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Jonathan Perlman, founder of Tradition Senior Living in Houston & Dallas, TX.

“I have two granddaughters, and what they know about the war is only what I have told them. They don’t even know about American history. History-teaching of all kinds is non-existent today.”

Bill Kongable

It has been 75 years since the Allied Armies liberated Hitler’s concentration camps during World War II. On April 4, 1945, the first one to be liberated was Ohrdruf, a labor concentration camp within the Buchenwald network.  The world was not prepared for what Bill Kongable and his Regiment—the 354th Infantry Regiment Anti-Tank Company of the 89th Infantry Division, General Patton’s 3rd Army—discovered when they entered Ohrdruf.  Within days, President Eisenhower, General Patton, and General Bradley would come to inspect—and be horrified.

“Ohrdruf was a work camp, not an extermination camp,” said Bill. “Prisoners labored to dig tunnels in that area.  The Germans did a good job, however, of working the prisoners to death.  There was a mass grave outside of the camp with 3,000 bodies, all naked and emaciated.  Skin and bones.”

The guards knew the Allies were close, said Bill, and they abandoned the camp with 10,000 remaining workers that they forced-marched to another camp.  They had also tried to burn some of the evidence, so Ohrdruf was relatively empty. “But there were 50 prisoners left behind who for some reason couldn’t make the march.  They were all executed with a bullet to the back of the head.  That was the first thing you saw inside the camp,” said Bill. “The guards in the concentration camps were insane.  It is impossible to believe how cruel they could be.”

The war would be over the next month, but the liberation process would continue for some time. Although Ohrdruf was the only camp Bill liberated, he was very involved in another kind of liberation—those whom the Germans had utilized for slave labor.  “After the war, we found that the Germans had enforced slave labor in all of the conquered countries: Poland, the Baltic countries, Russia,” he said. “These laborers had been prisoners—the Germans had had them locked in.  After the war, these people needed housing, medical attention, food.  The Allies had a tremendous job taking care of them.” Continuing as a soldier for a year after the war, Bill was part of the process of caring for and of repatriating these slave laborers.  For his military service in Europe during the war, Bill received several medals.

Drafted right after graduating from high school in Hominy, Osage County, Oklahoma, Bill said that patriotism was high in America. “When the war started, there was such a patriotic feeling.  Some of my friends even volunteered before they were drafted,” he said.

It has been 75 years since the Allied Armies liberated Hitler’s concentration camps during World War II. On April 4, 1945, the first one to be liberated was Ohrdruf, a labor concentration camp within the Buchenwald network.  The world was not prepared for what Bill Kongable and his Regiment—the 354th Infantry Regiment Anti-Tank Company of the 89th Infantry Division, General Patton’s 3rd Army—discovered when they entered Ohrdruf.  Within days, President Eisenhower, General Patton, and General Bradley would come to inspect—and be horrified.

“Ohrdruf was a work camp, not an extermination camp,” said Bill. “Prisoners labored to dig tunnels in that area.  The Germans did a good job, however, of working the prisoners to death.  There was a mass grave outside of the camp with 3,000 bodies, all naked and emaciated.  Skin and bones.”

The guards knew the Allies were close, said Bill, and they abandoned the camp with 10,000 remaining workers that they forced-marched to another camp.  They had also tried to burn some of the evidence, so Ohrdruf was relatively empty. “But there were 50 prisoners left behind who for some reason couldn’t make the march.  They were all executed with a bullet to the back of the head.  That was the first thing you saw inside the camp,” said Bill. “The guards in the concentration camps were insane.  It is impossible to believe how cruel they could be.”

“I have two granddaughters, and what they know about the war is only what I have told them. They don’t even know about American history. History-teaching of all kinds is non-existent today.”

Bill Kongable

The war would be over the next month, but the liberation process would continue for some time. Although Ohrdruf was the only camp Bill liberated, he was very involved in another kind of liberation—those whom the Germans had utilized for slave labor.  “After the war, we found that the Germans had enforced slave labor in all of the conquered countries: Poland, the Baltic countries, Russia,” he said. “These laborers had been prisoners—the Germans had had them locked in.  After the war, these people needed housing, medical attention, food.  The Allies had a tremendous job taking care of them.” Continuing as a soldier for a year after the war, Bill was part of the process of caring for and of repatriating these slave laborers.  For his military service in Europe during the war, Bill received several medals.

Drafted right after graduating from high school in Hominy, Osage County, Oklahoma, Bill said that patriotism was high in America. “When the war started, there was such a patriotic feeling.  Some of my friends even volunteered before they were drafted,” he said.

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For information about Holocaust Museum Houston and upcoming exhibitions, see:

www.hmh.org

After the war, Bill was discharged in 1946, then he married and earned degrees in Chemical Engineering.  He worked for the Monsanto Chemical Co. for 35 years and then retired.  Last year, Pat, his beloved wife of 70 years, passed away.  He is now enjoying his children and grandchildren, and lives in Friendswood with his daughter, Patricia Ramsey. “She’s my 24-hour Mother!” he laughs.

One of the things he regrets today is the lack of education regarding World War II. “I have two granddaughters, and what they know about the war is only what I have told them.  They don’t even know about American history.  History-teaching of all kinds is non-existent today,” he said.

History is on view today, however, at Holocaust Museum Houston (HMH).  One permanent online exhibition is “The Texas Liberator: Witness to the Holocaust,” an exhibit that was curated by Texas Tech University in collaboration with the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission.  There is an Honor Roll with the names of over 500 Texas Liberators, Bill Kongable’s included, who liberated those in concentration camps during 1945.

To help tell the story, Bill has become active with HMH. “Bill has come to several of our events and has been on call to do interviews,” said Robin Cavanaugh, Chief Marketing Officer of the HMH. “He is a wonderful person.”

And what would Bill tell young people today? “The advice that I have is for them is to go visit Holocaust Museum Houston.  That would make sure that they are educated and aware—and that they don’t forget what can actually happen,” he said. “People can get out of control.”

Linda Faulkner Johnston—Tradition Senior Living

After the war, Bill was discharged in 1946, then he married and earned degrees in Chemical Engineering.  He worked for the Monsanto Chemical Co. for 35 years and then retired.  Last year, Pat, his beloved wife of 70 years, passed away.  He is now enjoying his children and grandchildren, and lives in Friendswood with his daughter, Patricia Ramsey. “She’s my 24-hour Mother!” he laughs.

One of the things he regrets today is the lack of education regarding World War II. “I have two granddaughters, and what they know about the war is only what I have told them.  They don’t even know about American history.  History-teaching of all kinds is non-existent today,” he said.

History is on view today, however, at Holocaust Museum Houston (HMH).  One permanent online exhibition is “The Texas Liberator: Witness to the Holocaust,” an exhibit that was curated by Texas Tech University in collaboration with the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission.  There is an Honor Roll with the names of over 500 Texas Liberators, Bill Kongable’s included, who liberated those in concentration camps during 1945.

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To help tell the story, Bill has become active with HMH. “Bill has come to several of our events and has been on call to do interviews,” said Robin Cavanaugh, Chief Marketing Officer of the HMH. “He is a wonderful person.”

And what would Bill tell young people today? “The advice that I have is for them is to go visit Holocaust Museum Houston.  That would make sure that they are educated and aware—and that they don’t forget what can actually happen,” he said. “People can get out of control.”

Linda Faulkner Johnston—Tradition Senior Living

For information about Holocaust Museum Houston and upcoming exhibitions, see:

www.hmh.org

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