NPR logo

Vets' Stories Preserve Memory Of Holocaust Victims

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Vets' Stories Preserve Memory Of Holocaust Victims

Around the Nation

Vets' Stories Preserve Memory Of Holocaust Victims

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is Holocaust Remembrance Week. Around the world, people are marking the liberation of concentration camps and honoring victims and survivors. Here in Washington, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum had some special visitors: American veterans of World War II who helped to liberate the camps.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay has the story.

JAMIE TARABAY: One white-haired man after another - some bent with age, others still standing straight - gather under American military flags and pose for photos. A veteran in a wheelchair pointed to the screaming eagle - the emblem of the Army's 101st Airborne - and soon, one of its most recent commanders, General David Petraeus, appeared.

Now the head of Central Command, Petraeus was here at the Holocaust Memorial Museum to honor what he called the greatest generation.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Army; Commander, U.S. Central Command): Not only liberating a continent, but saving a people, a people who had - who the Nazis had tried to exterminate, millions of whom perished before you were able to get to them. And then you helped preserve the memory.

TARABAY: Preserving the memories of what happened 65 years ago is why these veterans are here: to tell their stories. A Jewish-American captured by the Germans and sent to a POW camp, medical personnel who entered the camps and cared for survivors. Soldiers like Susumu Ito, a Japanese-American who served in Italy, France and Germany. He recalls the irony and pain that, at the same time, his parents were interned in a camp in southeastern Arkansas.

Mr. SUSUMU ITO (Army Veteran): It was strange, like, visiting my parents in a camp, to report to military police in uniform - and they were in uniform, as well - getting a pass to see my parents.

TARABAY: Ito was drafted into the Army, and after Pearl Harbor, found himself and other Japanese American soldiers segregated into their own unit. When he got to Bavaria in 1945, he was part of the advance team for the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion. His job was to find the enemy. Instead, he came upon prisoners walking out of the Dachau concentration camp.

Mr. ITO: The guards had left. The prisoners were released. They were wandering on the roads. They were thin, emaciated and dead.

TARABAY: The soldiers had no warning. Ito says the Army didn't tell them what to expect. Maybe, he says, they didn't know.

Mr. ARTHUR MAINZER (Air Force Veteran): Thirty-five millimeter high beam, black-and-white...

Arthur Mainzer also didn't know what to expect. He'd volunteered because he wanted to be a photographer. He was part of the 4th Combat Camera Unit 9th Air Force, and he followed troops into Normandy, France, and then Belgium and Germany. On April 16, 1945, he and his crewmates went to Buchenwald. He said there was so much to shoot, they ran out of film.

Mr. MAINZER: Pictures of groups of children in the camp. They were imprisoned there, and it was pictures of people in the barracks that wouldn't be able to come out, you know, they were so sick. They wanted to come out and meet the Americans, but they were frail. They were dying. So even while we were there, I guess people were dying, prisoners were dying.

TARABAY: His footage is now with the museum, along with accounts from other veterans. The curators say this week's gathering is the one of the last chances they'll have to hear these veterans' stories and to thank them.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.