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Colvin Caughey oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (89 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (31 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 September 5, 2008.
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Colvin Caughey. Caughey was a machine gunner in the 11th Armored Division, which liberated Mauthausen on May 6, 1945. The division arrived in England in October 1944, trained there for two months, and landed in France on December 16, the day the Battle of the Bulge began. Caughey was wounded two weeks later and spent several weeks in Army hospitals in France and England; he rejoined the division in April, by which time it had reached Germany. A week before finding Mauthausen, they encountered several hundred prisoners on a death march. Caughey and the division were at Mauthausen for three weeks; his primary task there was guard duty for the hospital and the German prisoners of war. In this interview, he provides a detailed description of the camp and its prisoners.
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.
Armored Division, 11th.
Armored Division, 11th
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Ardennes, Battle of the, 1944-1945
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.
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xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Michael Hirsh: Could you give me your name and spell it for me, please?
Colvin Caughey: My name is Colvin CaugheyC-o-l-v-i-n, C-a-u-g-h-e-y.
MH: And your address?
MH: Your phone isAnd your birthday?
CC: 11-25-24. [November 25, 1924]
MH: Which makes you how old today?
CC: Im eighty-three right now.
MH: And you were with the 11th Armored Division.
MH: Which unit in the 11th Armored?
CC: Company B of the 21st Armored Infantry Battalion.
MH: Can you first tell me, where were you before you went in the Army?
CC: Where was I?
CC: Well, I was inducted here in Washington State; my home state was Minnesota, but I had been living out here in Seattle for a short time, and thats when I went into the service.
MH: Okay, so what year did you go in?
CC: Spring of 1943.
MH: And you were inductedenlisted, drafted?
CC: Well, I volunteered to be drafted. It was a voluntary induction.
MH: Tell me why youd do that.
CC: Well, a recruiter. I got took in by an Army recruiter. Id been trying to get in the Air Corps or the Navy Air Corps, anywhere to fly. I wanted to fly. And I got turned down by the Navy when I was seventeen; they said I had to be eighteen. And, a lot of people dont know this, that on December 7, 1942, the president closed all enlistments because everybody was going to the Navy and Air Corps instead of getting drafted, you know what I mean? A lot of people dont know that.
And so, the enlistments were closed after I turned eighteen. And they did open up again, later in the spring of forty-three , I dont know just when. They did open again, but during that period you couldnt enlist in anything. But this Army recruiter said, If you volunteer to go in the Army, take your basic training, and then you can transfer to the Air Corps or to the Cadets. Sounded good to me.
MH: And you bought it. (laughs)
CC: I bought it. Thats how I ended up in the Armored Infantry.
MH: Tanks dont fly.
CC: No. Its a long story from there, what happened. It wasnt a total lie. I think after basic training I might have been able to apply, at least, for a transfer to the Air Corps. The only thing, the Army came out with an offer then that sounded pretty goodwith Army Specialized Training, they would send us to college. And I qualified for the college training. So I went along with the college training, thinking there was a great future there.
MH: What college did they send you to?
CC: University of Nevada.
MH: And you were going to be an engineer?
CC: Well, everybody had to take engineering, thats right. And that turned out to be an Army trick, too. I never knew what that was aboutbut that was a trick to keep people in the Army, to tempt them with this college education. And so after six months in that college training, they canceled the entire program in the whole United States.
MH: Do you think it was a trick, or do you think they just realized they were desperate for men and needed to form new divisions?
CC: No, it was a trick, because people who had a little more intelligence or whatever, were the ones that they werent getting, if you know what I mean? They were volunteering and going into the other branches. So, the Army thoughtthe Navy had a program like that, a V-12 program and so on for college training for guys in the Navyand I think it came out later, actually, officially. For years I didnt know what that was about and why they canceled it. But I found out later it was a way to keep qualified people in the Army so theyd be there when they needed them, which was for the invasion of Europe, you know. So they kept 150,000 recruits or Army guys in there, and it was really a disaster, because you couldnt have any rank in the college program; everybody had to be a private. And then when you got transferred out of there to combat units, you went to the bottom of the pile in whatever unit you went to. You just went where they decided to put you, you know what I mean?
CC: So we got the short end of the stick. And some guys were bitter about it. Im not because it opened doors to me, like it gave me a years college education and it was a good experience for me; so Im not bitter about it, but some of the guys lost good opportunities to do better elsewhere because they were deceived by that program.
MH: When they finally did away with the ASTP program, they sent you where?
CC: Well, then a group of us were sent to the 11th Armored Division.
MH: Which was where at the time?
CC: It was at Camp Cooke, California, which is now Vandenberg Air Force Base.
MH: And the 11th was just forming?
CC: No, see, theyd been on desert maneuvers, and theyd been organized for well over a year, a year-and-a-half maybe, or more. And so when we got to that unit, Ill just tell you that storybecause theyd been organized and functioning for a year-and-a-half or more, theyd all, the enlisted men, had all gained certain ranks. All the positions of authority among enlisted men or rank, anybody ratings were taken. And theres only so many allowed in the TO. You know? So, here comes a bunch of privates, dumped into their unit, with college educations. But guess what? Theyre going nowhere as far as leadership is concerned.
MH: Thats hard to deal with.
CC: Well, you just had to deal with what was there, thats all. You know? Because there was no chance to get ahead as far as rank as concerned or leadership or whatever, because all those slots were taken.
MH: So whats the lowest level on the totem pole in an armored division?
CC: Well, private. You might get up to private first class; they can make any number private first class.
MH: But thats it?
CC: But thats about it, yup.
MH: So you go there and youre a private, and youve never been around an armored unit before.
CC: Well, actually my basic training was in an armored unit, so I was rightin fact, it was at Camp Cooke. So, in a sense, I was right at home. But I still didnt like it.
MH: Right. What was your job on the tank?
CC: Well, I wasnt in the tanks. Armored infantry is an infantry support of the tanks. We traveled in half-tracks; you know what they are?
CC: And were supposed to be mobile and travel fast and all that kind of thing. People dont believe it, but its a teamwork effort. In some cases, the tanks supported us; in other times, we protected the tanks. Thats a fact. Wed have to go out ahead of them to clear the area, say of artillery or something like that. But they were always there to back us up. And in other cases, they would take the lead and they would go outnow there the tanks are powerful against other tanks or other infantry. So, they would take the lead, and then wed follow them. So, it was a team effort between the tank units and the infantry.
MH: And the armored infantry always rode, or did you have to walk, too?
CC: Well, you rode as far as you could, and then you got out and walked. So, we didnt have any long marches or anything like that, but there were days when we were pretty much on foot. But at night we always got back to our half-track and
MH: Your issued weapon was what?
CC: Well, my issued weapon was a carbine, but I was a machine gunner. Your personal weaponyou have a personal weapon; if youre a machine gunner you have a personal weapon, which is a carbine. But I was officially a machine gunner. I was in the machine gun squad.
MH: And these are air-cooled, water-cooled?
CC: These were air-cooled. In our squad we had one .50 caliber and two .30 caliber.
MH: So, when do you finally go to Europe?
CC: The whole division went in early October of forty-four .
MH: Forty-four . And you land where?
