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Duoos, Robert S.,
Robert Duoos oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (69 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (19 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 April 3, 2008.
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.
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Robert Duoos. Duoos was a member of the 80th Infantry Division, which liberated Buchenwald on April 12, 1945. He and his unit were separated from the rest of their troop when their jeep broke down, so they stayed behind in Weimar. They heard about Buchenwald from some other American soldiers, and went out to the camp to see it, witnessing the crematorium, hospital, and other areas. When they caught up to their comrades in Nuremberg, Duoos met a French prisoner from Buchenwald, who traveled briefly with the division, and had several conversations with him about the camp. In this interview, Duoos also describes several other wartime experiences, including capturing groups of prisoners and seeing the building in Nuremberg where the war crimes trials were held in 1946.
Duoos, Robert S.,
Infantry Division, 80th (1942-1946)
Infantry Division, 80th (1942-1946)
v Personal narratives.
Buchenwald (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: Just so I have everything on tape, can you give me your full name and spell it for me, please?
Robert Duoos: Well, my full name is Robert, common spelling, initial S., and the last name is Duoos, spelled Delta-Uniform-Oboe-Oboe-Sierra, D-u-o-o-s.
MH: And they called you Bob?
MH: And your address please? And your phone number is And your date of birth?
RD: January 15, 1923.
MH: And you were with the 80th [Infantry] Division?
MH: I was trying to remember how I got your name, and it might have beendo you know a man named Mel Rappaport?
Melvin Rappaport was also interviewed for the Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is C65-00110.
MH: Thats how I got your name.
RD: Yes, I know him through correspondence: e-mail and letters.
MH: I havent heard
RD: I never met him.
MH: I havent heard from him in quite a while; in fact, I sent him an e-mail to see if he was okay, and I never got a response. In any event, where were you before you went in the service?
RD: Where was I?
MH: Yes, where were you growing up?
RD: Well, I was born and grew up on a farm in Minnesota. Following high school, I was employed in St. Paul, Minnesota, and from there into the Army.
MH: It was a family farm?
MH: Dairy, okay. How did you end up in the military, then?
RD: Well, after Pearl Harbor, we all assumed that we were eventually going to serve, and I was drafted in December forty-two .
MH: And whered they send you?
RD: Camp [Fort] Campbell, Kentucky.
MH: And you were destined to do what?
RD: Well, we draftees formed the 20th Armored Division in Camp Campbell, Kentucky. It was formed, a brand new division, in the spring of 1942forty-three, I should say, 1943. I got my training there. We were trained to fight in Africa, and with the turn of events there, well, we were then trained to go to Europe and fight in Europe.
MH: Im curious, whats the difference in the training, or was it desert warfare versus
RD: Desert warfare versus, you know, the invasion of France. Yeah, and we were in an armored outfit, going to Africa; when we went to France, we were plain ordinary infantry. And late inearly, I should say, early in forty-three let me think about this a little. Forty-four , would it have been? I was part of a group of people transferred to the 80th Infantry Division in New Jersey. Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. And there I was placed in reconnaissance troop, partly because of my training in the 20th Armored. We were in light tanks, armored reconnaissance, in the 20th Armored, and now I was in reconnaissance in the infantry.
MH: Howd you feel about going from armored to infantry?
RD: Didnt like it. Didnt like it. But fortunately, being in reconnaissance, the main difference was that instead of light tanks, we were in armored cars and Jeeps. So, we were mounted, where in infantry, of course, we were not mounted.
RD: So we livedour combat experience was one of living in a Jeep.
MH: When you say living in a Jeep, what do you mean?
RD: Well, a crew of three in a Jeep, and the Jeep was modifiedit had a rack welded onto the back, which contained water cans, gasoline cans, rations. We had our baggage, musette bagswhich we would call a backpack nowwould be attached to the sides of the Jeep. The windshield was replaced with a quarter-inch thick steel shield with slots for viewing through them, and we carried all the necessities for life in that Jeep, and thats where we lived. And the armored car, of course, they were equipped with the same thing. They were in a platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, and a reconnaissance platoon was made up of three M8 armored cars and six Jeeps: a total of nine vehicles. And the unit like this was out, we were doing thewe were called sneak and peek. We were out in front of the infantries trying to keep tabs on, contact with enemy and locate em, see what they were doing.
