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text Michael Hirsh: Let me just get your basic information. Youre John W. Fague, F-a-g-u-e.
John Fague: Thats right.
MH: You were with Combat Command B of the 11th Armored Division, and you got to Mauthausen.
JF: Yes, thats right. I was in Company B of the 21st Armored Infantry Battalion, and so on and so forth.
MH: 21st Armored Infantry Battalion? When did you go in the service?
JF: When did I go into the service?
JF: Nineteen forty-three, in August of forty-three , I think. Yeah.
MH: Were you drafted?
JF: Yes. I tried to enlist in the Navy, but my hearingthey wouldnt take me, and so on and so on. I waited and they drafted me, yes, yes.
MH: So, when did you go overseas to Europe?
JF: Well, I was originally in what they calldid you ever hear of the ASTP [Army Specialized Training Program]?
MH: From a lot of guys, yes.
JF: Thats where we were. But we had infantry training; we went right off to infantry training in Camp Roberts, California, from Maryland here, Fort Meade, Maryland, or whatever. And we had infantry training there. Then we went to the college in Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, for a semester. And I think that wasI guess, we went up there in about November or something like that, to Tacoma. But I thought that they realized the invasion of Normandy was coming up, and they were going to need infantry troops, troops to follow up on that. So, engineers a couple years later. So they sent us down to Camp Cooke, California, to the 11th Armored Division, and they just divided us up into all the three infantry battalions that were in the Armored Division. I always said they wanted to improve the IQ of the squads and so on and so forth. (laughs)
MH: There is some truth in that, you know.
MH: I said there is some truth in that.
JF: Yeah, because they were nice guys, but a lot of hillbillies, you know. I dont meanthey were good guys, but it seems like they wanted to increase the IQ of the squads. But anyhow
MH: I forgot to ask you, whats your date of birth?
JF: Date of birth, 4-4-25 [April 4, 1925].
MH: Okay, which makes you how old today?
Unidentified Woman: Eighty-three.
JF: Oh, they were getting ready to go overseas. That would have beenlet me see, let me get this straight. That would have been in the spring; oh, no, thats in about September of forty-four , September of forty-four . We were getting ready to go overseas, and theyd come off of maneuvers. So, anyhow, we joined them and they divided us, sprinkled us all through the three battalions. And then we went overseas in about October, I guess, to England, the southsouthern England, the plains or something. I forget what they called it. We were there a couple of months and so on, until December, and December 15 I crossed the Channel with my half-track. The driver hadI didnt drive, the driver and I. And the sixteenth, the rest of the troops came over on a ferry boat.
MH: Were your vehicles already waiting for you?
MH: Were your vehicles waiting for you already?
JF: Well, we come on a landing craft. We took the half-track. I dont know, I guess its Southampton or whatever. We got our half-track and we went on an LST [Landing Ship, Tank] over to Le Havre. I think it was Le Havre, yeah. So, we had it right with us. I wasthe driver and I, we stayed right there. It was in the mud and so on for a little bit. We were supposed to go down to some base in southern France. There was a submarine base still held by the Germans. I never could figure that out, but they had this submarine base, and we were supposed to get training around there, do something, I dont know.
But of course, as you know, Hitler invaded Belgium on the sixteenth, the day that the troops came across. After the high command finally realized this was the real invasion and so on, we got orders to go north to the Meuselet me see, I forgetto Moselle or some river, to go north right away to stop the Germans; unbeknown to me, of course. I didnt know anything; I just learned it later. [Dwight D.] Eisenhower orwhatever the other one was, I forget his namethey got [George S.] Patton to come and help out, and they gave him three divisions. He said he needed divisions, and they gave him our division and the 87th, and I forget what the other one was. They were assigned to him and so on, so we became part of Pattons 3rd Army.
I think we went north. We just went night and day north to Belgium. I knew we passed through Paris; I could see the Eiffel Tower, so I knew it was Paris. The people were cheering along the streets. They were cheering and throwing kisses. I thought, Oh, my God, we didnt do a damn thing yet, whats this all about? Of course, I had no knowledge. Course, they wanted as many Americans as possible between them and the Germans; they just got rid of the Germans and they didnt need them again. So we went.
