Jewish World War II Veteran Recalls Assisting Refugees

Jewish World War II Veteran Recalls Assisting Refugees

Despite the end of World War II nearly 70 years ago, U.S. Army veteran Gilbert Unger still remembers it vividly. As one of the few Jewish soldiers in the Army at the time, Unger, who was 19 when he fought, didn't realize he was making history-- less for his ethnicity, however, and more for his selfless service to refugees towards the end of the war.

Unger was a machine gunner assigned with the 90th Infantry Division during World War II. First landing on the beach in Normandy shortly after D-Day, Unger and his unit continued to fight during the Battle of the Bulge, moving on to Germany and what was then Czechoslovakia. For more than a year, he was in daily contact with the enemy. His division liberated the concentration camp at Flossenbuerg, Germany, on April 28, 1945. It wasn't until his arrival to Weiden, however, that the residual eventuality of war stared Unger in the face.
 
"Jewish refugees would pass through searching for family, searching for anyone," said Unger. "Since there weren't any particular duties for me to do, I spent the time trying to do what I could for them." Weiden acted as a distribution point for refugees from the East trying to find their way west said Unger, adding that most would travel on to Palestine after passing through Weiden.
 
"We had big signs, kiosks, and on them were lists of names where people could see after their relatives -- where they went, what happened to them," explained Unger. "Most of them did not reconnect with family, but we still posted their information and gathered supplies for their journey. And we did this on our own. It was not part of our duty."
 
A reported 500,000 American Jews fought during World War II, making up roughly three percent of the U.S. Army, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. An obvious minority, Unger said he often felt discrimination, but kept his sights on the freedom and well-being of the persecuted minorities.
 
"All I can say is I was very, very proud of the way I handled myself in all situations to bring pride to both my outfit and myself."
 
"Some things you never forget," he added.

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