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Albert J. Adams oral history interview

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Material Information

Title:
Albert J. Adams oral history interview
Series Title:
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
Uniform Title:
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects
Physical Description:
1 sound file (48 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;
Language:
English
Creator:
Adams, Albert J., 1923-
Hirsh, Michael, 1943-
University of South Florida Libraries -- Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center
University of South Florida -- Library. -- Special & Digital Collections. -- Oral History Program
Publisher:
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
Publication Date:

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Concentration camps -- History -- Austria   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Concentration camps -- Austria   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Concentration camps -- Liberation   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Atrocities   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Veterans -- United States   ( lcsh )
Veterans -- Interviews -- United States   ( lcsh )
Genocide   ( lcsh )
Crimes against humanity   ( lcsh )
Genre:
Oral history   ( local )
Online audio   ( local )
Oral history.   ( local )
Online audio.   ( local )
interview   ( marcgt )

Notes

Summary:
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Albert J. Adams. Adams was a member of the 11th Armored Division when it liberated Mauthausen-Gusen on May 5, 1945. Arriving in Europe in late 1944, the division progressed through France, Belgium, Germany, and Austria during the Battle of the Bulge and the Central Europe Campaign. Adams describes his experiences leading up to their arrival at Mauthausen, which they learned about from other American soldiers. One of the camp's prisoners approached him and asked, in English, to borrow his carbine, which he allowed. This prisoner then took Adams on a complete tour of the camp, showing him the buses, quarry, and other things. Adams and his division remained in Mauthausen until the war ended.
Venue:
Interview conducted July 18, 2008.
Preferred Citation:
The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust (New York: Bantam Books, 2010) and Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project, University of South Florida Libraries, ©2010 Michael Hirsh.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
General Note:
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsch (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 021795099
oclc - 586113221
usfldc doi - C65-00002
usfldc handle - c65.2
System ID:
SFS0022064:00001


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text Michael Hirsh: coming out of the blue that someone calls and asks you about World War II.
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Albert Adams: Well, you know, its kind of interesting now. Oh, golly. A month and a half, two months ago, they paid me to go back to Bradley University and tell them about my experiences at Mauthausen. And then they have like forty students over there right now.
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MH: In Mauthausen?
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AA: Yeah, yeah. Actually, I think they went to Vienna, but basically after, Mauthausen.
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MH: Your full name is Albert J. Adams, A-d-a-m-s?
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AA: Yup.
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MH: And youre at
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AA: Yup.
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MH: Phone number isWhen were you born?
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AA: 9-1-23 [September 1, 1923].
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MH: Which makes you how old today?
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AA: Eighty-four.
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MH: Eighty-four.  And you were with the Headquarters Company 21st Armored Infantry Battalion, 11th Armored Division at Gusen and Mauthausen. So, tell me a little bit about what you were doing before the Army.
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AA: Before I went in the service? I was working at the shipyards, anda little sidelight: I love to hunt deer, so I told my boss, Im gonna go deer hunting, in 1942, and he said, Okay. Well, they postponed the season for, oh, a month or so to get the apples and stuff in, so I told him, I cant go when I wanted to go; I gotta go in November now, and he said, No, you go when you scheduled, and thats it. And I said, Well, Im still gonna go (laughs) and hunt deer. And he said, Well, if you do that, youre going to lose your deferment; youll be drafted. And I said, Well, thats the way it is; I love to hunt. (laughs) I went hunting and got drafted.
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MH: Did you get a deer?
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AA: Oh, yeah, a nice deer.
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MH: So, you got a nice deer, and then you got drafted. Okay. Whered they send you?
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AA: Started out in basic training at Camp White down in Medford, Oregon. (coughs) Excuse me. Partway through basic, they came around with a test, which I passed, and they sent me then to ASTP [Army Specialized Training Program], first at Stanford [University] and then Santa Clara [University] for a year. And the plan was that we would spend two years engineering stuff and come out of there as engineering officers. Well, at the end of the year, they found that they needed foot soldiers worse, so they closed the program down and sent me down to Camp Cooke.
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MH: Let me ask you, when did you go into the service?
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AA: March forty-three [1943].
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MH: March of forty-three [1943], okay. So, you go into ASTP, and a year later, they say, Sorry, that plan is no longer working, and now they send you where?
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AA: Camp Cooke, 11th Armored.
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MH: Okay. And what happens there?
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AA: We were there just a very short time. We had enough time to qualify on the various armaments and things. I was a sharpshooter with, I guess, three weapons, and a marksman with three others.
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MH: What weapons were you a sharpshooter in?
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AA: Well, the Garand, and the M1thats the M1 carbine, and what the heck was the other one? Oh, a light machine gun.
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MH: Okay. And you were not part of a tank crew, right?