CC: We landed at Southampton.
MH: And then how did they
CC: We landed in England. We were supposed to go right to France, but on the way across the ocean, somehow the orders got changed and we landed in England. So we spent a couple months in England and left England in early December, or mid-December actually. We landed, I think, at Cherbourg, the unit I was in, at least. Some of them were a few days ahead of that. We landed at Cherbourg on December 16, which was the opening day of the Battle of the Bulge.
MH: I was going to say, your timing is perfect.
CC: Well, depends on how you look at it.
MH: Exactly. Did you go over on a landing ship that carried your vehicles?
CC: No, we had athe vehicles, I dont know how they transported the vehicles, because we were separated from them. They were shipped over separate from us; we went on just a ship, a whole load of troops on a ship, a troop ship. And then we met up with our vehicles after we got to France.
MH: Once you get together with your vehicles, then where did they send you?
CC: Well, we had an early assignment. The division was assigned, in order to get us initiated to combat, the Germans had a pocketthey held out a resistance at Saint-Nazaire, France, which is on the French coast. And it was a submarine base and so on, and we were supposed to go down to Saint-Nazaire and clear them out and take the town. And we went down there. We were, you know, in fighting range. In fact, that pocket held out for the entire war. Saint-Nazairethe Germans held Saint-Nazaire for the entire war. Because it wasnt that important, it was all surrounded, they werent going anywhere, you know. So they just sat there.
Anyway, of course by the time we got down there, the Bulge, theyd decided, was really serious. And we were just a few days, and we got the word to rush up to Belgium as fast as you can get there. So, we made a rushed march across France. I meanI say a march; I mean moving an armored division, which was miles and miles of armored vehicles.
MH: At this point are you riding, are you driving?
CC: Were riding.
MH: Youre not driving the vehicle.
CC: No. No, we had a regular driver.
MH: You had a driver?
MH: So how many days did they give you to get up to where the Bulge was going on?
CC: Well, it didnt take us very long; we made it up to northern France in two days. The first night, we spent just outside of Paris. And then the second day we were at Soissons, which was an old Army base, French Army base in World War I near Reims, its up near Reims? And we were at Soissons, then we spent Christmas Evewe were at Soissons, and then on Christmas Day, we moved up in the reserves up on the French border with Belgium. We were camped in a field out there, and we were in the reserve in case the Germans crossed the Meuse River. Wed be there to meet them. But they never were able to do that.
And then on thelets see, the 29th; it must have been the 29thwe moved then up towards Bastogne [Belgium]. And the night of the 29th, we camped on the main highway into Bastogne from the south, which we had been able to open up a few days before that to relieve Bastognenot us, but the 3rd Army had reached Bastogne a few days before that. But that highway was in danger of being cut off by the Germans again, so we camped just south of Bastogne on the 29th, the night of the 29th, with orders to attack on the 30th. Now, the division is big, of course; our unit had orders to attack to the west to widen the corridor away from that highway. Because it wasnt safe, really, going up and down that highway. We were too close to the Germans. So we attacked to the west, and the other parts of the division attacked to the east to widen that corridor south of Bastogne. Get the picture?
CC: So, it turned out that we were going to attack like at seven oclock on the 30th, and unknown to us, whoever we went up there to relieve we never did find, and the Germans had attacked at six oclock coming our way. So, we hit head-on out there on the battlefield, and the first day it was a tank battle. The infantry, we suffered, oh, I say some casualtiesdeaths, I meanfrom artillery, mortar, and artillery fire. But we werent right up, you know, within small arms range, particularly. But we could see our tanks out there fighting the Germans with their Tigers [tanks] and whatever they had. It was a ferocious battle, and a lot of our tanks were lost that day. It was really bad.
MH: When youre watching this battle, are you doing it from foxholes or doing it from inside your
CC: No, we were just laying on the ground. It was within a mile or two, you know. We could see the German tanks about a mile away, maybe a little more than that and maybe a little closer. One of their half-tracks was hit; they said the range was 1,000 meters, which would be 3,000 feetless than a mile. So, we kinda tried to find a hole or behind a ridge, we were actually behind a slight ridge, which gave us a little protection from direct fire. But we didnt dig in holes right there until evening, when we decided we were going to be stuck there for the night in this town of Jodenville [Belgium], this little village: a few houses. Where I was, with our company or squad; our company was there, Jodenville. And we did dig in that night to protect during the night. And set up a perimeter of protection; and the ground was frozen for about a foot deep and it was really tough.
MH: How do you dig in that stuff?
CC: Well, it was really hard. We were fortunate, in a way; on the half-tracks, they had an ax. And they had a big shovel, a man-size shovel.
MH: Instead of an entrenching tool.
CC: Instead of a trenching tool, yeah. And we were able to use those to chop through the hard ground and then dig down deeper.
MH: Ive actually been told by some guys that they used grenades to loosen up the dirt on the ground; I dont know quite how that works.
CC: Did they? Well, I never did see that happen, but I never heard of that, in fact.
MH: As I said, I dont know how it would work, but they told me they did it.
CC: Youre desperate to try anything.
CC: I dont think thatd be very effective, to tell you the truth, because the hardness, the concussion blast would go up. It wouldnt do very much.
MH: So, you spent the night in your foxholes?
CC: Well, we took turnswe sat up in machine gun in a foxhole when two men manned it for several hours, and then the rest of us were sleeping back in the village if we could. It was so darned cold, nobody could sleep anywhere. But anyway, then we took turns in the foxhole on the perimeter.
MH: How long did that battle last for you?
CC: For me?
CC: Well, the next day we were to attack again, and this time we went out as a column; you know, the armored infantry went out. And we were a green bunch; the unit had never experienced combat before. Our leaders, first of all, they screwed us up. First, we had a barrage of artillery against the German positions; it was for fifteen minutes with everything they could fire. And youve never heard such a roar and rumble and roar. I mean, it was just unbelievable. Not only the guns firing behind us, you know, over our heads, and all these shells sizzling through the air, and then the horrible rumble, just like a huge roll of thunder, continuously, over where they were landing. You know what I mean?
CC: It was justtheres nothing like it. You just think, how can anyone survive that kind of barrage, you know? And then, in warthe way its supposed to work, you give them a big artillery barrage, and then as quickly as possible, you rush in the infantry before they can recover. You know? You got to get there quick to get the effect of that barrage.
Well, we started out with our vehicles going down the road, and we hadnt gone very far and came to a stop. It was all confusion. When youre an enlisted man or down there, you dont know whats going on. A few people at the top know; theyve got the radios and all that. Well, it turned out the commanding officer of our battalion, a guy from the battalion, had led us in the wrong direction. We were way off course. So everything came to a stop.
I remember a tank came roaring by us, and it was a general with his head out the hatch. He wanted to know where our commanding officer was; well, we didnt know, but actually that officer was relieved on the spot for that failure. And then we had to get reorganized again, and then attackbegin the attack. Well, at that point we left our armored vehicles, and from there on it was on foot. So we had about a mile to go, Id say, probably a good mile to get to where the Germans were, where the real fighting began.
MH: And youre walking through snow thats thigh deep.
