Buchenwald was the first concentration camp that the Allied forces came across, and Eisenhower commanded — after tending to the medical needs for the living, and burying the piles of corpses — that the army photographers record everything. Adding to his two Purple Hearts for battle wounds, my father was awarded a bronze medal for his part in the negotiation of the surrender of Weimar. Few could imagine what it was like for this young soldier doing his assignments, speaking in fluent German to the incredulous, newly freed Jews — that it was so easy for him to identify with their side of the picture:
My own personal feeling is the feeling that only through the chance of luck that I was there the liberator, that I may not have been even a survivor if it wouldn’t have been for lucky happenstance.
It was finally over. Assigned to work as part of the military government in Krumbach, Germany, my father faced his first post-war High Holidays. This program, on the one hand so similar to the typical order of prayer services throughout the ages, was also markedly different. This one was for the Jewish soldiers serving in the US forces in Europe who had just seen harsh combat fighting the Nazis and knew firsthand the fate of their people. Included on the program, printed in post-war Germany on thin, now-yellowed paper, was this message written by one Sgt. Allan Bass:
Each new year and Day of Atonement represent solemn occasion of self-examination of self-judgment in the life of every Jew. The High Holidays of 1945 possess additional significance. Jewish soldiers have heroically given their lives in expunging from Europe the endless slavery and sadistic torture inflicted upon countless peoples. Our Services on conquered German soil, where millions of innocent Jews died during twelve incredible years of Nazism, therefore, commemorate our indestructible faith in God and Country. We fervently pray, the world now in peace, will secure the righteous dignities deserving of all mankind.”
Those words surely reflected the thoughts of every soldier participating in that unique setting, and in similar services held throughout Europe in 1945.