“We Trudged Through an Unknown, Unexperienced Evil — Unaware How That Evil Took Hold in Us”
This essay was originally published in The War Horse.
The following narrative was written by Joseph Simboli Jr., (my partner’s father) one of the members of the 89th Infantry Division who liberated Ohrdruf, the first Nazi concentration camp to be discovered by American forces in April 1945. For decades, Joe struggled with the internal turmoil of what he saw and couldn’t prevent on that sunny April morning in 1945.
Joe never shared his wartime story in detail, until he lost his wife Geraldine at age 84 in 2019. The day after her funeral, Joe pulled out decades of personal writings and artifacts from WWII and sat with his son, Andrew, and I and shared experiences that are next to impossible to put into words.
Before Joe died in May of 2021, I asked him if he would like to see his work published. He smiled and waved his hand, saying, “No one would want to read my musings.” Then just as quick, he said. “Well, unless you think so. Then, please!” I was honored to edit the essay.
To honor this Memorial Day and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as those who have succumb to the scourge of war. Hope you’ll read through. Few things are as profound.
April 4, 1945.
It was a beautiful, sunny morning in Ohrdruf, Germany, and my unit, the 89th Infantry Division, was on patrol. We had just moved south to investigate conflicting reports that a Nazi concentration camp existed nearby. Rumors of such camps had circulated, but we had found none. German fighter planes had been strafing overhead — no doubt a last-ditch attempt to keep their genocide secret from the world.
We had stayed in our covered positions, biding time until the attack ended. The deluge of mortar no longer made my legs vibrate uncontrollably, the way they did the initial many times a shell burst inches from my body. When the thunder ceased and the clouds of smoke…