Barbed wire concentration camp

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.

It's not about being right. It's about doing the right thing.

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.

Jean-Pierre Kolbach Ebensee concentration camp liberation
Jean-Pierre Kolbach, my husband’s grandfather, was a member of the Luxembourg Resistance and a concentration camp survivor. He’s pictured here (sitting wearing a beret) the day the Ebensee Concentration Camp was liberated by the U.S. Army on May 6, 1945. He had been arrested by the Gestapo on Dec. 12, 1941 and then imprisoned at a series of concentration camps.

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).

Source: Mauthausen Memorial

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.

Photo courtesy of Peggy Giannangeli

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

Robert Persinger
Photo courtesy of Peggy Giannangeli

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 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.

Pin it for later: Our journey to honor my husband’s grandfather, a Mauthausen and Ebensee concentration camp survivor

Related posts about WWII, concentration camps and The Holocaust

Ebensee concentration camp prisoners being liberated including Jean-Pierre Kolbach from Luxembourg along with other survivors and the U.S. Army sitting on a train.
Our journey to honor my husband’s grandfather: a concentration camp survivor

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Never forget: Top books about WWII and The Holocaust

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Book review: Fascism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright


Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller


  1. Hi Karen,
    I remember you fondly as a ‘force of nature’ back in the day when we worked together at UVM. I loved working with you. You were incredibly competent and smart.

    I am so proud of the work you are doing researching and remembering Steve’s family’s experiences in the Holocaust. There is no better way to honor them and all who perished in the Holocaust.
    I don’t recall discussing my religion at the time, but I am Jewish. Remembering the Holocaust is fundamental to who I am. My father’s best friend, Gilbert Siegel, married a Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz, Aranka Siegel. Ary and Gilbert were at our wedding in 1972, and at every bar and bat mitzvah of our kids after that. Ary lives in Aventura, Florida, not far from Nord and me, and we see each other frequently. A few years ago I went on March of the Living, a program of remembrance and honor to Jews killed in the Holocaust. For the first week, we visited camps in Poland, and the second week we visited Israel.
    As you point out in your blog , it is astonishing and horrifying how many people have never heard of Auschwitz or remember what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust. So your work is very important.
    On a personal note, I really enjoy your post about your son, Steve. He was not born when you were at UVM. And now he is all grown up.
    Briefly, Alexia is 47 years old, married with two children and living in New York City. Erik is 45, married with two children and living in Irvine, California. And Marget is 39, married to an
    Israeli, Presently living in Chicago but in the next few years will be moving to Israel. Nord and I live in Delray Beach Florida most of the year, spending a few months in Sonoma California during the summer.
    Sending my best your way,

    1. So good to hear from you, Suzanne! I loved working with you also – in fact, you’re one of the most positive role models I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet and work side-by-side with. Thank you for sharing the status of all your family members. I especially remember Marget. How did they all grow up so fast? And that’s so awesome you are still in contact with your father’s friends. You did share your Jewish heritage with me so your kind words are very encouraging and meaningful as I’m striving to help raise awareness and pay homage (respectfully and accurately) to the people who suffered during this horrific part of history. Anti-Semitism and hatred toward marginalized groups of people are on the rise and something we cannot ignore. A PEW Research Center report came out just last week about the lack of knowledge of The Holocaust. I hope my words and stories make a positive change and inspire others to come from a place of understanding and empathy and to speak up and do the right thing. Thank you again!

  2. I did not know so many people didn’t know about Auschwitz was. And it blows my mind that people refuse to acknowledge that it was real… Thank you for sharing his story!

    1. It’s so alarming so am hoping to help raise awareness. Thank you for taking the time to read something that is so important to our family.

  3. Wow. This is fascinating. I can’t believe that the percentage of people who do not know what Auschwitz was is so high. You are doing good work telling the story of your family.

    1. I know. It’s so alarming. Another more recent report came out just last week where Americans really don’t know (or remember) much about Auschwitz. I’m hoping to raise more awareness as I believe history is a responsibility. Thank you so much for taking the time to read about our journey.

  4. Back when I was teaching 11th grade Literature, we read several books about the Holocaust. I remember the Elie Wiesel book the most. Thank you for sharing your story, it’s quite moving and emotional.

    1. Night by Elie Wiesel is one of the top books I’ve ever read and one that I highly recommend reading. Thank you for taking an interest in learning more about my family’s history.

  5. I love your post and the connection to your family touches the heart. When doing my genealogy I have family that escaped Hitler’s rule as Germans and came here. Thank you for your post. I hope to visit some of the camps one day.

    1. Thank you for joining me in this remembrance year and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of many concentration camps including Ebensee.

  6. Wow. I can’t imagine the emotions of learning about all these things with such close family ties. The Holocaust was such a horrible time in history and it is SO important that we never forget it. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you. It’s an eye-opening and emotional journey to help raise awareness about The Holocaust that systematically murdered 6 million Jewish people and millions of others the Nazi party deemed as inferior undesirables.

  7. As fascinating as this must be for you and your husband to uncover learn…it must also be unsettling. I think that everyone should know what Auschwitz was. We are in Hungary at the moment and are going to be making our way to Poland. After reading your post I’ve decided that we are going to make a stop in Auschwitz and I too will share my experiences to help bring awareness to those who are unaware. Thank you for sharing and caring.

    1. Thank you so much, Wendy. Learning more about our family’s history is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. Love that you too will be helping raise awareness about The Holocaust, Auschwitz and more about this tragic time in history. I look forward to learning from your experience as well.