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AA: No.
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MH: No, okay.  Tell me, what is an armored infantry battalion?
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AA: Well, like our outfit, the 21st, we had tanks, half-tracks, jeeps, machine guns, mortars, that type thing, and I was in what they call the recon [reconnaissance] as a lead scout. And we were the people that led the attack. (laughs) We were to find out where the Germans were and lead the first people in, et cetera.
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MH: How long are you down at Camp Cooke?
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AA: I think it was only two or three months.
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MH: Then what happens?
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AA: We went tolets see. We went to New Jersey for about a week, and then we got on a big old boat and went to England.
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MH: This is forty-four [1944] already?
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AA: That would beno, thats forty-three [1943], isnt it? Lets see. Yeah, youre right. Im sorry, forty-four [1944].
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MH: Okay, and its toward the end of 1944?
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AA: Yeah. What happenedwe were supposed to go over to France, and they sent all our clothing and everything else into France and put us in England.
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MH: Sounds like the Army I know and love.
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AA: Yeah. (laughs) So, for about a week, we didnt have a darned thing. I got a pass to London. Well, I didnt have any dresses [dress uniforms] to wear. I had to wear fatigues, and I got picked up for being out of uniform. (laughs) We were up in what they call the Salisbury Plain, and there was a big kind of gully behind our camp that was just full of rabbits. So I made up some snares out of wire and snared some rabbits, and we cooked those up, and that was our food. (laughs)
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Then we went over to France, a place called Brais-Saint-Nazaire on the west coast of France. The Germans had submarine pens, and we set up outside and were prepared to go in and see if we could capture the suckers, and the boats broke. Oh, you know [George S.] Pattonhave you ever seen the Patton movie?
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MH: Yes.
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AA: Well, he told [Dwight D.] Eisenhower, I can have four divisions attacking from the south in forty-eight hours. And Eisenhower said, Thats absolutely impossible. He wasnt aware that Patton had really worked on the plans ahead of time.
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MH: But Eisenhower was also giving the gas to [Bernard Law] Montgomery, wasnt he?
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AA: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
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MH: And shortchanging Patton.
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AA: Yup, exactly. That was earlier, though, when they were going across France and Germany and that area more. Anyway, we were one of the four divisions from the west coast of France to action the Bulge in two days.
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MH: Which means youre driving your jeeps, trucks, your tanks, and your half-tracks straight through.
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AA: Right through, right through, day and night, yeah. I think we had a half-hour, hours stop now and then. But basically, it was around-the-clock hopping, getting in there. Then they told usthey said, Were going to attack in the morning. We want to know where the Germans are. So the lieutenant in charge of our group got me and two other guys, he said, Were going to go out and find the Germans, and if were not back by two am, report us missing in action. Well either all be killed or captured by then. (laughs) Well, of course, bright, moonlit nights, snow, you could see us a mile away, but we found the Germans and didnt get captured or anything.
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So, the next morning, we attacked based on where they were. Well, the son of a guns cheated; they moved up during the night. And so, there was kind of high ground, railroad tracks on high ground, and then it went down, S-curved down into a little town. We were leading of course, so we got into that little town, and here the Germans were sitting out there with their 88s blasting at the people up on the high ground. And Ill tell you something, it bothers me yet.
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They went 300 yards away, and we were behind a big pile of dirt where they, I guess, put potatoes up for the winter. I got my M1, and I said, Im gonna nail that guy on that gun, and the sergeant said, No, no, dont shoot at him. I said, Sarge, I can take him between the eyes, and he said, Well, no. And I said, God, how about a mortar? No. How about the big machine gun, the .50? No. The little machine gun? No. And I said, Well, what? and he said, Nothing, nothing. Theyre not shooting at us, theyre shooting at them. Well, them is us, (laughs) you know? I dont know how many people got killed because he wouldnt let me shoot that guy. I couldnt believe it.
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Anyway, they cleared the road and told us to get the hell out of there. I was on the half-track, and we went up on the railroad track, and I knew we were safe, and I said, Its kind of funny they didnt shoot at us. And the guy said, Whatre you talking about? The shell hit right behind the half-track and got the jeep that was following. (laughs)
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MH: Was your hearing impaired at that point?
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AA: No.
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MH: And he took the leg right off the guy that was in the jeep, and everybody said, Oh, you lucky so-and-so, thats a million dollar wound. (laughs) You get to go home, you dont have to fight anymore, and youll be on disability. (laughs)
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MH: Yeah.
