Bob Sawada, a Huntsville resident, saw incomprehensible atrocities during his five years in concentration camps, where he spent his days catching rats to eat.
“After the invasion Sept. 1, 1939, I was taken into a holding camp,” Bob said. “It was a Jewish ghetto. And from there my parents were executed. My father and mother were executed there in the ghetto.”
Although Bob was a Roman Catholic, Nazis classified him as a Jew and first took him to Auschwitz, then the Dachau concentration camp. The torture was relentless.
“I saw many prisoners commit suicide by running and throwing themselves against the electric fence,” Bob said. “And I was tempted and approached the fence a few times myself, but when I got to the fence, I collapsed and kneeled down and prayed. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I said if they want to kill me, let them kill me. I will not kill myself because there was always something inside me — my faith in God and Christ — and I knew God would liberate me some day. I knew this type of butchery could not go on. God will stop it.”
The torture ended when American soldiers liberated the camps, freeing Bob, who was 16 and weighed only 38 pounds at the time.
One of those American soldiers was Jim Feezel, a Decatur native, serving as a tank driver in the 12th Armored Division.
“(My commander said), ‘Jim, put this tank through that gate.’ So I put the tank through the gate,” Jim said about the day he breached Dachau.
That day was 75 years ago, but Bob never forgot the moment he saw the tank pulling through the gates of the camp.
“The moment the American soldiers pulled us from the trenches, it was like being in the arms of an angel,” Bob said. “You are going from hell into Heaven. They cleaned us and fed us and cared for us like we were little children.”
An Army major adopted Bob, bringing him to New York before settling in Alabama. Bob ended up in Huntsville, just a few miles away from Jim.
The two met recently when Honored Legacies for Veterans set up a reunion.
The two stayed six feet apart to respect social distancing guidelines, but even a pandemic couldn’t stop the two men from meeting.
“I think you were sent by God,” Bob told Jim. “God sent you.”