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Blatz, Louis P.,
Louis P. Blatz oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (21 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (11 p.)
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsch (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
Interview conducted August 12, 2008.
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Louis P. Blatz. Blatz was a private in the 80th Infantry Division, which liberated Buchenwald on April 12, 1945 and Ebensee, a sub-camp of Mauthausen, on May 4-5, 1945. Arriving in Europe in January 1945, he joined the division during the Battle of the Bulge. The division proceeded on the Central Europe Campaign and encountered Buchenwald, Ebensee, and a small prisoner of war camp. Blatz describes his experiences at the three camps; he had a camera and took several photographs at Buchenwald. He also describes an encounter with a Holocaust denier several years after the war ended.
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.
Transcripts, excerpts, or any component of this interview may be used without the author's express written permission only for educational or research purposes. No portion of the interview audio or text may be broadcast, cablecast, webcast, or distributed without the author's express written permission.
Blatz, Louis P.,
Infantry Division, 80th (1942-1946)
Infantry Division, 80th (1942-1946)
v Personal narratives.
Buchenwald (Concentration camp)
Ebensee (Concentration camp)
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1939-1945
Crimes against humanity.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.
University of South Florida.
Special & Digital Collections.
Oral History Program.
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.
Concentration camp liberators oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Michael Hirsh: All right. Give me your full name and spell it for me.
Louis P. Blatz: No.
LB: N-o. (laughs)
MH: I thought you were going to spell it for mei-t.
MH: Thank you. Louis, L-o-u-i-s, P. as in Paul, Blatz, B-l-a-t-z.
LB: How did you know it was Paul?
MH: Is it?
LB: Yes. (laughs)
MH: Oh, well, there we go. And your date of birth?
LB: When my mother had me.
LB: December 12December 10, 1925.
MH: Which makes you how old today?
LB: Ill be eighty-three in December.
MH: Youre a distinguished looking man with a long white beard.
LB: Well, I never had the beard; I started growing the beard when I retired.
MH: Whered you retire from?
MH: Retail? Yeah.
LB: Forty-five years, two different companies: Frontal Department Store and Kings Way Department Store, in Detroit.
MH: Whered you grow up? Where were you before the Army?
MH: And did you enlist, or were you drafted?
LB: I was drafted, are you kiddin? I screamed and yelled and hollered, but they took me anyway.
MH: They took you anyway. What year was that?
LB: Nineteen forty-four, July 14.
MH: So, you were
LB: Two years.
MH: You were twenty years old?
LB: Nineteeneighteen. Eighteen and a half.
MH: Im math challenged.
LB: Well, Im not very good at math either. Two and two and twenty-two.
MH: Yes, it is. So, whered they send you for basic?
LB: Well, first of all I went to Great Lakes in Illinois. They closed, and then I went to Fort WolI mean, to Camp Wolters, Texas.
LB: I was there for eighteen months.
MH: Okay. For eighteen months?
LB: I mean weeks. Im not well at all, you know.
MH: Thats okay. And when did you go overseas?
LB: The first of the year. I left
MH: Dont do that. Its picking up on the microphone. Thank you.
LB: I left on the Queen Mary, the first of the year forty-five [January 1, 1945]. I joined the 80th [Infantry] Division in the middle of January.
MH: Where did the Queen Mary taken you? Le Havre?
LB: Yeah. Through Scotland, England, and then they threw us on a boat and we went over and landed. I dont even remember where we landed, but we had to walk in the water. And this isthe war was still going on. But from there I got on a truck and went to Luxembourg, where I joined the 80th Division.
MH: Okay. So, thats after the Battle of the Bulge.
LB: The Battle of the Bulge was goin on when I joined them.
MH: It was going on when you joined them?
LB: Yeah. It was winding down when I joined em.
MH: Was that your first combat?
LB: Yeah. That was my first combat, yeah.
MH: Howd you deal with that?
LB: I was a kid; it didnt bother me.
LB: It didnt bother me.
MH: Didnt think you could die?
