Oral History

John D. Rastelli describes entering occupied Austria and burial of the dead in Mauthausen

John D. Rastelli is a veteran of the 11th Armored Division. During the invasion of German-held Austria, in May 1945 the 11th Armored (the "Thunderbolt" division) overran two of the largest Nazi concentration camps in the country: Mauthausen and Gusen.


On our way into Austria we had hit several pits, 6 by, you know, 6 by 6 by 6 pits, and we used to look in there, you'd see women, children, and men, fully clothed, that were probably thrown in there and then shot. We wondered why, why did this happen? And of course then when you hit Mauthausen, then you knew how terrible it was. At Mauthausen of course the 41st Cavalry was in there first, and then it was given over to our engineers, and some of our people worked there, taking the identification numbers from those who were dead. Our engineers built graves with the bulldozers and we had the civilians who told us that they never knew that the camp was there, and of course we didn't believe them, so we let them carry the bodies into the pits that we dug. They didn't like it, but we said, well you didn't know anything about it, but you're going to bury them. And we did that. And we made sure we had identification numbers from all whom we buried. Some who were stacked there like cords of wood, it was pretty hard to get their identification number, we did the best we can. And I went back there in 1989, my wife and I went on a tour with 11th Armored, and I found out that my first cousin had married an Italian, this was in Italy, and I found out that he had married my first cousin, he has since been deceased, he came out of Mauthausen with a lot of sores on him. They had, they had three daughters and a son. And I was surprised when I was trying to teach one of the daughters English and I heard the father say to the other daughter something about Mauthausen and I jumped up and of course I cried because if you saw the way they treated people you would never believe it, never believe it. And we couldn't figure out how a person could treat another person with what we saw, and it just boggled our minds.


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