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GIs Remember - Harvey Cohen - Gunskirchen

Harvey Cohen was a college student in Atlanta, Georgia, when he enlisted in the Army in 1943. After attending officer candidate school he was commissioned and assigned as a rifle platoon leader to the 71st Infantry Division. After arriving in France in January 1945, he became active in the shooting war. The 71st went the farthest east of any U.S. infantry division.

"We heard a little bit about concentration camps after we arrived overseas, but only in vague terms. As we were moving into Austria, we stumbled upon the Gunskirchen Concentration Camp after encountering light resistance. The first thing we noticed was a horrible odor; the closer we came, the worse it got. Then we started seeing a few people in terrible shape trying to walk down the road. Actually you couldn't call them people; they were skin and bones, just indescribable.

I remember our guys emptying their K rations and C rations; when you see people eating cigarettes and whatever food there was, you know they're in trouble. I was so taken aback I just did not know what to do. When I tried to speak to them, all I heard was a cry for 'wasser' (water).

The barracks themselves were impossible to enter because of the odor. All I could think of was -this can't be real.

Eventually I came upon Jewish survivors, and told them I was Jewish. It was a very emotional moment. They began to hug me, but I could see the lice on their bodies and I just couldn't handle it.

It's still very difficult to talk about this. I have had flashbacks and night, mares about it over the years.

I stayed on in the occupation army for a while. I frequently asked Germans in the Augsburg and Munich areas if they knew what had been going on. No one knew. No one was a Nazi.

After all this, I was proud of being Jewish and I still am. But I'm still wondering, why did all this happen and how did anyone survive? How could one survive this for a week, much less a year or more? It's an example of man's inhumanity to man. I'm convinced it could happen again. It saddens me to think that many people need someone to beat up on."


GIs RememberNational Museum of American Jewish Military History