xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 standalone no
record xmlns http:www.loc.govMARC21slim xmlns:xsi http:www.w3.org2001XMLSchema-instance xsi:schemaLocation http:www.loc.govstandardsmarcxmlschemaMARC21slim.xsd
leader cim 2200637Ia 4500
controlfield tag 001 021797353
006 m u
007 sz zunnnnnzned
008 100330s2008 flunnnn od t n eng d
datafield ind1 8 ind2 024
subfield code a C65-00041
Harry Feinberg oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (186 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (50 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 27, 2008.
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Harry Feinberg. Feinberg was a gunner and tank commander in the 4th Armored Division, which liberated Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, on April 4, 1945. Before being drafted in 1942, he was a professional musician, a member of Borrah Minevitch's Harmonica Rascals. In this interview, Feinberg provides a detailed description of his experiences in training and en route to Europe. The division trained in England for several months before arriving in France in July 1944. From there, they proceeded on the Rhineland and Central Europe Campaigns. In Gotha, Feinberg had an encounter with a German woman who had a lampshade made of human skin in her house. A few days later, they reached Ohrdruf, which was the first concentration camp liberated by the Americans. Feinberg was present when Eisenhower and Patton toured the camp, and was also there when the townspeople were brought to see it. Feinberg also describes his activities after the war, including his involvement with the 4th Armored Division Association.
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.
Armored Division, 4th.
Armored Division, 4th
v Personal narratives.
Ohrdruf (Concentration camp)
World War, 1939-1945
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 Harry Feinberg: was too Jewish-sounding, so he illegally changed it to Feinberg, which sounded in the higher echelons, of course.
Michael Hirsh: Right. And doesnt sound too Jewish.
HF: No. (laughs)
MH: Harry Feinberg.
HF: I got news for you. Where I grew up, in Passaic, New Jerseywell, we immediately moved to East New York, which is part of Brooklyn. We lived there about two years. My father had no trade. He was a young man, couldnt speak English. He never did learn how to speak English well; he finally understood and spoke.
My fathers brother, who lived in Passaic, said Yossel, come to Passaic, live with me. Uncle Abe was a builder of apartment houses in Passaic. Ill teach you how to be a carpentercarpetnar, which is how they pronounced it. And thats where Pop learned a trade. He was a short man, but he was strong as a bull. He had muscles on top of muscles, and whatever he did, he did withwhats the word?with fervor. He wanted to learn, he wanted to make something of himself, and eventually he did. He became a contractora building contractor, believe it or notwith his poor English. He couldnt read or write English. It was not for him. My mother, on the other hand, she learned English with only a trace of an accenta trace! I couldnt believe it. Very smart, very intelligent womanwith no schooling, of course; neither one of them had any schooling.
MH: Im sorry.
HF: Is that yours?
MH: Thats me. Excuse me. (on cell phone) Can I call you back later? Okay. Im sorry.
HF: Thats all right. Â Anyway, I grew up in Passaic, New Jersey, went to school there, got up to the second year of high school, and I became stage struck. I went into show business.
HF: I went with the biggest, greatest, most well-known act in the entire world. Ill tell you about the act later; ask me.
MH: Well, justthe act was?
HF: Borrah Minevitch and his Harmonica Rascals.
HF: If you hang in there, Ill show you a picture.
MH: Ill hang in there.
HF: (gets photos) These are the original Harmonica Rascals. This is Johnny Puleo. He was the comedy relief of the act. This is the greatest harmonica orchestra. These are musicians; here I am, right here, seventeen years old. I auditioned for the act three times. The boss, Borrah Minevitch, who is not on that picture, his eyes bulged. His eyes bugged out. Can you read music? I said, Yes, I can. (belches) Excuse me. He hired me. I went out on the road for almost four years.
MH: When you were seventeen?
HF: When I was seventeen, yeah. Never left home in my life; didnt even know what a vacation was, we were so poor. This was during the Depression era.
MH: Did you finish high school?