MH: Did you push through the enemy lines?
RD: Yes. We spentmost of our time was between our infantry and their lines, but there were times when we were behind their lines.
MH: I imagine quite often, the danger is getting shot by both sides.
RD: Yes, thata friendly artillery was a factor a couple of times. But our biggest hazard was being ambushed. The Germans would set up ambushes. Our casualties, many of our casualties, were from ambush.
MH: Where did you initially land in Europe?
RD: In Scotland. We went over on the Queen Mary, landed at the Firth of Clydeis that it?
MH: Yeah, the Firth of Clyde, right.
RD: Yeah, and from there we went into Englandum, Im trying to think of the name of the town right now. I cant think of it right offhand, but we spent one month in England. And then from there we went to Southampton and then across to Utah Beach. And we landed on Utah.
MH: On D-Day?
RD: On the second of August. Very fortunate that we were still in New Jersey on D-Day. But we landed there the second of August.
MH: Then what happens to you?
RD: Well, we spent the next 274 days on our way to Austria. We landed the second of August and went on through France and the Ardennes, across the Rhine, through Germany, and into Austria.
MH: Were you in the Battle of the Bulge?
MH: Whats your most intense memory of that experience?
RD: Well, we were on the right flank of the 3rd Army on the seventeenth of December, expecting the counter-attack on the right flank. And that waswe were led to believe thats where it was going to happen, and of course it happened up north. On the eighteenth of December, we made a rapid move into Luxembourg. It was the first time we were able to use the headlights on our vehicles, drive as fast as we could, and just moved quickly from the right flank to the left flank into Luxembourg. And what I remember about that is that our ration was one D-ration bar, and a D-ration was a piece of hard chocolate the size of a large Hershey bar. And thats what we ate until we were settled in. And um, what I remember about it? Worst case of constipation I ever had in my life. (laughs)
MH: (laughs) From that chocolate bar?
RD: Yeah. It was so hard, you had to use your bayonet to chip off pieces, and I dont how it affected the other guys, but it
So then, once we got into Czechoslovakia, into Luxembourg, our first assignment was to locate the 4th Infantry Division, which was somewhere in Luxembourg. They knew where they were, but nobody else did. Our first assignment was to find them. And that was routine; we were pretty much on theI guess youd say the south side of the Bulge. We didnt get into Belgium. But we were on the edge of those troops, so we had itcompared to those in Belgium, we had it relatively easy.
MH: Were you aware of what was going on with the other units at the time? Did you know how bad it was?
RD: I cannot remember. I cant recall. I know we were coping with the weather, and we knew it was serious business. We had soldiersour lines were so thin on Christmas Day, we had two of our guys captured by Germans in the middle of the day. And they werea lot of our missions were outposting. They were outposting, and we found out later when we recaptured them, like in April or March or April, that they were doing their usual thing, outposting, when they were captured by German soldiers wearing American uniforms, U.S. uniforms. And the Germans just walked up to them and took them prisoners. And those kinds of thingsour lines were pretty thin.
MH: But you didnt find out aboutwell, there were some warnings about German commandos doing that sort of stuff, so I dont know if they got to your unit.
RD: Not that I remember, no.
MH: Right. So, I was just reading a biography of George Patton, and he was talking about some of the measures that American forces would take to try and stay warm, because he said it was obviously one of the worst winters theyd ever had. What unusual things did you do to keep warm in that situation?
RD: Well, I remember sleeping on the hood of the Jeep because it was warm. We were a part of the 80th Infantry but we were not infantry, thank goodness, because those guys were sleeping in the snow. We would manage somehow, usually, to get into some kind of shelter. We would move into a house and stay in a house whenever it was possible, or into some kind of shelter. But being a small unit of a platoon of thirty people, it was fairly easy to accommodate us, relatively easy to accommodate us, as opposed to an infantry company of 120 people.
MH: When youre in the Battle of the Bulge, I mean, do you believe it could be that bad?
