Sigmund Liberman had just finished talking to schoolchildren about how he helped liberate prisoners from a Nazi concentration camp when a girl approached.

She wanted to thank him, personally.

He asked her why.

Her grandparents were at Nordhausen, the German camp Mr. Liberman had helped liberate. If it wasn't for him, the girl said, she wouldn't be alive.

That exchange brought the liberator to tears, and, in a small way, afforded some comfort to a man who had witnessed unthinkable atrocities during World War II.

But even as Mr. Liberman and other American liberators relive the horrors of the Holocaust, they are modest about what they did in April 1945.

"To me, it was a normal thing that I did," Mr. Liberman said.

"I don't want you to get the wrong impression," said Rudy Baum, another North Texas liberator. "I wasn't the first one in the camp."

Mr. Liberman and Mr. Baum are among a handful of liberators to be honored today at the Dallas Holocaust Museum's annual Hope for Humanity Dinner.

"To be honored for that is really something," Mr. Liberman said. "It puts tears to my eyes. At the same time, it shows that we will never do that again."

Liberators played an important role because they were the first to rescue prisoners and see the brutality, said Elliott Dlin, the museum's executive director.

"When they walked into these camps, they saw things they had never seen in their wildest imaginations, things that humans weren't capable of doing," he said.

Those scenes were even more troubling for Mr. Liberman, 85, and Mr. Baum, 93. Both are Jewish. Both lost family members in the Holocaust.

Mr. Liberman, an Army reconnaissance sergeant, was nervous as he entered the Nordhausen camp that grim April day. His stomach churned.

He wasn't shocked by the dead, who were "stacked up like cordwood," but by the living. The survivors were walking skeletons, he said, their rib bones protruding, their faces gaunt.

Mr. Liberman said commanders asked him to visit the camp because "they wanted me to realize what happened to some of my fellow Jews."

Being Jewish gave him extra incentive to help win World War II.

"It made me realize what I was fighting for and what I had to continue to fight for and free more of them," said Mr. Liberman, who lives in Carrollton.

As Mr. Baum entered Buchenwald, he saw stacks of skeletons. The ovens were still burning in the German camp.

Those who survived were happy to see Americans, but they were so weak they couldn't talk or walk. Instead, they leaned on walls.

That wasn't the worst of it. Mr. Baum discovered books and lampshades covered with human skin, a collection belonging to the camp commander's wife.

"Unbelievable," thought Mr. Baum, an Army propaganda and psychological warfare officer.

As a Jew, Mr. Baum said, he didn't hesitate to fight in the war. He said he hated the Germans "with a passion."

"I'm not trying to be a hero, but I felt if anyone had an obligation to fight the Germans, I had that obligation," said Mr. Baum, a Dallas resident. "As far as I was concerned, every German was a war criminal."

When soldiers arrived at camps like Nordhausen and Buchenwald, they often forced German civilians to walk through the concentration camps, Mr. Dlin said.

"These American soldiers were using the camps, in a sense, in an educational context, as a learning opportunity to show people how you ought not to behave and what you need to do to change," he said.

The teaching continues to this day. Liberators feel compelled to share their experiences, especially with students.

"What we're trying to do," Mr. Liberman said, "is educate kids so it never happens again."

Read or Share this story: