April 11 was the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
My dad spent four and a half years there. He was a farm kid living in Poland when he was captured by the Germans. In the camp my father learned a lot of things, but one lesson stayed with him always. As he used to say, “There is only work and death.”
When he was liberated in the spring of 1945, he was dressed in rags, weighed about 75 pounds, and only had one eye. He had lost the other when a guard repeatedly clubbed him for complaining about the food.
Here’s a poem I wrote about the day my father was liberated by the Americans. It comes from Lightning and Ashes, my book about the experiences of both my parents in the German slave labor and concentration camps.
In the Spring the War Ended
For a long time the war was not in the camps.
My father worked in the fields and listened
to the wind moving the grain, or a guard
shouting a command far off, or a man dying.
But in the fall, my father heard the rumbling
whisper of American planes, so high, like
angels, cutting through the sky, a thunder
even God in Heaven would have to listen to.
At last, one spring day he knew the war was there.
In the door of the barracks stood a soldier,
an American, short like a boy and frightened,
and my father marveled at the miracle of his youth
and took his hands and embraced him and told him
he loved him and his mother and father,
and he would pray for all his children
and even forgive him the sin of taking so long.
My wife's Uncle Buddy Calendrillo was with Gen. Patton's army when they liberated the camps. I've written about him and what liberating the camps meant to him. You can read that post by clicking here.
The photo above was taken by Margaret Bourke-White, an American photographer who was one of the first reporters in the camps. She wrote a great book about her experiences called Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly: A Report on the Collapse of Hitler's Thousand Years.