On a Sunday in 1945 about 15 miles outside of Munich, U.S. soldier, Daniel Gillespie, walked through the Dachau concentration camp. As a 19-year-old machine gunner with the 42nd Rainbow Division, he was among the first to see the horrors of the Nazi camp, where an estimated 35,000 people had been murdered since 1933.
Joshua Kaufman, a Hungarian Jew two years Gillespie’s junior, was hiding with a number of other prisoners in a set of latrines, unsure of whether the incoming soldiers were liberators or a Nazi death squad. They hunkered down, literally in human shit, expecting the worst.
Gillespie smashed in the door to the latrines. Seeing white flags hanging in the watchtowers from outside the latrine, Kaufman and his fellow prisoners made their presences known. Gillespie immediately pulled Kaufman out of the latrine and into the light outside. He would later describe the starving man as “a human corpse.”
After the liberation, Kaufman moved to Israel following the war, eventually immigrating to the United States to work as a plumber. Gillespie fathered eight children and worked his entire life as a salesman. They lived most of their lives just miles from each other in California, never meeting one another until a German documentary crew arranged it.
Upon seeing each other, Kaufman and Gillespie, now 87 and 89 respectively, froze immediately, looking one another up and down. After an extended moment of silence, Kaufman reached up his right hand to salute Gillespie. Gillespie returned the salute before Kaufman, overwhelmed by the depth of the situation, dropped to his knees to quite literally kiss his liberator’s feet.
Kaufman repeated over and over, “I have wanted to do this for 70 years. I love you. I love you so much.”
“I have everything in my life because of him,” he later added.
The meeting lasted an hour, the two continuously in disbelief. When Gillespie asked Kaufman what kept him alive in the camp, Kaufman’s response was as simple as it was heartrending.
“Dying would have been easier. In Dachau we had to tote around 50 kilo cement sacks. The whole day long. Whoever broke down was immediately shot. It turned me into an animal. And animals want to survive. I wanted to live.”
Gillespie also had some insight into what it was like to be a liberator.
“It was the most profound shock of my life. Its [Nazi death camp] liberation changed my life forever. We could not understand it. I grew up in California where we had everything in abundance. We didn’t get how people could let other people starve. They murdered them or just let them die. Again and again the questions moved through my head. And at the same time I was just incredibly angry.”
While the story itself is an incredible one, no writing can really do the images justice. The History Channel is scheduled to air a documentary about their emotional reunion on May 31, so mark your calendars. .
Image via Shutterstock