Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Two men meet, share horrors of Nazi concentration camps

Anthony Morrone still carries with him the images of the hundreds of emaciated and hopeless faces he encountered upon storming Germany's largest concentration camp as a young radio operator with the Army in 1945.

Anthony Morrone still carries with him the images of the hundreds of emaciated and hopeless faces he encountered upon storming Germany's largest concentration camp as a young radio operator with the Army in 1945.

He has, quite literally, kept their pictures with him through the decades since.

The South Philadelphia native carries the photos snapped during the liberation of Buchenwald to presentations he has given, recalling that day for countless student and community groups, hoping he'll encounter people who survived the horrors of that concentration camp.

"I had seen death before but nothing like that," the retired real estate salesman said. "I've been trying to meet someone else from Buchenwald for a long time."

Tuesday night promised to bring Morrone, now 87 and living with his wife, Mary, in Mount Laurel, a step closer to such an encounter. Yet, his goal remained elusive.

A suburban synagogue, Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill, had put together an event to unite the World War II veteran with Joseph Kahn, 88, a Polish survivor who settled in Philadelphia after being liberated from Buchenwald. But just as in previous encounters, fate stepped in to intervene.

At the last minute, kahn's spot on Tuesday night's program had to be filled by another Holocaust survivor, as kahn had become ill and had to be hospitalized. A similar hoped-for meeting with another Buchenwald survivor fell through earlier this year.

"I was happy to do it," said Michael Herskovitz, who stepped in on Tuesday night to provide a survivor's perspective at the event, cosponsored by the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center in Philadelphia.

Between ages 15 and 16, Herskovitz was shuttled about - to Auschwitz in Poland, Mauthausen, and Gunskirchen in Austria - but not, as it happened, to Buchenwald.

Even so, he and Morrone shook hands and spoke briefly Tuesday night. Then they stood in front of a crowd of students and community members and offered their similar but not quite overlapping stories from the Holocaust and the war.

Herskovitz, 81, recalled standing in a Czechoslovakian ghetto in April 1944 as Nazi soldiers separated men from women, parents from children, and old from young.

Then they packed them into cattle cars bound for the Polish camp.

For more than a year, Herskovitz was shipped from camp to camp, without food or water on the way.

At the brink of losing all hope, he recalled, he woke up one morning in May 1945 to find his German captors gone and British soldiers handing out rations.

"All you could hear," he told the audience, "were soldiers hollering, dogs barking, and people screaming and crying."

Morrone's concentration camp experience bore many of the same horrific hallmarks.

What he saw as a young GI at Buchenwald stabbed at his heart: piles of corpses, ovens, the dead still in their bunks and others barely alive crammed into filthy barracks.

"They were like zombies," Morrone recalled in an interview.

More than 20,000 survivors were liberated at Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, by troops from the Ninth and Sixth Army divisions. Prisoners rejoiced. Weakened as they were, some of the emaciated captives tossed their liberators into the air in celebration.

The next day, as Morrone's unit approached the camp, he remembers an overpowering stench.

"The smell, oh my God. They killed 50,000-plus people. They couldn't bury them all. . . . They cremated 400 bodies a day. It went on 24 hours a day."

Though their paths did not cross at Buchenwald, Morrone and Herskovitz did share one link: The sole Buchenwald survivor that Morrone has managed to meet during his time on the speaking circuit is the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.

Wiesel, most famous for his book Night, about his Holocaust experience, was rescued from the same camp that Morrone helped liberate. Prior to that, Wiesel was in Auschwitz during approximately the same period it housed Herskovitz.

"I waited 60-some years to meet him," Morrone said of being introduced to the author at a book signing in Philadelphia a few years ago. "He's my hero - the stuff he's been through and what he's done since."

And although Tuesday night did not offer a chance to meet another Buchenwald survivor, Morrone plans to continue speaking in hope of such an encounter.