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AA: But anyway, we were getting ready to attack a little town a few days later. We were sitting out there watching it, and the Germans were walking in and out of this house 400 yards away, probably. I got some tracer bullets and sighted my M1 in for the distance, and they didnt go in and out anymore after that, alone. When the attack started, they dropped a shell right behind my half-track, and a piece of shrapnelI had my gun leaning up against the ring mount, and my canteen belt over the ring mount, so this shrapnel took the wood off of the rifle, bent the barrel, took the bottom out of the canteen cup, and it hit me in the elbow. Well, by that time, it didnt have much power left, you know, so I said, Whats that? and I looked around and found a piece of shrapnel there and picked it up, and it burned me. That hurt worse than the elbow hit. (laughs)
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Another one, a couple days later, we were getting ready to attack again, and I did artilleryI meanyeah, artillery spotting. I had a scope, and they told me, Go over there. There was thirteen tanks; they had all had been shot and put on fire, like twelve in one spot and one by itself.
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MH: American tanks or German tanks?
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AA: American tank. So, they said, Go over to that one tank with a bazooka. Well, I knew what I was going to do with that bazooka if a Tiger tank came around. Anyway, I got in the tank and got out the sighting scope, looking around. All of a sudden, there was a snap right beside my ear. Well, if a rifle bullet goes near you, it snaps. So, I looked around to see what the heck, and on the down slope behind me, this 88 shell skipped down there like throwing a rock in water. It didnt explode, it just skipped on the rocks, on the snow. And I thought, Well, somebody doesnt like me looking at him with that scope. (laughs)
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MH: They were trying to take you out with an 88?
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AA: With an 88, uh-huh, and they just missed my head. If itd gone a little lower, itd got me or the tank or killed me or anything. So, I got out of the tank real quick and got down behind itI figured it had a little bit more metal that wayand they only took the one shot. It was funny.
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MH: Were you with the 11th Armored that found the guys who had been in the Berga slave labor camp?
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AA: Well, we were the 11th Armored going down, I think through Poland and Czechoslovakia and on and on, but we saw a couple of camps.
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MH: Do you ever recall seeingyou know, these guys were onessentially, they were being death marched out of Berga. They were American prisoners, and it was people from the 11th Armored on April 23 that found them on the road. That doesnt ring a bell?
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AA: It doesnt ring a bell. It was a little later than that. This campprisoners were coming out, and we gave them all the food we could possibly give them, and we killed them.
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MH: Which camp was that?
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AA: I dont know.
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MH: Okay. Tell me about that experience.
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AA: They were walking up the road, and so we gave them all the food we had, you know.
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MH: What did they look like?
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AA: Oh, they were just skin and bones. Death warmed over, we called them. They were right beside my half-track. They had a bicycle, and they knocked the guy down and beat him on a bicycle until they killed him, and it turned out hed been one of the guards in the camp.
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MH: Did you see that?
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AA: Yeah I saw it. It was right beside my half-track.
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MH: Thats where they found the guy on the bike?
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AA: I dont know if the guard was on the bike. When I saw it, the prisoners had the bike and were beating him. Knocked him down and were beating on him with that bicycle.
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MH: Did they tell you who it was?
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AA: No.
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MH: How was he dressed?
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AA: He was dressed like the rest of them, pretty much. And I think whatsomebody down at Mauthausen might tie in here, now.
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MH: How farwhere did that happen in relation to Mauthausen?
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AA: I would say just a few days.
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MH: A few days before.
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AA: Probably late Aprillets see.
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MH: Because according to this, you guys got to Mauthausen on May 5.
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AA: Yeah, May the 5th, exactly.
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MH: You got to Gusen on May 5, and Mauthausen on May 6.
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AA: Yup. I was there. Ive got a picture of me standing outside the main gate at Mauthausen and everything.
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MH: I would love to get a copy of that to use.
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AA: First thing we did, [there were] several really good-looking young ladies, and they wanted to go out, and I said, I dont see why not. So, I let them out, and then someone said, No, no, dont let anybody out. Of course, theyd already gone out.
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MH: Wait a second, though. Youre coming down the road, and what was the first thing you saw that told you there was a camp there?
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AA: At Mauthausen?
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MH: Yeah. Was it Gusen first, and then Mauthausen?
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AA: No, I think we went to Mauthausen first.
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MH: Did anybody
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AA: The fellows from theoh, God, what is their number?54th something Battalion were the very first ones there, and then we come up and they informed us that, you know, it was a camp and everything.
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MH: Did you know anything about these camps before that point?
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AA: Nope.
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MH: Nobody had ever told you about them.
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AA: No.
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MH: So, they tell you theres a camp.
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AA: Yeah. So, I go in, and like I say, these ladies that I let out, I found out later they wereoh, whatd you call them?comfort ladies, for the German soldiers. They were young and well fed and well dressed, you know, and everything. They had the barracks right inside the gate, first gate. Anyway, this fellow came up to me; he spoke very good English. I still dont know who he was or what he was. He said, Can I borrow your carbine for a little while?
