Honoring World War II Mauthausen and Ebensee concentration camp survivors
2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the majority of concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Ebensee (some concentration camps were liberated in 1944).
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Only 41% of Americans can say what Auschwitz was
Auschwitz should be a household name; however, was alarmed when I read a New York Times article a couple of years ago that 41% of Americans could not say what Auschwitz was. And a research report conducted by PEW Research Center released on Jan. 22, 2020 shares more alarming statistics about how little the majority of Americans know about The Holocaust.
I don’t know anyone personally who cannot define Auschwitz or The Holocaust. Nor have I ever met someone who claims The Holocaust never happened. And I hope I never do.
History is a responsibility – even the ugly stuff like World War II and The Holocaust
History is a responsibility. And, unfortunately, not something we always learn from. Just last year about 100 far-right and ultra-nationalists staged an anti-Semitism protest at Auschwitz on Holocaust Memorial Day. And you can find hatred spewed on Twitter. Genocide, the targeted act of killing large populations, especially ethnic groups, continues today.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum defines The Holocaust as “the systematic bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.”
The Nazis also targeted and killed millions of others in groups such as Soviet civilians, prisoners of war, non-Jewish Polish civilians, those with disabilities, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma/Gypsies, political activists, homosexuals and many more that were considered undesirables.
This is what liberation looks like
2020 is a year of remembrance – to honor those who died in the concentration camps, those who survived and those who risked their lives, their families, their homes and their jobs to speak up and act on the behalf of others who could not. Those who were punished for doing the right thing.
I’ve often wondered if I would do the right thing. There was a banner in my son’s elementary school and its message has stuck with me all these years later.
When I read about The Holocaust and the courageous people who risked their lives to save strangers, I often ask myself, “Would I do the right thing?” if called upon to help others. I would hope that I would possess enough empathy and courage to do the right thing.
I would hope everyone would. It pains my heart when I see people complaining about the current pandemic stay-at-home orders. And it’s only been a few weeks. My husband’s grandfather spent three and a half years in a concentration camp for doing the right thing by actively participating in the Luxembourg Resistance to save the lives of people he didn’t know.
Let me first preface this by saying the intentional genocide of millions of Jewish people during The Holocaust does not compare with the coronavirus pandemic. Not even close. That’s because it’s in our power to do the right thing at minimal risk.
The inconveniences and economical hardships we are facing during the coronavirus pandemic do not compare either. Not even remotely. I’m not happy my 401k and IRAs have tanked or that we can’t visit Austria next month as planned. For me, it’s such a small compromise (not even a sacrifice) to put the needs of others before our own. Social distancing is an easy way to demonstrate compassion and do the right thing and serve our country and communities. Later in this post you’ll read about a couple of everyday heroes. This is our opportunity to be everyday heroes.
This isn’t a political rant (as I don’t think helping those in need should ever be politicized), but rather one that comes from my heart especially when I think about the sacrifices our families and strangers before us have made to ensure our freedom. Our freedom has not been violated or compromised. Not if you take away the ego and think of others whose lives are at risk due to the pandemic. Not when you think about people, even strangers, who saved other people’s lives during WWII and The Holocaust.
People like my husband’s mother, grandmother and grandfather.
Pictured above is when the U.S. Army liberated the Ebensee concentration camp in Austria on May 6, 1945. This is what true liberation looks like.
My husband’s grandfather, Jean-Pierre Kolbach, was one of those who did the right thing. He was a concentration camp survivor. He along with my husband’s grandmother, Madeleine, were members of the Luxembourg Resistance Movement during WWII. You can read more about Jean-Pierre and Madeleine in an earlier post in this series.
Subsequent Nuremberg Trials (Krupp Trial) affidavit from Ebensee concentration camp survivor
In his own words, here is an excerpt from Jean-Pierre’s affidavit he presented at the subsequent Nuremberg Trials (aka Krupp Trial). You can read the entire affidavit on the Vanderbilt Universe library’s website.
Source: Nürnberg Krupp Trial Papers of Judge Hu C. Anderson; Document Book 6 / Houdremont No. 33; Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries; Alyne Queener Massey Law Library; Vanderbilt Universe
Jean-Pierre was arrested for his so-called political crimes (distributing pamphlets), and committed to the concentration camp Mauthausen on June 5, 1943. He was transferred to Mauthausen’s subcamp Wiener Neustadt, and on Oct. 30, 1943, transferred to the subcamp Redl Zipf (code name Schlier).
According to his prisoner card, Jean-Pierre was transferred to the subcamp Ebensee (code names: Kalk, Zement, and Solvay) until his liberation by the U.S. Army on May 6, 1945.
I learned from Wolfgang Quatember, executive director of the Ebensee Memorial Museum and Memorial Service, that spelling discrepancies in his records were due to the Nazis using the German name of Johann-Peter (rather than Jean-Pierre). He also informed me that DR. Sch. on some of the documentation translates to political prisoner Germany.
Honoring the legacy of everyday heroes
This post is part of a series to raise awareness about The Holocaust and to honor Jean-Pierre Kolbach and his legacy – and the legacy of those heroic people I’m learning more about during this journey of discovery.
People like Robert (Bob) Persinger, a U.S. Army platoon sergeant who led two tanks into the Ebensee concentration camp in May 1945. I’ll be diving into this deeper to better understand the roles of all the troops and to give proper recognition and appreciation. Although I know most were simply honored to serve in this capacity.
And of Eduard (Edouard) Houdremont, an accused and convicted war criminal that Jean-Pierre Kolbach defended during what’s known as the subsequent Nuremberg Trials or the Krupp Trial. He along with 11 others were charged with enslavement and other war crimes including destroying public and private property.
