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Anthony Acevedo First Mexican-American Registered Survivor of Holocaust

Anthony Acevedo First Mexican-American Registered Survivor of Holocaust

U.S. Army Medic Anthony Acevedo

U.S. Army Medic Anthony Acevedo

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Anthony Acevedo kept dozens of fellow POWs alive in a Nazi concentration camp.

He is the only Mexican American to survive the Holocaust.

While keeping as many fellow prisoners alive as he was able, Anthony, a trained medic, also kept a secret diary where he recorded the names of each comrade killed and documented the atrocities committed against them.

The U.S. government, perhaps ashamed that they had allowed their own soldiers to be tortured and murdered in slave camps by the Nazis, silenced Anthony and his fellow POWs for decades.

Now, thanks to Anthony, their story – and his – has finally come to light.

Anthony was born in California to Mexican immigrants. As a child, he, like all Mexicans of the time, attended a segregated “non-white” school.

Anthony’s mother died when he was only two years old. When he was 13, his father and stepmother were deported to Mexico during one of the Great-Depression-era sweeps where anyone who looked Latino was deported to Mexico, whether they were Mexican or not. Many of those deported were actually U.S. citizens.

Anthony moved to Durango to be with his parents, but he always considered himself Mexican American.

At the beginning of WWII, while Anthony was still a teen in Durango, he and a friend intercepted a morse code message sent by Germans conducting espionage in Mexico. Thanks to their report, the German spies were caught.

But Anthony wanted to fight the Germans overseas, as an American.

So, after Pearl Harbor, Anthony moved back to the U.S. to enlist in the Army. He was 17.

At 18, after 6 months of training as a medic, he was shipped off to fight the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, where he was assigned to the 275th regiment.

On January 6, 1945, Anthony and a group from his division were heading back after a special assignment when Nazis attacked them. The group ran out of ammo and were forced to surrender.

Being unfamiliar with Latinos, the Nazis classified Anthony as “undesirable” along with the other Jewish prisoners.

He was tortured and raped for his involvement in the capture of Nazi spies when he was a teenager.

Then the Nazis packed Anthony and hundreds of others into train cars like cattle and shipped them off to Berga, a slave labor subcamp of the infamous Buchenwald.

The prisoners there were forced to work themselves to death excavating tunnels while being tortured and murdered by the Nazis.

Throughout his ordeal, Anthony kept a secret diary of his experience in the margins of his medical books, writing down every detail of life in the camp and even making drawings.

He carefully recorded the name of every comrade who died – and how they died. To make the ink last, he mixed it with snow and his own urine. He felt it was his “moral obligation,” to honor the Army Warrior Ethos:

“I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”

Anthony also recorded the horrific conditions he and other prisoners were subjected to. They were worked past exhaustion and fed 3.5 grams of bread. They were not fed every day. Many succumbed to disease, starvation, and infection.

But, as a medic, Anthony kept as many alive as he was able. Without medical equipment, he was forced to be resourceful. He used melted snow to wash wounds and amputated limbs without anesthetic. He kept up morale with humor and “cooked” for the men as well, adding rats and even grass to their meals when he could.

In March of 1945, with the Allied armies approaching, the Nazis abandoned Buchenwald – but not the prisoners.

Anthony and what was left of his fellow soldiers were subjected to a 150-mile death march. The Nazis killed anyone who wasn’t strong enough to walk, so Anthony and the others took turns to push and pull a cart full of 20 wounded prisoners who would have otherwise been shot.

The Nazis did shoot many prisoners along the journey, gunning down men, women, and children.

The death march lasted for 16 days until the marchers were finally liberated by the 11th Armored Division of American Troops.

Of the 350 POWs held at Berga, only 170 had survived. Anthony weighed 87 pounds.

When he returned to the U.S., Anthony tried to tell Army officials how the Nazis had treated him and the other POWs at Berga, but officials silenced him, threatening him with jail if he ever spoke about what happened.

He and the other Berga POWs were forced to sign a gag order.

After the war, Anthony married Amparo Martinez, with whom he had four children. He made a career as an aircraft design engineer, working at North American, McDonnell Douglas Aircraft and Hughes Space and Communication until his retirement in 1987.

But, like many survivors of war, he was plagued by PTSD. He would wake in the middle of the night, sweating and screaming. The Army’s refusal to acknowledge what had happened to him and his comrades only made it worse.

So, Anthony dedicated his retirement to volunteering at the Veteran’s Association, helping others, and himself, cope with the effects of PTSD.

Finally, in 2004, Anthony was recognized in the House of Representatives by Joe Baca, who cited Anthony’s patriotism and forbearance, calling him a “symbol of all that we, as Americans, strive to be.”

And in 2009, after an investigative report by CNN which was made possible by Anthony’s secret diary, the U.S. government finally acknowledged the experiences of POWs at Berga.

Anthony’s diary is housed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the first document of its kind by an American captive to be included in the collection. In 2010, he become the first Mexican-American registered as a Holocaust survivor in the museum database.

He passed away in 2018, surrounded by his family.

“You only live once. Let’s keep trucking. If we don’t do that, who’s going to do it for us? We have to be happy. Why hate?” – Anthony Acevedo.

Veteran Medic Anthony Acevedo

Veteran Medic Anthony Acevedo

Survivors of Berga Nazi concentration camp

Survivors of Berga Nazi concentration camp

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