RD: Well, you dealt with reality, I guess. I dont remember what we really believed or what we expected. We did best we could under the circumstances. Like I said, we lived out of a Jeep, so we were able to carry a bedroll, which was an Army blanket wrapped up in a shelter-half, and when you slept at night, we at least had that Army blanket and shelter-half. Always slept in my helmet. I neveryou know, you slept with your head in a helmet. And you had your riflewe had carbine riflesand we slept with those, and of course we were armed. And we never took our shoes off. The only time we took our shoes off was in what we considered to be a safe situation. And sometimes that was a mistake.
I know that during the Bulge, one time I helped a couple of the fellows who were wounded to an aid station. After we got them to the aid station, I helped lift this one fellow off the litter by putting arms underneath his waist to lift him off; it so happens that part of the litter was full of blood, and so my sleeves were soaked in blood up to the elbows. And it was exactly thirty days later that I got to change my shirt. So we went for a month at a time without a change of clothes; and, as I say, taking our shoes off at night was a luxury. We didnt get to do that too often.
MH: Did everybody smell pretty ripe, or was it just so cold that you didnt notice?
RD: We didnt notice, no. I have tried to recall how often we had a change of clothes, and you know, I can only remember it happening twice: once in France, early on in France, and then once in Luxembourg.
MH: They actually would bring you new uniforms, new fatigues?
RD: Well, I dont remember getting the new uniforms, exactly, other than underwear. But as far as during the Bulge and after the Bulgeafter the Bulge, I wore a pullover sweater that I got out of a German department store, and some socks that I got out of a German store, where we were in the town. Of course, it wasthey had fled; there were no Germans in the town when we got there, a small village. And I remember outfitting myself pretty much with clothes from the store, just helped myself. So, no.
MH: At what point, if at all, before you confronted it, did you know about the death camps or the Holocaust or slave labor camps?
RD: Well, towards the end of the war. It would have been mid-April, and we wereI have to look up names of the town now. Limbach, Mainz. We were scheduled to occupy a town; I think it was Limbach. And we were all set to move into it when, the night beforethe night before we were to move into the town, we were told that was in Russian territory, and we had to leave it for the Russians. So, they reassigned us to go to Nuremberg.
En route back to Nuremburg, we had to go through Weimar. When we got into Weimar, we had a stroke of good luck. Our Jeep wasnt running. The company or troop continued on to Nuremburg and left us behind, with instructions to get the Jeep fixed and catch up. There happened to be an anti-aircraft maintenance unit on the edge of Weimar, and they left us with them. Gave us a box of 10-in-1 rations, and said, Get your Jeep fixed and catch up.
MH: A box of what kind of rations?
MH: What are 10-in-1?
RD: Ten meals in one box. There were three of us.
MH: Those are Ks or those are Cs?
RD: Well, they were different. They werelet methey were more complete meals. They came in a box about, I suppose, ten inches deep and fifteen inches wide and twenty-four inches long: ten meals. And, at any rate, they left us with that and said, Get the Jeep fixed and catch up. The three of us. So, now were in the town of Weimar; it had been occupied for aboutmaybe its about ten days. There were no enemy troops, so we went into town and we checked into a place called Elephant House.
MH: Oh, Elephant House, okay.
RD: Yeah, Elephant House. Some people refer to it as the Elephant Hotel, but I remember it as the Elephant House. My Jeep driver had two years of college in New Jersey before the Army and had some German. So, we went into the hotel and said we wanted a room in the hotel, the three of us, and they accommodated us. They were civilians, wearing suits, all men. We had our 10-in-1 rations and told them we wanted them to prepare us our meals while we were there, and we stayed on the second floor of the hotel.
We were the only American troops in the hotel. It was really dumb on our part. We were too dumb to realize that we were putting ourselves in jeopardy. The entire fourth floor of the hotel was reserved for Adolf Hitler and his staff when he was there, and it was strictly off limits. Nothing above the second floor was on limits for us. And we didnt realize these things. It was here, then, that we learned of Buchenwald.
MH: How did you hear about it?
RD: The aircraft maintenance people said there was this camp down the road about four miles, and we said wed go down and take a look at it. And they had seen it. Now, this would have been about the seventeenth of April. The camp was liberated on the eleventhtenth and eleventh. So, we got a vehicle from them and drove on down to the camp and took a walking tour, spent the afternoon there.
MH: What was your first sight of the place?
