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A Liberator, But Never Free

SFI Blog Image, Holocaust liberation United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Stand for Israel regularly brings you stories on the Holocaust, many of them about those who suffered through this dark period of history and survived. From time to time, we’ve also taken a look at those who liberated said survivors – the Allied troops who helped rescue the Jews and others not yet murdered by the Nazis. This lengthy and moving story by Steve Friess focuses on one man who liberated Dachau concentration camp, the family and life he came home to, and the lifelong effects that the Holocaust and its horrors had:

The silence must have frightened Emily Wilsey. In the seven months since her husband had gone to war, Captain David Wilsey, a 30-year-old anesthesiologist with the 116th Evacuation Hospital, had never gone more than a day or two without sending her a letter. Every step of the frigid, mud-soaked, and bloody Allied advance across France and Germany, he had written to her of his experiences. But now, with victory assured and the newspapers declaring the war in Europe all but over, the letters had stopped.

His last letter, dated May 1, 1945, was sent from “Somewhere Else Yet Again, Germany.” He had written about how excited he was that his unit would get the chance that night to see The Keys of the Kingdom, a movie starring Gregory Peck. He marveled over how fast the latest issue of the Elko Daily Courier, the daily paper in their town in Nevada, had reached him. “The advance party is out to reconnoiter the new site we will move to in a day or two,” he added, making his first reference to the Dachau concentration camp. Dachau opened in 1933 and was initially used to house political prisoners. It later became a training facility for the SS, the elite Nazi military force responsible for planning and executing the “Final Solution,” or the annihilation of the Jews. An estimated 41,500 prisoners were murdered there. Some went to the gas chambers, or were shot or beaten to death; others expired from exposure or starvation, or died subsequent to medical experiments conducted by SS doctors. Dachau was the inaugural Nazi concentration camp and served as a model for their massive killing system. “The war could end any hour yet we keep moving, racing, working just as if it weren’t over,” he told her, closing the letter by writing, “I love you,” to his wife nine times in four long rows.

Then a week of uncharacteristic quiet. When the letters finally resumed, her loving, joking, open, and optimistic husband had been transformed by what was evidently the defining trauma of his life. On V-E Day, May 8, 1945, David Wilsey began a seven-page letter to his wife, addressing her as “My Most Precious Being”:

“We roared through the gates of Dachau figurative “minutes” after its liberation while 40,000+ wrecks-of-humanity milled, tore, looted, screamed, cried as/like depraved beasts which the Nazi SS has made them…”

Tags: Holocaust , History

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