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De Tomasi, Aldo,
Aldo De Tomasi oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (18 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 June 30, 2008.
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Aldo De Tomasi. De Tomasi was a member of the 104th Infantry Division, which liberated Nordhausen, part of the Dora-Mittelbau complex of camps, on April 11, 1945. He joined the division during the Battle of the Bulge, which was his first combat action. After the Bulge, while proceeding through Germany, the division came to a fork in the road; most of the division took the left fork, but De Tomasi's unit took the other, which led them to Nordhausen. They were the first unit to arrive at the camp, and were followed by the rest of the division and the medics. In this interview, De Tomasi describes finding the camp and seeing the prisoners there.
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.
De Tomasi, Aldo,
Infantry Division, 104th.
Infantry Division, 104th
v Personal narratives.
Nordhausen (Concentration camp)
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: Okay. Could you just spell your name for me, please?
Aldo De Tomasi: Yeah, its D-e capital T-o-m-a-s-i.
MH: Is it capital D?
AD: Capital D-e capital T-o-m-a-s-i.
AD: Its two words.
MH: And your first name is Aldo, A-l-d-o.
MH: And you live at
AD: Right. Now, they got the whole thing about me on the Internet, you know.
MH: Uh, Ill look for it.
AD: The whole story on the Internet. Go ahead; I was just telling youlook it up on the Internet later on, too.
MH: Let me just put your phone number in; itsWhats your date of birth?
AD: 7-21-25 [July 21, 1925].
MH: When did you go into the Army?
AD: Into Nordhausen?
MH: No, into the Army.
AD: Nineteen forty-four.
MH: Forty-four . And you were how old at that time?
MH: Eighteen. So you were right out of high school?
AD: Right out of high school, right.
MH: Were you drafted or enlisted?
AD: I was drafted.
MH: Whered they send you?
AD: They sent me to Fort Ord, and I was only there a couple ofthen I went to Camp Hood for two weeks. And I went to Newport News, and I got on a ship and they sent me over to Africa. From there I went to repo depot in Italy, and from there I joined the Timberwolves at the Bulge.
MH: You joined the Timberwolves. Did you see action in North Africa?
AD: No, not at all. We were only there for about a week.
MH: What was the first action you saw?
AD: As soon as I hit my outfit at the Bulge.
MH: And what was your outfit?
AD: 104th Infantry Division.
MH: And the regiment?
AD: It was the 104th Infantry Division, 415th [Infantry] C Company.
MH: Okay. So what was your rank by that time?
AD: At that time, private.
MH: Private. What was your first combat experience?
AD: My first, sittin in a foxhole, and it was rainin like hell. You got there at nightmy buddy and I, we got there at night. It was raining and they were fighting, and they threw us in a foxhole. And the next day, we just joined the group, and we kept going.
MH: How did you react to the combat experience?
AD: Well, right now its one of the best experiences Ive ever had. At that time, who knows? Kind of scary.
MH: Im curious why you say it was one of the best experiences you had.
AD: Well, I got to see all of Europe, and I got to see Germany, and I gotafter the war was over, I stayed over there as occupation. I just had a real good deal, you know. I wouldnt trade that experience, cause Im alive. It was a hell of an experience.
MH: I have to tell you, I have the exact same reaction to Vietnam.
AD: Yeah. You do, yeah.
MH: So, I understand exactly what youre saying.
AD: You come out alive.
MH: Yeah, if you come out alive and okay
AD: Whats that?
MH: I said, if you come out alive and okay, its an experience that
AD: Youll never have another one like it.
MH: Right. And I wouldnt want to do it again.
AD: Oh, no, not me either. Well, Im too old now.
MH: So, what was going on as you guys approached Nordhausen?
AD: Well, what happened is, we were moving pretty fast. We were walking and riding fast and movin. We were going right through Italy, you know, right through Germany, right through Germany there; we were moving [through] Halle, and all that there. How it happened was we were on a truck, ten of us, and the truck had a flat tire. So, they got out, fixed the flat tire, and our division kept going and went down maybe five, ten miles, whatever. There was a fork in the road, and the division took a left turn going to a town, I guess, to liberate it. The lieutenant we had, we called him Yard Block. He made a right turn and we went right into Nordhausen. So, we were the first ones there, ten of us.
MH: And when you say Nordhausen, you mean the death camp or the slave labor camp?
AD: The labor camp, and then right after the labor camp was the town. So, we went right into the labor camp first.
MH: So was that Dora?
MH: Was that Dora-Mittelbau?
AD: What, the town?
MH: The camp, the first camp you got to.
AD: Nordhausen; they called it Nordhausen.
MH: It was Nordhausen. So, what did you see?
AD: I sawI didnt want to go inside too much. We saw all the prisoners in theyou know, in their uniforms, like the striped stuff, and saw a little bit of the bodies on the ground, and that was about it. I didnt want to go in and see all of that garbage.
