Holocaust survivor Joshua Kaufman saluted World War II soldier Daniel Gillespie, who liberated him from a Nazi concentration camp seven decades ago. Joshua Kaufman was enduring the unthinkable at the hands of the Nazi guards at the Dachau death camp before the American soldiers found the facility and rescued the captives. A German documentary crew found the two men and planned the reunion.
Joshua Kaufman said that everything he has in life is because of Daniel Gillespie. When the Holocaust survivor and the American WWII soldier met on Huntington Beach in California, it was an extremely emotional reunion. The two men, who unknowingly lived just one hour from one another, immediately saluted when they finally met again.
“I love you so much,” Joshua Kaufman, 87, told Daniel Gillespie. Then the Holocaust survivor kissed the hand of the World War II veteran and said, “I have wanted to do this for 70 years. I came out of h**l into the light. For that, and to him, I am eternally grateful.”
Kaufman said he was nothing more than a “walking corpse” when the American soldier, now 89, marched into the Dachau concentration camp near Munich.
Daniel Gillespie was a machine gun operator in the 42nd Rainbow Division. The unit marched into the Nazi concentration, shocked and mortified at what they saw as the prisoners emerged from their dwellings. Gillespie walked into block 11 of the first concentration camp built by the Nazis in 1933.
Before Gillespie and his fellow soldiers found the camp and liberated its prisoners, more than 35,000 Jewish people, actors, Gypsies, writers, gay individuals, and others deemed to pose a threat to Adolf Hitler’s future plans for Germany, had already been killed.
Before the mercy of death came to so many Dachau concentration camp captives, they had been tortured, starved, beaten, worked nearly to death, and been used as the subjects of cruel medical experiments.
The first person Daniel Gillepsie saw when he walked into block 11 of the Nazi concentration camp was Joshua Kaufman, a Hungarian Jew. Kaufman and several others were hiding in the latrine, not knowing if the boot steps they heard belonged to Nazi guards or American soldiers.
“We were confined to barracks by the guards. This meant most of us were marked for death. Then I saw the white flag flying from the watchtower and I realized then that the torture was at an end. When the Americans smashed in the door, my heart did somersaults,” the Holocaust survivor said.
After Daniel Gillespie helped the emaciated Nazi concentration camp prisoner into the sunlight, they both separated with tears falling down their faces, thinking they would never meet again. Kaufman lost most of his family to the Holocaust. He ultimately traveled to Israel and became a soldier himself, fighting in both the Yom Kippur War and the Six Day War.
“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,” the Holocaust survivor said.
“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,” Gillespie said.
Joshua Kaufman emigrated to America, became a plumber, married, and had three daughters. After World War II, Daniel Gillespie returned home to become a successful salesman, married, and had eight children.
The reunion between the Holocaust survivor and the American soldier who rescued him will be part of a History Channel special on May 31.
[Images via History Channel Germany]