Anthony C. Acevedo, a U.S. Army medic and survivor of a German death camp, was laid to rest before the Riverside CA National Cemetery’s POW/MIA Memorial. While few know his story, including how he became the only officially recognized Mexican-American Holocaust survivor. Hopefully, those who do will not only remember him but make sure his legacy is remembered as well.
Born in San Bernardino, California in 1924 Acevedo faced a difficult upbringing. His father and caretaker was reported as being abusive, and his mother died while he was still an infant. By the time he graduated high school the 18-year-old was looking for a new start. He found this new start by enlisting in the U.S. Army. He would eventually find himself assigned to the 70th Infantry Division as a medic, a position he held when the unit was overrun during the 1945 Battle of the Bulge. Acevedo and 23,000 other GI’s soon found themselves prisoners of war and on their way to Germany to wait out the rest of the war.
No soldier, airman or sailor wished to be taken as a prisoner, those captured by the Germans were not usually facing a death sentence. As a signer of the Third Geneva Convention German was prone to treat POWs with some level of humanity, unlike their allies in Japan. However, there was one group of prisoners to whom the Germans felt no need to show humanity- those of Jewish heritage. Unfortunately for Acevedo, his captures had never seen a Mexican-American before and incorrectly assumed he was also Jewish. This meant the Army medic was segregated from the other prisoners, and along with 350 other GIs, were shipped to the Berga An Der Elster labor camp- part of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Not only would Acevedo be among only 180 survivors of the camp and the only Mexican-American to be a Holocaust survivor, but his diaries would also provide the only recorded account of camp life- and death. Writing on scraps of papers, at first to keep his mind occupied and later to remember his fellow soldiers, he would record the daily activities, the harsh treatment and even the death of those he served with. That diary is now housed at the United States Holocaust Museum and is the first in that collection to be written by an American prisoner.
Sadly, even his own government did not want the story of Berga shared. According to survivors, each was required to sign documents prohibiting them from sharing their story – something which made a recovery difficult for most and impossible for some. But that changed in 2008 when the U.S. Army was finally forced to recognize those who were held at Berga due in part to increased publicity following a CNN documentary released that same year. Eventually, Acevedo and his fellow survivors would share their story via a History Channel documentary and numerous speaking engagements and public appearances including being honored at the Holocaust Museum’s 20th Anniversary Tribute.
Anthony Acevedo was truly a member of the “Greatest Generation” and a survivor on many accounts. Like many of his fellow WWII veterans, he has now passed from this Earth, but that means it is now up to us to keep his legend alive.
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