LB: I never thought about dying. Ive always had a feeling, all my lifeeven when I was a kidyoure gonna die, theres nothing you can do about it. Why worry about it and get sick? My doctor today always used to say Youve got a good philosophy. Its better to be patient than to become one.
MH: Okay. So, tell me, did you know anything about the Holocaust, about the death camps?
LB: Ive heard about em.
LB: Before, we were in training, they used to talk about it, in Camp Wolters. They used to tell us there were such things goin on. They had no pictures or nothing, I mean, at that time. So, all you got was word of mouth, from instructors at the camp. But you knew it was happening.
MH: Okay, so now you get toyoure in the Army, youre in Europe, youre in Germany. Tell me how you get to Buchenwald. Thats the only one you saw?
LB: No. Oh, no.
MH: Whats the first one you saw?
LB: No, that was the first one. The second one was in Austria, Ebensee. In between Ebensee and Buchenwald, wewhats the word? Im looking for the right wordthere was prisoner of war camp, all British soldiers. We liberatedthats the word. We liberated that camp, and we kept right on moving.
MH: Lets talk about Buchenwald.
MH: What was the day like? (rustling noise) Oh, you did it again.
LB: Yes, I did. Nervous energy.
MH: The lady who transcribes this is going to find you and slap your hand.
LB: Yeah, I used to get that in school all the time, with a ruler. (laughs)
MH: Kathy is very strict. Shell do it to you again.
So, what was your first sight of Buchenwald?
LB: It wasnt the sight, it was the smell. We were walking along the road, our company, and all of a sudden somebody said Ooh, whats that odor? and I said, It sounds like Mount Clemens [Michigan]. You know what I mean, Mount Clemens? In the old days, Mount Clemens was noted for mineral baths, rotten eggs.
MH: Oh, okay. Sulfur dioxide.
LB: Sulfa gasit has an unpleasant odor. And further along, we got along the line and we see the gates were wide open. We went in, and we see all these people standing there. Some of them had already been disrobed. Somebody had gotten there before us. They were taking all their clothes away from them, spraying them down, washing them. And then they brought the townspeople from Vereem or something, I cant even pronounce
MH: Not Weimar?
LB: Weimar, thats it. But they didnt call itit started with a V. You know, German. Anyway, they brought them in. They were cleaning the barracks then, in other words, and thats when I took pictures.
MH: What did you see? Tell mepicture it in your head and describe it to me.
LB: Well, like I say, there were people standing behind thisit looked like barbed wire, but it wasnt barbed wire, a whole roll. Naked, of course. They were all standing like this cause fellas were taking pictures. And you went further along, and then you went into this one area that they showed the burning chambers.
LB: Crematoriums. I think I got a couple pictures of that, and then there was two or three other buildings. They had them laying in piles.
LB: Bodies. Dead bodies. Then of coursewe were only there for about an hour, an hour and a half, and then we moved on.
MH: Got orders to move on.
LB: Then we moved on. You know.
MH: Did you talk to any of the inmates?
LB: You werent allowed to. They warned you not to feed them anything. They said, Dont give them anything to eat.
MH: Cause it could kill them.
LB: Well, it could kill em, thats the words they used. Because they had no food; they were all skin and bones. They werelike I say, if Id have brought those pictures, youd understand what Im saying.
MH: Whats going through your head when youre seeing this?
LB: How could anybody be so inhumane as to treat people, fellow human beings, in that manner? And all that ran through my mind was these people had no conscience, they didnt care one way or another, and they didnt treat em as human beings. They treated them as animals. And you know, what can I say? It was just horrible. And it was a relief to us, and Im sure it was to all the fellows that were in my company, when we left to get out of there, because it was hard to breathe: the odor, the smell, the air. The crematoriums, some of them still had bodies burning in em. So you could still smell it, and it was a relief on our part to get away from it. But you couldnt forget. You couldnt forget.
MH: Did it make you angry?
LB: Oh, I dont get angry easy.
LB: I dont get angry easy. But if I do, look out. I can be mean.