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MH: Who is this asking for this?
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AA: One of the prisoners. He spoke perfect English, thats all I can tell you. So, he said, Can I borrow your carbine? and I said, Well, what the hell, why not? So, I could hear some shots, and he came back and gave me the gun back. He said, Well, now theres several of them that you wont have to take to court, and I said, Several what? and he said, Kapos. And I said, Whats a kapo? They were prisoners in charge of barracks. Like that one that got killed that day, probably, you know.
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MH: Do you know the guy you lent the carbine to?
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AA: I have no idea. He took me on a complete tour of the camp then.
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MH: Okay. But youre stopped outside the camp, outside the main gate?
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AA: This was inside the main gate.
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MH: So, youd gone inside the gate. The German soldiers had left already.
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AA: Yup.
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MH: You get off your half-track, and justwhat kind of day was it? What kind of weather was it?
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AA: Oh, boy. It was not raining, (laughs) because I didnt have any rain gear on. It was fairly nice weather.
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MH: And thats when this guy comes up to you and in perfect English asks if he could use your carbine.
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AA: Yeah.
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MH: You didnt ask him what he was going to do with it.
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AA: I did not.
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MH: Youre a very trusting soul.
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AA: (laughs) I figured he had a good use for it.
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MH: So, he brings the carbine back, and now what?
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AA: He takes me on a complete tour of everything.
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MH: Tell me as much about it as you can.
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AA: Okay, the very first thing he showed me was buses thatapparently they were signed in at Gusen and transferred to Mauthausen for finalto get rid of them, okay. All these buses had an enclosed thing for the driver, airtight. The exhaust gases were back into the bus, and they killed the majority of the people getting from Gusen to Mauthausen.
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MH: What did the buses look like?
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AA: I dont know.
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MH: I mean, did they look like buses or did they look like trucks?
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AA: Yeah, buses.
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MH: Buses.
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AA: They were buses.
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MH: Seats inside, or you couldnt see?
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AA: Like a bus, (laughs) just a bus. Probably hold forty, fifty people.
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MH: With windows?
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AA: Yeah, windows. They probably had the windows sealed, though, because they were gassing them. And then the next thing he showed me was the gas shower. It was a shower room that held several hundred people, and the showerheads didnt put out water; they put out gas. So, they would eliminate that group of people that way.
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MH: Were there bodies lying around?
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AA: There was thousands of them, thousands of them. Yeah.
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MH: Seriously.
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AA: Really. And what they did laterI was still there. They came in with bulldozers and dug some huge ditchestrenches, whateverand they got the people out of Mauthausen, made them dress in their Sunday best clothing, and come over and throw the bodies in the hole.
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MH: The German civilians?
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AA: Uh-huh. And, of course, they all tried to claim they didnt know anything about it, which was an absolute lie, because a lot of them worked at the camp, even.
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MH: It had to smell terrible, too.
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AA: Oh, you had to, you had to. Yeah. Of course, the ovens where they cremated them were still smoking hot when I went in. Theyd probably used them the day before, at least.
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MH: Were there still bodies in them? You could see bones in them?
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AA: There were bones, not bodies. Yeah.
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MH: How do you react to all this?
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AA: Well, I dont know what to say. You know, I couldnt believe that anybody could do that to somebody else. I just couldnt believe it.
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MH: And the Army had not prepared you for this in any way.
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AA: No. Oh, some funny little sidelights, like these bodies that were just huge piles of them there. Some of the ladies had starved to death, and they probably were down to forty, fifty pounds, or whatever. They still had fairly good-sized breasts, though. And I would think thatd be one of the first things that would go.
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MH: I would think so.
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AA: But it wasnt. They still had breasts.
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Then he took me over to the quarry. They hadI think it was around 180 steps to the top of it. And Ive seen pictureswhen was it, [Omar] Bradley. People weretheyd get them on a forty-pound rock, carry it up to the top, and then throw it over. Go walk back down, pick that rock up, and go up and throw it over. All day long. But the people were solid going up those steps, just one mass of humanity carrying rocks up that thing. And then partway up, there was awhat the hell did they call that damn thing? It was a cliff, and if the Germans didnt like the look of someone, theyd shove them over the side.
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MH: This is what this guy whos taking you around is telling you.
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AA: Yeah.
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MH: Do you remember his name?
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AA: No. I never asked his name, I never asked his nationality.
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MH: Did he speak English with an accent?
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AA: No, he spoke perfect English.
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MH: Really?
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AA: He mightve been an American or an Englishman, you know, or something.
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MH: What elsethen whats next? He shows you the quarry.
