STRASBURG: The large binder of World War II photos has rarely been shared over the years.
The binder is full of pictures taken or found by John Cline. One page has pictures he took of survivors of the Holocaust.
Other than family members or soldiers who served with Cline, the 20 small black-and-white photos of emaciated prisoners, some on the ground, some dead, some standing in a line naked, have never been seen by the public until now.
“You can’t keep things hidden like this,” said Al Cline, the son of the combat medic.
The photos his father took of survivors of the Ebensee concentration camp in Austria are dated May 10, 1945 — 68 years ago today.
John Cline told his son that he was at Ebensee for three days before moving out with the 80th Infantry Division.
“He took the pictures with a German camera he borrowed and never returned,” said Al Cline, 63.
His father died at the age of 88 in 2000.
The liberation of the concentration camp occurred May 6, 1945, said Peter Black, senior historian of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Black said 27,000 prisoners went through the camp over the span of about 18 months. Some 8,200 died, including 3,110 Jewish prisoners.
The camp was also home to large groups of political prisoners and captured Soviet soldiers.
Black said 4,800 of the deaths at the camp occurred in March and April 1945.
The website www.jewishgen.org reports the camp provided slave labor for the construction of underground tunnels in which armament works were to be housed.
John Cline, whose grandfather came to America from Germany in the mid-19th century, understood some German because it was still spoken from time to time in his house when he was growing up in Coshocton County, his son said.
He was 30 years old when he was drafted into the Army and became an infantry combat medic with Company B, 305th Medical Battalion, 80th Infantry Division.
He served in Europe from mid summer of 1944 until the end of the war, never carrying a weapon, but wearing a helmet and armband inscribed with a red cross.
He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery when he led a four-man “litter team” that carried stretchers to evacuate wounded soldiers. He climbed down into two burning tanks and helped “stunned and wounded crews” get out to safety.
One time, John Cline administered morphine to a mortally wounded combat medic who had been hit by shrapnel.
Al Cline said his father “held [the soldier] until his suffering was over because he did not want his friend to die alone.”
The small black and white prints show the effects of time — some have spots on them.
When he arrived at the former concentration camp, most of the German guards had already left. The former prisoners, Al Cline said his father recounted “were just wandering around.”
“The people didn’t leave, even though the gates were opened, because they didn’t have the strength to get out,” Al Cline said.
He recalled his father saying, “You just bumped them with your elbow and they would fall right over.”
His father rarely spoke of the war but told his son “conditions were so bad he could not put it into words.”
As a combat medic, Al Cline said, his father likely was not paid as much as infantry soldiers.
His understanding from reading history books, including those about the war by the late author and historian Stephen Ambrose, was that in many cases, the infantrymen chipped in money so that the combat medics made as much as those soldiers who carried weapons.
Al Cline wept as he retold his father’s story at the Garver House Bed & Breakfast he and his wife Natalie operate in Strasburg Village in Tuscarawas County.
When John Cline returned home from the war in the late summer of 1945, he found out his mother, Catherine Cline, had died three months earlier.
“He was always upset by that,” Al Cline said.
John Cline worked as a dairy farmer in southern Stark County on a farm on state Route 212 in Bethlehem Township and had as many as 110 dairy cows. He suffered frostbitten feet in the war and suffered from lingering pain the rest of his life.
He never sought a VA disability for his feet, his son said, because he “didn’t want to take a handout.”
John Cline said his dad worked to put the war behind him and channeled his energy into the farm.
“He said some people can find peace in a church but [he found] peace walking through a field of wheat on a sunny day and seeing the amber waves of grain.”
Al Cline, who works as a nurse part time at Mercy Medical Center in Canton, said he decided to share the photographs to make sure his father’s story is not forgotten.
“I think dad’s story needs to be told,” he said.
Judith Cohen, director of the photograph reference collection at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said soldiers and eyewitnesses were encouraged to take photographs to document what they saw and to share them for future generations.
Cohen said the photos by Cline and others are all significant “irrespective of their uniqueness. The important thing is it was part of the incredible effort to document the crimes so there is a paper trail so that people knew what happened.”
Cohen said Cline’s pictures are of excellent quality. One of his pictures shows a sign that reads, “Welcome to our Liberators.” It is similar to one already in the museum’s collection, but Cline’s photo was taken at a different location.
“There are many other photos of the starving, half-naked survivors but these photos continue to shock no matter how many similar ones you see,” she said.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.