HF: No, I didnt. I actually, after I camejust a few years ago, the state sent me a diploma (laughs) for nothing, because I went through the war. They claimed that it interrupted my education, which is notAll right, fine. So, theres another medal up there for me. (laughs) It wasgetting back to this; had nothing to do with the war, however.
I stayed in show business until 1940, 1937 to 1940; its not quite four years, if you countthirty-seven , thirty-eight , thirty-nine , forty . And I smelled a war coming on at that time. My parents wanted me home in the worst way. You dont even know your family. We dont see you anymore, all that. We finally decided this is enough. Im not going to make a big star out of myself, Im not going to make a lot of money, and I found out that the glamour is only on the audiences side, from the audiences side of show business, not behind the footlights. The glamour behind the footlights was hard work, even though you think, Eh, a little harmonica. This was the greatest in the world. Nobody ever, ever played as well. These were all professionals. Comedy from Little Johnny Puleo, the dwarfnot a word was spoken; this was all mime.
MH: Are there recordings?
HF: Recordings, yes, many recordings out. I have some. Dont ask me where they are. We just moved in here DecemberÂ 15.
MH: What did you get paid?
HF: (laughs) Military secret.
MH: Okay. I got a security classification.
HF: (laughs) I dont tell anybody what I get paid; shes [his wife] the only one who knows. We were in a moviethey were in movies before I got in there, because they started in 1926. I came in eleven years later, 1937, but I fit right into the act, because I was a musician. I was a trumpet player from ten years old up until about fourteen, until I saw them in the movies and I said, This is it. The trumpet is out in my car right now, in a back seat. Ive got about a hundred harmonicas here in the room. I want to get a glass case for here, and display them; well get to all that in time.
We made a movie with Jane Withers and Rochelle Hudson.
Rascals, released in 1938 by Twentieth Century Fox.
Jane Withersdoesnt mean anything to youwas the same era as Shirley Temple. She was a child star, twelve years old, but such an unspoiled star, a celebrity. I cant believe at twelve years old; she was just a regular person. Rochelle Hudson, who was the love interest in this movie, was already a big star.
Let me just get a drink here. (clears throat)
That was my claim to fame. However, I finally did get home. I had no trade. I didnt have enough education. I did not go back to high school. My father said, You come with me and learn the building business, which I did. When I did come home, I was only home for thirteen months, and I was drafted. January 14, 1942, was when I went into the Army.
(background noise from microphone)
MH: Let me put this on you, cause its making noise.
HF: Oh, you want me
MH: Im going to stick it on your sweater. Thatll probably be okay.
HF: All right, Ill just repeat: January 14, 1942, I was drafted, went into the Army, Fort Dix. We were there for a week, just to get our orientation, our misfit uniforms, find out just what the Army was like, learned a little about guns, about theI cant remember nowthe ten questions that everybody in the service has to learn.
MH: The general orders.
HF: General orders, thank you. Mind is going, too.
MH: Mine went.
(knocking on door)
MH: Somebodys knocking at your door.
HF: Oh, just a minute. (calls to person at door) Just a minute. Probably my son.
MH: So, youre at Fort Dix.
HF: Fort Dix, New Jersey, for a week, got ourselves oriented. We were sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for six monthsdid I say six months?it was three months of basic training.
MH: Thats where I had basic training.
HF: Basic training, AFRTC [Air Force Reserve Training Center], 8th AFRTC. I cant remember now what
Anyway, from there, we learned about tanks, and what we learned was the old, old tank that just came out of the First [World] War. It was an experimental tank with a 75mm gun on the right side. We had no turret to speak of. I had about fifteen minutes of driving a tank, and the instructor said, You will never be a driver. (laughs) Because you had to putin those days, you had to pull levers [to] stop, go. You want to turn left, you pull this lever; you want to turn right, this lever. You want to stopand thats the way it was. There were no radios in the tank. The tank commander hit you on the head twice, or once; that meant Go forward. Hit you on the left shoulder, Turn left; right shoulder; hit you in the neck, Stop. And that was my fifteen minutes.
