A stack of 200 pictures, a father tight-lipped about his experiences in World War II and a family lore about his involvement in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp peeked the curiosity of a Washington man and led to the rewriting of history and the publication of a new book.



Dr. Richard Macdonald has spent the past two years researching the part of his father’s life which the elder Macdonald tried so hard to forget. “Inside the Gates: The Nazi Concentration Camp at Ebensee, Austria” is the true account of his father’s role in the humanitarian efforts that took place there.


A stack of 200 pictures, a father tight-lipped about his experiences in World War II and a family lore about his involvement in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp peeked the curiosity of a Washington man and led to the rewriting of history and the publication of a new book.

Dr. Richard Macdonald has spent the past two years researching the part of his father’s life which the elder Macdonald tried so hard to forget. “Inside the Gates: The Nazi Concentration Camp at Ebensee, Austria” is the true account of his father’s role in the humanitarian efforts that took place there.

“When he came back from the war, he had these pictures that he had taken for himself at the camp,” said Macdonald. “But he never talked about them, and later he burned them because he was so upset about man’s inhumanity to man.”

On May 6, 1945, the Third Cavalry Group opened the gates to the Koncentrationslager (KZ) Ebensee and liberated the 16,694 labor inmates imprisoned at the camp. Lt. Col. Hugh Macdonald was a physician with the U.S. Army 139th Evacuation Hospital military, unit which, for the next three weeks, cleaned, fed and cared for the remaining survivors.

The Ebensee work camp had been built to accommodate the planning and production of the V-2 missile program run by SS Officer Wernher von Braun and had a particular notorious reputation as a death camp, according to MacDonald, who said that the camp was filled several times beyond capacity and prisoners were worked until they died.

Hugh Macdonald, who died in 1957, took many of his World War II experiences and vivid images quietly with him. To piece together the past, the younger Macdonald, an M.D. himself and now retired, began to search the Internet and public records, and even traveled to the concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria.
But what he found in World War II history books did not match the little he knew about his father’s military
tour, and the director and curator of the Ebensee Museum had only heard of the 30th Field Hospital, which had been attached to a different unit.

“The Eightieth Infantry Division was given credit for freeing the prisoners,” said Macdonald. “But they were actually 40 miles behind the tanks of the Third Cavalery Squadron. The wrong unit, not my Dad’s was given credit for the liberation of the camp.”

Macdonald traveled to Washington, D.C., to study the National Archives and Records Administration and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“When I went to the Holocaust Museum and asked to have my dad’s unit pulled up on their database, they said there were no records. Even after looking through everything they had in their library on Ebensee there was nothing,” said Macdonald.

It was in the National Archives that he finally found the affirmation he had been looking for.

“It was there that I found everything. I found top secret documents with my dad’s name on it,” said Macdonald. “That was very cool, to see such important papers with my dad’s signature.”

Out of that, the decision to write a book was born.

Macdonald has returned to Ebensee, where the original gate to the KZ still stands but a history museum has taken the place of the concentration camp. This time, he was armed with documents and pictures.

“I had so much information that they had never heard about. I have over 600 pictures now that I have gotten from people during my research,” said Macdonald. “I uploaded it all to them.”

“Inside the Gates” has gotten a lot of attention and Macdonald plans on traveling the country for speaking engagements and book signings.

“I will be going to Ohio for a fundraiser and will be meeting with my dad’s former personal clerk and a survivor of the camp,” said Macdonald. “It will be a survivor, a liberator and myself, the author of the book.
All three of us are signing the book.”

Macdonald said that the journey he has taken has been rewarding.

“It has been a real high for me, not only the process of researching and learning about my father, but also about the writing itself,” said Macdonald. “This is not a closure for me. This is a total reopening of my dad’s life that I never knew.”