The following quote is from a news article which you can read in full at https://www.rt.com/news/342485-war-love-aviation-regiment/
William Phelps wore a first sergeant’s stripes at the unlikely age of 19 as a World War II tank gunner, heard Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s unvarnished opinions over lunch one day and made the cover of Yank magazine in 1945 in a memorable photo, patching his trousers with a sewing machine in front of a tank.
But his most important day in Europe was in liberating an Austrian extermination camp.
Outside Linz, Phelps and two dozen soldiers entering the Mauthausen concentration camp 71 years ago last week were stunned at the sight of dead, dying and emaciated prisoners. The Americans saw German guards in the distance running for their lives, prisoners killing some of them with rocks and clubs.
“I’ll tell you, it’s really tough for me to describe because when you come into something like that, you haven’t seen a hundred people naked and stacked up, shriveled up all over the place, and it was unbelievable for me and most of the troops that were there,” said Phelps, 90, of San Antonio.
The photograph above was taken on May 6, 1945, the day after the official liberation of the Mauthausen main camp. It shows prisoners surrounding an M8 Greyhound armored car.
According to Pierre Serge Choumoff, the liberation of Mauthausen, as shown in the photo above, was reenacted for photographers at the request of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Nazi eagle over the gate had already been removed by the prisoners and a banner, written in Spanish, had been put up by the Spanish political prisoners. The English translation reads “The Spanish Anti-Fascists Salute the Liberating Forces.”
These prisoners were Spanish Republicans who had fought against General Francisco Franco’s Fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War and had escaped to France when the Republicans lost the war. The Spanish Republicans were interned by the French and later, when the Germans defeated France in 1940, they were incarcerated as political prisoners because they were opposed to the Nazis. Germany had fought on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War, which was a war between the Fascists and the Communists. For the anti-Fascist Spanish Republicans, Mauthausen has the same significance as Auschwitz does for the Jews.
The news article continues with the following quote:
“We’d seen dead Germans because that’s what we were paid to do. We had to kill them or they had to kill us. But you didn’t have a stack of a hundred people, 200 people, 300 that had been laying there for days.”
As the week began, Phelps, 90, of San Antonio was back in Europe, where he visited the Auschwitz concentration camp as part of a tour marking the Holocaust.
He did not go to Mauthausen, a facility designed to be the last stop for criminals, political prisoners and religious conscientious objectors but that later also housed accused communists, Jews and defeated refugees of the Spanish Republic who had fought Gen. Francisco Franco.
Here is what really happened when the Mauthausen camp was liberated.
On May 5, 1945, the date usually given for the official liberation of the Mauthausen main concentration camp, a platoon of 23 men from the 11th Armored Division of the US Third Army, led by Staff Sgt. Albert J. Kosiek, arrived at the main camp near the town of Mauthausen. They were guided there by Louis Haefliger, a Red Cross representative in the camp, and two German soldiers, after first liberating the Gusen sub-camp, 6 kilometers to the west.
Haefliger had taken it upon himself to go out and find American soldiers fighting in the area. He brought them first to the Gusen sub-camp because of the rumors that Hitler had instructed Ernst Kaltenbrunner to give the order to kill all the prisoners by blowing them up in the underground tunnels of the munitions factories there.
After the prisoners in the Gusen sub-camp were released by the American liberators, fighting broke out among the inmates and over 500 of the prisoners were brutally killed by their fellow inmates, according to Sgt. Kosiek.
The platoon of American soldiers was unable to control the released prisoners, so they left the Gusen camp and proceeded to the main camp, where the Communist prisoners were already organized into an International Committee that was ready to take control.
According to Manuel Razola and Mariano Constante, two Spanish inmates at Mauthausen who wrote a book entitled “Triangle Blue,” in the last days of the war, the prisoners had formed an International Committee, which took over the camp as soon as the American liberators arrived on May 5, 1945.
Razola and Constante are quoted by Christian Bernadac in his book entitled “The 186 Steps.” According to their story, “The international committee had taken the decision to execute the most criminal SS and common-law elements.” On the night that the camp was liberated, the international committee killed 8 of the Kapos in the camp and 6 of the SS officers.