The ceremony in the Texas Senate Chamber Thursday afternoon was an opportunity to recognize a special group of WWII veterans known as Texas Liberators.
"It is my feeling that these unselfish warriors who came to change the course of history deserve thank you over, and over and over again,” said former State Senator Florence Shapiro who lost almost 60 family members in the Holocaust.
Medallions were presented to those who were the first American soldiers from Texas to witness the nightmare inside 44 Nazi concentration camps. Among those to be recognized was Herb Stern.
"I feel humbled you might say,” said Stern.
In 1945, Stern was with the 9th infantry chasing SS units in the German mountains when they came across a slave labor camp. He wasn't prepared for what they found inside.
"The stench is so overwhelming, and there is this dead silence, eerie silence all over the place, it’s almost like you are in a bubble, and you are absolutely overwhelmed,” said Stern.
Any of the liberating solders were given a hero's welcome but newsreel images of joy, can not erase what was also found beyond the barbed wire. Gerald Powell said it was hard to believe what they found.
"Leading up to what we experience, we didn't believe other human beings would treat other human beings the way they did,’ said Powell.
Chick Havey, who was at the infamous Dachau prison camp, told FOX 7 he is still haunted by what he saw. "And the thing I remember is, they were all screaming and hollering. Most of them were so emaciated, starved to death, they were like walking skeletons,” said Havey.
Officials with the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission believe there are only 20 Texas Liberators still living. The Commission so far has identified about 326 Texas Liberators, their names listed on an honor roll. While this day is about remembering them, it’s also about remembering what they were fighting for.
"In reality they are the monuments, because no one could have done what they did,” said Commission Chairman Dr. Peter Tarlow.
The stories from the liberators are being preserved so they and their warning will live on, according to Tarlow. "This is a way to educate the generations that will come, because when you study the Holocaust it is so horrendous that people can almost imagine it could never have happened but we have living witnesses in our state who are responsible for facing the world’s greatest inhumanity and helping people reconstruct their lives, and that’s truly Texan,” said Tarlow.
The ceremony concluded with a flyover of the state capitol by vintage WWII aircraft.
A salute to the heroes and a symbolic promise to never forget.