GIs Remember

Kalman Zitwer


Kalman Zitwer was working in his father's printing plant on the Lower East Side of New York when he was called into the Army in 1943. He went overseas in a medical unit, was in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, and in other campaigns fought by the 11th Armored Division in Germany and Austria.

"On the way to Linz, we passed through Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The gates were already open, the SS commanders had fled, people were milling around; they looked haggard, very emaciated. There was a section for women where medical experiments were done on them.

We could smell the burning flesh; we could see the piles of bodies. And we could see the rockpile where people from the concentration camp were forced to jump, or were pushed, unclothed, into a pile of rocks covered with time.

As we were coming down this road, we saw on almost every tree bodies hanging Mussolini-style (by their feet, upside down). They turned out to be Poles, Russians, Jews who were Kapos (people who were instruments of the Nazi commanders and did their dirty work).

On the road, we encountered a lot of freed inmates of the camp who were cursing the bodies hanging from the trees, mostly in Polish but some in Yiddish. I recognized immediately that these were Jews. At the time, I was standing at the roadside; our orders were to keep civilians from passing through or going into the streets beyond the camp.

I noticed a young fellow limping toward me. He was in bad shape. His right leg was bandaged, I think it had gangrene. He was dressed in the typical striped suit of the concentration camp inmate. However, his face was full. He was a young kid about fourteen. I said to him: 'Bist du a yid?' and he answered 'Yes, I come from Krakow, Poland, and I've been in a concentration camp since I was ten years old. I asked him: 'Where are you going? You know you cannot get past this point.' He said 'I am going to Switzerland where I will be free.' But I told him he could not walk even a half mile with that leg.

I had a feeling that I must help this boy (Adam Weinreb) at any cost, so I took him with me back to the house where I was staying. On the ground floor we had set up a surgical and medical unit and for four days we treated Adam; he made a great recovery.

Shortly after, I took Adam to my outfit and asked if he could be used as a sort of mascot, or as a kitchen helper. My officers agreed, so I went out and got Adam a U.S. Army uniform and he looked like a typical Army soldier- only a short one!

My concern was for Adam and the other Jewish survivors at Mauthausen. I helped organize a group of 104 survivors to assist in restarting their lives. Most of the Jewish survivors that I talked to opted to go to Palestine; very few wanted to go to the United States.

Adam was very concerned about the whereabouts of his family. He had seen his sister die at the hands of the SS. He had seen the ashes of his father handed to him in Gestapo headquarters in Krakow. He was not sure his mother had died in Auschwitz: 'Maybe she wasn't at Auschwitz; maybe she was in another camp.' So I traveled with him from camp to camp, but we never found her.

The memories of the war, make me proud to have been where I was. Hopefully I was able to help someone."

In recent years Kalman Zitwer has been a volunteer at the International Tracing Service of the Red Cross, and has also been active in his synagogue.

 


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