I think we spent Christmas Eve at Soissons, which was a French garrison, had been. And on Christmas Day, we had dinner in the field and proceeded north. I cant say it was the Meuse River they wanted to hold them at, but anyhow, we crossed that, into Belgium. And, lets see. Well, on the twenty-ninth, I think we got our first engagement on the twenty-ninth of December. We were on the southern flank. The 3rd Army was tracking north, and the 1st Army was coming down from the north, and we were going up from the south, I guess.
So, I had a book put out that I wrote. As soon as the war was over, my captain, my good captain, gave me a pass to Nice, France, and when I got down there, I wrote everything that had happened. Of course, during the war you couldnt write anything. My father was a captain in World War I, and I knew hed be interested, so I wrote downI started right back when we left the States, and I recorded everything while it was fresh in my memory. And part of that has been published recently; its just been published. Our historical society, one of the professors here found out what Id written and so he had the historical society publish that. And that just came out. But that dealt with the Battle of the Bulge, and so on and so forth.
MH: At what point did you know anything about concentration camps?
JF: Well, I didnt know anything about them at all. But sometime, I guess while we were still in GermanyI guess, in April or somewhere in therewe would come across hundreds of these inmates and so on, on the road. And I dont know which way they werethey were trying to get away from the Russians, I thought, but I just read lately they wanted to get away from the Americans or something. They had all these inmates on the road; they were in their pajama pants, I call them, striped pants, you know. It just seems like there was hundreds of them on the road. Some of them would get down on their knees and thank us, but of course we couldnt do anything for them, because we werent equipped for that. And I always remember my dear captain; he was chasing one of the guards down through the field and swinging his carbine.
Anyhow, thats the first. A couple different days, wed run into all these inmates or whatever on the road. And of course, I didnt know. I just assumed thats what they were from some kind of a camp; but then that was the end of that. We just had to slowly move through them and keep going and so forth.
MH: How many did you see? For example, was it?
JF: How many what?
MH: How many were there, like, dozens or hundreds?
JF: Oh, it seemed like there was a hundred or more each time, a hundred or more. A great mass, it could have been a hundred or more each time. Seemed like an awful lot of men.
MH: Was it clear where they were trying to go, or they didnt know?
JF: Where they what?
MH: Do you think they knew where they were trying to go, or they were just trying to get away from the Germans?
JF: Well, I think the Germans were drivingwere trying to getwere taking them somewhere, you know, driving them. And of course, when we came, the guards left, flew. And so forth. But
MH: Did you guys ever shoot the guards?
MH: Did you guys ever have occasion to shoot the guards?
JF: Did we have occasion tooh, no, I didnt. All I remember is the captain chasing this one down through the field; why he didnt shoot him, I dont know. But that was the captain; he was a good guy. I just remember him chasing and swinging his carbine at the guy, thats all I remember. But they were taking them somewhereyou know, I thought to get away from the Russians.
MH: Well, they were moving themthey were moving them from one camp to another because they wanted to keep killing them, I guess.
JF: SomethingI dont know what. Like I say, some got down on their knees and thanked us, but we just couldnt do anything with them. We didnt have any positions, we had to keep moving. So we slowly moved through them. But there must have been a couple hundred at a time. And I think it happened at least twice; we ran into two groups. But it just seemed like a mob of them, I dont know. Anyhow, sobut then, as I said in the letter, of course I had no idea what was going on or anything. I didnt learn this afterwards. But I have it in my notes; I should go see and see if I can find my autobiographybut I knew, on the fifth of May, we went into this in mysomebody said, one place I read the fourth of May and somebody said the sixth of May, but
MH: The official list says the 11th Armored got to Gusen and into Mauthausen on May 5.
JF: On May 5, that was my understanding, too. I knew the war ended on the eighth, three days later. But so, weI didnt know exactly where we were going or what we were doing. Have you ever been to Mauthausen?
MH: No. Ive been to Auschwitz; Ive never been to Mauthausen.
JF: Well, its a gorgeous, you might say a gorgeous such a thingits the stone work, granite or what they took out of this mine and so forth. Its beautiful: on top of the hill, looks like a fort or fortress. We went through this massive gate, and of course the people justoh, they were just pitiful. They were skin and bones, and the women had long coats or something on because I guess they were ashamed at how they looked. And they were so glad to see us, and so forth.
MH: Did you get out of your vehicle?
JF: I cant rememberI dont think so, no. I didnt get out of the vehicle. But I remember reading afterwardsI have it, who it was. A very famous Nazi hunter; what was his name?
