Private George Katzman, a Liberator

Posted on May 15th, 2016 by:

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Private George Katzman, a Liberator:

Private First Class George Katzman had seen the horrors humanity could inflict upon itself. A rifleman in the 16th Armored Division, Katzman had been surrounded by war as his unit traveled across Europe. They had seen ruined towns and death as they drove across France into the German heartland. Among the destruction, Katzman and his fellow soldiers had heard rumors of Nazi camps, of the horrors that happened there, but they dismissed them as propaganda. They had liberated a Russian POW camp and the prisoners, though thin and badly clothed, had not been in terrible shape. But near the city of Nuremberg, Katzman would see for himself the true horrors the Nazi regime had committed.

george katzman

George Katzman was born in New York, the son of Jewish parents who spoke Yiddish. When America entered World War Two, Katzman worked in a war production plant in Waterbury, Connecticut. In 1943, he decided to give up his draft deferment as an essential war worker and joined the Army. He was assigned to the 16th Armored Division’s 16th Tank Battalion and arrived in Europe on February 5, 1945 becoming part of General George Patton’s 3rd katzman

george katzman

George Katzman during WWII

In late April 1945, after hearing rumors of a camp nearby, his platoon took 4 jeeps and a half track down a dirt road to a place near Nuremberg called Langwasser Lager. As they approached the camp, the men fanned out and came to the gate from two ditches on each side of the road. They shot the locks off the gate and entered a hell they would never forget. Skeletal survivors approached Katzman and his fellow GI’s, they smiled and touched them to see if they were real, wanting to tangibly feel their liberation and know they were free, then the prisoners would kneel down and die. Because of Katzman’s language skills, he was able to talk to the survivors of the camps, hear their stories and try to help them. The death camps embarrassed Katzman, made him ashamed to be part of humanity.

Katzman took many photographs of the camp that were turned over to the Army since General Eisenhower wanted every person in the world to see what had happened so nobody could deny it in the future.

After WWII, Katzman married, started a family and became a college professor in Miami, Florida. He never talked about what he saw in Germany, and kept his photographs in his closet. He never had backyard barbecues because the smell reminded him of Langwasser Lager. He stayed silent for over 30 years until he heard about an American college professor at Northwestern University denying the Holocaust. Katzman began to speak, sharing his pictures and memories of what he saw in Nazi Germany. Katzman spent the rest of his life educating about the Holocaust, afraid that with so few survivors and witnesses left, it would be forgotten.

Private First Class George Katzman died on May 5th, 2016 but his wartime service and contributions to the preservation of the memory of the Holocaust will live on.

Photos via the Miami Herald

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One thought on “Private George Katzman, a Liberator

  • Peter Kubicek says:

    When the Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated by the American Army, the news reached General Eisenhower. Eisenhower wanted to see it for himself. When Eisenhower saw the gruesome sights of the starved prisoners. he said to the photographers who always accompanied him, “Take all the pictures you can because some day some son-of-bitch will say that this never happened.”

    Prophetic words, indeed.

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