Anthony DeLucca had been lost before, but on April 12, 1945, when he and an Army buddy got lost in the woods outside of Weimar, Germany, what they found would shake them to their core and call into question everything they believed about God and mankind.
“No human eyes were meant to see what my eyes have seen,” the elderly DeLucca told his WWII interviewer, Elizabeth Mullener. “It was a terrible, terrible thing.”
DeLucca was describing Buchenwald (Beech Forest), one of the prisoner camps built by the Nazis in 1937. Though Buchenwald was not one of the infamous extermination camps, like Auschwitz, it still managed to take the lives of over 55,000 Jews, POW’s, and religious minorities.
DeLucca and his buddy were driving a jeep through eastern Germany when they were separated from their battalion. DeLucca found himself driving through ever-denser forests, when suddenly, people wearing stripped suits started darting out from behind trees.
DeLucca thought he was DeLusional.
But at the end of the dusty trail he and his buddy found themselves on, they saw a fenced compound filled with dozens of emaciated, dirty, starving, frail prisoners, and one lone German SS trooper who had been so terribly beaten by the surviving prisoners that DeLucca was quite surprised he lived through it.
When DeLucca was finally able to get past the lock on the front gate, prisoners began streaming toward him. He couldn’t help but notice the paleness on the faces of the prisoners. He couldn’t take his eyes off the bodies “piled up like cordwood,” the naked mounds of human remains, and the state of the survivors subjected to Nazi brutality.
Then came the stories from the prisoners. DeLucca learned that the “camp doctor” was nothing more than an executioner, “treating” prisoners by injecting lethal poisons into them when they had grown too frail to work. He also heard about the vicious murder of a 5-year-old girl at the hands of one of the SS soldiers.
Famed World War II historian Stephen E. Ambrose echoed DeLucca’s findings:
Buchenwald was the first time American troops had to face the full horror of the Holocaust. The reaction, to a large extent, was surprise. Eisenhower got every reporter in the European theater to go to Buchenwald, because he didn’t want to let the Germans get away with saying, fifty years later, that it was all propaganda. He also made his top command go. George Patton – Mr. Tough Guy – threw up when he saw Buchenwald.
DeLucca only spent about three hours at Buchenwald that day, but he’s never forgotten the atrocities he witnessed in that short span of time. Reflecting on the events of that day, DeLucca’s thoughts turn spiritual. “I want to tell you something: God made a mistake giving man free will.”
It’s more than a little ironic that DeLucca got lost to Buchenwald, a place that still symbolizes just how “lost” humanity can be at times.
War Stories: Remembering World War II by Elizabeth Mullener. Berkley, 2002, Pages 242-244.
Topics Illustrated Include:
World War II
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)