CC: Well, it wasnt that deep; it was only maybeat that time it was only maybe six to eight inches deep. But the worst problem we had, we had to cross a little stream. It was a creek, sort of, and if you got a good run at it, you could jump across the thing, you know? Six, seven feetI dont know how wide it was. But carrying a 38 pound machine gun
MH: Youre not doing much jumping.
CC: Youre not going to jump across a river. So, my teammate and I, we argued over who was going to wade that creek and carry the machine gun. After a short argument, I let him win. So, he got his feet wet, and we proceeded on. And we had the farthest distance to go. Our assignment was to go clear to the right flank of the attacking unit and set up our machine gun to defend, give overhead fire for the riflemen and to set up a position to protect our right flank. You could put that on the map and see what its like. But we had to go way over to the right to get to the right flank and set up our machine gun.
Well, that had been an hour or more since that barrage, and they knew we were coming, and they were all set for us. And when we went over a ridge towards theirthey were in the woods; you couldnt even see them. You could hear them shooting at you, you know, you knew they were in there. But we couldnt see them. Because it was very dark woods, a pine forest over there. And so when we came up over that ridge towards the woods, they had that whole area zeroed in with their mortars. And it just hailed down on us, these mortar shells. There just were
MH: So what do you do for cover?
CC: Well, actually, there happened to be a bomb crater there. We were tempted, but we didnt take it, I dont know why. We just went forward flat and on the ground. Youre pretty safe on the ground unless you get a direct hit, cause the burst kinda goes up, you know what I mean?
MH: Right. Ive been on the receiving end of mortars in Vietnam.
CC: Oh, really? So you know what Im talkin about.
MH: I understand the pucker factor very well.
CC: Well, we were still walking, moving forward, when I saw this one go offI saw several go off, but this one I saw go off, you know, thirty yards away. A good big burst. And, you know, its not like in the movies where you have a big red flash. Its kind of a black-grey puff, and all these little lines go flying out from there. I saw this one headed right for me. You wouldnt believepeople wouldnt believe this. I saw it comin. I didnt know where Id get hit, but I knew it was comin right at me.
And then, all of a sudden, I was hit. I got hit in the face, and I can remember it very clearly, it felt like Id been hit by someone with their fist, as hard as they could hit me, you know. It hit me right in the jaw, and the world began to spin. I thought I was spinning, but I realized it was happening, when you pass out you get kind of a spinning sensation, whatever, but I passed out and fell on the ground there. I didnt know how bad it was, but I had the machine gun and my mate had the tripod up, out ahead of me. He put it on the ground in the open field, I dont know, it was a terrible place to put it up, but thats where he set the tripod. And I was supposed to put the gun on it. And I was laying on the ground there.
MH: How long were you out for?
CC: Well, not very long, but I didnt even know I was outI didnt think Id been knocked out, but all of a sudden I looked around, and all of these infantrymen that were charging forward werent there. Which means that they had gone on ahead, you know. So I would say maybe, this is a wild guess, maybe a minute, maybe two at the most.
MH: But now youre by yourself.
CC: Well, no, theres other guys there. See, the machine gunner was there, and behind meyou work with a team. You have two gunners, first and second gunner, then you got ammunition carriers. See, we dont even have any ammunition, just the gun. So, you have other guys behind you with ammunition boxes.
Well, when I think about it, its a wonder we won the war. The whole thing was a disaster. You set up the machinethe tripodin, I think, the wrong place because like I said, theres big bomb, not big but a pretty good bomb crater we passed. Thats where we should have set up the machine gun, right there in that. Itd have given us some cover, you know? Well, when I came to, my first urge was to get that machine gun up to the tripod, see. So, I got up on my hands and knees, and right then another mortar went off within about six feet of me. And boy, if Id have been standing up, Id have been shredded. But because I was still down on my hands and knees, I didnt get hit by that mortar. But then, it scared me pretty good, and I looked down at the front of my chest and it was all red with blood. And I thought, Jeez, maybe Im hit worse than I think.
But I was still concerned about getting that machine gun up there. And just then, one of the guys from our company came running byI recognized himthat the day before a shell had landed in their half-track while they were in it, they were all in it. And it killed about half the guys in that squad. It was a machine gun squad, and he was one of the remnants from that squad in another platoon. So, I recognized this guy knows machine guns. I yelled at him to come get the machine gun, and he took it. And then I felt relieved of responsibility, you know; so I felt I could get the heck out of there.
So, then I started kind of crawling and edging back out of there, because we were under fire. You could hear the rifle, the German machine guns, burp guns and all that. The bullets were whizzing everywhere, besides the mortars. And I got back to that crater, which wasnt very farthis bomb craterand here was the assistant squad leader and one of the ammunition carriers down in that hole. Well, I said, What are you guys doing in here? The wars up there. I was out of my head; I was just out of my head. I dont knowyoure in shock, thats the only word for it. I was in shock. And you say dumb things and all that.
So, they looked at me, and they didnt know what to do for me. They were yelling for medic. There were calls for medic all over that field. You could hear guys yelling for medics. So, they were yelling for medic but no one was coming because there arent enough medics, or whatever. Anyway, when I think about itsee, that ammunition carrier should have had that ammunition box up where the machine gun was. Heres this friend of mine, first of all he was up there with the tripod facing the Germans with nothing but a tripod. And then after he gets the gun up there, all he has is a machine gun with no ammunition. Like I said, its just a wonder we won the war.
Anyway, then I went farther back and I found out that our company command post was behind a knocked-out American tank we just passed; up on the top of that hill there was a knocked-out American tank. And theyd set up their kinda headquarters behind that to protect it, behind that tank. And then there were a couple of runners there with the first sergeant, and they were trying to figure out what to do for me. But they saw it was a face wound and bleeding and all that. So, one guy gets out a littlethis is funny, I thought; you think later this is really funnyhe gets out a little handbook and says, Lets see, look under face wounds, face wounds, face woundswhat do you do for it? you know.
MH: This is not the time to go to school.
CC: No. It was ridiculous. Well, I wasnt there very long, and then an ambulance came up within about 100 yards in back of us. And I was limping; I had evidently an injured foot. I didnt hardly know about it, but anywayI dont know what shape I was inbut one of the guys there went with me and kind of gave me support and got me back to the ambulance. And then I was out of the war.
They took me back to that same little town, Jodenville, where wed spent the night, and theyd had a battalion aid station set up there. And there were so many guys killed and wounded that day, you know, you wonder who was winning the war. But that aid station was just jam-packed with wounded guys, you know, and they checked me out and it wasnt all that serious, you know, it looked like the bleeding had kinda slowed up, and there wasnt anything particularly they could do for me at that time. So, the best things they did, they gave me one of these morphine shots. Boy, oh boy, the war was over. (laughs)
So, I spent an hour or two there, then another ambulance came and got me and took me back to another big, a larger medical service place. It was in a schoolhouse somewhere; I dont know where I was at. But again, here the schoolhouse was just packed with wounded GIs. And most of them were reallyyou know, probably most of them were very serious compared to mine. So, I didnt get any medical treatment there, either. And believe it or notthis was still on the same eveningI got in another ambulance and went farther back to Neufchteau. Now Neufchteau is quite a large Belgian city that we had passed by early, when we were moving up to the front. Anyway, Neufchteau was quite a large place, and they had a big schoolhouse there with a big medical treatment center. You want to hear all this?
