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text Michael Hirsh: Okay, just so I have it on tape, your name is Elmert Chalcraft C-h-a-l-c-r-a-f-t? Ellery, IllinoisYou were with the 63rd Infantry Division?
Elmert Chalcraft: Yup.
MH: Which regiment?
MH: And whats your date of birth?
EC: Third [month] the 30th in twenty-five [March 30, 1925].
MH: Give me that one more time.
EC: Third the 30th in twenty-five [March 30, 1925].
MH: Okay. Can you tell me, when did you go in the Army?
EC: October forty-four .
MH: And you were assigned where?
EC: To ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps] then I went right overseas and into the 63rd Division.
MH: Where did you join the 63rd?
EC: In France, but I cant tell you what the name of the little place was.
MH: And you were a rifleman?
EC: No, I was a heavy weapons company. .30 caliber machine guns; water-cooled.
MH: Water-cooled machine guns?
MH: Tell me, at that time, did you know anything about the concentration camps?
EC: No, no, not until we got there, really. We just come up the Danube River and went down the road a little piece and right there it was.
MH: Which camp was it?
EC: It was the one at Gnzburg, right outside of Gnzburg.
EC: It was Dachau, if I remember right.
MH: It was one of the Dachau camps. Tell me, what did you see? What did youwhat was going on?
EC: Well, when we got into town and stayed overnight and went across the river. And we was looking up the road and here come a whole bunch of Germans down the road, course a lot of them was giving up then. This was getting right up to the end, pretty much, and a lot of them were giving up. They come down the road about six to eight abreast; the road was full. There were some guys on horses riding alongside of em, and when they got down to us, why, we found out they was GIs and British. The Germans had give up and theyd got sometook their horses and riding alongside of them. They rode them right down to town.
We goofed around there a little while and picked up our guns, moved out of our emplacement and all this stuff, so we decided we would see what was going on. And we went up and went into this here camp.
MH: What did it look like from the outside? Was it barbed wire?
EC: Oh, yeah, yeah. Ive got some pictures of it.
MH: What could you see when you were looking at it?
EC: Oh, all I could see was people starved to deathwasnt nothing but skin and boneslookin out through the wire at us. We went in there and was looking around and talking to a few of them that could talk. About that time, why here come a Jeep and a command car, drove up out in front, they jumped out and come running in there and told us to get out of there, we shouldnt even be in there.
MH: Why was that?
EC: I dont know. We was ones that liberated it and we couldnt be there, according to them. And really, what it was, I think it was the 36th Division, the 36th Division got the recognition for liberatin the camp. (inaudible) it was already set up, like everything in the Army.
MH: Actually, both divisions got credit, because Im looking at the list.
EC: Well, thats something different from what they told us. They run us out, so we left and went back to town there, which waswell, I dont know how far it was. It was, I think, between a half a mile andhalf a mile and a mile up there. We went back there and they loaded us up and headed us out in another direction.
MH: When you were in there talking to the people, what was the conversation about?
EC: Oh, gosh, I cant tell you. They was telling how theyve been starved to death and they was wanting something to eat. We gave them what free rations we had on us and that was it. But it was a mess.
MH: What else did you see, in the camp?
EC: Oh, hell, we saw a lot of people, a bunch of them were dead piled up there, and a bunch of em was down and out; they couldnt move. It was a mess.
MH: Did you go inside any of the buildings?
EC: Oh, yeah, we looked around there and seen where theyd been sleepin and whatnot, but Id say we probably wasnt in there more than fifteen or twenty minutes before they drove up and run us out.
MH: When youre in there, what do you feel like? I mean, what are you thinking?
EC: Oh, I really dont know. Thats been sixty-seven years ago. Hard to say, but it was a mess.
MH: Did you take pictures?
EC: No, the pictures Ive got was taken by the photographer for Look magazine. And he went right along with us and hed take somewe didnt have a camera. I didnt have no camera. And of course, youre in the infantry, you couldnt carry one on. If you did, you wouldnt have got real far. I told him Id like to have some of them pictures, so he says, Well, Ill see that you get em. And then two or three days, course hed go back at night and develop his and print em, and two or three days later, he give me these pictures.
MH: What do the pictures show?
EC: Oh, pictures show the camp, the front of the camp, guys standing out looking through the wire and shows the crematory oven deal. I dunno.
MH: Are there any pictures of you?
MH: Or other GIs?
EC: No, no, I dont remember. Id have to dig em out and look, because I dont remember. Theyre right there. He was taking pictures of the camp and people in the camp and what-not.
MH: Do you have those pictures still?
MH: Would it be possible for me to borrow them and copy them?
EC: Oh, I can get em and send you some if you want em. Ill have to dig them out and find them first.
MH: Okay, the only reason that I ask is if I can borrow the originals is that I can scan them on the computer and get a real good copy. And then Idyou know what? Ive been asking guys to doIll send you a mailing envelope and Ill do that as soon as I get them and send them back to you.
MH: Do you have a picture of yourself from World War II?
EC: Oh, somewhere. (laughs)
MH: If you could find that, too, that would be great.
MH: But what Ill do is Ill put an envelope in the mail to you.
MH: And theres no rush. I mean, whenever you have time.
MH: What did you do when you got home from the war?
EC: Oh, for a while I didnt do anything. But then I enrolled before I went to the service and I was goofing around here in farm supplies, things around here. They wanted me to drive a transport for them, so I drove a transport for them for a while. Didnt like that. And then I worked at a brickyard for a while and went to farmin. And Im living on a farm ever since.
MH: Where is Ellery, Illinois?
EC: Well, its between Evansville, Indiana, and St. Louis, Missouri. Right across there, its about twenty miles west of the Indiana border.
MH: Okay, I got it.
EC: Its on Route 15, about seven or eight miles above I-64 [Interstate 64].
MH: Did the experience you saw at the camp ever come back to you? You know, years later?
EC: Oh, yeah. I thought about it a lot of times. I thought about a lot of that a lot of times.
MH: You mean the war as well, obviously.
EC: Oh, yeah, everything.
MH: Still wake you up at night?
EC: Oh, no, doesnt wake me up much anymore, but I still think about it a lot. I was just a kid, kinda shook me up, you know?
MH: What were you, about twenty years old then?
EC: Yup, thats what I was.
MH: So thats a pretty hard thing to deal with as a twenty-year-old.
EC: Well, yeah, when youre justsee, I was raised on a farm, just a farm boy, and hadnt been kicked around a lot until I got in there, and then it was a different world.
MH: Yeah. Well, I thank you very much for your time, and Ill send you that letter and an envelope. And if you could find the pictures, Id really appreciate it.
MH: Thank you very much sir. Okay, bye-bye.
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Elmer Chalcraft oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (10 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (6 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 Elmer Chalcraft. Chalcraft was a member of the 63rd Infantry Division, which liberated Kaufering, a sub-camp of Dachau, on April 29, 1945. While proceeding on the Central Europe Campaign, the division encountered a group of German prisoners who had surrendered to the British. Shortly afterwards, they continued down the road and found the camp. According to Chalcraft, he and his comrades were there only a short time before other American soldiers, possibly from the 36th Infantry Division, told them to leave. Chalcraft describes the prisoners and his reaction to them.
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.
Infantry Division, 63rd.
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World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
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World War, 1939-1945
Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1939-1945
Crimes against humanity.
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