Special Feature: Liberation of the Nazi Camps
Face to Face

By Dave Ferman
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Nearly 60 years later, a Holocaust survivor finally gets to personally thank one of his liberators

COLLEYVILLE - There was a knock on the door Tuesday afternoon, and a trim, handsome man took a step into the foyer.

"I'm George."

With that, a handshake and a hug, a chasm of nearly 60 years closed. George Salton, who was 17 and weighed 75 pounds when he was freed from a Nazi concentration camp on May 2, 1945, met James Megellas, one of the American soldiers who liberated him.

Megellas, now 88, was among the first soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division to enter the Wobbelin camp near Ludwigslust, Germany. He looked Salton in the eye and said:

"In you, I see living proof of what we fought for in World War II." The moment between Megellas and Salton took a year to arrange after Salton's daughter, Anna Eisen of Southlake, learned that she lived five minutes from a Wobbelin liberator by reading Megellas' 2003 book, All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe. It meant far different things to the two men.

"For me, it was a day of glory," said Salton, who is now 77. He grew up in a small Polish town and had been in 10 camps in three countries before the liberation.

"My hope and my strength were gone," he continued. "I am very cognizant of the fact that my life was ebbing, and Jim and the other troopers saved my life. If they had arrived three days later, I would not be here."

By May 1945, Hitler had been dead just a few days, and many of the largest, most infamous camps had been liberated as the Nazis fell. The camp at Dachau had been freed just three days earlier.

American forces liberated 11 of the 20 major German concentration camps, said Tim Baker, a librarian with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. There were also dozens of smaller labor camps, he said.

Megellas was 28 at the time and a hardened veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. He could not believe what was behind the chain-link fence that he and his buddies came upon.

"We didn't know about concentration camps," he recalled Tuesday. "We'd been in combat two years, and we'd seen a lot of men killed in battle. But this was a horror you'd never forget -- men weighing 50 or 60 pounds.

"It was a defining moment in our lives -- who we were and what we were fighting for."

And it was just that -- a moment. The troops moved on a few days later after, Megellas notes, making the stoic Ludwigslust townspeople view and then bury the bodies.

Megellas had a long career in the Army; he and his wife, Carole, moved to Texas three years ago, and his book is about to be translated into Dutch.

Salton came to America and, he said, "lived the American dream." The retired electrical engineer lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. In 2002, he and Eisen collaborated on The 23rd Psalm: A Holocaust Memoir.

"They're the same -- they put it behind them for so long," said Eisen as Megellas showed her father around his upstairs study, full of medals, commendations and photos. "We met families of liberators. But most of the soldiers are no longer alive, so this is great."


War memoirs

George Salton and James Megellas have published memoirs of their experiences in World War II.

  • Salton co-wrote The 23rd Psalm: A Holocaust Memoir with daughter Anna Eisen. It was published in 2002 by the University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Megellas wrote All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe. It was published in 2003 by Presidio Press.