Mauthausen liberator, Temple Sholom founder Thomas Soss dies

Thomas Leonard Soss, a doctor who lived in Burlingame and liberator of the Mauthausen concentration camp, died Tuesday, March 28. He was 88.

Soss was born Oct. 22, 1917 in Spokane, Wash. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1939 and graduated with honors from Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia in 1943.

Before he went off to war, he met Marion Jaffe, who had introduced her brother to his sister nine years earlier, resulting in marriage.

During World War II, Soss served in the U.S. Army, and received the Brown Star medal from the French Army. In 1944, a letter that Jaffe wrote to him got through to him as he was in a foxhole fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. No letter from his family, even though they regularly wrote to him, had gotten through in months.

Soss read that letter in the foxhole by flashlight — which he wasn’t supposed to do — and remarked to his fellow soldier, Robert Burton, “If we get out of this thing alive, I’m going to marry that girl.”

On May 5, 1945, Soss was among those who liberated the Mauthausen concentration camp. Soss took thousands of photographs of the camp as well as its victims, both living and dead, to serve as proof of what happened there. Burton, who was married, was discharged, and took those photographs back home with him. He intended to turn them over to the U.S. Army, but as time went on, he never did.

Since Soss was unmarried, he was then assigned to work in a field hospital in Salzburg, Austria, for another year.

Soss and Jaffe were married Aug. 11, 1946.

As an ear, nose and throat specialist, Soss was affiliated with Mills Peninsula Hospital and Stanford Medical School for 42 years. He served on numerous boards and committees of local hospitals and medical organizations.

He was also a founder of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame.

In 2003, Burton passed away, and his family found the photographs Soss had taken at Mauthausen. They guessed that he never turned them over to the army because to do so would cause him to relive those horrible memories.

On Oct. 25, 2003 the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., hosted a ceremony in which members of the 26th Yankee Division were honored for liberating the concentration camps. Soss was unable to attend because he was too ill.

Rachel Gould, Soss’ granddaughter, attended the ceremony and accepted a medal from the Yankee Division on her grandfather’s behalf.

“Had Robert Burton’s son not come through with those photos, they never would have been considered liberators,” said Gould, of Long Meadow, Mass. “My grandfather never spoke about it, and was not interested in this honor, but we never would have known about this. It was amazing for me to be part of it.”

In addition to his wife, Marion, of Burlingame, Soss is survived by his son, William, of Encino; daughter Constance Gould of Long Meadow, Mass.; daughter Deborah Soss of New York City; sister Beverly Jaffe of Spokane, Wash.; two grandchildren in addition to Rachel Gould; and several nieces, nephews and cousins.

Donations can be made to Peninsula Temple Sholom, 1655 Sebastian Drive, Burlingame, CA 94010 or Mission Hospice, 151 W. 20th Ave., San Mateo, CA 94403.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."