Robert Persinger – every veteran has his story
I’ll soon share more in a separate post about Bob Persinger, the U.S. platoon sergeant who led the first two tanks into Ebensee concentration camp – the beginning of the rescue of many survivors including Jean-Pierre Kolbach.
A very special thank you to his daughter, Peggy Giannangeli, who reached out to me and shared her father’s stories. Persinger is no longer living, but his honorable legacy lives on as Peggy started recording videos of him as he spoke regularly about his experience. Very grateful for this recorded documentation of the liberation of the Ebensee concentration camp on May 6, 1945.
Eduard Houdremont – war criminal or war hero?
I’ll also share more about Eduard Houdremont and his family, a German family who saved my husband’s mother and grandmother from being deported to eastern Germany. Houdremont also attempted to free Jean-Pierre from the concentration camps. Yet he was charged and convicted of war crimes (such as forced labor) during the subsequent Nuremberg Trials (aka Krupp Trial). Houdremont was a board director/head of steel works for Krupp Steel during WWII (which created weapons for the Nazis).
In addition to the affidavit authored by Jean-Pierre Kolbach that was written for Houdremont’s defense and used during the trials, I recently discovered another affidavit from Hyacinthe (Hyazinth) Glaesener, my husband’s great uncle. They both felt that Houdremont was far more an opponent of the Nazis and should not have been charged as a war criminal. Again, in his own words, here is an excerpt from Jean-Pierre Kolbach’s affidavit defending Houdremont.
Affidavits source: Nürnberg Krupp Trial Papers of Judge Hu C. Anderson; Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries; Alyne Queener Massey Law Library; Vanderbilt Universe
This I find very unsettling and will be doing more research to better understand the crimes Houdremont was accused of during WWII. I don’t have all the facts, but Jean-Pierre’s and Hyancinthe’s testimonies make me question how this seemingly injustice happened.
75th anniversary of concentration camp liberations – Mauthausen and Ebensee memorial and celebration services
Update: My family and I were hoping to attend the 75th liberation and memorial ceremonies in Ebensee and Mauthausen, Austria in May 2020 – to honor Jean-Pierre Kolbach, those who died, those who survived and the U.S. soldiers who rescued them.
However, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the plans to visit Austria are postponed. We will hold a personal memorial in our homes as well as participate in the virtual Mauthausen Concentration Camp’s International Liberation ceremony online on May 10, 2020. More details are outlined below.
Mauthausen and Ebensee Concentration Camps in Austria’s background
Here’s a little bit of background on the Mauthausen and Ebensee, located in Austira, concentration camps.
Between 1938 and 1945, 190,000+ people were imprisoned in the Mauthausen/Gusen concentration camp network (including Ebensee concentration camp). At least 90,000 of them died in these concentration camps. More than 14,000 were Jewish.
Mauthausen was designated as a category III concentration camp – extermination by labor, especially educated prisoners and members of the higher social classes. When concentration camps were evacuated from the front lines, many other prisoners were transferred to the Mauthausen concentration camp, including women and children.
Mauthausen inmates worked in the quarry and constructed underground production sites and tunnels to protect weapons from air raids. Gas chambers and a crematorium were constructed at Mauthausen in the later years.
The infamous Stairway of Death was at the Mauthausen concentration camp, where prisoners were forced to walk up the stairs and transfer heavy rocks from the quarry on their backs. Many were exterminated by labor in this way.
75th International Liberation Ceremony at Ebensee Memorial Museum set for May 9, 2020 canceled
Up to 3,000 people from Europe, Israel and the United States were expected to attend the 75th International Liberation Ceremony at the Ebensee Memorial Museum in Ebensee, Austria. The international commemoration at the sacrificial cemetery that was initially scheduled for Saturday, May 9, 2020 at ~10:30 a.m. has been canceled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Originally, the former Austrian President Heinz Fischer. Survivors and family members of survivors were expected to give commemorative speech . Will share more details when they become available in the event the Ebensee concentration camp memorial service is rescheduled.
Source: Zeitgeschichte Museum Ebensee
A virtual Mauthausen International Liberation Celebration set for May 10, 2020
Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Mauthausen Concentration Camp’s International Liberation will now take place as a virtual event on May 10, 2020 at 11 a.m to 12 p.m. (Austrian time). The celebration and commemoration of the 75th anniversary of its liberation will include statements by witnesses, video contributions and music.
This event is traditionally the largest World War II concentration camp commemoration and liberation ceremony worldwide. Tens of thousands of people, including the last survivors of the Mauthausen concentration camp and its satellite camps, from home and abroad, take part in it annually.
You can find the Mauthausen concentration camp’s virtual liberation ceremony at www.mkoe.at. You’ll also find links to a couple of aps. I’ve included the information and links from their website below for your convenience.
Mauthausen satellite concentration camp app
The Mauthausen satellite camp” app includes interactive tours, information, photos, videos on the history of the Mauthausen concentration camp system as well as contributions from concentration camp survivors.
Audio guide app – denk mal wien
The Audio Guide “denk mal wien” app” includes more than 60 short videos, biographies, quotes about the tour stations with Mauthausen concentration camp survivors, a resistance fighter and contemporary witnesses, according to the Mauthausen Committee Austria’s website.
Source: Mauthausen Komitee Osterreich
From forgetting to remembering
I invite you to come along on our journey for future updates on what we learn and as we honor our family’s legacy. I also encourage you to share these posts to help inform and educate others through your social networks. To borrow a phrase from the Zeitgeschichte Museum Ebensee / Ebensee Concentration Camp Memorial: “from forgetting to remembering.”
Future travel plans to Austria?
If you’re planning to travel to Austria in the future, please read Travel with Bibi’s post about How to travel through Austria on a budget. She offers some great travel tips to Austria.