Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Letter from Uncle Buddy

I got a letter from Linda's Uncle Buddy.
For Christmas, Linda's dad Tony gave his brother Buddy a copy of Third Winter of War: Buchenwald, my book about my dad, and Uncle Buddy wanted to tell me about it.
The letter means a lot to me, and you'll see why when you read it.
Here's his letter:

Dear John,

I read the poems you wrote. I found them very moving. I'm no whiz kid about understanding every line you wrote but I could feel the sadness, the hurt, and the agony in your poems. I hope when people read these poems they will realize how these people in the camps suffered and how they were tortured.

I guess I feel it more because I saw it. It took me 50 years to talk about it. I still think about it, and my nightmares that come and go.

The camp we took back in April 4, 1945 was a sub-station to Buchenwald. It was called Ohrdruf.

Be well, our love to you and Linda and Lillian

Uncle Buddy

PS. Don't ever stop writing.

That was the letter, and as I said, it means a lot to me.

I knew Buddy had helped liberate the concentration camp at Ohrdruf. A couple years ago a video came out called Nightmare's End: The Liberation of the Camps. It's a powerful documentary about the soldiers who freed the camps.

When I was still teaching, I would sometimes show this film in my American Lit class when we were talking about the literature of the World War II period. The response would pretty much be the same every time I showed it. I would roll the video tape and turn off the lights. The film would come on. First, there would be silence. Then there would be weeping. At the end of the film, I wouldn't turn the lights back on right away because I knew that students wanted some time alone with their thoughts and emotions.

I saw this documentary maybe a dozen time, and it always moved me. And what always moved me most was watching Uncle Buddy and listening to him.

In the documentary, he's being interviewed by a person who's off camera. All we see is Uncle Buddy, and he just starts talking about going into the camp, and what you realize immediately is that his memories of that day he came to Ohrdruf, April 4, 1945, are as new and intense as they were then. He was in his late teens when he came upon the camp, and in the video he's in his late 70s. Fifty years have gone by and the memories are still new, still intense. What he saw will never leave him. It will always be there.

He can barely talk about what he remembers seeing, but he forces himself to go on and what he says about the prisoners in that concentration camp is simple and human and profound: "They were just people."

Thanks, Uncle Buddy.


Anonymous said...

Hi, John--
it's amazing, isn't it, what WWII vets experienced? My dad was a tank commander in Europe during the war, and his unit would go into
areas right after the front line troops to occupy and restore (I never know the correct military terms for these operations). I also knew that his unit was at Bergen-Belsen right after the Allies first went through. But all we ever heard from Dad were the charming, funny stories, never the horrors. I don't know if he was trying to protect us, or whether he simply didn't want or need to talk about it. Yet
knowing my dad (thoughtful, fair, intelligent, sentimental), he was not the sort of person who'd forget the horror or be unmoved by it. I know he was proud of his service and felt that he'd done good through it.
When the History channel began showing all those documentaries for
the 50th anniversary of WWII, Dad would watch, pointing out where he
and his unit were, and we'd ask questions, but still we got little
other than surface details. I don't know that he ever wrote about his experiences, and he was a newspaperman! Maybe the horrors were too deep, or maybe he was too "Minnesotan" to want to talk about difficult things--or maybe it's simply typical of that generation of veterans.
Anyway, when I watched the Ken Burns series on WWII, I was thinking constantly of Dad and my uncle and the whole generation of men like Uncle Buddy--amazed at their courage and youth and saddened for what they had to live with. And I usually ended up crying, missing my dad and all the neighborhood dads I grew up with--all vets, it seemed to me then.
Thanks for sharing Uncle Buddy's letter!

Jane Kinney

Steve said...

My Uncle Norman, God bless him, he was in the 28th infantry.Went in at 17, was sent straight to the front at the Siegfried line, did his time in the Hurtgen forest (they had a fatality rate of about 80-92% for 4 months) and was then sent to a relatively quiet section of the fron for some R&R in the very begining of December 44......In the Ardennes. I applaud the 101st for what they did at Bastogne, but dont fool yourselves people, the 28th held off the initial Aredennes offensive after 4 months of almost constant combat.

But I digress; My Uncle, never talked about what he did, and it was only recently that I was able to find out that he had received the Bronze star for his actions in the ETO. I wish I had ignored my Mothers requests to not ask him anything (it was really his request, the first thing he asked for upon his return), because these things, they are SOOOO important for us to remember and teach to our children, and theirs.

The more I read, the more I realize that the entire face of our world was changed by this monumental event, and if were not careful, we will lose that sense of wonder and awe.

John, I hope one day to meet you, and shake your hand; you are truly "one of the good ones",a credit and guardian to the memory of all those who perished.

John Guzlowski said...

Hi, Jane, Hi, Steve,

A lot of our lives are ordinary. We go to work, read our books, baby-sit, drink a glass of wine in the evening, go shopping for groceries. Most of the time, we don't think about much beyond that.

We're all like that. Life is ordinary and good, and that's the way we like it.

But there are also times in our lives when the world and life become extraordinary and demanding in ways we can’t predict and don’t even like to think about.

What veterans like your dad, Jane, and your Uncle Norman, Steve, and Linda’s Uncle Buddy remind us is that there are people who survived those times so that these ordinary times would be possible.

These veterans also show us that people do step up and do the right thing, the good thing.

It’s easy to become cynical about people. I watch TV and read the paper, and I think what a mess we are. We’re hopeless.

Veterans remind me that I shouldn’t be so cynical.

Thanks for posting your stories. They are important.

Anonymous said...

Hi Uncle John,
I just wanted to thank Uncle Buddy for his letter to you. It means alot to our whole family that Uncle Buddy went through what he went through, and can share with us his emotions and pain. I saw the same documentary, and it was also very moving for me.
Thank you for writing your book of poems, Nanny and Poppy gave it to me for Christmas, and I keep going back to them and rereading them.
Love always,

Anonymous said...

My grandfather was there at Ohrdruf, He was in the 550th AAA. He talks about it a lot.

John Guzlowski said...

Hi, Deana, thanks for the note.

Pleae, can you tell me what your grandfather says? You could post it hear or send it to me privately.

My email is jzguzlowski (at)

Brandon&Kelly said...

Deana and John, I am writing this frantically because of Deana's comment. My grandfather was in the 550th and is just now opening up about what he experienced. He had some extremely close friends from that unit. If there is anyway you can contact me and let me know who your grandfather is I would really appreciate it. I have some photos online that he may be in. The link is:

My email address is bburns31 at