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AA: Well, he showed me where they tortured them, where they would hang them, hang them up and beat them. Oh, they had a place wherewhat the heck would you call that? Medical experiments. They had a room in there where theydhe showed me the table where theyd lay them on and cut them apart and stuff, you know. And what else?
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MH: What was it like walking through a place like that?
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AA: Well, Id seen so darn much, things during the war, that it didnt bother me that much, frankly. We kept the prisoners in there for probably two weeks [that] I was there, I think, and if they tried to climb out, Id beat on their hands with a rifle butt and knock them back down inside, because we wereit was for their own benefit. We were trying to bring them back to life gradually.
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MH: So, you were there when the Army brought in doctors and medical people and they brought in food and that sort of thing for them?
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AA: Oh, sure. Yeah, that was right offprobably the second day or something, even.
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MH: Did they warn you not to try and feed them because you could kill them?
164
00:25:19.1
AA: Well, we were told to make sure they stayed in the camp. They were not allowed to go out or climb the fence, like they tried to.
165
00:25:32.0
MH: So, you actually stayed at that one camp for a couple weeks.
166
00:25:35.8
AA: Yeah, we lived in the town of Mauthausen.
167
00:25:38.0
MH: Where did you live?
168
00:25:39.7
AA: In a house.
169
00:25:41.2
MH: Would you throw the Germans out?
170
00:25:43.6
AA: No, all I remember was it was a house, a two-story home. Thats all I can remember about that. We hadwell, a funny thing. Over at a place called Gemnden, wasnt that far away, there was a camp over there also. But they hadthey were trying to breed a race of super Germans, okay. Theyd take the best-looking blonde girls and the best-looking husky brawn soldiers, whatever, and breed them, and they had a love camp over in (inaudible). I saw that. They had all these girls over there; once they got pregnant they had to go over there. And they also had a brewery over there, and wed go over about every third day and get a truckful of beer.
171
00:26:37.2
MH: So, the brewery was continuing to operate during the war.
172
00:26:41.3
AA: Uh-huh. It was operating when we got there.
173
00:26:46.6
MH: Did you go into this love camp?
174
00:26:48.0
AA: Im sorry?
175
00:26:49.4
MH: Did you go into this love camp?
176
00:26:51.1
AA: Yes, I did.
177
00:26:53.5
MH: Whatd you see there?
178
00:26:54.6
AA: We saw a bunch of good-looking girls that were pregnant. (laughs) I understand there was a concentration camp over there also, but I didnt see it.
179
00:27:5.2
MH: You didnt see it. Tell me more about Gusen or Mauthausen.
180
00:27:8.3
AA: What about, now?
181
00:27:13.4
MH: Just tell anything else you can tell me about it. Did they bring in an evac [evacuation] hospital with nurses, American nurses?
182
00:27:21.3
AA: I dont know. I dont know that.
183
00:27:24.9
MH: Im surprised that they let youwell, actually, thats right near the end of the war, so Im not surprised they would let you stay there for two weeks, cause the war ended a couple days later. Were you in the camp when the war ended?
184
00:27:37.0
AA: Yup.
185
00:27:38.6
MH: Do you remember that moment?
186
00:27:40.0
AA: Yup.
187
00:27:42.0
MH: Howd you get the news?
188
00:27:43.2
AA: (laughs) Somebody come around and sayswell, we were told at least a day ahead it was going to end, so we knew that. I had a funny thing, not quite concerning Mauthausen, but almost. We were heading towards Vienna, went to a town called Linz, Austria. And the Russians were not that far down below us, so the Germans were all heading out to try and get away from the Russians. Another fellow and II think it was about three days before the war endedwe took 36,000 prisoners in one day.
189
00:28:26.4
MH: How do you even count that high?
190
00:28:29.1
AA: (laughs) Thats what I was told, how many we had. Theyd come up there and we said, Put your guns over there in this pile, and somebodyd come by and haul them away. I brought two of their guns home and Ive still got a beautiful .22 that I got there, a Mauser .22 sniping rifle. But anyway, the weird story: This lady that retired from the same company I did, I got talking to her, and she was German. She said, Well, I was in the German army. I was coming toward Linz and there was a roadblock there. Everyone was surrendering, so I swam across the Danube River and went around the roadblock. (laughs) I almost her took prisoner. Isnt that funny?
191
00:29:22.0
MH: Go back to Mauthausen for a minute. Were you involved in having to get the German citizens to come out and help bury people?
192
00:29:31.4
AA: No, no, I just saw it happen.
193
00:29:34.0
MH: What are you seeing? I mean, are they protesting? Whats going on?
194
00:29:38.6
AA: Well, they acted like it was just a shock to them, you know, but they didnt try to fight it or anything. They just grabbed them and threw them in the ditch.
195
00:29:53.8
MH: How long did that take? It mustve been what, days?