CC: Well, youve probably got other questions.
MH: I do, but lets finish how you got taken care of.
CC: Okay. And that was on December 31, that second attack, and in this other big schoolhouseit was like M*A*S*H.
Referring to M*A*S*H, the book, movie, and television show. MASH stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
They had, I think, two or three operating tables going in a big room there, all at the same time, but it was in a building. And I finally got in there. I dont know if they took an X-ray or what, but they found that the shrapnel was still in my face, you know, in my cheek. And when I first got hit, I spit something out. I thought it was the shrapnel. Well, I found out later, it was my teeth. But anyway, the shrapnel was still in there, and they had to get that out. So, they took me into the operating room and gave me a local anesthetic and reached in there and fished a chunk of shrapnel out of there. And I remember it very clearly because the nurses and doctorsit was midnight on December 31, and they were saying, Well, Happy New Year. Yeah. So, I was on the operating table at midnight in December of forty-four .
MH: So, how do they deal with the lost teeth? That has to be extremely painful.
CC: Well, it was extremely painful, because it shattered several of the molars, you know, and left the roots all shattered down in the gums. And there were snags sticking up, so if I bumped one of those snags, it just shot a pain through me, you know. So I had two straws and could hardly open my mouth. I had stitches in my leftwhere they sewed the opening shut, you know, so I couldnt laugh or anything or it hurt. And the guys provoked me to try to get me to laugh or something, so they would get me, you know how GIs do. Anyway, so I kind of sucked food through a straw for a few days.
And penicillinI didnt know about all this new medical stuff. For instance, the guys had surgery were coming back and telling about the wonderful anesthetic. You know, sodium pentothal was new then. And theyd go into surgery and theyd just go out right now and come out of surgery and no after-effects, and they just thought it was fantastic. Guys that had to have bigger surgery, you know. But I had to have penicillin. And at that time it was in big oil solution shots and oh, geez, the shots bad enough but they would still be sore four hours later when I had to have another one, and both arms just ached and hurt from the penicillin shots. But they wouldnt quit. Every four hours around the clock, I kept getting penicillin. Danger of infection, whatever.
MH: When did you finally see an oral surgeon?
CC: I got to see someone back in England. I got shipped, transferred after about a few days there; they wantedthey had to move us out to make room for more. They didnt want to leave us in those unitsthose places. So only a couple of days in that hospital, I was transferredfirst I went to an air base to get flown out of there, and it fogged in for about two days and no planes were flying. We were in tents at the air base, and finally they shipped me from there to a camp on the outskirts of Paris. And there, I took a train from Paris out to Cherbourg, and then at Cherbourg they put me on a hugeI think its that, (inaudible) or whatever is that big hospital ship? It was very famous during the war. It was a beautiful big ship, a hospital ship. And boy, that was heaven, white sheets on a real bed and whatever. But I was still a little bit sore.
Then, of course, I went back to England, again got on another train and went to a camp in central England near Birmingham, I believe, and a big, huge Army medical hospital there. And then after Id been there for a while, they finally got around to getting me to a dentist. Well, they couldnt work on those teeth, digging out those roots, until the incision had healed up real good. Because by opening my mouth I could tear out the incision, you know? It had toso, I had to wait quite a while before they could work on the teeth for the wound to get healed real good.
CC: Finally, I got to the dentist. That was hell. He just took a shovelit was partly my fault. I hated needles, I dont know whyI just hated getting shots. He tried to deaden it with Novocain, and hed give me the shot, and I didnt realize that sometimes it takes Novocain quite a while to take hold. So, when he was checking to see if I was numb, I told him I was, because I thought if I told him I wasnt, hed give me another shot, and I didnt want to get another shot. So, I kind of lied about how numb it was, and he took a little shovel and went down into my gums and jaws and took out those roots. I mean, that was hell.
MH: Scraped you off the ceiling.
CC: He justI was just jumping out of that chair. He just put his whole body weight on my chest and said, This isnt hurtin me at all. I mean, an Army doctor, you know. And he just held me down and dug em out of there. And then things began to heal up. After that, things went pretty well.
MH: So when did you get back to your unit?
CC: Well, I got backthey were at Bayreuth, which is about in the middle of Germany.
MH: Was it a huge transportation and adventure to get there, too?
CC: It was. They put you in these replacement depots; I was surprised to get back to my same unit. It worked, you know, I went from this camp to that camp to that camp to that camp.
MH: All the while saying, I need to get to the 11th Armored.
CC: Well yeah, they had the paperwork; they knew where I was going. I didnt tell them where to send me; I just went where they told me. I got to ride on one of those 40-and-8s, trains, you knowboxcars? And I got to ride in trucks, and one night we were traveling and got strafed by the Luftwaffe, and one camp was right on the Maginot Line, and I got to go in the Maginot Line. You know what that is?
CC: So that was a pretty interesting experience. But anyway, went from one camp and one place to another and finally ended up in my squad, my company, right there. But when I got back, the only one from the original squad left was the driver of the half-track. There was none of them that I knew. They were all newone guy I knew, he had been in our company, but he wasnt in our squad. But he was in my squad when I got back.
MH: At that point, did you know anything about the concentration camps?
CC: No. I might have, you know, maybe in the States some little articles about it; but we just thought maybe it was like some propaganda or something. We didnt take that very serious; I didnt, anyway. No, that wasnt a big issue; concentration camps werent a big issue.
MH: So when did you first discover them?
CC: When we got there. No, thats not quite true. We discovered some of the terrible things that the Germans had been doing. We didnt know it was a concentration camp, but towards the end of the warabout a week before we got to Mauthausenwe came upon this column. We didnt know it, but they were concentration camp prisoners that were being marched from a camp one place to a camp another place. And these were peoplewell, first we noticed as we drove along the road, wed see these dead bodies, you know. People in thoselooked like pajamas? Striped suits? And every so often, thered be another body. Wed say, Whats that all about? you know. We finally caught up to the column, which was some German soldiers or I dont know who was guarding them, but there was a bunch of German soldiers or SS men, I dont know who they were. There were probably a dozen of them or more.
MH: How many people in the column, would you guess?
CC: Oh, I guess there were several hundred. Yeah. They were men and women, and they were in terrible condition. They were just starving, you know. They were all begging for food, which we gave what we had in our half-track, you know, extra food we had. We gave them to em. And they were just killing each other, almost, over a bite of food. They were just wild.
MH: What did you do about the SS that were guarding them?
CC: Well, thats another story. Those were caught, they tried tothey abandoned the prisoners and headed across a field toward the woods. And our column moved up fast enough that they didnt make it to the woods. Some of them might have, I dont know. But there were quite a few of them still, I mean, eight or ten out of that field that didnt make it to the woods. And that was a turkey shoot.
MH: Machine guns?
CC: Everything we had. They tried to surrender, they held up their hands. I mean, it was kind of sad, I hate to tell this, you know.
MH: But its the reality.