RD: Well, it was a surprise. We apparently had heard of these kinds of places, but seeing this waswe were surprised. The thing I remembered most was the strong smell of Lysol. Everything was draped with Lysol. And the inmates sitting around looking at usthere were quite a few U.S. troops in there the day we were there. Quite a few other outfits had come in fromwell, the town had been occupied for a week or so, and so those people were in there, too. I dont know how many of us at one time, but probably twenty-five, forty, fifty of us. And we took a walking tour.
MH: The gates were open, or they were manned by Americans?
RD: No, everything was wide open. Everything was wide open.
MH: And the former prisoners werent wandering around outside the gates?
RD: Yeah, they were wandering around. I had a camera but I didnt have much film. I had a roll of film in the camera, but not many shots, so I had to be very careful about the pictures I took, trying to findI didnt want to take too many pictures. I was afraid Id run out of film, but I did get a few pictures. I saw the crematorium and the bodies piled up waiting to be burned, and we took a tour of the hospital and went in there. I didnt take any pictures in the hospital: the lack of film.
MH: Did you have conversations with the inmates?
RD: Yes, but not immediately. We were told, we were warned, Dont offer them any food. Solid food could kill them. And communicationswell, the camp was set up in sectors by nationalities. There were the Belgians, there were the French, there was the Gypsies, different groups. And of course, they all spoke their own language, and they didnt approach us and we didnt approach them. And so, then when welet me flash ahead here, speed track ahead a little. When we did catch up to our troop in Nuremberg, there I met the first inmate from the camp and talked to him.
MH: So this is way out of the camp?
RD: This was way out of the camp; this was back in Nuremberg. Now, what happened here was that one of the inmates was a fella from Paris, who was married to an American girl. This American girl was from, I think Jericho, New York. And she was acquainted to a fellow in our outfit, who was in G-3; his name was Major Cole Kerr. He had been commander of our recon group in the States and had been promoted to G-3 division; he was a major. And he knew this girlhusband, who washis name was Count Roald Lubecec from Paris, France. He was a prisoner in the camp because he had helped American airmen who would be shot down in France, helped them escape; he was part of the French underground. And for that activity, he was put in Buchenwald.
Now, when Major Kerr learned of Buchenwald, he knew that Lubecec was in Buchenwald, he got one of our platoonsthe recon platoon, the officer of the recon platoonto take him to the camp to see if he could find Lubecec. So, they drove into the camp and one of the first people he met, standing there looking at him, looking for an American that he might know, see, so he met him there. Lubecec was in good enough condition that he could have gone back to Paris right then, but he said no, he wanted a chance to even the score, and asked for permission to go with our outfit for a while. So, he was in my platoon for ten days, two weeks, and while he was in the platoon we got information from him. It turned out he spoke better English than some of our guys. (laughs) A well educated person. He gave us many details of life within the camp. And, I say, he stayed with us ten days or more.
MH: Do you remember any particular conversations you had with him?
RD: Well, a couple ofhe talked about discipline, and one of the rules was that an inmate, if you were outdoors, had to have his head covered. The penalty for being uncovered was assassination. And he told of examples, where they had a fence around the camp with a double fence, with guard dogs between the fences, and of course a tower here and there for guards tonow, there was a no-mans land, a third wire, which I saw, which was probably twenty to thirty feet inside of the camp, and only about knee-high, just a low wire. The penalty, if anyone went into this area called no-mans land, the guards would shoot em.
So, what a German guard would do to amuse himself, he would take an inmates cap and throw it into the no-mans land, and hed say to the guy, Wheres your cap? You know what the penalty is for being outdoors without a cap? and the guard would say Assassination. What are you going to do? The guy would say, Well, Ill go get my cap. Well, whats the penalty for being in no-mans land? Be shot. And whatever his choice was would not be the right one. He would be shot. Those things happened.
And another incident: the outdoor latrineI suppose they were all outdoorshe said were deep trenches. And there was a log situated over the trench; youd sit on this log while you were using the latrine. And some of them, they were in such weakened condition they might lose their balance and fall into those latrines. There was a long pole, probably eight, ten feet long, lying by each latrine. The purpose of it was, if a person fell in, you put the log down in there and helped them get out. He said they would use it for another purpose: they would push the person under and that was it.