MH: Simon Wiesenthal?
JF: Yeah, I heardthis is what I heard: he wanted to touch the star, the white star on the American tank. They had to carry him out to do that. But anyhow, we were there for three weeks. The odor there was horrible, you know.
MH: Tell me what you saw when you first pulled into the camp.
JF: Well, just saw these women, I guess, menand they were just milling around and so forth. Of course, they were the ones that were left. The other ones were dead and gone. Well, they hadnt been buried, I guess, and we had to bury them. I didnt participate in that. But people were just, these were womenI remember seeing the womenbut men I guess, too, and just skin and bones. Of course, I say they had these long coats on so you couldnt see how skinny they were and so forth.
MH: Did they come up to you and try and touch you?
JF: Well, they come around. They were just so happy. And they kind of admired the boys and so on and so forth. They were just so happy to see us, but
MH: How many guys went in with you?
JF: Well, we were in a halfI guess the whole company. We were, I just rememberI never dismounted, we never got out of the half-track that I know of, so our whole companythats 250 men, something like that. And how many half-tracks, each squad had a half-track, of course, and we just drove in there, I dont knowwe were assigned as a guard. I was a squad leader, the first squad, the first platoon. We were assigned as guards, I was told to maintain order in there. Thats allwe lived in some, well stayed in some nice houses that the SS officers had away from the camp, and of course there was nothing left there except the houses, no furniture or anything. So, it didnt matter; it was May and it didnt matter. But we would go and pull guard duty and Id patrol around the camp to see that guards didnt come, nothing going on. Thats about the main thing.
I recallit was my understanding that the cremation thing had broken down and there were all these bodies. I didnt help, but I know some of my squad went and got the civilians in the town to come and help bury them with bulldozers. I have pictures of that. I had a number of pictures in the camp, and unfortunately some of them got away, some of the pictures. But I still have a couple of pictures. I picked up a cameraI liberated a camera on the way through Germany, and I still have it. And then Id start to take some pictures.
MH: What kind of camera was it?
JF: Well, it wasnt any high-priced. Its one you look in the top, you know. But it wasnt anybut it did a nice job. But it wasnt any expensive. But I got a nice leather case made in Austria for a pack of cigarettes or two, but I just liberated it. And so I could take some pictures. But one case in particular, in one of the newsletters in our division paper, somebody requestedsomebody said theyd took a picture of his picture, and he would like that picture. And I figured from his description that I was the one who took the picture of him. So unfortunately I sent him the picture without making a copy of it back then; I didnt know anything about making copies. It was after the war was over. And I knew right away that I was the one who took the picture, but I haveI was just loafing around, the inmates, the poor inmates.
MH: How did it make you feel being around those people?
JF: Well, I tell you what, I was so euphoric about the war being over and the fact that no more fighting, Id be going home. I was kind of up on a cloud somewhere. So, I really didnt see too much of it. I dont know wheresomebody came and took care of them, I guess. I mean, there was some around there; but aside from that first day we went inthe odor lingered there, the whole time, but, of course, I thought it was terrible. It was a wonderful way to end the war to know why you lost your buddies, friends. It was worth fighting for when you saw what was going on.
I didnt realizeall I knew was Mauthausen, but then I learned later there was about 100 camps. I was just kind of euphoric, and I justI didnt see too much suffering. They were either dead orand we were just the guard. I mean, the first day going through there, it was pitiful to see these people, but thats about all I can remember that first day. Afterwards, I just patrolled around to see that there was no fighting or anything and so forth.
MH: Were you there when the Americans came and started giving them food and medical care and that sort of thing?
JF: No, I didnt see anything of that. I didnt know anything about that, or food or who took care of them. I didnt see anything of that. I just dont know what went on. Somebody must have come and taken care of them, but I didnt participate in that. I was just to the guard, assigned to the guards. Someone in my squad, one in particular, I remember he was down to get the local people to help bury the dead, and I have pictures of that, the bodies and whatever. I took the picture, or where I got the pictures, I dont know.
MH: Did seeingwho did you tell about Mauthausen when you came home?
JF: Well, I wrote itlike I say, I wrote it to my father. I wrote everything about it to him, and so forth. And so, I dont know. I didnt tell anybody too much. People didnt want to hear about that, and I didnt want to tell em, or I was just so happy to be home. But I wrote the details. And I guess if I looked that up, there might be a little more in there, and I could maybe send you
MH: Thatd be great.