Anyway, just to repeat, I was not a tank driver. However, going through all the basic training, the marching, the field and whatever we had to do, I learned about machine guns, take apart the various guns and everything. I never saw a real gun until I got into the Army and, of course, it fascinated me. Oh, my God, I got a .45 here, or a revolver, Colt .45 revolver. Gee, whiz, Im handling it! Well, anyway, of course nobody was shooting at us, so I was fascinated. Theyre very nice.
I went into the Army at 185 poundsI was a chubbycame out 170 pounds in good shape, great shape.
MH: How tall are you now?
HF: How tall am I now? Thats a good question. I have to answer it this way: I was six feet right on the button. I had three back surgeries. Im now five [feet] ten and a half [inches]. The back surgeries are due partially to my Army life, because in order to get onto a tank, you climb up. Orders were, you want to get off the tank, you jump. Its a seven-foot jump. Every time I jumped, oh, my God, my back killed me. But I never complained; I just lived through it.
And from Fort Knox with our training, we were [taken by] trainedchoo-chooto Pine Camp, New York. That was our outfit; that was our permanent outfit. I couldnt believe that we could beat the Germans with what we had and what we did. Everything was old-fashioned. It was a Springfield rifle. The kick was so bad that guys had black eyes, because in order to fire the guneverybody had a black eye. For some reason, I didnt. I was able to hold that gun. We went out and arranged for pistol firing, for machine gun firing. Greatest thrill of my life, seeing this in the movies, now Im firing a .30 caliber machine gun, air-cooled, water-cooled. We had motorcycles. The entire 4th Armored Division had about six tanks, thats it.
HF: That was our training, believe it or not, and we all wondered, How in the hell are we gonnahow can we go overseas? My God! So, believe it or not, for our training, we took 4x4 trucksI believe they were called 4x4s, a big truck.
HF: Okay. They had signs painted Tank on each side. So, we knew we were firing at tanks, but with no ammunition. In other words, we were able to
HF: Well, this was a simulation, butoh, jeez. My mind is really going. I have forgotten much of the English language.
MH: Its okay.
HF: So sorry. But we were able to train and aim at theof course, we had crosshairs that we could aim at, and simulate that were firing at them. And again, it was right shoulder, left shoulder, head tapped by the guy up abovetank commandertelling us what to do. Of course, each individual tank only knew what each individual tank was doing, because there were no radios to contact each other. All we had was signals: Go forward, or, Left; Right turn. And we had light tanks, incidentally. We had the Stewart tanks. That was only four men in a tank; the medium tank had five.
So, we went through training in Pine Camp, New York. The weather therefrom Kentucky, which is nice and warm, two or three days later, we got over at Pine Camp, New York. The snow was three feet deep. We were given Russian parkas, these heavy Russian caps with flaps down here; everything was all fur lined. As soon as we got to Pine Camp, we didnt even have a bed to sleep in or a barracks, although they were there. They took us right out in the field in these trucks, full field pack and these heavy parkas and everything. Okay, guys, jump off. Try to keep yourselves warm. (laughs) It was 40 [degrees] below zero, believe it or not. Pine Camp is a miserable, miserable place.
Anyway, Okay, guys, lets see, you just had chow. Nothing else to do. Get into bed; take your bedrolls, and go to bed. So, we laid out our bedrolls on top of the snow, and everybody jumped in. But these sergeants, (laughs) rebel sergeants, they did not let usthey were right on our backs. I mean, they busted our chops. Everybodys in the beds. Whistles blew. Okay, everybody out. We just got in bed. No, no, no you dontyou go to bed in that bedroll in this weather, youll wake up in the morning frozen to death. They said, You will take your clothes off, and then you will get into bed. How do youand theres no pajamas, no nothing. In other words, youre in your summer underwear.
