May 12 is International Nurse’s Day!
As you may know, our Yom HaShoah program this year was themed around “The Liberators and the Liberated”. In addition to the military veterans and their children whose interviews were featured in our program, another interview took place that was not recorded–students from Avonworth High School interviewed Carol Meisinger, daughter of military nurse Marjorie Butterfield.
Marjorie was one of the first responders on the scene after concentration camps were liberated; this critical group of medical staff were essential in saving lives and rehabilitating those whose bodies had been pushed to the brink by the horrifying conditions in the camps.
The biography below was written by Christina Sahovey for our 2022 Yom HaShoah program. You can watch the program featuring the other interviews here and see the program book where this was originally featured here.
“We arrived at Gusen Concentration Camp in Austria about two weeks after the camp had been liberated. I was an army nurse, assigned to the 59th Field Hospital. The camp was surrounded by a high wall, the terrain barren, the buildings drab. Over a thousand men with shaved heads sat dejected on the ground or aimlessly milled about. They were so emaciated, they looked as if they could hardly stay alive. […] If ever patients needed to be comforted, needed tender loving care, these unfortunate souls did, but it was difficult because of the language barrier. […] I hoped that I could convey by a tender touch or the look on my face that I cared. […] All the nurses longed to see the women [camp survivors] smile, and we found how little gifts brought out those bright looks. Since we couldn’t shop in a store, we searched our belongings to give them makeup, underwear, pens, pencils, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and combs. Our patients were courageously determined to make new lives for themselves as they began to have hope now that the war was over.”
— Marjorie Butterfield, taken from “Gusen: A Nurse’s Tale” (Flares of Memory)
Marjorie Butterfield was born in Pittsburgh’s North Side in 1920. She trained as a registered nurse at Sewickley Valley Nursing School, graduating in 1941. Several months later, she heard about the Pearl Harbor attacks while listening to the radio in her room at the nurses’ home; she enlisted in the US Army in September 1942. Marjorie spent 18 months training at seven different Army camps before landing in Liverpool, England on June 6, 1944 — she heard about D-Day while still on the ship. Marjorie’s unit was attached to the 3rd Army; they landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on July 31, 1944 and staffed a field hospital, treating the most seriously wounded servicemembers. Later she was stationed in Belgium, where she cared for soldiers injured in the Battle of the Bulge. Marjorie’s unit then moved into southern Germany, then arrived in Linz, Austria in May 1945. At this time they entered the Gusen concentration camp (a subcamp of Mauthausen), where Marjorie treated the survivors upon liberation — mainly, she cared for the female survivors. Marjorie attained the rank of 1st Lieutenant by the end of the war, and later set up and staffed a hospital for the armies of the occupation troops in Czechoslovakia at the war’s conclusion.
Marjorie did not discuss what she had experienced and witnessed at Gusen for over 40 years. Later in life, she became involved with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, and was a strong supporter of Holocaust education. She stated, “after the War, I tried to suppress my awful memories of Gusen. I never talked about it when I returned home. One evening about forty years later I heard a man on television say the Holocaust never happened, that it was all false propaganda. I became very angry and knew it was time to speak up. In the next day’s newspaper I read about a man from the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh who asked anybody who had any information about concentration camps to get in touch with him. I called right away and have been involved with their programs ever since.”
A long-time resident of the North Hills of Pittsburgh, Marjorie was active in her church, Riverview United Presbyterian, where she taught Sunday school for 50 years. Professionally, she worked as a school nurse in the Shaler Area School District, the career from which she retired after 21 years. Marjorie was married to James Butterfield. She had one daughter and a grandson. Marjorie passed away in Pittsburgh on October 26, 2006.
Marjorie participated in the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s original publication Flares of Memory; you can read her recollections in her piece “Gusen: A Nurse’s Tale”.