MH: The Nazis would do that.
RD: Yes. Those were two things that I remember that he discussed. He talked about interrogating inmates, and he said they would have female guards in the hospital, using a little torture. The torture was common, and theyd use females to crush ones testicles, for instance, to get you to talk. Those kinds of things.
MH: Do you recall how this man spelled his name?
RD: Yes, Ive got the spelling here. Hold on a second.
RD: He went by the name of Count, C-o-u-n-t, Roald, R-o-a-l-d, Lubecec, L-u-b-e-c-e-c.
MH: L-u-b-e-c-e-c, okay.
RD: Thats the spelling I have.
MH: How much time did you spend with him?
RD: Oh, about ten days. And he usually, you know, when we had breakswe were on duty, we were patrolling, and he was riding along. But it was usually at nighttime, when we were down for the night.
MH: He had enough military experience that you werent concerned about having an amateur with you?
RD: No, that was not a concern. In fact, we would havewe would take amateurs with us from time to time, for language purposes. We had a boy from Luxembourg, who happened to be at home in Luxembourg City when we entered. And he was a German soldier on the Russian front. And because of his language skills, and(laughs) I dont know the exact explanation for it, but we took him with us as an interpreter, gave him an American uniform, got him some U.S. dog tags, and he spent the remainder of the war with us. He became a U.S. soldier by choice. He was defectivedefectingand chose to do that. He was not a true German; he was a Luxembourger, who chose to do this.
And we would have an occasionalI suppose you could say Europeanride with us for purposes of communicating with the enemy. We wereyou know, we could hear at night, sometimes, in situations. We could hear them talking, close enough so that theywe had no trouble at all communicating with Lubecec, though. And then, I was in contact withlet me get his name herePierre C.T. Verheye. Does that ring a bell with you?
MH: No. Pierre C.T.
MH: His name actually shows up on a Google search.
RD: It does show up?
RD: Oh, I communicated with him; he was living in Tucson and we communicated: e-mail and corresponded a little. And he confirmed a few questions that I had.
MH: You met him in the camp?
RD: I didnt meet him, no. Not in person. But he furnished me with information that I wanted.
MH: To go back to the time that you were actually in the camp
MH: In talking with many, many soldiers who were thereI mean, the descriptions of bodies stacked like cordwood eventually seemed to become so commonplace that youre either numbed by it or they dont have an impact on you.
RD: No, it had an impact. Right now, Im looking at a piled up like cordwood just outside the crematorium, and yeah, I took a picture of it. Its hard to believe. But it was hard to believe how emaciated they were. And the camp was self-liberated, you know that.
RD: And, according to Verheye, he said the total strength of the undergroundthey had undergroundis 850 men in 171 sections of three to six men each, armed with ninety-one rifles and carbines, twenty pistols, one machine gun and ninety-six hand grenades. And then he goes on to talk about the sectors, cause there were twenty-five sectors: sixteen Yugoslav, nine Polish in the Green Sector. Red Sector was seventy-seven sections: thirty-seven Soviets, nineteen Soviet PWs, twenty-one Czechs, and so on. Blue Sector, Yellow Sector, Red Sector, Green Sector. And that underground went into effect on the tenth of April when the U.S. troops were approaching Weimar.
The German S.S. guards fled and left the camp in [the] control of the small number of German soldiers, young soldiers. And the underground overpowered em, put em in a prison, which they called the dungeon. A couple of these guys tried to play the part of being inmates. And, of course, inmates knew better and put em in the dungeon, and these two fellows hanged themselves. I have pictures of the two of em lying alongside the stacks. And what made me suspicious of them was that they were healthy looking. I thought that the inmates had killed em, but it turns outI found out later that they had hanged themselves. And these pictures, they sent the pictures to Verheye and he found them helpful in determining who these individuals were some time later. But
MH: Going back to your time walking around the camp, what other things did you see the memory of which still sticks with you?
RD: Well, in the hospital, I saw lampshades that were made from human skin, with tattoos, and they had every part of the human body displayed in alcohol jars, jars of alcohol. And one of the things that was really unusual was that they had cut an inmates body in two, from the head to the seat, cut him lengthwise, and he was mounted on a glass inside a tank of alcohol. So, youre looking at the cross-section of the inside of a human being and those kinds of things in the hospital: hard to believe.
