First Person Account by Alfredo Córdova, WWII
As told to his brother, Sam Córdova.
When the Second World War ended almost seventy years ago, PFC Alfredo Córdova had just entered Upper Austria from German Lower Bavaria with Company A, 2nd Rifle Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Texas Infantry Division. Cordova does not remember the name of the town where his outfit was billeted, or the name of the nearby Nazi concentration camp. He does remember the horror of the camp, which he is reluctant to talk about, and the circumstances leading up to its liberation. It was later determined that the camp was (by some accounts) one of the 126 sub camps that fed into the main concentration camp in Dachau in the vicinity of Munich Germany.
Córdova and four other soldiers from his squad were standing by a road a short distance from their billet early one morning invoking some higher power to score them some end-of-the-war celebratory spirits. Presently, their prayers were answered with some unanticipated and astonishing results. A German army truck came slowly down the road. Rifles at the ready, Cordova and his comrades waited for its approach. There were six Germans in the truck, three in the front seat and three in the open back waving white handkerchiefs. The truck stopped and one of the soldiers alighted. He gazed at the Americans for a moment or two, and perhaps recognizing some kind of common ancestry, he directed himself at Córdova. He hugged him and began speaking to him in Spanish. Although it was not specifically established, the soldier was undoubtedly one of the remaining volunteers of the Spanish Blue Division permitted by Generalísimo Francisco Franco to serve in the German army in repayment for Hitler’s support in the Spanish Civil War.
Córdova and the Spaniard exchanged whatever polite words opposing soldiers exchange after the end of hostilities, and he quickly asked if they had wine. The Spaniard signaled to his companions, and down came a case of schnapps. But before a single cork could be popped, the Spaniard informed Córdova that there was a locked concentration camp about two kilometers up the road that had been abandoned by the German guards. The Germans were directed to move on down the road to a security roadblock, and Córdova and his friends discussed the matter. The decision was to walk the two kilometers up the road to look for the concentration camp. They found it straight-away and one of the soldiers blasted the lock and released the prisoners. Others came later to feed them and minister to their medical needs.
But the story does not end there. Some fifty-five years later, Córdova was being treated for PTSD at the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque. He related the story of the concentration camp liberation to his counselor, with an incredible outcome. Proving that we do indeed live in a small world, it turned out that the counselor, as a ten-year-old child had been an inmate in a German concentration camp in Austria in the very same area and presumably the very same camp in whose liberation Córdova had participated. The counselor confirmed Córdova’s account by stating that five American soldiers had appeared at the camp, shot the lock and freed the inmates.
As is typical of American soldiers everywhere, Córdova and his buddies-in-arms did not forget to remember to each take along a bottle of schnapps as they set off in search of the concentration camp. And once the commotion had subsided somewhat, they made a strategic retreat to a nearby woods to celebrate their two victories.
Sam Cordova is a native of Albuquerque who was raised in the South Broadway area. Catholic-educated throughout, he attended St. Francis Xavier and St. Mary’s parochial schools. He served four years in the U.S. Air Force and graduated from the College of St Joseph on the Rio Grande in 1961. Sam retired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1990 and took up carving santos and painting retablos. He displayed his work at Spanish Market from 1993 through 2003. He now makes cross and pendant necklaces, which he donates at the VA Medical center where he volunteers part of his time.