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World War II Vet Recounts Horrors Of Death Camp

Bob Persinger

Bob Persinger as a soldier in World War II, and today. (Credit: March of the Living)

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (CBS) — Ahead of Memorial Day, a World War II veteran from Rockford says what he saw 67 years ago never leaves him.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports, Bob Persinger was just 21 in May 1945, when his unit liberated Ebensee, a sub-camp of the Nazis’ Mauthausen extermination camp. He described a “smell of death you could smell 200 to 300 yards away.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports

“We peered down upon thousands of starving prisoners standing in mud behind the barbed wire fences,” Persinger said.

He found the dead and dying within the camp’s barracks and stacks of bodies outside the crematorium.

“And inside the crematorium on the three walls, they were piled there, waiting to be burned,” he said. This was the most horrible sight one could imagine.”

The images, he says, remain with him today. He discussed the horrors with his army buddies as he attended reunions from 1947 through 2009, but he never discussed it with his anyone at home – even his wife – until a few years ago.

Last month, Persinger and other liberators joined the annual March of the Living in which ten thousand schoolchildren from around the world visit the Auschwitz death camp.

“If you could only go back there and just see that, I don’t know as we’d have all the terrible wars that we’ve had since and have now,” Persinger said.

Persinger, 88, speaks regularly to school and Kiwanis Club groups, as well as anyone else who is willing to listen.