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Georgia’s WWII Veterans Honored as “Witnesses to Liberation”

February 3, 2015
Representative John P. Yates dressed in uniform, depicted in an old black and white photo

January 27 marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The Georgia House of Representatives commemorated the event with House Resolution 48, which declared the day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The United Nations General Assembly first recognized this day in 2005.

The events of the Holocaust, which occurred between 1933 and 1945 in Nazi-occupied Europe, may seem far away to many Georgians. But the memories of the survivors and the soldiers who were there during and after liberation have stayed with them for their entire lives.  

The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust is sharing the stories of six WWII veterans in the new exhibit “Georgia’s Response to the Holocaust: Witnesses to Liberation.” This free exhibit is currently on preview at the Commission-sponsored Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945 in Sandy Springs.

The Allied soldiers who were at the liberation of the Nazi camps, many of whom were in their late teens or early 20s at the time, took years to process what they had experienced. The responsibility to bear witness stayed with them for the rest of their lives. These men not only fulfilled their duty to their country but to their fellow man.

The Georgians profiled in the new exhibit include:

George Aigen – Valdosta

"When we made it through the gate, it was like walking into another world."

George Aigen was in the 1269th Combat Engineer Battalion, charged with building roads and destroying mines and bridges. In April 1945, George and his unit entered Dachau concentration camp, the first camp established by the Nazis. The American soldiers found more than 32,000 survivors, to whom George and his unit brought comfort, food, water and medical assistance.

Frank L. Benson – Loganville

“You don’t believe that man can be so inhuman to mankind.”

Frank Benson was assigned to the 1st Army Headquarters Signal Battalion, a group of soldiers responsible for establishing communication lines for the 1st Army as it advanced from D-Day through the Battle of the Bulge. In May 1945, Frank visited Buchenwald concentration camp, where 20,000 people had been liberated by American forces in April.

Howard and Hilbert Margol – Sandy Springs and Dunwoody

"In time, we will no longer be alive to tell what happened…The world must never forget."

Identical twins Howard and Hilbert Margol were in the 42nd Infantry Rainbow Division. Despite military policy prohibiting brothers from serving in the same combat unit, their mother wrote to President Roosevelt requesting that her sons be allowed to serve together. Her special request was granted. Hilbert and Howard were among the American soldiers who liberated Dachau on April 29, 1945.

William Alexander Scott III – Atlanta

“…one has to witness it to even begin to believe it.”

William Alexander “W.A.” Scott III was assigned to the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion as a reconnaissance sergeant, photographer, camoufleur and part-time historian in the S-2 (Intelligence Section). (At the time, the United States Army was segregated. Racial discrimination in the armed forces was not abolished until July 16, 1948, with President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9981.) On April 12, 1945, W.A. rode into Buchenwald on an Army convoy with the 8th Corps of General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army. With his camera, W.A. documented some of the atrocities for which the Nazis were responsible at the camp.

John P. Yates – Griffin

“If you fight a war, you have a better perspective of what is important.”

John Yates was a liaison pilot of a Piper Cub airplane in the 35th Infantry Division. In the spring of 1945, John was a military observer in the liberation of Dachau. He entered the Army as a private and by the end of the conflict he had been promoted to captain. Three of John’s four brothers also served; one was hospitalized and two were prisoners of war, but all survived. In 2013, now State Representative Yates was inducted into the Georgia Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame for his valor, outstanding leadership and his exemplary life of selfless service to our nation. He is the last World War II veteran serving in the Georgia General Assembly.

Feel free to access other materials such as videos, photos, maps and primary sources. Remember, you can always plan your visit to the exhibit. Free docent-led tours for groups of 10 or more are available with a reservation.

About the Author

Emma Ellingson is the Public Education Manager at the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, located at the Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945 exhibit in Sandy Springs where admission is free to all visitors. Emma is a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College with a degree in Classics. She has been with the Commission since 2011.

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