When Jim Stumpp visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., three years ago, he got a little more out of it than the typical tourist.
“I believe I read everything that was displayed that you could possibly read,” said Stumpp, an engineer who graduated from Ohio State in 1992. “My dad had contributed to it and had done newsletters for it, so of course I was interested.”
As a self-proclaimed history buff, Stumpp had taken a specific interest in the Holocaust, mainly because of his father’s involvement as a concentration camp liberator.
Stumpp’s father, Fred Stumpp, was part of the Reconnaissance unit that liberated Mauthausen, a concentration camp in Austria and one of the largest in German-controlled Europe, Fred said.
“He was one of just 23 people that liberated that camp,” Jim said. “He was basically just doing his job.”
Growing up, Jim didn’t hear about his dad’s story until he was about 12 years old, and even then he didn’t get the whole story.
“I’ve always been interested in history, and as I got older I became more inquisitive about details,” he said. “Not until I was older and started to ask about it more did he tell me some of the more graphic details about the human suffrage, the torture and how ruthless the Germans were.”
For years, Fred couldn’t get the images out of his head from that first week in May 1945, and he didn’t like to talk about it much. Now 84, he’s much more comfortable talking about it.
Mauthausen and its neighboring camp, Gusen, were the only category three camps in Europe, meaning they were the most brutal, Fred said.
Fred was only 19 years old when he and the rest of the 11th Armored Division liberated the camp on May 5, 1945.
“My dad is probably one of the youngest of the living World War II veterans, and that’s because he was drafted when he was 18 in the second-to-last year of the war,” Jim said.
Fred saved the lives of more than 13,000 prisoners when he helped liberate Mauthausen, many of whom were scheduled to be terminated in the next two-to-three days.
“I’ve always respected my dad and looked up to him,” Jim said. “It makes me really proud.”
Early in his stint in Europe, Fred fell ill with a 105-degree fever and had to be treated at a military hospital for six days.
When his father was released from the hospital, he was told that his unit had been destroyed while he was gone.
“I felt that God was watching over him, and determined that it wasn’t his time to go,” Jim said. “I think he had more in store for him.”
Long after the war, Fred was diagnosed with throat cancer and lost the ability to swallow anything after treatment. He now has a feeding tube hooked up directly to his stomach, and hasn’t eaten anything in years.
“He has this part syringe, part funnel thing that he pours this high protein liquid drink down into his stomach,” Jim said. “He lives off that stuff.”
Jim said he would boast about his dad when he was a child and still likes to tell his story. All of Jim’s children have been told the story of their grandfather.
“We rode in there to the cheers and hollering of thousands of prisoners. It was a day I’ll never forget.” Fred said. “You’ve never seen so much joy in all your life as those prisoners.”
Stumpp’s story will conclude in Thursday’s edition of The Lantern