GIs Remember

George Chornesky - Ahlem and Salzwedel


George Chornesky was an army reservist called to active duty in 1943 from Lynn, Massachusetts. He served as a medic with the 84th Infantry Division, and saw action in Holland, the Battle of the Bulge and Germany.

"Toward the end of April 1945, the 84th overran a concentration camp at Ahlem, close to Hannover, Germany. The medics were sent in to see what could be done. I was among them. We entered the barracks to find emaciated people lying sick on bunks of straw. One Hungarian man said he as a doctor and would be dead if they moved him.

I was so upset at the time; I felt a sense of incredulity and anger. Both of these impressions remained indelible. My identification with the use of showers to kill Jews stayed with me for years whenever I showered.

After Hannover we came upon another camp at the town of Salzwedel, close to the Elbe River. Again I was assigned to help the survivors. This camp was burned down by our troops because it was so filthy. The survivors who were able to communicate wanted to get back in touch with reality. They asked me if I could get them Yiddish newspapers. I wrote home and obtained them from my mother.

The experience of liberating the camps has had a powerful impact on my identity as a Jew. Even though I knew the German plan had been to exterminate Jews, I found it incomprehensible - impossible to understand. In the years that followed, I was still unable to work it through.

I went to Eastern Europe a couple of years ago with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Auschwitz was on the itinerary. I decided first I would not go; it was too troubling. Then a close friend convinced me by saying that it was necessary to go. The appearance of the place was quite disarming until you began to see what it was really all about."

Dr. Chornesky has maintained an interest in what happened at Ahlem and Salzwedel and has researched the cases against the guards at those camps through files at the National Archives under "Unprosecuted War Crimes."


Source: GIs Remember, (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Jewish Military History, 1994).