JF: I can make copies of that. Im sure I have the thing that you
MH: Ill send you an e-mailactually, I did send you an e-mail that has my address in it.
JF: Yeah, well, I didnt get your email; did you send it to me?
MH: I sent it this evening. I only sent it about an hour ago.
JF: Well, Ive been away, and I just got home.
MH: Okay. What photos do you think you still have?
JF: Well, not the only thingits a couple of these people lingering around that are really not, there are pictures of the dead that theyre burying and so forth.
MH: Do you have a picture of yourself?
JF: Oh, yeah. Well, yeah, this book that just came out, that was published. Im on the front page in the half-track. You just see a young nineteen-year-old kid in front of the half-track. Whats on the back is a picture of me recently marching in the parade, and so forth.
MH: Is it possible to get copies of those two pictures, and then Ill scan them and send them back to you?
JF: Yeah, I can make copies of the few that I have. I could send youthis book I have is about the Battle of the Bulge. But I came back. I got out of there in maybe February, and I went back to Penn State. Id already had one year at Penn State, and I went to Penn State and took up veterinary medicine then, and I went to University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia for four years to become a veterinarian. That was my profession and so forth, which I
MH: So, its Dr. Fague?
JF: Whatd you say?
MH: So, its doctor?
JF: Yeah, thats right. I was a veterinarian for quite a few years, and I sold my business to somebody else.
MH: How long ago did you retire as a vet?
JF: Well, Ive been retired maybe fifteen, twenty years, I guess. Im eighty-three years old. I write for the newspaper every week. Ive been writing for the newspaper. I have two books that Ive published of things that Ive written for the local papermy daughter published themplus this recent one about the Battle of the Bulge.
MH: How do you think being at Mauthausen affected your life?
JF: Well, it gave me a badwhat Hitler and his Nazi group could do to, how they could do that to those people, it justwhat a rotten lousy bunch the Nazis were. And, like I said, it made you realize why that war had to be fought, as opposed to some of these other wars. Its justified. That was the main thing that came to my mind, that it justified why we were there. Its a fitting way to end the war, because you knew that it wasnt for nothing.
MH: Were you wounded at all over there?
MH: Were you wounded over there?
JF: No, no. I was very lucky. They were killed right close to me, killed right beside me, but I was a lucky one. That was part of my theme in my autobiography. All my life I was lucky, everything I did, not because I was bright or smart or good-looking. I was just lucky everything turned out right for me. The other ones that got killed beside me, or something, but I survived by good fortune.
MH: Have you had any occasion to meet people who survived Mauthausen?
JF: What did you say, sir?
MH: Have you had any occasion to meet people who were, you know, prisoners at Mauthausen?
JF: No, no. I have had no contact, like I say. This one fella who had a note, had a message in a division paper, and I realized that I was the one and I just sent him that picture. Thats the onlyI didnt know who he was or when it was or whatever. I just sent him a picture because it sounded like that somebody took his picture. But I have no contact. Have youI tell you what. Im trying to think, have you read that girls writing? I cant say her name. Shes written several about Mauthausen, really good, I thought. Fictitious. I could go and get her name.
MH: I think I know the book you mean.
JF: She sent me two of them. One of them was this
MH: From Dust and Ashes?
MH: Tricia Goyer, From Dust and Ashes?
JF: Yes, yes, yes.
MH: Ive got it here.
JF: One of her books, I was reading it and I thought, Oh, my God, thats me. She interviewed us, of course, she took my (inaudible) was in 81st, or the medical thing, and so on. But she just took right the day before we attacked, that page there, I said, Oh, my God, thats familiar. I wrote that. But, yeah, apparently she interviewed a lot of the people over there, and I thought those books were pretty good. I really dont have too much otherwise.
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Fague, John W.
Dr. John W. Fague oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (26 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (10 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.
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 John W. Fague. Fague was a member of the 11th Armored Division, which liberated Mauthausen on May 5, 1945. Coming up to the camp, the Division encountered groups of prisoners on death marches and chased away their guards. When Fague arrived at Mauthausen, he was assigned to guard the camp and maintain order; the division stayed in the camp for several days, during which time he was able to take some photographs. In this interview, Fague describes his reactions to the camp and to the prisoners. A retired veterinarian, he has written several articles about his wartime experiences, and has been interviewed for other books.
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