“You don’t forget”

A moving tribute to (and from) Tony Acevedo, an American soldier who survived horrific months in a German slave labor camp and on a death march toward the end of World War II.

Acevedo, an Army medic, donated his diary from the period– in which he recorded the suffering, illnesses and deaths of his fellow prisoners– to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

They were hand-picked to be the Germans’ slaves.

The American soldiers, most captured during the Battle of the Bulge, were called into a yard at the prisoner of war camp known as Stalag IX-B in Bad Orb, Germany, where thousands of American, French, Italian and Russian soldiers were held.

Word had spread among the American captives that Jewish soldiers would be separated. It was early February 1945.

“All Jews,” the German shouted, “and anyone who looks like a Jew, step forward.”

Few willingly did so. About 80 Jewish soldiers were singled out. The Germans needed 350 slave laborers. They began choosing 270 other “undesirables.”

A guard shoved Acevedo, a Catholic, forward. “You’re going to a beautiful camp with a theater and live shows,” he was told.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Acevedo had been segregated before. As a young boy in Pasadena, California, he couldn’t attend the same classes as his white peers.

And in 1937, his parents were deported to Mexico. Though 13 and a U.S. citizen, he went with them. Four years later, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Acevedo returned to his homeland. He signed on as a medic in the U.S. Army.

That decision had led him here, thousands of miles from home, cold, frozen, frigid, unaware of his fate. He and the other soldiers were about to experience something no other U.S. soldier faced: the Holocaust behind enemy lines.