Andor "Bandi" Guralynik dies at Gunskirchen, May 1945


Pamphlet composed just after Liberation on May 4, 1945
The Liberation of Gunskirchen Lager. This pamphlet was produced by the U.S. Army after they liberated a concentration camp in Austria called Gunskirchen Lager. The 71st arrived just days before VE day. The book recounts in detail, and with very graphic photos, the tragedy they found in the camp. Below follows selected sections lifted verbatim from the pamplet. (For the entire book and other information.)

"When the German SS troops guarding the concentration camp at Gunskirchen heard the Americans were coming, they suddenly got busy burying the bodies of their victims -- or rather, having them buried by inmates - and gave the prisoners who were still alive what they considered an extremely liberal food ration: One lump of sugar per person and one loaf of bread for every seven persons. Then, two days or a day and half before we arrived, the SS left. All this I learned from talking to inmates of the camp, many of whom spoke English. Driving up to the camp in our jeep, Cpl. DeSpain and I, first knew we were approaching the camp by the hundreds of starving, half crazed inmates lining the roads, begging for food and cigarettes. Many of them had been able to get only a few hundred yards from the gate before they keeled over and died. As weak as they were, the chance to be free, the opportunity to escape was so great they couldn't resist, though it meant staggering only a few yards before death came.

May 1945, the woods outside Gunskirchen
"Then came the next indication of the camp's nearness - the smell. There was something about the smell of Gunskirchen I shall never forget. It was strong, yes, and permeating, too. Some six hours after we left the place, six hours spent riding in a jeep, where the wind was whistling around us, we could still detect the Gunskirchen smell. It had permeated our clothing, and stayed with us. "Of all the horrors of the place, the smell, perhaps, was the most startling of all. It was a smell made up of all kinds of odors - human excreta, foul bodily odors, smoldering trash fires, German tobacco - which is a stink in itself - all mixed together in a heavy dank atmosphere, in a thick, muddy woods, where little breeze could go. The ground was pulpy throughout the camp, churned to a consistency of warm putty by the milling of thousands of feet, mud mixed with feces and urine. The smell of Gunskirchen nauseated many of the Americans who went there. It was a smell I'll never forget, completely different from anything I've ever encountered. It could almost be seen and hung over the camp like a fog of death.

May 1945, 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.

"I want to make it clear that human beings subjected to the treatment these people were given by the Germans results in a return to the primitive. Dire hunger does strange things. The inmates of Gunskirchen were a select group of prisoners -- the intellectual class of Hungarian Jews, for the most part professional people, many distinguished doctors, lawyers, representatives of every skilled field. Yet, these people, who would naturally be expected to maintain their sense of values, their human qualities, longer than any others, had been reduced to animals by the treatment of the Germans - the deliberate prolonged starvation, the indiscriminate murder on little or no provocation, the unbelievable living conditions gradually brought about a change in even the strongest.

Gunskirchen Lager Camp, May 1945
"The camp was littered with bodies. Since the Germans had left, the inmates had been unable to cope with the swiftly mounting death rate. As long as the SS men were in charge, they made the stronger inmates dig crude pits and bury the dead, not for sanitary reasons, but in an attempt to hide some of the evidence of the inhuman treatment given their prisoners. For the thousands of prisoners in Gunskirchen, there was one 20-hole latrine. The rule of the SS men was to shoot on sight anyone seen relieving himself in any place but the latrine. Many of the persons in the camp had diarrhea. There were always long lines at the latrine and it was often impossible for many to reach it in time because of hours spent waiting. Naturally, many were shot for they could not wait in line. Their bodies were still lying there in their own filth. The stench was unbelievable.

Gunskirchen Memorial in the woods outside the camp - "4 May 1945, at this place the 71st infantry division United States Army discovered and liberated the concentration camp Gunskirchen Lager.
"My guide explained that many of the new prisoners at Gunskirchen had recently been forced to march from the vicinity of Hungary to Gunskirchen. There was very little food. They died like flies. If they fell out and were too weak to continue, the SS men shot then. The air-line distance from Hungarian border to Gunskirchen is 150 miles. The intervening territory is full of mountains and winding roads, so the actual distance these people walked was far greater than 150 miles. It is not hard to imagine the thousands of skeletons that mark their route.

"None of the inmates of Gunskirchen will ever be the same again. I doubt if any of us who saw it will ever forget it -- the smell, the hundreds of bodies that looked like caricatures of human beings, the frenzy of the thousands when they knew the Americans had arrived at last, the spark of joy in the eyes of those who lay in the ditches and whispered a prayer of thanks with their last breaths. I felt, the day I saw Gunskirchen Lager, that I finally knew what I was fighting for, what the war was all about."

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Andor "Bandi" Guralynik, just 21, had been a member of one of the Hungarian Jewish Labor Battalions. In April 1945, just as the war was about to end, he and thousands of other Budapest Jews were taken on a forced march to the concentration camp in Northern Austria known as Gunskirchen Lager. The conditions at Gunskirchen were so much more horrific than even those at Auschwitz, with virtually no food or water, that few survived the four weeks until liberation. Survivors of Gunskirchen who made their way back to Budapest recalled that Bandi lived to the Liberation on May 4th, but died in the woods outside the camp. When his younger brother Tomi escaped from Hungary in 1956/57, he retraced his brother's route in Austria before flying to Canada. Tomi filed a page of testimony with Yad Vashem in 1968 and 1989.