CC: Yeah, they wanted to surrender and threw their guns down and everything, but the guys werent taking prisoners that day. And they shot them all down.
MH: What were the former prisoners doing, the inmates, while this battles going on?
CC: Oh, they were just standing by the side of the road waving at us and saying, Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thats all they could say, you know, they were just excited and probably crying. I dont remember too much. We didnt watch them very much; we were looking another way. But I remember them being there and saying thank you, and first theyre asking for food, Essen, and then we moved on.
MH: You didnt stop to talk to them?
CC: No, the war was on. We didnt stop, we kept moving. But the guys were so furious that the next couple villages mostly burned down. They just were so mad; they just hated the Germans at that point. And I think later now, those poor people that lived there, they didnt know what that was about. They didnt know why the Americans were so furious or what had happened. All they knew is they caught hell, and same way with those poor guys that were driving those prisoners. They were probably forced to do that.
MH: Well, if they were SS, Im not sure how forced they were.
CC: Well, maybe. But I think the SS usedjust grabbed regular soldiers and made them do it. Im not sure about that, cause I didnt go check their uniforms to see who they were.
MH: How old were you then?
CC: I was about twenty.
MH: So, whats a twenty-year-old kid think when he sees this column of 300 or so people, you know, on a death march?
CC: You just cant believe it. How could people do that? And that was just a taste of what was to come.
MH: Yeah. So, lets continue down the road, then.
CC: Yeah, the war was still on. And like a week later, we were at Mauthausen.
MH: Before we get to Mauthausen, do you know what city or town you were near when you found that death march? Im trying to figure out where they were coming from.
CC: No. I could probably look it up in our company record; someone probably wrote a history after the war. It might be in there, but I dontwe went through so many: Kucherkuchen and Dag Kuchen and all these little villages and towns. One is just like the other and you dont pay any attention.
MH: Im just trying to figure out where, if you can figure out what concentration or slave labor camp those people were coming from.
CC: Yeah, it would be interesting to know where they were transferring them to. I would guess they were coming out of Poland or Czechoslovakia. We were right near the Czech border. Coming out of Czechoslovakia, they were probably taking them to Mauthausen.
MH: Thats what I was thinking.
CC: Chances are thats where they were headed.
MH: Whats the weather on that day?
CC: Well, it was a fairly decent day. I dont remember it being real sunny. It was kind of overcast, but it was not raining or anything. Kind of an average spring day; it was kind of early in the spring there.
MH: And so you move on down the roadhow much farther before you got to Mauthausen?
CC: Id say within a week. I dont remember how many days it was, but within a week we were at Mauthausen.
MH: Did you confront any more before you got to Mauthausen?
CC: No, no more prisoners. And not too much combat either. The worst combat we hit during that period from Bayreuth on was at Regen, the town of Regen. It was vicious there. Otherwise, the combat was so different from the Battle of the Bulge, I could hardly believe it. We were supposedly at Bayreuth; we mounted up, were supposed to be moving forward to attack, or move at least toward the front, wherever that was, which was rather vague.
We get in the half-track, and these guys I was withsee, I came back. Id been a machine gunner, but theyd all taken the machine gun positions, and so I was just an extra guy on the squad. And that was fine with me, they could have it. And they get in the half-track and they didnt even load the machine guns. They were just sitting there. I said, Arent you going to load these guns? No, no, no problem. They just sat there like they were going on a picnic. The war had changed, believe me, from what Id experienced.
MH: This is now almost the beginning of May.
CC: No, this was about early April.
MH: Early April? When you got back?
MH: Yeah, but the division got to Gusen and Mauthausen about May 5th and 6th. Thats why I was saying that.
MH: So that death march you saw had to be toward the end of April.
CC: Yeah, probably towards the very end of April, maybe the first of May somewhere.
MH: So, now take me up to Mauthausen, what happens?
CC: Well, we got wordrumor, at leastthat the war was over. But I dont remember what day it was. But were in this town, and the guys went berserk and we started taking prisoners by the hundreds and thousands. You couldnt believe it. They were marchingGermans were marching in, in columns, whole units were coming in. There were much more of them than there were of us. But they were coming as prisoners. We couldnt even guard them, you know, wed just say, Go over in that field there; just go over in that field. Because they were trying to get away from the Russians, thats the whole thing; they were eager to surrender to us.
So, we finally got orders to move up. They knew about the camp, our leaders did, and they told us, Now were going to this camp, and dont give them any of your food. I thought that was kind of a strange order, but thats what the order was. But we had no idea what we were getting into. And we went down the road and came up on this road towards a bigwhere I come from in Minnesota, they had a big penitentiary with big stone walls, you know what I mean? And we could see, up on top of this hill, this big gray rock, stone building, like a penitentiary. That was our first glimpse of Mauthausen.
And then, as we got closer, we saw all the barbed wire fences and all that. And we came to a wire gate, a fenced gate, and went through there into Mauthausen. And down below us was another huge fenced area with all these barracks and so on, and people were, everywhere we went there were these prisoners. And they were all begging for food, they were desperate. You could see how starved they were. And we ignored the orders wed gotten; we just gave them everything we had. But, you know; it was the wrong thing to do, because those people couldnt digest that rich food that we had. We might have even killed somebody by giving them, if they ate some of that very rich food we had, whatever it was.
MH: So you were walking through the camp at that point?
CC: No, we pulled the vehicle right up into the camp.
CC: Yeah, our half-track was right up into the camp. And then we didnt even get out at first, because we were surrounded by those people, and what would we do if we got out? What was there to do?
MH: That was my questionwhat did your officers expect you to do, driving in there?
CC: I dont know. I dont know what they expected. But we were there. See, the camp had been liberated a day or two before that. And so byand then our unit left. They liberated it and then they left. And then we came in to occupy it.
MH: Ah, okay.
CC: And the camp down below, which was a big wire fenced area, electric fence and all that; that was supposedly what they called the hospital unit. Well, what it really was, was a big encampment for those who were too sick to work or crippled or whatever. It was just a place for them to wait until they died. And thats where the bodies were stacked up in big piles. Because the crematoriumanother thing we noticed when we got there was the stench. This very strong odor, stenchI couldnt figure out what this was. And it smelled like something might be burning, you know. The whole area smelled like that. I couldnt figure what the hell it was all about, until several days later I caught on. That was the stench of the crematorium that was still there, days after theyd shut it down. Burning flesh, thats what that smell was. Burning human flesh. And it was strong. And anyway
MH: Now at this point, how are you dealing with it, emotionally?
CC: I dont know. You just shake your head and say how awful it was, just awestruck at how horrible it is. You dont know how human beings could do such a thing. You justdisgusted. Some guysit was so sickening, a few guys threw up. I mean, I didntI dont have a sensitive stomach. But, anyway
MH: Were you a religious person before the war?
CC: No, not really, but I got religion during the war.
MH: You mean around the time of the Bulge?
MH: So you believe in God at that point, and then you come to Mauthausen.
CC: I had a real Christian experience, that first day of battle, before I was hit. Again, thats a whole other story.
MH: Okay. But just at the point youre at Mauthausen, youre a believer.
CC: Oh, yes. Id been studying the Bible and everything. After I waswhen I was in the hospital, I had time and I read the New Testament a couple of times, and I went to Bible classes. In fact, I had committed my life to the ministry.
