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Nazi concentration camp survivor and liberator reunite in North Alabama 75 years later

Last month, Honored Legacies for Veterans invited WAAY 31 to capture a common bond between two North Alabama men. One is a survivor of that death camp and the other is his liberator.​

Posted: Apr 29, 2020 9:59 AM
Updated: Apr 29, 2020 5:45 PM

While we are currently fighting an invisible enemy, the coronavirus, Wednesday also marks a historic moment when our country defeated atrocities committed by a much different enemy, the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in Nazi Germany.​

Last month, Honored Legacies for Veterans invited WAAY 31 to capture a common bond between two North Alabama men. One is a survivor of that death camp and the other is his liberator.​

To be clear, when we first met Bob Sawada and Jim Feezel, social distancing wasn't at all a part of our daily lives, and that turned out to be kind of a blessing for this long-anticipated reunion in early March.

It needed to be experienced way less than six feet apart. ​

"I think you were sent by God. God sent you," ​said Dachau Survivor, Bob Sawada.

"This is the people that we worshiped. We needed. I was frightened," he recalled. "And I'll never forget that." ​

A single moment that they experienced 75 years ago defined the rest of their lives. ​

"That's when it changed. The world changed," he said. ​

Huntsville resident Bob Sawada was born in Poland a handful of years before the start of World War II. He saw tragedy early on as a child, witnessing the traumatic death of his parents at the hands of German soldiers. ​

"Just imagine all of a sudden, you have no mother and no father. The only one I had is my sister. They didn't bother her," ​he said.

He was forced to work in a number of Nazi German labor camps, and eventually, he was sent to Dachau. ​Dachau was the longest running concentration camp, where more than 200,000 political prisoners, mostly Jews, were subjected to horrific conditions and almost 32,000 people were slaughtered. ​

"We wandered into a messed up world," recalled Dachau Liberator, Jim Feezel.​

On April 29, 1945, the Decatur native with the 12th Armored Division had Dachau in his sights. ​His commander gave the order. ​

"He said, 'Jim, put this tank through that gate.' So I put the tank through the gate," he said.

"We seen 'em coming and we couldn't believe it. We couldn't believe it," said Sawada.

Feezel and the Americans set free thousands of malnourished and mistreated captives, including the man who sat right next to him. ​

"The gate of my barracks was not too far away. Maybe about a couple of hundred yards," said Sawada.

Leaving them to wonder if they actually met that day, 75 years ago. ​

"You know, I thought the possibility that he could have been that man that tried to walk to my tank and didn't have enough energy to get there," recalled Feezel.​

These days, while the rest of us are fighting the current invisible enemy, sometimes losing track of our days, you won't soon forget why these two men now have even more reason to celebrate in defeating a much different, yet vicious enemy, hate. ​

"Thank God, I'm here talking to my liberator," said Sawada. ​

"Well, I am proud of that fact, you know. Proud that I lived through it also to be able to come home and tell a few people what little bit we did," said Feezel. ​

​After the war, Sawada was eventually adopted by a major in the U.S. Army and became an American citizen. He immediately enlisted into the Army and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, along with tours in Korea and Germany. ​

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