MH: And you saw these there?
RD: Yes. And there was an inscription above one of the doors at the hospitalI dont know if they dedicated the hospital or just a part of the hospital or room to a Japanese, and the Japanese name [was] up there above the door. And I thought that was kind of strange. Thats just pretty much
MH: The human skin with tattoos that you saw, that was in the hospital?
RD: Yes, part of the office, you know: a light fixture on the desk, that sort of thing.
MH: You were how old at the time?
RD: I was born in twenty-three , so I was twenty.
MH: You were twenty. How does a twenty-year-old kid process this stuff?
RD: (laughs) Good question. With disbelief, I guess, mouth open. You know.
MH: I mean, do you get physically ill?
RD: No, no, I didnt, although itsit felt creepy-crawly, but no, I dont remember being physically ill. But then, by that time wed seen a lot of gruesome things.
Switching back early on, as we were crossing the Moselle River, fighting for the town of Sainte-Genevive, when we were moving on out of the town after considerable fighting, I was riding in the back of the Jeep, eating a can ofC ration can, I suppose, of pork. And when we were going out of the town of Sainte-Genevive, I noticed there were all kinds of pigs wandering around in the streets. We were on the edge of town. There was a dead Germana dead American soldier lying in the road. The vehicle that had traveled past him had run over his head. It was a gruesome sight.
As we went by, there was a pig eating this soldiers arm. Pigs will eat human flesh. And Im eating a can of pork as I go by, and need I say, the rest of the war passed without me ever eating pork. Those are the kinds of things. And one of the other fellows, one of our radio operators, when wed open a can of rations, a 10-in-1 or a K or whatever, if it was pork he would offer to trade it for cheese or anything, just to get rid of it.
MH: Because he had seen that, too.
RD: So those are the kind of things that you
MH: Did you see any other camps besides Buchenwald?
RD: No. No.
MH: After you see Buchenwald, does it change in any way the way you feel about dealing with the Germans?
RD: Well, there were two kinds of Germans: There were those that had been indoctrinated from birth by the Nazi regime; and there were those who, when we took em prisoner, their first question was, Do you know my uncle in Milwaukee? In other words, they had relatives here in the United States. They were usually older Germans; by older, they were probably in their forties. They were home guards, largely. The older ones would be left behind to protect a town when the Germans left the town, hoping that they would delay us long enough for them to reestablish the line they set up. And I had those people come to me and surrender and actually[Id ask] Why are you doing this? you know, theyd come hand me their gun. And theyd say, Well, Im not a damn fool. There are those Germans.
And one time, and I suppose it was about the time of Buchenwald, my Jeep driverwe were patrolling through a town, a small village, and the Jeep driver said to me, That guy is a prisonerthat guy is a German, standing in that doorway over there at the Gasthaus. And sure enough, there was this German soldier standing in the doorway, looking at us going by. I said, Ill go get him, and I jumped out with my rifle and ran over, take him prisoner. He asked me if I would come with him into the Gasthaus before he became a prisoner. I went in there. There were fifteen German soldiers sitting at a long table, eating.
Now, what do you do when you find yourself in a situation like this? Well, I start giving commands in phonetic German in a loud voice: Alles come mit merehands en copp. All that stuff. And they all jumped up, and Im telling them theyre prisoners. They all had guns, and I told them, Over there, and I pointed to the corner, and they piled all the guns in a corner. And now, Im coming out of the Gasthaus with fifteen prisoners, okay? I disarmed them, collected fifteen pistols, and got out in the street. Now these people, they knew the war was over. They knew it was hopeless at this point, and they were looking for an opportunity to quit, see. And there was those Germans, who wouldI put them in a different category. They were reasonable people that you could deal with.
And then there were those, of course, who were not. I would find them mostly younger, and then knowing only as growing up as a Nazi. And another experience I had: We came into a small village, and the people in the village told me there were Hitler Youths, three Hitler YouthsS.S. Hitler Youths or something like thathiding in the basement of a house, and that they had put mines in the ditch leading out of the village. Theyd mined the ditch. So, I dont know how many of us, two or three of us, went into the house and took them prisoner. But now we were in a situation, I meanlet me get back to those fifteen in a minute.
