Bernard Warshaw, a son of a Jewish small town businessman, had dreamed of going to The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina. He had no exact reasons why he wanted to, he did not even have dreams of becoming a wartime hero, he was just intrigued at the idea of becoming a military man. Besides, it was 1937. It was a time of calm.
Unknown to him, somewhere in the world, a war was about to break out and that war was aimed at eradicating his race – the Jews.
Growing up in a town where most of the population held the Christian faith, being a Jew was nothing out of the ordinary.
Small Town Boy turned The Citadel Cadet
Warshaw’s ordinary high school years and his not being a top high school student had poised an obstacle in getting into military school. However, his direct appeal to The Citadel’s president that time, General Charles P. Summerall, had paved way for his being accepted.
He was joined by a number of Jewish military hopefuls and i ill will had creep in the school’s hallway, Warshaw had never felt it.
“There was no Antisemitism I was aware of at The Citadel at that time,” he noted.
In the course of his years in military school, he forged lifelong friendships with the like of John West, Fritz Hollings and James Grimsley Jr. When World War II broke out, he was put into ROTC. But he had expected it as he had known he would be going.
He graduated in 1942 fully aware that a telegram was coming for him. However, he was surprised that the draft he was waiting for had been waiting home for him telling him to report for active duty in ten days time. So, with a hasty goodbye to his parents, he left for war.
He was 22.
Years at War: Fighting to Stay Alive
His dog tag in war bore his name and an H in the lower right corner which stood for Hebrew. he was assigned in the 433rd Automatic Weapons Battalion and was shipped off to Africa for training and support mission in the desert.
After that stint, his band was sent to Italy to join Allied invasion there moving quickly in the fronts of Sicily and Monte Cassino burrowing through snow and ice as well as rain and mud all the while targeting the enemy’s air power.
His troop was able to cut through Italy moving forward to France invasions, including in the Battle of the Bulge, and finally, ending in Germany.
From beginning to end, their mission had been solely to shoot down enemy fighters as they attacked the front lines of the Allied forces. At every stop, it was his unit’s responsibility to dig pits for eight to ten enormous guns normally pulled by 2.5-ton trucks. There are times they would go for weeks without changing clothes or showering. There were also instances were he and his unit were almost killed off but they managed to pull through. Throughout his military exploits, he was promoted to lieutenant then captain.
Throughout the war he clung on to his dog tags which distinctively identified him as a Hebrew and his comrades had worried what the Nazis would do to him if he was captured.
“I just didn’t want to be captured,” he stated a-matter-of-factly.
The day Hitler shot himself, April 30, 1945, Warshaw along with his driver was called to meet his colonel. The three then went to Dachau Concentration Camp which the Americans had liberated eight hours earlier.
There they were greeted with stench unlike they have encountered before.
“We came upon a stench and piles of bodies like you’ve never seen before,” he recalled.
After covering their faces with handkerchiefs and heading in, Warshaw and his companions encountered the last batch of prisoners to die in the camp – they were in a mound nearly 12 feet in height outside a tier of showers. Most of them were naked and bony with only a covering of thin skin.
The colonel passed a camera to him and ordered him to take pictures of the mound.Going to the next building, Warshaw opened two of the four ovens in Dachau and saw fire still licking human bones.
There were also living prisoners inside the building but he was forbidden from speaking to them as disease was rampant. Passing by them, he could see and smell their desperation.
“It was just non-belief,” he recalled. “You just couldn’t believe it.”
The three of them stayed there for an hour until they couldn’t take the stench anymore. They then left the place in silence.
When WWII officially ended, Warshaw and his comrades headed out through the grubby box cars which might have been used to load prisoners taking them to their deaths.
Arriving in Fort Jackson ready to leave service, a general pinned a major’s leaf into the Jewish soldier’s collar.
Warshaw went back to Walterboro, to his father’s clothing business until he got married, ran his own successful clothing business and sired three beautiful daughters.
he is nearing his 93rd year and he and his wife, Anna, often tease each other as they navigate around their home in walkers. he has dealt with numerous diseases including cancer in his lifetime but his mind remained sharp.
he had kept his own copies of the images, some of which are archived in College of Charleston’s Jewish Heritage Collection, he took in Dachau in the Second World War tied with a rubber band in one of the drawers in his working desk – the most heart-wrenching is that of a girl of six or seven years who looked to be only sleeping among the dead pile.
“These remind me of man’s inhumanity to man.”
– The Post and Courier reports