196
00:30:1.4
AA: Yeah. Well, lets see, how long was it? Oh, golly. I think it was only one day.
197
00:30:11.9
MH: One day, to get all those bodies buried?
198
00:30:14.4
AA: Yeah. There was 3,000 or 4,000 bodies, but there were an awful lot of people throwing them in, too.
199
00:30:20.1
MH: Was there anybody protesting the fact that they were just tossing them and not being more respectful?
200
00:30:27.6
AA: Not that Im aware of.
201
00:30:30.3
MH: How did being at that camp and seeing death on that scale affect you?
202
00:30:40.7
AA: Like I say, I was pretty inured to that kind of stuff, frankly. I dont know if youoh, boy, lets see. Whats the name of that place in Belgium where they massacred 200 Americans?
203
00:31:5.7
MH: Malmdy.
204
00:31:6.3
AA: Malmdy Massacre. Okay. Well, one of the fellows that got massacred had a brother in my outfit. So, after that massacre, word came around: Absolutely no prisoners. None. These Germans would come up waving a white flag, their arms in the air, and wed shoot them. (laughs) We wouldnt take them prisoner.
205
00:31:32.2
MH: You said the word came outthat was, Im sure, unofficial.
206
00:31:35.8
AA: It was unofficial, but it went around. And then, after a while, we discovered we were better off to take prisoners. One day, we had a truck completely full of German prisoners, probably forty or fifty in the back of that truck, a big truckload. This one guy said, I am so glad that you took me prisoner. Now I wont have to be shot at, I wont get out and lay in the snow. Ill be fed good food. Ill be sent to the United States of America and go to school and become a doctor. (laughs) So, that was the thing
207
00:32:20.2
MH: He said that to you in English?
208
00:32:21.6
AA: Yeah, very good English. So, the thing was that they had that kind of thing to look forward to, they were happier to surrender than they were to fight. So, thats why we said, Hey, this take no prisoners stuff aint no good. (laughs)
209
00:32:39.4
MH: Nobody said it really violates all the rules of warfare to be shooting people who are holding white flags.
210
00:32:46.6
AA: We captured an SS officer; I think it was a major. So, this fellow thathis brotherd been killed, you know. He put the guy on the front of our half-track, and then he took like a bat or whatever and beat the guys shoes, just beat them. Well, that really hurts, because the feet swell up inside the boots. And so, hed sit there all day; in case we got shot at, he was going to get shot first.
211
00:33:20.8
MH: You mean he tied him to the front of the half-track?
212
00:33:22.2
AA: Pardon me?
213
00:33:22.8
MH: He tied him to the front of the half-track?
214
00:33:24.4
AA: He just sat him up on the motor. Then when we stopped for the night, hed take him off there and beat him unconscious, every night. He finally killed him, but it took him about a week. But every time hed hit him with something, hed say, Thats for my brother! (laughs) That was something else.
215
00:33:24.4
MH: War is an ugly thing.
216
00:33:54.0
AA: Yup, exactly.
217
00:33:55.3
MH: When did you finally come home?
218
00:33:58.5
AA: I came home in December of forty-five [1945].
219
00:34:2.9
MH: So, you had some occupation duty, then.
220
00:34:7.2
AA: I got out of the service in early January forty-six [1946].
221
00:34:10.2
MH: And did what?
222
00:34:11.9
AA: Went to college.
223
00:34:13.9
MH: Whereabouts?
224
00:34:15.2
AA: Ended up at the University of Washington.
225
00:34:17.8
MH: Majoring in?
226
00:34:19.2
AA: Engineering. I could transfer all the stuff I had at Santa Clara, so I got out in three years that way.
227
00:34:29.2
MH: Then whatd you do?
228
00:34:30.9
AA: Well, I spent a few years going up and down the West Coast building wood fire boilers, then I went to work for the power company running a steam plant, and then later on, I became the manager of the hydroplants. Thats when I retired. I was the manager of all the hydroplants.
229
00:34:56.8
MH: Which hydroplants?
230
00:34:57.5
AA: White River, Electrons, Snoqualmie, (inaudible) River, and Nooksack.
231
00:35:4.0
MH: These are dams on those rivers?
232
00:35:6.2
AA: Yeah, dams on each one. Then I was also a contact to some of the dams on the Columbia River. We had part interest in some of those dams.
233
00:35:19.4
MH: I see. When did you get married?
234
00:35:22.3
AA: I got married in December of forty-six [1946].
235
00:35:26.3
MH: Children?
236
00:35:27.4
AA: Five.
237
00:35:28.6
MH: Grandchildren?
238
00:35:29.6
AA: Thirteen.
239
00:35:31.3
MH: Thirteen. At what point did you tell your wife or children about what youd seen in the war?
