“I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up because every time I do it, I relive it”
Corporal George Aigen served in the 1269th Combat Engineer Batallion and was one of the soldiers responsible for the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp in World War II. Along with this phenomenal accolade, George has cleared minefields, built roads, and guarded scientists during his time as a Combat Engineer. He has been telling his story in talks so the history of what George has experienced in Germany during World War II can never die. On Thursday, February 21st George spoke at the Continuing Education Building at Valdosta State University despite suffering from a bout of pneumonia a week and a half before telling his story once again.
On George’s 18th birthday, the freshmen at New York University went to the Selective Services Department in downtown Brooklyn to sign up for the draft. George accounts being outside the registration building with his father and sharing a haunting moment.
“When I got out of the car, I looked back at him through the windshield, and he looked at me, and we thought the same thought.”
“Will, I ever see him again?”
The silence in the room after George said those words made war seem human. The real casualties of war affect not only the life of the soldier but the soldier’s family as well.
George’s stories are not only touching and give insight into the gravities of war, but some are humorous. After getting body measurements, George enters a room with all the other draftees.
“Inside [this room] there was a man standing by this door. He was saying ‘Army, Navy, Marine,’ and I was Army…and that’s how I got in the US army” This little joke garnered a chuckle from the audience.
After enduring basic training, George went with his unit to Nazi-occupied France. The first night in France, George spent sleeping in “ruts” (think tracks in the mud from tanks) with his rifle draped across his body, hoping his body was below the line of fire so he would not get shot.
After traveling from France to Germany, George got the news that he was going to the concentration camp, Dachau. When he first spoke of Dachau, there was a change in his voice and demeanor. It was at this point where one realizes the true horror of the things George had witnessed, and he hadn’t even spoken a word about them. It was on his face: Dachau, a true hell on Earth.
For those who don’t know, Dachau was the first concentration camp ever built in Nazi Germany, and all other camps were based on it, including Auschwitz.
George then began showing a series of pictures of Dachau and the “residents” with a tone of grave familiarity. The emaciated prisoners, the ominous roads rolling through the camp, however, one picture expresses dark practices.
At the event, George pulled up a picture and began to describe it to the audience as a swing set. The picture accompanying George’s description did look like a swing set without any swings. When he changed the picture, an image of a man getting hung with another man standing next to him with a club. George states that-
“They were hanging them alive and then they were beating them to death.”
The stories that George tells could fill a novel, but it’s also something he could not do alone. With him, he brings to his presentations his wife, Joyce. Joyce acts as a reminder for George whenever he goes off script, but even she offers some interesting insight.
One example would be when George is discussing a picture taken at another concentration camp of American soldiers walking through the bodies of prisoners. Joyce also explains that-
“General Eisenhower came in and brought in soldiers and the people from town because he said he never wanted people to forget what happened. And that was one of his goals.”
In that aspect, George Aigen and General Eisenhower have that in common. Both men don’t want people to forget what happened during the Holocaust and the atrocities that occurred. That is why George Aigen has spoken 87 times to teachers, fellow veterans, and people alike.
Aigen is an embodiment of both George and Joyce who’s primary goal is to inform the generations of today and yesterday of what can happen when hate and prejudice are taken too far.