Moses freed the Jews from Pharaoh in Egypt; Antonio Gonzalez liberated them from Hitler’s death camps. The 3rd Infantry Division was a meat grinder, during World War II it fought a consecutive 531 days of bloody combat.

Story By : Franco


Antonio Gonzalez

Antonio Gonzalez

In a single day at Anzio it lost 900 men, the most of any U.S. division in World War II. Antonio Gonzalez, a Mexican American from Rosebud, Texas was sent to replace the fallen, he was a good candidate for brutal death at the Siegfried Line where German troops doggedly resisted the advance of American troops. Before leaving for combat, Gonzalez stopped at a Catholic Church in Texas. Standing before the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe -protector and guardian of the Mexican people-, Gonzalez made a petition, “Blessed mother of Tepeyac, if you bring me back safe from the war, I vow to visit your sacred shrine in Mexico.” Gonzalez, a fresh recruit, was immediately sent to the Siegfried Line. He was a scout and his duty were to provoke enemy fire, a quick way to die. He froze in fox holes resisting German counter-attacks, mud and freezing rain were hell. Many times, he was pinned down to the ground, bullets and tracers flying a few inches above his body, death was his constant companion. His whole platoon was exterminated with the exception of one other soldier. Gonzalez lived by only one rule, “kill or be killed.” Gonzalez explained, “The Germans were determined fighters, defending their homeland from invasion, their iron will was to stop us dead. Determined to live, I killed them before they killed me. My senses were sharp, I could smell a German, detect his location, and stop him before he knew what was happening.” Eventually the 3rd broke through the defenses of the Siegfried Line, Gonzalez was in the lead, and the Mexican American scout wasn’t prepared for what awaited him: the infamous death camps, Dachau, Mauthausen, and others. Gonzalez recalls, “It was worse than any horror movie, as soon as I opened the gates of the camp, I saw skeletons crawling toward me, kissing my muddy boots. They were Jews, so emaciated they could only crawl, in worse shape than animals at the slaughterhouse, corpses piled up, the survivors escaped the ovens as the Nazis fled in retreat.” 

After liberating the Jews from the death camps, without a scratch on his body after so many ruthless confrontations, Gonzalez found some consolations. The 3rd advanced into Germany, there were thousands of young German girls with few men around. The local girls were especially friendly to the young Mexican Americans, and Gonzalez spent many hours getting to know dozens of them, all very beautiful, and friendly women. After the hell of war, he was now in paradise. The War ended and Gonzalez returned to Rosebud, Texas. Gonzalez recalls, “After the war, after defeating the Germans, and liberating the Jews from the death camps, I returned to Texas, where racism was the rule. I couldn’t go into restaurants because I was Mexican. It was ironic, I liberated Jews from the Nazi’s murderous racism, now I was the target of racism in my Texas homeland, but in my case, no one was coming to rescue me.” After paying his manda, his obligation to the Virgin of Guadalupe for having brought him back safe without a scratch, Gonzalez married his sweetheart. Now his preoccupation was with finding a way to make a living. He used the G.I. Bill to attend an occupational course in Carpentry. It was one of the few options available to him since he didn’t have a High School diploma. Later after losing his job in Texas, he searched for work in the northern U.S., in Wisconsin. He applied for a job at a wood- working shop, but he couldn’t work there unless he joined the union and completed an apprenticeship. He didn’t qualify because of no High School Diploma. Gonzalez said, “I was struggling because I didn’t have a high school diploma, I feared that poverty was going to be my future because of this situation.” Something incredible happened, as the owner of the workshop read Gonzalez application, he noticed that Gonzalez had served in the 3rd in World War II, and asked Gonzalez about his experiences during the war. Gonzalez recounted how he had been one of the first soldiers to find the Nazi death camps, and first to open the gates. 

The owner of the shop turned out to be a Jew, he immediately drafted a letter requesting that the union make an exception for Gonzalez because of his service to mankind. “This changed my life, I was able to complete the apprenticeship. I became a master at building anything made of wood and had a great way of making a living. I made good money and always had work available tome. It was like night and day, the difference between not having any skills and being a skilled tradesman. I worked for some great companies and eventually retired,” said Gonzalez. Today Antonio Gonzalez is a strong 92 years old, his house full of memories: military awards, government awards, Jewish recognitions for his service in liberating death camp survivors. Memories of his beloved wife who passed away a few years ago. Antonio Gonzalez is a Mexican American hero, although Hollywood never made a movie based on him, it was this Mexican American who first opened the gates of the death camps and liberated the surviving Jews. Gonzalez’s parting words were, “I’m proud of my Mexican heritage, I performed my duty to this country, the Virgin of Guadalupe made sure I came back without a scratch from the war, while many fell around me. My wife was the sweetest woman, my children are my pride. Life has been good to me. God has been good to me.” 

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