240
00:35:36.4
AA: (laughs) I dont think I have.
241
00:35:40.1
MH: Seriously? Youve never told your wife about Mauthausen?
242
00:35:44.7
AA: No. I told her about a few of those other incidents I mentioned. I got a Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, American Theatre of Operations medal, a European Theatre with three battle stars.
243
00:36:8.9
MH: Ive read the citation for your Silver Star. That had to be an interesting evening.
244
00:36:15.9
AA: Yeah, I guess I can talk about it a little bit. We were approaching the Siegfried Line. Being a recon, we had to go first again, so they said, Well, we want a patrol. Go over in the valley with those Americans over there and make contact. Okay. So, we started out. The littlest guy in the outfit had a radio, and those suckers weighed about sixty pounds.
245
00:36:49.4
MH: Those are the big square things you carry on your back?
246
00:36:54.6
AA: Yeah. So I told this guy, Youre too damned little; let me have that, so I ended up with the radio. And the major said, You got enough weight. You can leave your rifle. Theres no Germans. Well, he was wrong. We were going up this road, and theres a pillbox, and it looked like a German was standing outside the pillbox. So, we hollered at him to surrender. He went back inside the box. We dropped over the hill where he couldnt see us and called back, and the guy said, Well, thats probably the only bunch; keep going.
247
00:37:32.6
So, now, were going along and approach a spot where there was barbed wire and woods and everything, and a German came up with a machine gun, probably thirty, forty feet away. Well, my other lead scout fell down and laid his rifle on the barbed wire and just reached up and pulled the trigger. The guy never shot us. Like I say, I never could figure out if my friend hit him or scared him or what, but he didnt shoot. Meanwhile, theres another pillbox up on a hill to our left; they started shooting at us. So, I got down in a little hole; I could get part of me in it, and the (inaudible) would straddle my body. Itd be on either side of me and go up a ways and come back and straddle my body again. They killed my friend about five feet above me.
248
00:38:31.2
So, I got on the radio and called artillery. First shell hit about fifteen yards to the left, the second shot about five yards right. I said, Five yards left. Fire for effect, and they dropped five guns right on that machine gun. (laughs) You could see it go up in the air. I couldnt believe it. So, then they said, Come on back.
249
00:38:57.4
We forgot about that first guy, though, and we walked up toward the road like and he started shooting with a machine gun. There were some little piles where they had threshed wheat in the fall; they werent that big, but I went down behind them, anyway. Oh, and one of them picked up my friends rifle, because I didnt have one. So, I tried to shoot this guy that was shooting at me, and the gun wouldnt work. It had a broken firing pin in it. (laughs) I couldve probably got him. Anyway, I turned around and put my butt to him, and he would go down either side of my body. That little piece of pile of stuff or whatever it was distracted him enough. He went on either side of me. So I called artillery again and got smoke shells in, and then we all got out.
250
00:39:58.0
About ten years ago, we had a reunion. This little guy said, Do you remember me?  I said, Nope. He said, Im the guy you took the radio away from. (laughs) I couldnt believe it. And he said, I was the only guy in the outfit that didnt get wounded. I visited him down in Texas this year, matter of fact. He lives up near Dallas, and I have two brothers in San Antonio, so I go down and borrow one of their cars and go visit this guy for a while. (laughs) Kind of interesting.
251
00:40:42.4
MH: The citation says you actually went back to get somebody who was missing?
252
00:40:46.9
AA: Yeah. What happened was, the firstwell, the second guy. I was walking along, I had the radio and was talking on it, and he shot and just grazed my neck and went through my left arm, left bicep or tricep, whatever. So, yeah, the captain said, Are you sure your friend is dead? and I said, Yes, Im sure hes dead. He said, Well, would you volunteer to wait until dark, go in there and recover the body? and I said, What the hell, why not?
253
00:41:21.2
So, three of us went in to return the body. It was another bright moonlit night, and we got up probably fifty yards from the body, and this machine gun opened up on us. And its kind of a thrill, looking down the barrel of a machine gun that close at night, Ill tell you. (laughs) Well, they got one of the two guys, they got him, but they missed me again. So, the next day, they went back in with the tanks and everything, and the Germans just all surrendered, didnt even try to fight. And they got the body then.
254
00:42:1.4
So, then they wrote me upfunny, they wrote me up for a Bronze Star. That was returned and said, No, thats more than a Bronze, so they wrote it up for a Distinguished Service Cross, and they wrote back and said, Its not quite that good. (both laugh) So, I wound up with a Silver Star.
255
00:42:23.0
MH: Yeah. Im curious, are you a religious person?
256
00:42:32.3
AA: Nope.
257
00:42:33.2
MH: So, what you saw during the war, especially at the camps, wouldnt have affected the way you felt about faith and God and that sort of thing?