MH: So, how does seeing the horrors at a place like Mauthausen affect that, if at all?
CC: Well, all you can see is the dire need for something; human nature needs God. I mean, they couldnt be Christian people doing that. And of course, most of the people in therenot all of them, but the vast majority of themwere Jewish people. And you just felt such compassion for those people. You didnt even know the half of what theyd suffered.
MH: How long did you spent in Mauthausen?
CC: Well, we went back out of there, and we were quartered in quite nice homes within a quarter mile from the camp, within sight of the camp, real close to the prison. A whole development of fairly new homes and they were for the officers, the SS officers. And of course, they were all gone, so our company was billeted in those homes there, right near the camp. And we stayed therewell I was there aboutIm going to say three weeks. Actually our unit was there for about six weeks. See, we were in Russianthe area was supposed to be Russian territory. The line had been drawn; we didnt know that, either. The line had been drawn long before that, as to how far the Russians would go and how far we would go. But we had gone across the line over into what was supposed to be the Russian zone.
MH: So, they wanted you to get out of there at some point.
CC: So what?
MH: They wanted you to get out there at some point?
CC: Yeah, yeah. They wanted the territory as soon as we couldbut we stayed long enough to get that camp cleaned out and cleaned up.
MH: Well, take me throughthe first day you get to the camp, youre inside, youre giving food to people, and then you realize you cant give food to people. Now what do you do?
CC: Well, we back out and go get quartered. We just left em, because we knew it was beyond us. They had to bring in a whole medical unit and food preparation. They brought in kitchen units. First, they started cooking. They had kitchens there, of course, and they had to start them on a real thin soup, for nourishment, because they werent able to digest solids. And even then, for whatever reason, they had diarrhea just incredible, terrible sickness from eating the food. Maybe they ate some we gave them or something. A lot of them got very sick. And probably some of them died from that, I dont know. But to do it right, and the Army came in and did it, they prepared this very thin soup for them to eat and bread, just to start with a minimum of food, to get them back so they could digest food again.
MH: And what was your assignment while that was going on?
CC: Well, we didnt have too many assignments. We had occasional assignments; we could go up into the camp any time we wanted to, which we did, you know. Wed go check the place out and see what was there.
MH: Tell me what you saw.
CC: Well, I saw the barracks down there in that hospital unit, and I went in there to see how terrible they were.
CC: And I saw all the dead bodies. And then we brought in bulldozers to dig a massa trench about oh, fifty yards long probably, or more, and six feet deep and startedthey had people out there putting those dead bodies in the grave. Theyd make a layer of bodies, then theyd put in a foot or two of dirt, then theyd put another layer of bodies and a foot or two of dirt. So there must have been about three different layers of bodies in that one mass grave to dispose of the bodies that were there.
MH: Is this where they had the German citizens from nearby doing the
CC: Yeah, they had someI didnt see very many of them out there, but they said they did bring some of them out there to help do that. But there werent very many, because Mauthausen town was just a little village. And Gusen were both small villages, there werent that many people.
MH: Did you go into both campsGusen and?
CC: No, I didnt. I have to say, I heard about Gusen but I never did go there.
MH: So, you were in the camp that had the quarry.
CC: The death camp, yeah, the quarry. We saw the quarry; we saw all that.
MH: When you went into the barracks in the camp that you describe where people were just left to die, what did that look like?
CC: Well, there were so crammed in there, and they just had these big bunks with a little straw, if they were lucky, on the bunks. Maybe a couple feet between bunks, clear to the ceiling, about four different decks, about two foot apart, and the things were about three foot wide, you know, three or four foot wide, the bunks. And theyd have to sleep, you know, four people on each bunk, clear up to the ceiling, and just a very narrow aisle down the middle of the barracks. Thats what the barracks was like. Just crammed in there and dark, and Im sure it was not clean.
I just went into the door and talked to one of the guys there. I remember he wanted something to read. He wanted something to read, and that was so strange. And I saidthe only thing I had was my New Testament. I said, Here, thats all I got. He was probably Jewish, and I laugh about it, but its all I could give him to read.
MH: Whatever works. Did he read English?
CC: Evidently he could a little bit, cause he could say he wanted something to read, and I picked up a few words of German. And we got a coupleour squad got several different duties to do while we were there. I was assigned to take a prisonernow they had taken a few prisoners at the camp, the Germans. And they were lockedthey had an inner prison in that big stone building. There was a regular prison in there, you know, the kind with cells and all that kind of stuff? And we had, I guess, maybe twenty German prisoners held there. In that inner prison, but some of the prisoners had been killed. I saw big Germans butchered, really, laying down in the inner camp near the gas chamber. The floor was covered with an inch of blood, and several of the German guards or whoever they were had been murdered or killed.
MH: By the inmates.
CC: Yeah, by the inmates.
MH: You say you knew they were German because they had uniforms?
CC: The clothing. They were fat and healthy, and they had clothing. You know. So they werent like the prisoners at all.
MH: And their bodies were in where the crematorium was?
CC: Yeah, just laying there on the floor in the room. Yeah, several of them in there, and prisoners up in the inner prison. One day, I was charged with work detail, I had to take on a garbage trip. I dont know where we took it, but I had one of these prisoners to do the work. And I was to guard them, of course, while he did his job. And he tried to talk to me, you know; he was a big, strong, good-looking guy, probably SS is what he was. He said in German, he said. What are they going to do to us? or to me, I forgot which. And I said, Ich wei nicht. I dont know. And he said, Warum? You know, Why? and What have I done?
MH: He said, What have I done?
CC: Yeah, What have I done? He said this in German, of course. I said, Der Lager ist schrecklich. The camp is terrible. You know, this place is awful. He said, Ah. He was telling me, All I did, he said, I was a guard on the gate. I didnt do any of that. All I was was a guard at the gate. I didnt do that. He didnt feel responsible for what went on in there. But he was responsible for it. All he did was just guard duty.
MH: Right. What do you say?
CC: What can I sayI said, I dont know. I had no idea what they were going to do with them, except I couldnt speak enough German to talk to him about that. He bore certainly some responsibility for what went on in there, even though he was only a guard at the gate. Whatever. But I think a lot of those prisoners were hung later on. They had trials for them, and I think they ended up being hung. But I dont know.
MH: I mean, hes relatively lucky he didnt get torn apart by the inmates.
CC: Yeah, I suppose, yeah. Really. Although they didnt have as much anger towards guys like that as they did the people who operated within the campthe Kapos, those who had direct access to prisoners and did some of the violence and that. Theyre the ones they had the most hatred for. And some of those were criminals, actually, who were supposed to be in the camp but were given jobs over the others. They were sadists; they were just sadists, enjoyed torture. But the Germans used them, you know, to do the dirty work.
MH: Were you able to strike up any sort of a relationship with the inmates?
CC: Well, the language was a big barrier. I really cant say I did. I did take one girl for a walk, which was an experience. I dont know what country she was from. She didnt speak German that I could recognize. And shed just talk incessantly, she just talked; she was pouring her heart out, I guess. Talking and talking and talking in a pathetic tone, you know, in a language that I had no idea what she was saying.
