Anthony Acavedo

Soldier, Medic, POW

“It was my moral obligation [document my experiences]. God gave me that ink to last." ~Anthony Acavedo, Oral History Interview with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, October 13, 2010

Born in San Bernardino, California in 1924, Anthony Acavedo's parents were Mexican immigrants who had not become U.S. citizens. Thus, they were especially vulnerable to deportation in 1937 when the U.S. government targeted Mexcian workers during the Great Depression, an estimated 60% of whom were U.S. citizens.. As a young Mexican American teenager, Acavedo found himself completing high school in Durango, Mexico, where he was deported with his parents and five siblilngs. 

Nevertheless, Acavedo devoted himself to the United States, returning for college at the age of seventeen and then joining the Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Acavedo wanted to serve as a medic, and after an expedited medical training, he was sent as corporal to Europe in the fall of 1944, serving with Company B of the 275th Infantry Regiment, 70th Infantry Division.

Almost immediately, he and his company saw combat at the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. Acavedo bravely tended to wounded soldiers amidst heavy German machine gun fire. Then, on January 6, 1945, Acavedo's unit was surrounded by German soldiers and captured near Phillipsbourg, France. They were taken prisoner and sent to Stalag IX-B, a camp for POWs and political prisoners in Bad Orb, Germany.

In defiance of the Geneva Convention, the prisoners in this camp were treated terribly, subjected to starvation rations, rape, and degridation. Throughout the ordeal, Acavedo kept his medical equipment, his Roman Catholic missal, and a diary.

In early February 1945, the situation turned from bad to worse when Acavedo was chosen, along with a group of Jewish soldiers and other "undesirables" for transport to a different camp. The men were loaded on cattle cars and sent to Berga an der Elster, a slave labor subcamp of Buchenwald concentration camp.  There, Acavedo did his best to help his fellow prisoners and kept a record of their deaths. He hid his diary in his pants and used snow and urine to keep the ink flowing in his fountain pen.  By the time they were liberated by Allied troops on April 23, 1945, half of the 350 American POWs at Berga an der Elster had died.

Initially told not to speak about their experiences, the men were recognized as POWs but not as victims of Nazi atrocities and slave laborers. It was not until 2009 that the U.S. government formally recognized what had happened to to American POWs at Berga. Acavedo began speaking about his experiences to students and became the first Mexican American to register on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Holocaust Survivors. He donated his diary, as well as other artifacts from his time at Berga, to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2010.

Eight years later, he died at a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in Loma Linda, California, where he had volunteered for many years during his retirement. Acavedo's PTSD symptoms became much more severe after he retired from a long and successful career in aerospace engineering. He is survived by his wife, Amparo Martinez, and their four children Tony, Rebeca, Fernando, and Ernesto who, along with his grandchildren and numerous others, remember Anthony as a kind man dedicated to sharing his experiences and preventing cruelty in the world.