MH: So were you in look out mode after that?
LB: Yeah, after that, you just say to yourself, Nobody better tell me that this didnt happen. Now it was years later, mind you, when I was working, where a young fellowI see two young fellows talking. This was in retail; I was in retail. Two fellows were talking, and they were arguing back and forth, back and forth. I walked by, and I heard him say, Thats all a lot of bull, that never happened. And then he says, The Holocaust.
So, I stopped, and I walked over to him, and I said, What was it you just said? And he says, Well, hes trying to tell me that this Holocaust really happened over in Germany. Now this wasIm trying to think approximately the year. This was in the mid-fifties [1950s] when this young man made this statement. And the next day, I took these pictures in to work. And I walked over to him and I said, Can I show you a couple of pictures that I took while I was in Germany in World War II? He says, What kind of pictures? I says, Well, theyre self-explanatoryyou have to look at em, and youll know exactly what.
He looked at them. And by the time he got through, tears were running down his face. He says, You know, I didnt believe it. Now I do. Nobody could convince me different. I says, Well, now youre educated to the point. Now you can tell somebody else the same thing I just showed you. And if you have any doubts that these are true pictures, I have people that can back em up.
No, he says, I believe you. Because I work with you, you know, youre a nice person, I like you, and you wouldnt lie to me. I says, I got no reason to lie. Pictures dont lie. They can be doctored, I says, but these were not doctored. You could seethis is the old film, you know. So he says, Well, I sure appreciate you filling me in on this, cause I was really dumb. I didnt think that happened. I thought it was all propaganda. I says, Thats why it happened, because people wouldnt believe it was happening. Thats our dear friend Adolf [Hitler].
MH: How many years ago was this, did this take place, do you think?
LB: This was on April 12, 1945.
MH: The confrontation with the
LB: No, no; that was fifty-five , fifty-six  with this young boy. But it was liberated April 12, 1945. Thats the same day [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt died, because we got the notice when we were walking. After we got out, we were walking down the road and somebody come along with a Stars and Stripes and said, President Roosevelt died.
MH: Howd that hit you?
LB: That hit, too. Two things at one timeyou think, Whats going to happen now? Whos gonna be the President? It wasnt until I got out of service when I found out that [Harry S] Truman, which I have all the respect in the world for, he was told nothing about the war. And he had to learn from scratch. And he was the one who instituted that, so when the President, when he was finally sworn in as President, that it would never happen again, that a Vice-President wouldnt know whats going on in the background.
MH: When youre wandering around Buchenwald, how did they get word to you, Okay, were pulling out?
LB: Your company commander, who was leading us. Our company commander.
MH: So, you were in a group.
LB: We were in a group, a company. It was our company.
MH: So the company commander says, Time to go.
LB: Yeah. Time to go, we have to go. Well, he gets his orders, too. And we were there for maybe an hour, hour and a half, something like that. So, we werent there too long.
MH: So, you went back out the gate.
LB: Went back out the gate.
MH: Are there guards at the gate to keep the prisoners from going out?
LB: No, there was nobody at the gate. The gates were wide open.
MH: But the inmates werent wandering out?
LB: No. No, they were too weak. How do they walk?
MH: Well, I heard some of them got out and actually were sort of
LB: Well, some of em
MH: and they were messing with Weimar.
LB: Well, I didnt hear that. That, I didnt hear. That, I didnt hear. All I know is that they were cleaning it up, trying to get clean clothing, the place clean to sleep. I got pictures of them in their bunk.
MH: Youre back out on the road, and youre in trucks or youre walking?
LB: Walking. Yeah, we were walking.
MH: And you said you came to this other camp, Ebensee?
LB: Ebensee. Before we hit Ebensee in Austria, we liberated a British prisoner of war camp. We were there for about a half hour. The soldierseverybody was hugging, all the Americans and the British. There were a few others, Americans and a few other French soldiers.
MH: Do you remember the name of that camp?
MH: Never mind. Okay.
