Scudder. As a member of U.S. Army's 89th Infantry Division, he helped free the victims of Nazi tyranny at the Ohrdruf concentration camp in what is now Germany.
"We went in and there were people lying on the ground... bodies. Some were almost skeletons, some were half clad and around them were figures moving," he recalled. "I say moving, almost shuffling and there were bodies stacked, much as you would stack cordwood for your fireplace. I remember some of the feet protruding and as we arrived, the stench was overpowering. [It was] almost unbelievable. We couldn't understand how people could be placed in a situation such as that."
Polish native Henry Greenbaum was forced to live in a Jewish ghetto when he was 12 years old. He was sent to a slave labor camp and later to the Auschwitz death camp. The retreating Germans evacuated the camp and forced him and other prisoners to march through the forests. Eventually, the German soldiers disappeared and the prisoners were on their own in the woods. Finally, after more than a month of walking, weak with starvation, he was greeted by U.S. soldiers in tanks.
"The tank roof opened and a blond-haired soldier popped out and said 'you are free.' Thank God he was an American," Mr. Greenbaum said. "It was the first time I felt joy in many years. I don't know that soldier's name, I don't know what happened to him or even if he survived the war, but whoever he was, he was my angel."
Mr. Greenbaum and Colonel Scudder both thanked the Holocaust Museum for helping educate younger generations and avoid a repeat of one of the darkest chapters in world history.