We looked at each other, and the sergeant started yelling and screaming, Right now! Â Youve gotta do it now, and thats orders! And you dont question orders, and you dont complain. Okay, thats what we did, and we just froze. We got into each individual bedroll, took our clothes and put them in with us, and of course, our body warmth kept us warm. So, that was our introduction to Army life in snow and cold. Get up in the morning, and try to warm yourself up. We werent used to field rations yet. So, we finally got ourselves warm. We had to run around, hungry, run around and try to warm ourselves up, which we finally did. And we all had to run over to the mess wagon. Mess wagon had a couple tables and some hot food, and we found out what coffee was. (laughs) I mean, this coffee was enough to bulge your eyebrows out of your head. And we found out that the Army gives you SOS [shit on a shingle] for your breakfast. Whats SOS? Somebody came out with a
MH: Creamed chipped beef on toast.
HF: Thats exactly what it was. And thats what we had. We looked at each other, and our faces went awry. My God, is this what we have to eat? You want to know something? We all got to like it later on. I mean, this is every morning. You dont know what an egg is, what a pancake is, or bacon. (laughs) God.
So, we got our introduction to the Army in cold weather. It started warming up a little bit, because by this time, it was around March. January, February, it was around the end of March, and were just getting into springtime so it started warming. The snow started melting, and we had to do our thirty-mile hikes in just our fatigues. Nothing warm, no jacket. Of course, it kept our blood flowing, and we got to be pretty tough. Heres guys from the city. We had guys fromthe Southerners. I wont call them hillbillies, but thats what they were. And they were used to this; this stuff meant nothing to them. Thank God we had them as soldiers. We hated them, because give them a little authority to the city-bred boys, oh, my God.
And you cannot complain. If you do, youre on a detail that you wished, you prayed that you didnt say what you did, or you didnt complain. So, we found out, and we found out that you dont volunteer for anything. One day, were all standing in line, and the one sergeant says, I need six men with good handwriting, somebody who can write that you can read that writing. It has to be legible. I happen to have hadStep forward, step forward, so a bunch of us stepped forward, you know. He says, All right, you guys, come with me. He gives us shovels and rakes and hoes, and we had to dig holes. So, wheres the handwriting? What are you talking about handwriting? You said Who said handwriting? What are you talking about? No, no, no. theres a detail now, and we had to go break rocks. We were like prisoners: break rocks, put them in the wheelbarrow. (laughs) So, we found out, do not volunteer for anything.
Some of the New Yorkers were street boys. All they knew was fight and argue. They didnt trust anybody, and they found out soon enough, you dont answer back. These sergeants are not gonna take it from you. One word out of you, youre on detail, garbage, in underwear, and its still notwere still not springtimein summer underwear. Put you on a truck and the garbage stinks, and this is what they had to work on. And some of the New Yorkers did not learn this. They stillthey never did anything to me, because I was quiet. I never answered back, I never argued. Tell me what to do, Ill do it and thats all. I know Im gonna be here until a bullet gets me.
We were told alreadyall lined up, maybe 1,500 guys, a little sergeant. As rough as he was, he signed up for regular Army, and he gave us a few little words like, Look, guys, some of you arent coming back here. Were going overseas, and were gonna buck the Germans, and they have some good guns. And we dont compare with their guns at all, and they have tanks and stuff like that. Some of the kids who were never away from home just started crying, and all you heard, Mama, Mama.
Well, I was already away from home, so I knew what it was like to be on the roadalthough civilization, you know; nobody was shooting at me. We lived in tents, six men to a tent. One guy had to take care of a pot stove that was in the tent, and that was his job. And youd hear people sniffling and crying at night, Mama, Mama, and it was so sad. I mean, this guy put something in our heads. Youre not coming back here again, youre gonna be shot at. And these German soldiers, they had training all their lives. You cant fool them. They are rough and theyre ready to go. Theyre ready to do this for their country. Oh, God. And were not. Youre just learning how. Oh, God.
Anyway, during the day, if it wasnt marching, it was taking apart the 75mm breach block and learning all the parts in there, and then wed have to blindfold ourselves, do it as though we have to do it at night, as though we cant see anything, no lights. And then they timed us. This is this, this is that. All right, put it together now, and its all spread out on a blanket, and the sergeants made sure it was spread out, because were blindfolded. We dont know where the hell these things are, and they used to push it around, and wed have to grope around. Okay, you took three minutes; thats too long. Youre dead. Consider yourself dead. Three minutes to put that thing together.
