One man’s tragic tale documenting the horrors of WWII concentration camp life from the inside

We all know there are terrible tales of military heroism that we don’t get to hear until far, far later. One recent example of this that has come out is the tale of Anthony Acevedo, military medic assigned to a satellite camp of Buchenwald with others in his tropp because they looked like Jews. Because of how the military handles many sensitive incidents, particularly during war, this is a story that was never intended to be known to the general public.

Acevedo’s story is one that was never supposed to be told. “We had to sign an affidavit … [saying] we never went through what we went through. We weren’t supposed to say a word,” he says.

The U.S. Army Center of Military History provided CNN a copy of the document signed by soldiers at the camp before they were sent back home. “You must be particularly on your guard with persons representing the press,” it says. “You must give no account of your experience in books, newspapers, periodicals, or in broadcasts or in lectures.”

I am not here to question silencing those who have suffered through such events. I have worked in a classified environment, and I fully understand and respect the need to initially treat sensitive matters as classified. The military says the reason for secrecy is to protect escape and evasion techniques and the names of personnel who helped POW escapees, and I have absolutely no reason to question that. I do, however, think there is a need for an office responsible for reviewing
these cases after the fact. This is a story that is well worth knowing, and the events Mr. Acevedo describes seem to have no impact on the need to protect that the military says is the case. Certainly, 60 years after the war, I would can’t imagine why he needs to be kept under confidentiality agreement. Understand I’m not saying I know that it is fine for him to talk – I just can’t come up with a reason based on what I’ve read and learned that would support keeping confidentiality in effect.

That said, see some more below the break about Mr. Avecedo’s experience, and learn a little about how his agreement hurt him in the shortterm.

Born July 31, 1924, in San Bernardino, California, Anthony C. Acevedo is what is known in today’s parlance as a “citizen child” — one who was born in the United States to parents from Mexico.

A Mexican-American, he was schooled in Pasadena, California, but couldn’t attend the same classes as his white peers. “We couldn’t mix with white people,” he says. Both of his parents were deported to Mexico in 1937, and he went with them.

Acevedo returned to the States when he was 17, he says, because he wanted to enlist in the U.S. Army. He received medical training in Illinois before being sent to the European theater.

I just wanted to highlight this. Mr. Acevedo’s history is one of the reasons I don’t accept any immigration arguments about how easy it would be to just ship them all home (to quote many people I know). While we as a nation need to get a handle on illegal immigration, I don’t see that it’s some simple matter with a simple solution.

Acevedo sees it differently. For a soldier who survived one of the worst atrocities of mankind, the military’s reaction is still painful to accept. “My stomach turned to acid, and the government didn’t care. They didn’t give a hullabaloo.”

It took more than 50 years, he says, before he received 100 percent disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sadly, this is something that happens more often than I would think just bad military record-keeping would cause. Even our veterans involved in wars and affected in ways that are publicly known fall through the cracks of the support structure we have in place for them. This is something to always hope for improvement. We, as a nation, have a moral obligation to our troops and veterans, don’t we?

Despite everything Acevedo endured during the war, little had prepared him for his own father’s attitude toward his capture. “My dad told me I was a coward,” he says.

“I turned around and got my duffel bag, my luggage, and said, ‘This is it, Father. I’m not coming back.’ So I took the train the following day, and I didn’t see my parents for years, because I didn’t want to see them. I felt belittled.”

Whether this was from his father not knowing the full extent of what he went through or just because he dad was a sucky parent, we’ll never know. But no matter the cause, I would argue it is inappropriate behavoir for a parent.

The U.S. prisoners, Acevedo says, were given 100 grams of bread per week made of redwood sawdust, ground glass and barley. Soup was made from cats and rats, he says. Eating dandelion leaves was considered a “gourmet meal.”

If soldiers tried to escape, they would be shot and killed. If they were captured alive, they would be executed with gunshots to their foreheads, Acevedo says. Wooden bullets, he says, were used to shatter the inside of their brains. Medics were always asked to fill the execution holes with wax, he says.

This is just one of the many bits of information about Mr. Acevedo’s ordeal that makes it worth reading. There is so much horrifying information like this in the article. These men were treated so
horribly. And as I said above, while I respect the need to protecting information initially, after 60+ years I agree that it is time for these stories to be released. Let us know what our war heroes have done.

There is much more in the full article than what I can cover here. Already, this is far longer than I would normally write. Please read the full story, and learn about Mr. Acevedo’s daily diary which he used to document every death and sickness, as well as the recognition he got from other survivors at a recent gathering of WWII prisoners and liberators. It’s a moving story, even if holocaust deniers claim such things never happened.

[tags]World War II, WWII, Buchenwald, Concentration camp, Horrors of war[/tags]