MH: What did she look like?
CC: She was small and dark-haired and skinny as a rail, you know, just skin and bones.
MH: How old do you think she was?
CC: Oh, early twenties, maybe.
MH: And you couldnt tell where she was from?
CC: No, I couldnt tell. But the language wasI would guess it was more like Hungarian or Bulgarian or something, those kind of languages, because it seemed quite different, you know.
MH: So were they still living in those cruddy barracks?
CC: Yeah. Well, whatre you going to do with them?
MH: I dont know; I was just asking.
CC: No, we tried to clean the place up, but we wanted them to stay there until they could be processed and properly get their health back, you know what I mean? Yeah, they kept them there, except that lower camp. They closed that one as fast as they could. But the other part of the camp, which was in little better shapeno, they kept them in there to feed them and take care of them and give them medical care and so on.
Another duty we had was the Army had come in and set up a hospital tent camp, you know, just a ways from the Mauthausen camp, out in an open field. And theyd taken a lot of prisoners; there was typhoid and all kinds of diseases in there that they needed treatment for. Anyway, so that was run by the Army nurses and doctors. And so at night, we provided guard duty for the hospital. And I was a sergeant of the guard; enough people had died off, so I got promoted.
MH: So you finally got your sergeant stripes?
CC: I finally got my sergeant stripes, yeah. Anyway, I was sergeant of the guard and they had to take, you know, guys over there to stand watch at the hospital unit. I remember doing that.
And another detail we had one time, our whole squad went out and tookwe took maybe eight of those prisoners, German prisoners, out of the prison for a detail down in that lower camp, which I said was a hospital camp. They had a latrine there, and it was huge because that camp would probably hold two or three thousand, at least two. And they had this huge latrine for everyone in the camp. And like I said, itd been several days since itd been taken care of, you know, maybe a week. The people had diarrhea and theyd go in there, but they wouldnt even make itthere were just troughs with seats on them, you know, big long troughs, one big open room. And there was crap all over the floors, and that room was justyou could not believe the mess it was in. And we took these German prisoners down there to clean that place up. And
MH: Youre finally telling me something that makes me feel good.
CC: And theres one guywe had water hoses, you know, pressure hose? And we had one guy on our squad who could speak German pretty good. He was a Greek kid, but he could speak German. And those prisoners were going to use the hose, stand outside and kind of hose it down from the outside? And he just ordered them to get in there, just go in there, and you-know-what was flying everywhere. Boy, oh boy. But man, in a couple hours, they had that place cleaned up. And he got em outside, and he told them to stand at attention, and darned if it didnt rain all of a sudden. He made them stand in the rain at attention.
MH: I thought you were going to tell me that he then hosed them down.
CC: No, no, he didnt take the hose on them. The rain was taking care of it. Anyway, that was our experience working with the German prisoners there.
MH: To go back to that young girl, how often did you see her?
CC: Only once.
MH: Just once?
CC: No, it was not a very good experience. To touch her was shocking, just kind of turned your stomach, cause she was just skin and bones, such a pathetic condition, you know. And I didnt know what to sayI couldnt say anything. I couldntyou know, we couldnt communicate. I felt sorry for her, but there wasnt anything going on there.
MH: This is somebody whos maybe just a year or two older than you are, I guess.
CC: Probably the same age.
MH: The same age, yeah. I mean, how do you keep her from knowing how badly you feel about how horrible condition shes in? Thats not put very eloquently, but I think you know what Im saying.
CC: Well, Im sure they felt it. They knew what shape they were in. But she tried to, you know, wear decent clothes and probably look as nice as she could under the circumstances. Trying to put on the best front she could.
MH: They got them clothes and got them out of the striped stuff?
CC: Yeah, they had some clothes, and they tried to fix their hair some way or another; they werent shaven. The women werent shaven there; they had hair. And some of themI dont remember this one to be particularly great looking; I cant hardly remember what she looked like. But I noticed some of them, when we first went in there, some of those young women lookedyou could see at one time they were very attractive women. You know, when they were well. You could see they had big eyes and were nice looking, appearing people.
MH: So, can you sense at that point what being there is doing to you, if anything? I mean I know a GI in combat, however horrible combat is, you get used to it. People on the left and right of you die, and youve got to keep going. But this is a different situation, this isnt combat. Youre there day in and day out seeing the worst that human beings have ever done to others.
CC: Were just glad we got there when we did. You felt some gladness that we liberated that darn place, and we felt pretty good about things improving. Gradually that camp is getting cleaned up, and those people who were there were starting to recover. So there was some good feelings about being there and doing what you were doing.
MH: One of the other guys I talked to said it wasnt too long before they began to shift people back to the countries they had come from.
CC: Yeah, if they were well enough, you know. They had a whole system of records to process these people to know what to do with them. And so, Im sure I didnt have anything to do with that; it was headquarters business, paperwork. Im not sure that they were processing those people according to their countries. It was another funny thing: right after we liberated, there was an uproar in the camp. Some of the prisoners in there were Russian, and some of them were Polish, and some of them wereyou know, these different countries? And there was an uproar between the two countries. They were kind of fighting each other, and that was kind of sickening that these people, after all theyd been through, suddenly found grievances and were battling each other. I mean, not killing each other or anything like that, but they were having quite a big uproar in the camp.
MH: And you had to get in there
CC: No, I didnt get involved in separating them, but I know it had to be done.
MH: Anything else at Mauthausen that you can think of? Whats the weather like while youre there?
CC: Well, it was spring, it was very nice. Yeah, it was May and it was sunny and bright, and we were right on the Danube. You could see the Danube River from up in the camp. And we were kind of shocked by that, too, because you know the beautiful blue Danube? It was just as brown as you can imagine.
MH: Was there any grass in the camp, or had it all been trampled?
CC: I dontthere was grass between where we lived; there was a meadow between where we lived and the camp. There was no grass in the camp itself. I dont remember seeing any grass in the camp.
MH: Heres a strange question: do you remember birds singing in the spring?
CC: Well, I wasnt into birds. I dont remember them singing, no.
MH: I only ask that because in the early 1980s I went to Auschwitz.
CC: Oh yeah?
MH: And it justI was producing a television program, and we were following some American college students there. And it just didnt look like what a concentration camp looked like, because
CC: I know what you mean, because Ive been back to Mauthausen several times.
MH: It was a beautiful spring day, and the grass was green and the sky was blue, and the birds were singing. And they had a flower shop there and souvenir shop, and it justyou know
CC: Exactly. When I went back to Mauthausen, I said, This isnt what the concentration camp was like. Its still there. The buildings still there and all that, and you can see the gas chamber and you can see the crematorium, but you know, that camp down below is totally obliterated, that so-called hospital camp. Theres no signs that it ever existed. And that was the very worst part of Mauthausen. And when I went back, I tried to find that mass grave, and I couldnt find it. I said, How could they forget theres a huge mass grave here? Finally, under a tree, there was a small stone marker that said, This is the location of a mass grave, like itd been hidden or something, you know. No, it looks like a very nice camp, kind of, when you see it now: a neat prison.
MH: What prompted you to go back?