Same thing with the machine guns. There werent too many parts in a machine gun, but they did the same thing: blindfold, you take it apart, you put it where you think it is, and then theyd scatter it. Youd have to crawl around and finally find the part and put it together. Holy cow, it took you five minutes! Everything was right in front of you. And they talked down to you. They made you feel that you were garbage. Thats what we had to go through, and they insulted us. Your mother is this, your sister is that, and, Your old man is I cant think of anything now, but always, Your sister is a bigand your mother picks up all kinds of junk, and oh, my God, what the hells she going out with? They really made garbage out of us. I mean, we were spoken to as though we were in a gutter somewhere.
MH: Did they ever give you grief because you were Jewish?
HF: In our companywhen we finally did get together, in our company, there were five Jews. I was a quiet guy. I knew to keep my mouth shut, do what has to be done. These other four, they would complain. Theyd have to do it anyway. What the hell are you complaining about? They would complain, and the sergeant would say, Oh, you wanna come out in the field with me? Come on, Ill take you on anytime. Yeah, Ill take you on. And you had to be careful. These hillbillies, they dont fight. They kick with their feet. Theyll kick you right in the (inaudible), and youre down. Theyll kick you in the head. Theyll do anything to hurt you, and they dont care. Nobody cared. You got hurt? Didnt matter.
Anyway, I was very fortunate. I learned in life: keep your mouth shut, dont volunteer, do not answer back. Every morning, wed get upthe different platoons, wed get up, and the first sergeant would say, All right, Sgt. Horsley, I want three men for a detail, and Sgt. Daly, three men for detail, and they would call out, Rubin, RochevskyRubin, Rochevsky, I forgot the other guys namestep out front. So, every morning, they were on detail. And the other oneI call him, Zablotsky, whatever his name was, Step out front, so only the fiveone, two, three, four, fivethere were six Jewish, including me. Every morning, they were picked on for details.
The details couldve been anything: garbage, pick up butts, gutter stuff, clean the latrines. Oh, God, Im telling you. And nobody bothered me. I used to say to them at night, Schmuck, keep quiet, dont answer back, dont try to fight with them. And theyd say, Yeah, I guess youre right, Harry, and the next morning, the same thing. Rubin, Rochevsky, Stern, come over here. Now, I was very fortunate that way. As a matter of factmostly Italians; well, everything: Irish, Scotch, a lot of hillbillies. And Ill tell you, they were good. They were good soldiers. Boy, give em a rifle, theyll shoot a squirrels eye out at 150 yards. Oh, great! Knew how to fight, but they were born with a rifle in their hands. And thats what we had to put up with.
MH: So, when did you get the tanks you were gonna go overseas with?
HF: We finally went on maneuvers from Pine Camp toGod, Tennessee maneuvers. We still had the yellow tanks and the Tank on the trucks and everything. And from Tennessee maneuvers, we got on a train and went out to the Mojave Desert. So, we had cold, snow, ice training. We had warm weather in Kentucky, the fields, and then the farms in Tennessee. We used to ruin farms, actually, cotton farms, and we wouldthe few tanks and trucks. We had to go through, thats what we did. In back of us were two men in a Jeep, and they were federal men. They would go up to the farmer and say, How much damage did we do? and the guyd say, Oh, you did about 10,000 dollars worth. Okay, [the federal men said] wrote it down. Theyd get a check for 10,000 dollars for ruining their farm. What do I care? Do whatever you want!
HF: Anyway, we went out to the Mojave Desert. Mojave Desertits very, very hot outside, dry but hot. You didnt sweat or anything. You felt so good. That sun was so nice, 115, 120 degrees. Oh, my God. And we had to dress in fatigues: no sleeves rolled up, no unbuttoned, everything had to beand you had to wear a cap. And we all complained, My God, its so hot. Why cant we unbutton ourselves, roll up our sleeves? So, the general got up one day, and he said, Boys, out here, youre no good to me being sunburned. Once youre sunburned, youre dead; youre no good to me. And the sun is pretty hot. And we found that out. You can get sunburned.
