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DeWitt, Jack Richard,
Jack Richard DeWitt oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (16 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (8 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 Jack DeWitt. DeWitt was a captain in the 14th Armored Division, which liberated Muhldorf, a sub-camp of Dachau; Stalag VII A, a prisoner of war camp; and several other camps in April 1945. In this interview, DeWitt discusses liberating the camps, describing the condition of the prisoners. The division is credited with liberating numerous camps; this interview focuses on Muhldorf and Stalag VII A.
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.
DeWitt, Jack Richard,
Armored Division, 14th.
Armored Division, 14th
v Personal narratives.
Mhldorf (Concentration camp)
Stalag VII A.
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 Hisory 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 MH: I just want toyour full name, is it Jack or is it John?
JD: Its Jack.
MH: Jack DeWitt? D-e
JD: My middle name is Richard, last names DeWitt. D as in Dick, E as in Edward, W as in William, I as in Isaac, T as in Tom, T as in Tom.
MH: And do you capitalize the W?
JD: Yes, you do.
MH: And your date of birth sir is what?
JD: December 15, 1918.
MH: Can you just tell mewhat unit were you in, in World War II?
JD: Well, I was transferred from lots of different units. I started offwhen I enlisted as private, they thought Id make a good person as a medic because Id worked my way through school at the packing house. I was able to drive a truck. (laughs) But I went to OCS [Officer Candidate School], Armored OCS, at Fort Knox. Came out of there a lieutenant, and I served with the 48th Armored Division. When they reorganized, that was the 48th Tank Battalion, and I was transferred from there to the 19th Armored Infantry. I served overseas in A Company of the 19th as a lieutenant, and then I was made a captain in charge of C Company of the 19th. At the time youre speaking of when we liberated these people, I was the captain of C Company.
MH: Of an armored infantry unit.
JD: Whats that?
MH: It was an armored infantry unit?
JD: Armored infantry unit, yes.
MH: At what point in the war did you come to this particular camp were talking about?
JD: Well, it would have to beI was transferred to C Company the first of February, 1945, so it would have to be after that, because I was a captain at the time this took place.
MH: And do you know what camp it was, or what city it was near?
JD: I honestly dont. It was towards the end of the war down in southern Germany, in Bavaria, and it wasas I recall, it was before we liberated Moosburg [an der Isaar].
MH: Okay. Um
JD: It was after Hammelburg. I dont know the exact date, exact detail, or what the camp was. I think it was some kind of a work camp; there were a lot of women doing something or other, I dont know what it was.
MH: Tell me, what was your first sight of this place?
JD: I have no recollection.
MH: Okay. Did you go
JD: My recollection, as we got there in the evening, took the placeI dont think there was any fighting involved. I dont recall any; we may have killed a few guards or something. But it would beI think it would be after Hammelburg and before Moosburg. Not very much before Moosburg, I dont believe.
MH: Okay. What do you recall seeing?
JD: (laughs) I dont recall seeing anything. The normal thing for me to do, as an officer, was to outpost the place, you know.
MH: What does that mean?
JD: Well, it means you put guards out so you wont get surprised at all. This was on the edge of the camp.
MH: Any recollection as to how big this place was?
JD: There were quite a few people. I dont remember whether they were German nationals or displaced persons. I think they were displacements, but I honestly dont remember.
MH: Were they walking around in those striped uniforms?
JD: Whats that?
MH: Were the prisoners wearing those striped uniforms?
JD: I dont think so. I think these were women. I think they had on dresses, but dont hold me to it because my recollections hazy.
MH: So, tell me what else you recall seeing.
JD: Not much. As I recall, we left in the morning to go further south in Bavaria. Again, we may have stayed there till noon or something like that, I dont really know.
MH: Was the camp surrounded by barbed wire or by a stone wall?
JD: I dont recall either.
JD: It may have been barbed wire. But again, my memory is hazy. We went through so many things toward the end there, so rapidly.
MH: Did it have that wretched smell that so many guys described?
JD: Did it have what?
MH: The smell that so many guys have described? There werent piles of dead bodies, that sort of thing?
JD: No, I didnt see those dead bodies piled up until after the war.
MH: Did you talk to any of the women who were in the camp?
JD: I dont recall specifically talking to any of them. I may have, but I dont speak very good German. I speak very poor French, and not many of them spoke English. I dont knowthis may have been something: Once we took the place over, I would call the lieutenants together and assign different things for them to take care of, you know. But this was a temporary deal, as I recall, because I think we took the place. I dont think there was any fighting for it, or whether it was a liberation or whether they were Germans that were supporting Hitler. Hitler had them working at something or other, furthering his war effort, as I recall. But whether these people were doing it reluctantly or with enthusiasm, I dont recall. I think it was reluctantly.
MH: Did they look like they were well fed?
JD: No, I dont think so. Of course, very few people were well fed in Germany at that time. Unless someone was a farmer, you know.
MH: So, you probably left there, you said, sometime the next morning.
JD: Thats my recollection, although it might have been noon or it might have been the next evening.
MH: In the final weeks of the war, did you run into any other camps or any otheryou know, what they call the death marches on the roads?