CC: Oh, I dont know; a lot of memories. And of course, I wanted my wife to see Europe, and I wanted to take her there. And like I said, a lot of emotional feelings there about what we saw thereI never want to forget that.
MH: Howd you deal with it when you got there?
MH: On your returnwhat year did you go back?
CC: Oh, I think we went back the first time probably in seventy-four ? I think so, in seventy-four . And what made me mad, I went up to the gate and they charged me admission to get in. Its a museum, you know, and I had to pay to get back in there to see it. I thought, Gee, a fine thing we liberated the place and now I had to pay to see it. Anyway.
MH: Howd you react going back there?
CC: Well, like I said, the first reaction was, This isnt the way it was, you know. Its too nice. The wire fences are all gone, and its just a nice big, stone prison and everything is neat and clean, and all that kind of thing. And by looking at that building and even the pictures, you cant grasp the enormity of what it really was like, how awful it was. You just cant get it unless youve been there. You just cant. You cant describe it well enough. Pictures cant even show it good enoughits just too horrible.
MH: Was your reaction emotional?
CC: Oh, Im sure it was. I tend to repress my emotions pretty much, but
MH: Where were you when the war ended? You stayed at Mauthausen and then
CC: That was the end. The war actually ended, well officially on the 8th, but it was really over by the 5th of May, it was over. But officially the paperwork was signed on the 8th and all that.
MH: How long did you stay in Europe?
CC: Well, I stayed in Europe until December of forty-four .
MH: And then came home and got out of the Army?
CC: You betcha, fast as I could.
MH: And what did you do as a civilian?
CC: As a civilian? First I went to college, went to seminary, went to school for six years.
MH: Where did you go to seminary?
CC: Kansas City, Central Baptist Seminary in Kansas City.
MH: And you became a Baptist minister?
MH: How long did you practiceserve? Im not quite sure.
CC: Forty years.
MH: In what city?
CC: Well, I had various places. I had some churches in Missouri and a couple churches in Iowa, I had one church in Nebraska, and my last church was here in Washington, and I served that one for twenty-five.
MH: How did you use the Holocaust experience in your ministry?
CC: Well, I dont think I used it particularlylike I said, people knew that Id been in the war. I didnt make a big thing about that. I probably minimized my war experiences, but whenever I got a chance to talk about Mauthausen, I did. And whether it was to individuals or in a school or wherever it wasI havent had too many opportunities, but boy, if I ever had a chance. I felt that there are people whoin fact, there are people here in Seattle who were prisoners in Mauthausen. I met several of them. And some of them are willing to tell their story of the concentration camps, and they can do it far better than I could. And some of them are doing it in different venues, you know.
MH: To go back to something we talked about earlier, it was your service in the military that led you to become a minister?
CC: Well, I had, as I say, my Christian experience in the war, yes. At the time, I thought, well, war was so terrible there must be a better way. There just had to be a better way. And if I could get into ministry, it would help this world. If I could do that, thats what I wanted to do.
MH: Did you ever think of becoming a military chaplain?
CC: Yeah, I did at one time. I applied to the Air Force Reserve chaplaincy, but that was about 1963; that was a little before Vietnam and after Korea. I was a little old at that time already to be going into this, into the chaplaincy, and there werent any openings. Thats what it came down to.
MH: You mentioned that you got married. Do you have children?
CC: Yeah, four.
MH: And grandkids?
MH: And the proper noun of address for you is Reverend?
CC: No, just Colvin.
MH: Just Colvin.
CC: Thats is fine.
MH: But formally.
CC: Well, I was called Pastor a lot, didnt care much for Reverend; once in a while someone would use that, but whatever.
MH: Anything else you can think of?
CC: No, Ive told you a lot, I think.
MH: Yes, you have. I have one other request: do you have a picture of yourself from World War II?
CC: Ive got a couple of them. The best one I havent been able to find latelyits filed away somewherebut its a formal picture, of course.
MH: Nothing that was taken in combat?
CC: No, nothing like that. Nothing in combat, no. If I had a cameraI dont know if they let you. I cant remember if I had one. But when you get wounded, you lose everything you have, except maybe a billfold; I might have saved that out of my pants. They take all your clothes and put you in a hospital gown, and whatever I had in my pack on the half-track, I never saw again. Its all gone.
MH: Do you have an e-mail address?
CC: Yeah, I do.
MH: What Id like to do, if itd be possible to get a copy of a picture from World War II and if you have one that you have access to, and a current picture as well. And if you can send them to me, Ill scan them and send them back to you.
CC: Well, IllI dont know if I can find them, but Ill make some effort to come up with something.
MH: Whats your email address, sir?
CC: I dont even know my address here. Thats funny, what service I have here.
MH: Believe it or not it happens all the time.
CC: Dot com, something.
CC: Its the senior citizen one, what ever that is
MH: Oh, I didnt even know they had one.
CC: Yeah, they have online. Listen, let me get your phone number and get back to you.
MH: Okay, my phone number is
CC: Just a second.
CC: And what interested you in doing this?
MH: Well this is my sixth book.
CC: Sixth book, wow!
MH: Yes, I was actually embedded with the Air Force pararescue guys in Afghanistan at the end of 2002 to write a book. I wrote Michael Schiavos book about the Terri Schiavo case.
None Braver: U.S. Airforce Pararescuemen in the War on Terrorism, published in 2003; Terri: The Truth, published in 2006.
CC: Oh, yeah.
MH: And written a Vietnam book, and I was looking for another book to write, and my editor at the time said that World War II subjects are still selling.
A Snipers Journey: The Truth About the Man Behind the Rifle, written with Gary D. Mitchell and published in 2006.
And about three weeks before he said that, I had watched a PBS series on the Jewish AmericansIm Jewishand I saw a brief interview with one of the liberators at place called Gunskirchen. It must have just stuck in my head, because as soon as he said that to me I sat down and wrote him an email back and I said, I want to track down the liberators of the camps and talk with them about what they saw and did and how it affected their lives. And thats how this got started.
CC: And your name is Hirsh?
MH: Hirsh, H-i-r-s-h.
CC: H-i-r-s-h. Okay and your phone.Well, its good to talk to you, and Ill get back to you.
MH: I really appreciate the time you took. If you could get back to me with your email address, Ill just send you my information and if youre able to find a picture and get a picture of you today. I can even send you an envelope to mail it to me.
CC: Now there was a young lady that took an interest in the 11th Armored and the Mauthausen situation and she wrote a book or two, a novel, but she incorporated a Mauthausen experience. She lives in Montana. I dont remember her name right now, but she has written a couple of books about the Gusen and Mauthausen concentration camps and incorporated into a novel.
MH: I dont know if I have it here, but I think I may know what youre talking about, because I think somebody else mentioned it to me.
CC: Mentioned her?
MH: Yeah. Im justFrom Dust and Ashes?
CC: Yes, right.
MH: Tricia Goyer.
CC: Yup, Tricia Goyer, you got it.
MH: Yup, I got it here.
CC: Okay, well
MH: Thank you very much.
CC: Good talking to you, and Ill get back to you.
MH: Okay, thanks much.
CC: Okay, welcome.
CC: Welcome, bye.