We were in a situation where we couldnt take prisoners. But what we had been told, that theyd buried mines, what we did was took em to the areas that the people said the mines were and gave them our entrenching tools and said, Dig up the mines. Well, they could not understand us. They thought that we were telling them to dig your own graves. And one fellow suddenly came running up to me, fell on his knees, put his hands in the position of prayer, and said to me in understandable English, Dont kill us! Well come to America and be your slaves forever, but dont kill us. Can you imagine that?
RD: And so, we finally come to the conclusionwe couldnt take them prisoner, couldnt take them with us. So, what we did was we found some white cloth, put cloth on a stick, gave each one a stick with white cloth, and said, Walk down this road in that direction and someone will take you prisoner. And thats the last we saw of them. Thats how we dealt with it, yeah.
Now, the same thing, going back to those fifteen.
RD: My lieutenant, thankfully, wasnt a very aggressive soldier. He came to me, and he says, We cant take prisoners on this mission. Were out here, we cant take prisoners. What in the world are you thinking about, taking these guys prisoner? Well, it so happened that a mile down, prior to the town, we picked up two British soldiers whod been prisoners of the Germans for five years, and they were working on a German farm. When we came through, they came out and asked to stay with us. They wanted to get out of Germany. So, they were riding, if it wasthe Jeep was rigged for us to live in. They were riding in the back of the Jeep, and I remember one of them saying to the other Imagine this: here we are, after being prisoners for five years, were riding in an American Jeep eating cake. Well, wed given em some C ration cookies or crackers, and they thought it was cake, and they were so happy.
Now theyre overhearing my lieutenant giving me hell for taking fifteen guys prisoner, and they said, Theres no need to worry about it. Give us a gun; give us some of those German guns. Well take them down to this schoolhouse, which is empty, and well hold em there until you radio back and get the (inaudible) registration or somebody to come and pick em up. So, here we have two ex-prisoners of war, Englishmen, telling our lieutenant how to do his job. And, I might add, I found out later none of the guys in the platoon had any more respect for him that I did, and I never did have much respect for him.
MH: What was your rank at that point?
RD: Strange thing. I could have been private, could have been corporal, could have been sergeant. Whatever our assignment was was what our rank was. I ended up as a buck sergeant. But I was a private much of the time. I was a corporal part of the time. I was a sergeant. They wouldone of the touchiest jobs was being point Jeep.
MH: Being what?
RD: Point Jeep, on a patrol. Normally, that should have been a staff sergeants position. We had one staff sergeant, and he made a point of riding in the turret of the armored car. We had a buck sergeant, and wed take turns being point Jeep. But if you were in the point Jeep, you had the authority of a sergeant. And if you were not in the point Jeep, if you were at the back or rear of the column, you had the authority of a private, see. And we didnt think in terms ofI dunno if we ever had a PD [pay day] when we were in combat, you know. Theyd send our money home, orI dunno, I dont remember ever getting paid. I think we had arrangements, of course, with the paymaster or whatever that they would automatically send money home. But we sawas far as our roles were, it varied from day to day.
MH: Where were you when the war ended?
RD: We were in Austria, near Linz.
MH: Okay, and do you remember that day?
MH: Tell me about that.
RD: The seventh of Aprilseventh of May. Well, we were on patrol, in the mountains. And we were told that there was a cease-fire, and we went to the nearest town in Austria, a small town; Ive got the name of it somewhere in my stuff. We got back into this town and we were told that. I think it was the 6th SS Division, which was able to escape from France because of [Bernard Law] Montgomerys brilliances. They were a crack German division that was now sitting in Austria, and they were to surrender to us.
They sent men, coming down with white flags, saying, Look, well make a deal with you. Youre going to have to fight the Russians. We will fight the Russians for you. You provide us with the materiel, and let us go into your prisoner of war camps and recruit soldiers and give us safe passage across the river, and well go fight the Russians. And we had to say to them, No, we cant do that. The surrender is unconditional. For two days, we negotiated. They would come down, they wouldnt march down and surrender to us, they tried to negotiate this arrangement. They would say to us, Look, youre going to have to fight the Russians; take advantage of this deal, you know.