258
00:42:42.7
AA: No, not really.
259
00:42:45.2
MH: Have you talked to your kids about what you saw?
260
00:42:50.4
AA: Nope.
261
00:42:52.5
MH: Nope? Okay. What happened when you went to Bradley University?
262
00:42:59.4
AA: You know, that was fun. We had a noon get-together with the faculty, and then we had an open session for everybody in town and so forth to come.
263
00:43:14.1
MH: You said we; is there more than you?
264
00:43:15.8
AA: No, just me. And then after that, I met with the students that were going to Mauthausen.
265
00:43:24.2
MH: How did Bradley Universitythats in Iowa, right?
266
00:43:27.0
AA: Yeah.
267
00:43:27.8
MH: How did they happen to find you?
268
00:43:29.2
AA: I think through the 11th Armored. We have a fellow in (inaudible) whos kind of the backbone of the Northwest Chapter of the 11th Armored. They got a hold of him, and he told them, You really want to talk to Al Adams, so thats how I ended up getting contacted, finally.
269
00:43:58.8
MH: Tell me about your conversations with the people there.
270
00:44:3.7
AA: They asked questions kind of like youre asking. One of the townspeople said, How did you feel? How did that affect you? and so forth. I dont know. It was war. (laughs) I couldnt imagine that one man could do that to another. I just couldnt believe it, but it didnt affect me personally that bad.
271
00:44:40.8
MH: Did you enjoy your time with the students?
272
00:44:47.8
AA: Oh, yeah. You know, its funny. (laughs) Ill show you how I react to things. We were down through Germany, after I got out of the hospital, and I was a corporal. And I told the guys, Well, its a busy day today; why dont you go ahead and cook dinner, and then well clean up the vehicles. And so, theyre in there cooking dinner, and the officers come by and say, You havent cleaned up the vehicles, and I said, After dinner. Theyll get cleaned; dont worry about it. They said, Well, the standing order is that you clean the vehicles and then eat. So, I said, Sir, theyre almost done cooking. Get realistic, you know? He said, Private Adams, start cleaning the vehicles. (laughs) And he turned to Private Jones and he said, Corporal Jones, get them guys out here. Okay. So, he got them out, and then he said, Load up that bunch of Panzerfausts. You know what they are?
273
00:45:59.1
MH: Yes, I do.
274
00:45:59.7
AA: Okay, there was a bunch of Panzerfausts, and he said, Load them up, take them out and throw them in the river. Well, they went out to the river and drove right into a bunch of Germans and were both killed. So, I figured, two stripes, Id rather be alive.
275
00:46:16.6
MH: So, he actually took your stripes from you.
276
00:46:19.6
AA: Yup. Yeah, we have a little fun.
277
00:46:25.5
MH: You mentioned you have a picture of yourself in front of the camp at Mauthausen?
278
00:46:31.3
AA: Yes, I do.
279
00:46:32.1
MH: Is it possible to ask you to send me a good copy of that, and Ill scan it on the computer and then return it to you?
280
00:46:41.0
AA: Sure.
281
00:46:41.8
MH: The other thing Id like is a picture of you as you are today.
282
00:46:44.9
AA: Okay.
283
00:46:46.1
MH: Do you have an e-mail address?
284
00:46:48.6
AA: Yes.
285
00:46:50.3
MH: Cause I could send you my address by email; thats probably the
286
00:46:53.5
AA:
287
00:46:57.0
MH:
288
00:47:1.8
AA:
289
00:47:3.4
MH: Okay. Okay. Ill send you an e-mail with my address and everything.
290
00:47:10.3
AA: Okay.
291
00:47:11.4
MH: Is the picture in good shape?
292
00:47:15.5
AA: Sure.
293
00:47:16.5
MH: Great. Okay. And Ill take good care of it and return it to you.
294
00:47:20.2
AA: All righty.
295
00:47:21.3
MH: I thank you very much for your time. I sure appreciate it.
296
00:47:24.1
AA: Good to talk to you.
297
00:47:25.1
MH: Okay. Bye-bye.


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Albert J. Adams oral history interview
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This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsch (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
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This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Albert J. Adams. Adams was a member of the 11th Armored Division when it liberated Mauthausen-Gusen on May 5, 1945. Arriving in Europe in late 1944, the division progressed through France, Belgium, Germany, and Austria during the Battle of the Bulge and the Central Europe Campaign. Adams describes his experiences leading up to their arrival at Mauthausen, which they learned about from other American soldiers. One of the camp's prisoners approached him and asked, in English, to borrow his carbine, which he allowed. This prisoner then took Adams on a complete tour of the camp, showing him the buses, quarry, and other things. Adams and his division remained in Mauthausen until the war ended.
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PAGE 1

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