LB: No, I really dont. It was just a quickwe were in and we were out.
MH: Had they been fed? Were they in bad shape?
LB: Well, some of them looked like they hadnt been; others, yes. You really couldnt tell, cause they still had their uniforms. They still had their uniforms on.
MH: So, now you keep going, and you get into Austria.
LB: Austria. Thats where EbenseeI didntI had no more film, so I didnt take any pictures.
MH: What did you see there?
LB: Same thing.
MH: It was as bad as Buchenwald?
LB: Just as bad. Just as bad, yeah. Just as bad. By that time, the camera that I found with the film in it, I had used all up in Buchenwald. So I couldnt take any more pictures.
MH: So, the cameras in your pack? When did you develop the film?
LB: The film wasntlets see. That was April, Mayit was in June. We went into a small town, Bamburg. I remember the name. One of our fellows found awhat do you call it?
MH: Photo shop?
LB: A drug store, a photo shop, and hethat was his hobby at home. He found all this equipment and everything, and he developed all our film and we got extra film. A littleall it was was a little tiny box camera.
LB: German, yeah. It hadlike I say, it had a roll of film in it.
LB: So what else do you remember about Ebensee?
MH: Oh, not a lot. We werent there that long, either. We were there for not evenmaybe an hour. Maybe an hour, and then we had to move on. We moved on and went to some lodge. Im trying to think. It was a lodge, a ski lodge, and we spent the night there.
The next morning, we got orders to go up into the Alps to flush out the SS troops. And you know, none of us had any kind of clothing for warmth up in the mountains. We spent from late night until about two oclock in the morning climbing in the mountains, slippingclimbing up and sliding back. We ended up in another lodge, and we spent the night at that lodge. And the next morning, we got out, and from there, we went to (inaudible), I remember that.
From there, that was probablyby that time, it was probably July, into July, somewhere at the end of July. And our company commander had come back. He had been on leave. He had just come on. Jim Young was our company commander. He had come back. He was back for about a month, August, and then he was shipped out. He was shipped home, he was discharged, and we got a new commander. From there, we wereour company, Division 2, my company; Im speaking about my companywe ended up in Czechoslovakia. We were there until the 25th of November forty-five , and the Division went home. But I was lacking points, so I was shipped out to the 102nd. I became an MP [Military Police], little old me.
MH: When you were in the Army, how tall were you?
LB: Five [feet] six [inches], five [feet] five [inches], something like that.
MH: And skinny.
LB: Skinny. A hundred and thirty-five pounds. All fat. (laughs)
MH: And you were a rifleman?
LB: A rifleman yes.
LB: M1. Thats a machine that you could take apart and put together with your eyes shut. You didnt need to see it, because it was just that well made. The guy that made that gun knew what he was doing. It very, very, very rarely ever jammed. And if it did, its because you stuck the muzzle down in the dirt. That was something you were very careful not to do.
MH: Ever get M1 thumb?
LB: Oh, yeah. I still got it. Still got it.
MH: So when you came home, did you tell people about the camps?
LB: No. I never talked about the war.
MH: You never talked
Unidenitfied Man: Join the crowd. Nobody did.
MH: You never talked about
Unidentifiend Man: Nobody did.
MH: about Buchenwald?
LB: No. I showed my parentsmy dad mostly; my mother wouldnt look at emand of course my brother, who was with me. And somebody elseoh, one of the store managers. He had been at the war, but he was in the Air Force. He said he had heard about concentration camps, but he says, of course, he didnt see em. I showed him, and he made copies for himself.
MH: What do your pictures show?
LB: They showlike I say, most of em show aboutI had 200 pictures, but over the years it dwindles down to maybe twenty, twenty-five.
MH: How many of those are in the camp?
LB: Id say about half of the pictures that I got. Yeah.
MH: Do you have a picture of yourself over there?
LB: Overseas, yeah, but not at the camp.
MH: No, not at the camp. Okay. If its possible, Id like to borrow your pictures and copy them.
LB: I could send you a copy.