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GIs Remember - Bernhard Storch - Sachsenhausen

Bernhard Storch was born in Southern Poland near Cracow. After Russia and Germany divided Poland, he was taken by the Soviet secret police to a work camp in Siberia. When Germany invaded Russia in June, 1941, he tried to enlist in a Polish Army division being formed in Russia. After being turned down the first time because of a quota on Jewish recruits, he eventually was allowed to join. He served in an artillery unit in numerous campaigns from Smolensk to the Battle for Berlin.

"We entered Poland at Chelm, and the same day we also entered Sobibor death camp right nearby. Nobody warned us about that. We entered the camp only because Polish peasants let us know what was going on there. Most of the camp had been demolished; approximately 250,000 people were murdered there. We found little trees recently planted by the Germans to cover up the evidence.

The following day we found ourselves in Lublin, and entered Maidanek, a concentration camp where at least a million people lost their lives. Our troops captured four SS men and two Polish collaborators who were later tried and hanged.

In Maidanek, we saw a mountain of human ash, with human bones scattered in between. The feeling I had is still with me; it's just indescribable ... complete shock. There were warehouses with hundreds of thousands of shoes, men's, lady's and children's, all sorted out. There were six or seven gas chambers and crematoria. The irony of the whole thing is that the Polish people were living outside the camp, farming, as if nothing were happening.

There I was-I left my whole family behind. And after seeing what I saw, trying not to lose my mind.

After participating in the Battle for Warsaw, our unit came upon another concentration camp, but once more we did not find one human being alive. The only place where we found some people alive in a concentration camp was at Sachsenhausen, about 50 km from Berlin. When we entered the camp, I saw women in extremely bad condition, hysterical, crying, not knowing who we were. They were Jews and Christians alike. When I told the inmates I was Jewish, there was a tremendous reaction. They were crying; you didn't hear anything else but crying. There were no smiling faces.

After we took Berlin I said a silent prayer. That was the first thing I had to do because I already knew that my family was gone ... my parents, grandparents, Cousins and friends ... all of them.

I left Poland in 1946 and emigrated to the United States in 1947. For twenty. five years I did not discuss the Holocaust; it was just too painful ... all bottled up in me. Eventually I opened up and now lecture at schools, emphasizing Jewish armed resistance in World War II."

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