Liberation of Gunskirchen Lager Concentration Camp
Gunskirchen Lager was one of the hundreds of concentration camps of the hitler nazi regime. Although there were (estimated) 15,000 to 20,000 held captive in this particular camp, at Dacau in the entrance where there is a large black wall and white cards indicating the concentration camps Gunskirchen Lager, evidently being smaller than the others, is not listed.
Gunskirchen was located almost midway between the towns of Lambach and Wels, Austria. Wels was about four miles to the east. The inmates were all Jewish --- from Yugoslavia, Chezkoslovakia, Bulgaria and the Balkans --- possible also some from Austria.
At this camp there was no crematorium or systematic means of extermination. Evidently, they were placed in this camp, enclosed with a strong wire fence, and patrolled by armed German soldiers. A large wooden gate, each half swung from a 9' telephone type pole was the only means of entrance. It seems that the chosen method of extermination of these inmates was starvation - they were given no food or water.
Our 71st division signal corps and photography units later compiled a booklet entitled "The 71st comes to Gunskirchen Lager". It describes and illustrates the camp, conditions and horrors. However, no print or photos can accurately transmit one of the most unforgettable aspects of those as they encountered the horrors --- the odor - the smell --- unlike anything ever smelledd before --- or since. The German soldier guards evidently having heard all the shooting as we shot up the convoy, had fled. As we arrived at the camp, those who were able, crowded around us, many crying, hugging, and exclaiming "ich habe hunger" (I am hungry). We gave them all the k rations and cigarettes we had. They ate the food and cigarettes! I noticed some going across the road to a bank of dirt or clay-type earth. Some were eating this while others apparently were attempting to eat the roots of small bushes and the bark off some of the trees. Some of those more physically able to walk started toward the town of Wels, and we could see some of them as they fell along the roadside.
Inside the fence were several shacks, or huts, made of 19" slats (boards with the outer bark showing). Inside these shacks, human bodies, although not much more than skeletons, were lying on top of corpses. The stench was horrible some had only enough strength to raise an arm. The area enclosed by the fence was wooded and the ground was covered by our equivalent of pine needles. Throughout the area lay bodies - some partially clothed. Others were clotheed but you could see they were practically skeletons. As might be expected, there were no "fat or obese" among the thousands. Also, I observed some who might have been 12 or 14, I saw no small children younger than 10 or 12.
As other units and troops moved in we moved on to Wels, Steyr, and finally Waidhoffen, Austria.
Afterward, I rode back over the road from Wels to Lambach. Where each of the inmates had fallen along this road, there was a newly made grave with a freshly turned mound of dirt. I estimate that along this route there was about 40 or 50 graves. On each grave stood a crudely formed cross - made of sticks and tree branches now, I often wondered why these graves-containing members of the Jewish faith, would be designated with a cross. Evidently, this was for one of two reasons; our troops forced the local civilians to bury the bodies and as practically all Germans are catholic and the civilians, not knowing the bodies were Jewish, instinctively placed a cross on the grave, or in the event our troops had forced German POW's to bury the bodies, the troops knew the bodies were Jewish and placed a cross on the graves as a matter of defiance and "spite".
Up to this point in combat, I had seen many dead, mangled, decapitated, pulverized, bodies and body parts. Nothing, however, equaled the horrors of this camp-nothing affected me and all my GI companions as did this experience.
----- Mason ( Mickey ) Hardin Dorsey
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