Carrol ‘Red’ Walsh [2009]

We were coming down this dirt roadway, as I remember. I had no idea what we were approaching or where we were going or what was going on. I can remember just approaching this area, and all of a sudden, ahead of me I saw this train. It was stopped. In my mind I can still see it, and I could see how long that train was, that long, long string of boxcars and the engine in the front. There were no SS guards around it at the time that we came upon it. I can remember swinging my tank to the right and proceeding alongside of the train. I didn’t know what was really on that train until that tank stopped. Then I saw what the train held... I still remember peering into those boxcars and seeing those people just huddled and mashed together inside those boxcars.

 I had no idea who they were, where they had come from, where they were going. No idea. All I knew was, here’s a train with these boxcars, and people jammed in those boxcars. And as I look back, I suppose we were too busy in combat to think of anything except what we were doing at the time. And of course, you know, we were not privileged to hear any news. We did not know really what was going on. We did not know whether we were successful in our own endeavors or not! I was not aware of the extent of the horror that was perpetrated on the Jewish people. No, I had no idea at the time of the extent of the concentration camps.

What are we going to do with these people? How can we handle this situation? Fortunately, there was another attached unit with the 30th Division. They were in the area. The 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion immediately went around the neighborhood there, getting food from the local farmers and bringing it to the people. And then overnight or the next day, there were other units that arrived to assist these people and find shelter for them. That first night they stayed around the train.

{We were] not heroes. It  just so happened that George Gross and I were the ones whose tanks were assigned to this particular scouting trip. Yes, the survivors look upon us as saviors. I do not feel like a ‘hero’; I don’t know if you can understand my feeling. Yes, the liberation came about, because we got there. Yes, at that particular time those SS guards took off, and it was the end of their ordeal; there is no question about that. [But we were perhaps the] symbols of their liberation, yes, indeed.

 It’s emotional for me now when I think of where they were headed. They were headed for another concentration camp and extermination. And I get emotional now because I know what they went through, and what it meant to them, that we happened to intercept that train at that time. They are real people. When I look back, they were almost not like ‘real people’ when I first encountered them on the train on the cars! They were just a large group; 2,500 figures…now, all of a sudden, they have names. They had lives. They had families. They had stories. I guess that is why I find it emotional. I never in my wildest imagination thought I would ever meet anyone from that train again!