  8. I imagine there are a lot of different emotions that must be involved in uncovering this stuff. You are doing an awesome thing sharing all of this with us. It’s hard to believe and to swallow the fact that so many American’s are unfamiliar but you are most certainly changing that!

    1. I find it so alarming that such a high percentage of Americans have very limited knowledge about the Holocaust. I appreciate your words of support.

    1. I love history so I found these stats alarming as well and almost unbelievable, yet the information came from valid sources. And then just last week another report came out with similar results. It’s difficult to wrap my head around. I believe history is a responsibility so thank you for teaching our children.

  9. Wow I can’t believe you have a piece of this history in your family. Thank you for sharing this story. I have several students who are heavily interested in history and are currently reading “Who Was Anne Frank” and “I Survived the Nazi Invasion”.

    1. I believe it’s so important for younger generations to learn about history. I visited the Anne Frank House and Museum. An unforgettable experience. I’m not familiar with the second book so will check it out.

  10. This is a great post that is dear to my heart. My mom loves Germany and she really encouraged us to read as much about WWII that we could. Even starting in elementary school. We lived in Germany for a summer and we were able to go to a concentration camp, It was unbelievable. The feeling I had at that place are indescribable.

  11. I guess I took it for granted that everybody knows about the holocaust. Amazing that it could be forgotten in so little time! Your work to keep it in remembrance is so important.

  12. It’s so important to keep all these stories alive. I remember listening to the gentlemen I went on a Normandy Beach tour with tell their stories as we went from beach to beach and how amazing and alive their recounts were. It’s great you are keeping all this history.

  13. History is absolutely a responsibility and I don’t understand why anyone would want to eradicate it. Sure there are things done we all wish wouldn’t have happened, but how else can we learn from our mistakes if we simply forget it? What a wonderful family history you have and how you try to preserve it. It shows great respect and appreciation for your heritage.

  14. It is alarming to me how many people are unaware of important historical events. I have always discussed and exposed my children to history-the good and the terrifying. We need to be aware. My girls have visited the WWII Museum in New Orleans since they were six. You have an amazing family story.

    1. So very alarming. History is a responsibility and educating our youth is so very important. I’ve been to New Orleans several times, but have not visited the WWII Museum. Will need to do that on a return visit.

    2. Karen, what you are doing here is wonderful. It is so hard to believe that people are unaware or either don’t believe. Awareness is so important! I can’t wait to follow along when you visit in May!

  15. Amazing story. It’s so powerful to hear these first hand experiences. When I was in jr high a girl from school brought her great grandma in to tell us all her story of Auschwitz and showed us all her number she has tattooed on her arm. It was so crazy.

  16. I am going to use the 75th anniversary of concentration camp liberations as the perfect opportunity to make sure my girls aren’t in that high percentage of people who don’t know. It is such an important part of history we must never forget. Thanks for sharing about your family.

  17. I think this is one of your best posts yet! Thank you for sharing your family’s history. As you know, this past fall we were in Europe. We visited the Anne Frank House and leaned so much. We also were in Germany. One of our adventure guides had a fireside chat where she talked about growing up German. (She is about 38 years old) She grew up in Berlin and saw the wall come down. She spoke about how she was ashamed of being German and how she has worked to overcome that. She had us in tears. It is so important that we do not forget because when we do, history repeats itself.

    1. Thank you so much, Heather. Greatly appreciate your support during this journey. That fireside chat must have been so interesting. Many Germans had good hearts during this time like the family who opened up their home to my mother-in-law and Grandma Kolbach. Such a tragic time in our history.

  18. Your blog post is more than a blog post! It’s a press realease. Thank you for sharing with so much details about this shameful time of human history, what an honor for you to be able to attend the 75th memorial in May.

  19. The sentiments in your post are so honest and thought provoking. This is a part of history that should never be forgotten, nor repeated. I remember my first exposure of learning about the Holocaust when I was a high school student and we went to the theater to see Schindler’s list. Since then I’ve done a lot of reading and spent time Breman Museum. Although my experience cannot ever echo or mirror those who were more personally connected, it leaves me with compassion, empathy and a sense of making a difference, no matter how small. I had already planned on a post based on one or more books. Originally, I had hoped for Remembrance Day but I missed out on posting anything for the last 2 1/2 months. After reading your post/article/press release/tribute, I am now thinking that since 2020 is the year of remembrance on 75th anniversary of concentration camp liberations, I will plan to write the post in near future. Thank you for your touching homage.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to learn more about our family’s history. I think every day is a good day to remember. Please let me know when you publish your post as I’d be very interested to read it. I have another related post where I highlight 8 of my top-ranked Holocaust/WWII books (fiction and nonfiction).

  20. This is a great read. I love hisory and I do bemoan the lack of knowledge some folks have these days of history. If we don’t learn from history, we will repeat it. Great picrures as well and the piece is well written and informative of such a horrible time in this world.

    1. Thank you so much for your kinds words and taking the time to read about our family’s history. I greatly appreciate it. It is alarming how many people don’t know about The Holocaust. I hope my words can help raise some awareness.

  21. Thoroughly interesting Karen. It’s fascinating to follow along with your research on this subject. That’s a shocking statistic you threw up about ignorance of the holocaust. I didn’t think there would be anyone who didn’t know.

    1. Thanks, John. I found those statistics alarming also. I’m hoping in some small way telling our family’s story will help raise awareness.

  22. Very timely reshape Karen with all the events this week. I still can’t believe so many never heard of Auschwitz. It’s shameful and forgets the memory of those who did right and were imprisoned there. Such an interesting article Karen.

  23. Excellent article. It’s very thought provoking like many of the books I’ve read. It doesn’t get any easier to hear how so many suffered but their stories need to be told.

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