And you asked me another question. Just before we went overseas, a reporterwe had a bunch of reporterscame over to General [John S.] Wood, a beloved general, two stars. Everybody loved this guy: never raised his voice, never screamed at anybody. He was out there in the field with us, and he marched with us. We couldnt believe it. He didnt have to. He could stay back in an air conditioned or cool tent or something, but he was out there. We just loved the guy.
And the reporters came up to him and said, General, we understand that with all the training you have, youre ready to go overseas. How come these other tank outfits have names, like Hell on Wheels? The 1st Armored was something else; another wasoh, Hell on Wheels, Old Ironsides.
Hell on Wheels was the nickname of the 2nd Armored Division. The 1st Armoreds nickname was Old Ironsides.
So, General Wood said, We dont need a nickname. We will be known by our deeds alone. Name is enough, 4th Armored Division. And thats what we were known as, Name Enough. Name Enough, what else? We were called something else. We shall be known by our deeds alone. There was another name that we were called, not really a nickname, but it was Name Enough. So, you got that now.
You started asking me
MH: When did you get your tanks?
HF: We got our tanks out in the Mojave Desert. Mojave DesertGeneral Motors sent a tank with a
HF: A turret, revolving turret, 360 degrees. We had a 75mm gun on it, and alongside the gun was a .30 caliber machine gun. There was a driver and there was a bow gunner, who was the assistant driver; he had a machine gun right in front of him. And I hadas tank commander, I had a .50 caliber machine gun on a track that I can maneuver around. And I was to use thatit was not meant for personnel, although I could use it, but for aircraft, anybody comes in on us, and I can tell you some stories on that. But anyway, were out in the desert, and
MH: What tank was this? Was this a Sherman tank?
HF: It was a Sherman tank. Dont ask me about A1, M1 or anything, because we always hadevery time a tank come in, This is an A4, this is abut they were all M1s, whatever it was. But they were Sherman medium tanks. This particular tank that we were shown had five automobile engines in it. There were five of them all synchronized, and they had name some of the General Motors cars.
MH: Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Chevrolet?
HF: No, one of
HF: Well, it was an automobile engine. God, I cant remember. Anyway, they were synchronized, five of themone, two, three, four, fiveall on one shaft, so thats the power that we had to drive this thirty-ton vehicle. Actually, it was more, because in the turret there were clasps where we put our ammunition, and it was all around the whole turret; we had maybe another ton or so. We had to drive this vehicle with us, figure 170 pounds each.
MH: There were five people?
HF: Five guys in a tank. There was a tank commander up on the front. There was a loader who sat in thewell; he sat, actually, on the metal floor. Then there was a gunner, and he had a trigger, a solenoid trigger right by his foot. So after he zeroed in with this spyglasshe zeroed in onto his targetthe loader was told to put a shell in. He would close the breach block, tap the gunner, which meant All ready to go, and the tank commander would give him an order: Fire at will; or, Get onto target and fire as soon as you can, because hesthis was all
MH: Its practice.
HF: No, this is allin other words we had nobody firing at us. And we had a radio, so everybody had earphones, and we knew what was going on. We could call fromassuming that my tank was 4, this guys tank was 44, the other one was 43, the other one was 42.
So, we could talk to each other, and wed say, Four-Four, how you doing? This is 4, over.
Okay, 4, were doing fine. We see the enemy. Were zeroing in on them now, and as soon as I get an order well fire on em.
How bout you, 43?
Were doing the same thing out here. I can see very clearly. This tank has a swastikait didnt really had a swastika, it had a cross. We had to learnon paperwhat the German tanks looked like, what their vehicles looked like, and what kind of tank youre zeroed in on.
Im zeroed in onwhatever tank it was. What about you, 43?
He says, Yeah, I got a personnel carrier, it has six wheels and it only has a 57mm gun on it. What size gun does your tank42, what size gun?