So, finally they got the message. They surrendered to us, to our platoon. Now, when they came down, these soldiersit seemed to me they were all six-footers, and immaculatethey would march. They came around the corner and would come marching to us in company groups, groups of 100.
MH: This was SS, with the lightning bolt tattoo and the whole thing?
RD: The whole thing. Im not certain of that. As I recall, we were told they were SS, the 6th Division or Group or something. When they came up to us, theyd come up in columns of two and stand before us at attention, and wed have to disarm them. They wouldnt hand you the gun; youd have to take it from them. They wouldnt hand you the pistol; you had to remove it. They wouldnt take the binoculars off; you had to remove the binoculars. They stood at attention until you did that, and then you moved them on and they went on up beyond, each one. It took us two or three days to disarm this group, twenty-four hours a day. Now, they were a crack unit, of course, and they knew it. We didnt have to fight them, thank God.
Then, from there we went into a little town in Austria and we were there about a week, and from there we went to Markt Rettenbach, Germany as occupation.
MH: When did you finally get back to the States?
RD: The thirty-first of December in forty-five .
MH: And got out of the Army then, or?
RD: And then got out on the fourth of January.
MH: Went back home to Minnesota?
RD: Went back to Minnesota and went to school.
MH: Whered you go?
RD: Augsburg College.
MH: Which college?
MH: Augsburg, okay.
RD: Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
MH: And studied what?
RD: Prior to the war, I was in science. But because of the war, I got pretty much interested in European history, and so I ended up being a history major.
MH: Thats what you got your degree in?
MH: So now what do you do with the history degree?
RD: Taught school.
MH: At what level?
RD: High school.
MH: And thatfor many years?
RD: Thirty-one years, thirty-two.
MH: Yeah. And then what have you been doing since you retired?
RD: What Ive been doing since I retired: yard work. (laughs)
MH: (laughs) Youre married?
MH: And grandchildren?
MH: Four. Well, your grandkids can keep you occupied a bit.
RD: Oh, yeah. Thats where we were these past two weeks: out in California, going to surf camp with one of the boys and sand volleyball camp with one of the girls, and that sort of stuff.
MH: I see. I forgot to ask you one other question, which goes right back to Buchenwald. The day you were walking through there, do you happen to remember the weather?
RD: It was surprisingly nice forwell, I shouldnt say that time of the year. There was no problem with the weather. I dont remember other than that.
MH: Just a clear, spring day.
RD: A clear, spring day, yeah.
MH: All right. Anything else that I should have asked you about that I didnt?
RD: Well, I could go on and on, I guess. Once back in Nurembergwe were in Nuremberg for Easter Sunday that year. I wondered why were in such a hurry to catch up to the troop. We were three guys all by ourselves in a Jeep, lots of gas, and we found our way, all by ourselves. We should have gone the other way and spent the month in Paris or something, you know. I dont know if anyone would have missed us. We caught up to our unit, and it was just by chance. We didnt know it at the time, but we were billeted in a field, an orchard, next door to the building in which the war crimes trials were held in forty-six .
So, my driver and I walked through the building. It was totally empty, it was damp and dark and smelled like mildew, and there was an eight-foot high stone wall around the back, where the scaffolds were that theyd hang these guys in. And they still had the swastikas up all over the place, in the Sportplatz.
MH: When was this?
RD: This would have been Easter time, forty-five .
MH: Forty-five . So, that was before you went to Buchenwald.
RD: This was immediately after Buchenwald.
MH: Immediately after, okay.
RD: And, lets see. From there, we moved on; a short time later were in Austria.
MH: Well, I thank you very, very much for your time. I have a question: Do you have a photo of yourself from World War II days?
RD: Well, I did have a picture of myself standing by a stack of bodies by the crematorium.
MH: Youre easily recognizable?
RD: Well, you can see a GI soldier. I dont know how recognizable Id need to be.
MH: Is it possible for me to get a copy of that, and then Ill return it to you after I scan it?
RD: Well, Ill have some copies made and send them to you.
MH: Okay. Do you have an e-mail address?
RD: Yes, its.
MH: Okay. Ill send you my address and an e-mail.
MH: I thank you very, very much for your time. I really appreciate it.
RD: Youre welcome.
MH: Okay, take care, sir.
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