MH: Were the gates still shut when you got there?
AD: Oh, we opened them.
MH: Howd you do that?
AD: We just walked in They hadthere was a few SSers there. You know what an SS is?
MH: Yeah, I know what they are. Whatd you do with them?
AD: I didnt stick around to find out what happened to em. We just went to the outskirt of town and there were Germans there, and we waited for our group to catch up to us.
MH: Was there a firefight at the camp?
AD: No, no fighting at all.
MH: So, what did the SSers do, they just give up?
AD: Well, I guess they took off, I dont know. You know, I didnt bother to find out.
MH: But you did go inside the fence?
AD: No, I stayed outside by the fence, never did exactly go in; I was right outside the fence. I saw all that stuff, and that was enough for me.
MH: Had you ever seen anything like that before?
MH: You ever see anything like it after that?
MH: So, there were ten or eleven guys on the truck.
AD: Ten of us, yes.
MH: Ten. What did the other guys do; did they go in?
AD: Some of them did, I guess. See, I was there with the guy I went to school withwe were together all the timemy buddy. And we just went to town. A lot of them went to town, and we just split up, you know: a couple of us go in one house; a couple of the other one go in another house. And we just stayed there and we waited for our group to catch up to us. There were Germans there in that town, though.
MH: Was there any fighting in the town?
AD: A little bit, not that much, cause we were movingthey, at that time, they were kind of retreating, you know.
MH: Can youwhat kind of a day was it? Rainy? Sunny?
AD: I guess normalI guess.
AD: I know it wasnt raining, so it had to be a normal day.
MH: So, I imagine whats it likeI mean, whats it like? Youre in what, a deuce-and-a-half truck?
AD: Whats that?
MH: Youre in a deuce-and-a-half, a two-and-a-half-ton truck?
AD: It was one of those bigyeah, one of the big ones. A big truck, you know. I dont know, two and a half ton, I guess.
MH: Was the canvas up or down?
MH: Was the canvas on top of the
AD: Everything was down.
MH: Everythings down.
AD: We were sitting out in the open.
MH: So, who saw the camp first?
AD: Who saw it? We did.
MH: I mean, you all were looking out the front, and you see this camp?
AD: Well, we drove up to it. We all got off the truck and went in and looked at it.
MH: Did the prisoners try and talk to you?
AD: A few of them hollered, some hollered. I think there was a mixture of Polish, Italians and Jewish in there. To my memory, I heard a couple of them talk Italian, cause Im Italian, Italian or something. But we didnt have that much to do with it. We just wanted to get out of there. We wanted to get to town. Under cover, more or less.
MH: You had no orders to keep them in or let em out or anything?
AD: No, no.
MH: Did they start pouring out after you opened the gate?
AD: Well, they come runnin out to us, and we moved inour outfit came in right after us, and they kind of went for em, more or less. Then the medics got in there after we did.
MH: How do you react to seeing something like that?
AD: At that time, it wasnt very nice to see. We were so busy moving and everything, it didnt, you know, hit me until I got home, and because when I heard about the Holocaust and all of that there, I went, Wow, there was more prison camps and everything else. And then you see all this stuff in the movies and all thatwhich they claim it wasnt true, but it was, I guarantee you. They say it never happened, but it did. I dont know how the Nordhausen people didnt smell the burning bodies and all that stuff. See, Nordhausen, was there by a big mountain, so they were making these big, big bombs in there, inside the mountain. They had it all dug out, and they had a factory, like, and they were making bombs.
MH: So, these were slave laborers.
AD: Definitely, yeah. Slave laborers is what they were. Well, they were prisoners, but slave laborers.
MH: Did you guys go into the tunnels in the mountains?
AD: No, I didnt. I saw part of it. See, I went back there again, maybe ten years ago; we went through everywhere we were during the war. But I still didnt go into that hill.
MH: What was it like going back there ten years ago?
AD: Like I said, Im glad I went. We went to Brusselsand then, see, before I got there, our outfit liberated Holland. And we went all through Holland, all through Germany, up to Berlin. Then we went through the fields we were in and saw a lot of the stuff, a lot of the places we were. And it brought back memories, but it was nice. It was a great trip.
AD: Thats another trip I wouldnt trade for nothing.
MH: Did you go back to where Nordhausen was?
AD: Yeah, we went there. We went there.
MH: So what was still there when you went there?
AD: There was nothing there, really. Nothing.
MH: What kind of emotions go through you when you go to a place like that?
AD: Well, at that time, you know, were all together and we looked at a few of the things. But I justreally, I cant explain it. I really cant. I cant explain it. Because you know with the German people and all thatits just hard to explain. You know, we fought them and were over there, and then were talking to em like nothing happened and everything. We went through that whole area that we went through during the war, the 104th Infantry Division. We went through everything.
