Experience: Gunskirchen

Fred Ferber
Jack Pludwinski
Erika Rovinsky
Dezso Schonberger
Irma Schonberger
Alex Ungar
Harry Weinstein
“On May 4, 1945, the 71st Infantry Division liberated Gunskirchen, one of the many subcamps of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. The camp was rather short-lived. In December 1944, construction for the Gunskirchen camp began. The camp was planned to house several hundred slave laborers. When the camp was opened in April 1945, however, thousands of prisoners evacuated on death marches from Mauthausen started to flood Gunskirchen. In these overcrowded conditions, diseases such as typhus and dysentery spread rapidly through the starving and weakened camp population. The prisoners were--with the exception of 400 political prisoners--Jews from Hungary whom the Germans had forced to march on foot from their homeland to Austria, where they were to be used for forced labor. Some 17,000 Hungarian Jews reportedly passed through the Gunskirchen camp.

“When troops of the 71st entered the camp, they learned that the SS guards had fled the corpse-littered camp days before. Some 15,000 prisoners were still in the camp. In the months following the liberation, some 1,500 former prisoners died as a consequence of their mistreatment by the Nazis. One member of the 71st Infantry recounted his first impressions of Gunskirchen:

“As we entered the camp, the living skeletons still able to walk crowded around us and, though we wanted to drive farther into the place, the milling, pressing crowd wouldn't let us. It is not an exaggeration to say that almost every inmate was insane with hunger. Just the sight of an American brought cheers, groans and shrieks. People crowded around to touch an American, to touch the jeep, to kiss our arms--perhaps just to make sure that it was true. The people who couldn't walk crawled out toward our jeep. Those who couldn't even crawl propped themselves up on an elbow, and somehow, through all their pain and suffering, revealed through their eyes the gratitude, the joy they felt at the arrival of Americans.

‘The 71st immediately began requisitioning supplies and transportation from the local town to provide the prisoners with food and water.”

The 71st Infantry Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the U.S. Army's Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1988.

Casualty figures for the 71st Infantry Division, European Theater of operations
Total battle casualties: 1,114
Total deaths in battle: 279

Division nickname

The nickname of the 71st Infantry Division, the "Red Circle" division, is based upon the divisional insignia (which includes a red circle).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 
Accessed on July 21, 2011

Corpses of prisoners killed in the Gunskirchen camp. The camp was liberated by U.S. forces in early May 1945. Gunskirchen, Austria, photo taken between May 6 and May 15, 1945.

— United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accessed on July 21, 2011