JD: No, I didnt see the death marches. As we came close to Moosburg, there were soldiers, and usually officers, that had gotten out of the camp and traveled as individuals or small groups, you know.
MH: You said that after the war, you saw the piles of dead bodies. Where was that?
JD: That was at Dachau.
MH: At Dachau?
JD: Yeah. I didnt see it until two or three weeks after the war. What happened was they wanted to get all the medical personnel up there they could. And Dr. Hager, who was our battalion surgeon, went up there. (coughs) Excuse me. And when he came back, he told me, Youve got to see that, Jack, so I went up there. By the time I got there, there werent any bodies piled in the railroad cars, but people were walking around, so emaciated. Their thighs were about the size of my wrist, you know, and they were terribly weak. They had taken pictures, and I got pictures of the piled up bodies on the flat cars and so forth, and of the ovens and what have you. So, I simply visited up there after the war; it would be probably two or three weeks after the war ended.
MH: A number of veterans that Ive interviewed said that after seeing the camps during the war
(coughs) Excuse me. (coughs) Pardon me.
After seeing the camps, the thing theyd say is, We didnt take any prisoners that day, or, After that, we didnt take any prisoners for a week. Is that something that, as a soldier and an officer, you understand?
JD: Yes, indeed.
MH: Can you explain it? Because there are other people who go, Well, theres the Geneva Convention and you have to take prisoners, et cetera, et cetera.
JD: Well, I dont think youre just going around and killing people, you know. But, of course, in a combat situation, as long as the other German soldier has a breath of life in him and access to a gun or a grenade or something like that, hes a threat to you unless hes killed. You cant very wellin the middle of an attack, you cant very well take along prisoners, even under the best of circumstances where you simply send a prisoner to the rear, you know. You dont try to take care of them in the infantry. Someone is supposed to take them in the rear, you know. They count the prisoners, supposedly, and I think those prisoners were counted over and over, the same prisoners.
MH: Thats how they got counts like 50,000 or 100,000?
JD: Thats how they got so many people, because the infantry and the tanks would up there, and theyd take prisoners and send them to the rear. Theyd be counted when they got back to the artillery, then counted again when they got back to ordinance, that sort of thing.
MH: I understand.
JD: Yeah, there were people and there were circumstances when guys would be so enraged from having a buddy just killed, and if they had a chance for a prisoner theyd kill him, you know.
MH: And I think what youre saying is, thats just war.
JD: (coughs) You can makepardon me. You can make all the rules you want, but war is the antithesis of civilization, you know? When its your life or someone elses, its an easy choice.
MH: Okay. AnythingI was told that you became a brigadier general?
JD: Excuse me. That was after the war. I stayed in the Reserve, went to the schools and so forth, you know, trained people.
MH: What was your civilian career?
JD: A lawyer.
MH: Youre a lawyer?
MH: What kind of law did you practice?
JD: About everything, in my day.
MH: In Madison?
JD: Yes, in Madison.
MH: My wife went to the university there, and I actually spent time there doingI shot several programs for PBS on the campus there. Its a beautiful place to live.
JD: Yeah, I was on the faculty at the law school for a while.
MH: Ah. Okay. All right, anything else you want to tell me about the?
JD: I wish I could tell you more about it. I dont recall any write-up in the Division history about it. My recollection is dim, exceptI think Im giving you the right information.
MH: The campthere were two camps that the 14th Armored is credited with having gotten to before Moosburg. One was called Mhldorf.
MH: Mhldorf, M-u-h-l-d-o-r-f.
JD: That might have been the one.
MH: It was also called Dachau III-B. It was one of the Dachau sub-camps. And I know there were a lot of women working there.
JD: That might have been it.
MH: You dont happen to recall seeing any guys from the 99th Infantry Division there at the same time, did you?
MH: No? Okay. Do you happen to know anybody else whos still with us who was at any of these camps?
JD: Anyone else who was with us?
MH: Whos still alive, who was at any of the camps.
JD: Yeah, my company runner, Bob Straba, S-t-r-a-b-a, would have been with me.
MH: Where could I find him?
JD: Hes inright now I think he may be just finishing attending a reunion. Hes up in Michigan, in Kalamazoo. But Bob lives in Albuquerque.
MH: In Albuquerque? All right. I actually sent fliers to that reunion to be distributed, saying I was looking for people. So, maybe hell even call me when he gets home.
JD: Another would be Leo Gordon.
MH: Leo Gordon?
JD: Leo was my jeep driver. He and I and Straba rode together. I dont know what recollection theyll have of that camp. They may have better recollection of it than I do.
MH: Where does Gordon live?
JD: He lives in Pennsylvania.
JD: Ill see if theres some others that I can think of.
MH: Okay. Im just going to send you an email thatll tell you a little bit about the book, and give you my address or phone number in case you recall somebody else or remember something else.
JD: Well, I think Ive got addresses for a number of those people. Hard to keep track of whos alive and whos dead.
MH: I know.
JD: Im sorry I couldnt get to the reunion this year; that happens. I hope Ive been helpful.
MH: You have been, sir, and I thank you very, very much for your time. Okay, bye-bye.
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