MH: How did you deal with Germans saying during the war, We didnt know about this, we didnt know what was going on, when?
AD: Well, I didnt hear that until I got home. Its a bunch of baloney They keep saying there wasnt no such thing, but it was there. I saw it with my own eyes.
MH: Right, but I mean, even Germans who lived next to the camps said, Oh, we never saw. We never knew.
AD: I didnt talk to em, so I dont know.
MH: Oh, okay.
AD: We never talked to them, because when we got there, there were a few soldiers there and we captured them, and then the German people who lived there got in the houses and we never saw em. We just kept moving, you know, cause we were moving pretty good at that time. It was in forty-four , and we were moving pretty good.
MH: This was already April of forty-five . This is just a few weeks before V-E Day.
AD: No, lets see. Well, yeah; this was after I got in. Yeah. From there, we went through, and then we went toI forgot the name of the town. Then we had to sit outside of Berlin for two weeks and wait for the Russians to get there
MH: Oh, because they wouldnt let the Americans take Berlin.
AD: The Russians had to take Berlin. We couldnt take it. So, we were out there comparing weapons and everything else, and theyd get mad because our weapons were more superior than theirs. Theyre really mean, them Russiansat that time. They had a lot of women soldiers, and they were mean.
MH: Well, the German people were running like hell from the Russians. They were trying
AD: Well, they were scared of them; they were mean. The Russians were really mean. Boy, they didnt fool around.
MH: I was told by some of the guys Ive interviewed that after they saw the concentration camps, they didnt take very many prisoners, especially among the SS.
AD: You mean the Russians?
MH: No, the Americans.
AD: Well, we didnt take that many, either, because we were moving. We took a few, but not that many. We didnt get too many prisoners, cause we kept going. Whenever we got an SSerwe had a German in our outfit. He got killed, the poor guy. He used to interrogating the SSers. They had to warn them, though, because every time he took them in a room to interrogate them, hed come out, the guy was dead. Hed kill em, he hated them so much. But he got killed anyway. I forgot his name. The guy got shot in the neck.
MH: Nobody was particularly concerned that he was killing the SS guys?
AD: No, but the officers got on him for doing that. The SSers were mean. You know what they were, dont you?
MH: I know exactly who they were, yeah.
AD: They were stormtroopers. They were Hitlers Jugend, they called em: Hitlers children. We got in one townIm not sure, I think it was Hallewhere Hitler had a place there for soldiers to come in and have a week or two off with German women, and theyd have kids. And if they were a girl, theyd kill it. If it were a boy, they kept it and sent it to this Hitler Jugend school down in the southern part of Germany. Them SSers, they were all just kids.
MH: Did you get married and have children?
AD: Yeah, I got two.
MH: You have two. Did you tell your kids about the war?
AD: Oh, yeah. Well, see, I got[Steven] Spielberg called me up, the guy from Hollywood. He heard about me through the people here in San Francisco, the Jewish outfit in San Francisco. So, he called me up and said hed like to interview me; took about maybe six, eight months. They sent two people up here from L.A., with the cameras and all, and they interviewed me, and they interviewed my son also. They knew all about it, my kids did. They had sealed the whole block; nobody can come up the block or nothin. But then, according to them, Im supposed to have a tape in all of the museums.
This is part of Spielbergs Survivors of the Shoah project.
MH: Where on the Internet is your story?
AD: Its onI dont know, a friend of mine brought it up and showed me. Its under my name, Aldo De Tomasi. If you want, I can call him and find out.
MH: If you couldcause Im looking at it. Im trying to find it right now, and Im not finding it.
AD: Youre not finding it? Can you hold a minute and call me back in five minutes?
MH: Sure. Ill call you back.
AD: Okay. Let me call him now and see if I can find out.
MH: Okay. Ill call you back.
MH: Hi, its Mike Hirsh.
AD: Okay, I got it here for you. Its www.google.com. And he said all you got to do is put in Nordhausen and my name, and they got the whole thing that I gave the Chicago newspaper and all the newspapers here, the write up they got. If you want to know anything, just call me anytime you want.
MH: Do you know any of the other guys who were with you who are still around?
AD: Yeah, theres Mangini, my buddy.
MH: He was also
AD: Hell tell you the same story, though.
MH: He was at Nordhausen, too?
AD: Yeah, we were together all through that.
MH: Can you give me his phone number and name?
AD: I dont know it. He lives up on the other side of Sacramento. Hell give you the same story.
MH: Whats his name?
AD: Al Mangini.
MH: How do you spell Mangini?
AD: M-a-n-g-i-n-i. There might beyeah, his name will be underneath my thing, cause we were together all that time.
MH: Terrific. Thank you very much, sir. I appreciate it.
AD: Youre quite welcome. Bye-bye.
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