He says, Thats an 88, and we all shivered. 88, thats all we heard. Thats the best gun that was ever made, and the Germans had it; we didnt. The biggest gun we had was a 75mm gun. It was a peashooter. Our guns and our tanks were nowhere near as good as the Germans, but we were told that our equipment was the best in the world. Which is a lot of bull, we found out later on. We got the light tanks, and they had the same motors as the mediums had, but they didnt have as manywe had five engines; the light tanks mightve had two engines. I dont remember now, but it was lighter.
MH: Is this gasoline or diesel?
HF: Gasoline engines, yes. And we used high octane. And we also hadinstead of a battery in the tank, we also had awhat the hell you call it?
MH: A generator?
HF: Generator is right, yes. It was a generator made out here in New Jersey. I forgot the name of it now. All we had was the first tanks. In order to get it started up, we had a 37mm blank shell. There was no bullet on the end of it; in other words, it was a blank. You push it in, and you fire it, and that started the motors up.
HF: Yeah, so we had maybe a dozen of those. That was the first tanks. Then, the tanks out in the desert, we had gasoline tanks with a generator. We would push twolike they do in a battery, positive and negative. Push them, sparks, and that would start the motors over. And then we found out that the gasoline engines were no good to us, becausethey could work fine, but not out in the desert, because of the sand. Any sand gets in the motor, the motors would die out, and if they werent synchronized, that was no good. Every motor had to be synchronized, all five of them. If they werent, that tank would just sputter along, thats all, cause were not getting full volume.
So, they found out that the Wright Company out here in Caldwell made a cyclone engine. It was a 9mmit was a Wright Cyclonenot millimeter, nine cylinder. A nine cylinder Wright Cyclone that the P-47sthe planes that we saw most of. Thanks, wherever you are; when we saw them, we knew we were okay. But the P-47s was an American plane. It was heavily armored, but it was a slow-moving plane. This was a combat plane. Had four .50s on each wing, eight machine guns, and when they fired, there was plenty of firepower that went out.
But anyway, getting back to the engines, they started putting the Wright Cyclone engine in. That was so powerful. Oh, my God. As soon as it started, you could just go up hills, down hills, sideward, my God. And thats what we had all through the war.
MH: How did they get you overseas? How did they take you overseas? From where?
HF: From the Mojave Desert, we went to Camp Bowie, Texas. We were there just to get our equipment all together. Now we get the new helmets, not the First World War tin cans. We had the new helmets, and everyone was given a sidearm. We were given a rifle, exceptno, no, we werent given rifles; we were given these tin can submachine guns. All the parts were stamped out, and its called a blowback. I think it costs the government about nine dollars to manufacture them; .45s put in a long clip. It was slow firing, but a .45oh, man, anywhere you hit, youre down. Even if you still live through it, youre down, youre incapacitated. So, we were all given those, and we were given two
MH: Grease guns?
HF: Yeah, grease guns is what they were called, what we called them. Yeah. And we were given two clips. One clip was always loaded, the other one was always loaded in our sidewhat would you call it? (laughs)
HF: Whatever it is. And that was always loaded, so we were always prepared to fire. I personally had a .45 and my grease gun, and all the boys in the tank had the same thing.
From the desert, we went to Camp Bowie, Texas. We were there just to get ourselveswe got all our equipment from Camp Bowie, Texas. We went to Camp Myles Standish; this is in the wintertime. It was just before Christmas. That was in Massachusetts, Miles Standish. We were there only about a week to make sure everybody had their uniforms, all their equipment, helmets, guns, and made sure they were all in good order.
Then, one morning, just between Christmas and New Years, we all got onto our boats in Massachusetts. The boat I was on was theIll think of it later. From the Grace Line; it was a tour ship, you know. It didnt look like it when we went on. The swimming poolthey took everything out, and they put toilets all around, so there were plenty of toilets. There were something like 3,000 men on each ship. And they had hammocks hanging from the ceiling all the way down, and when you go to sleep, you got the guys butt right in your face, and the hammocks.
We were out on the ocean for eleven days, and we had to sail zigzag; we could not go straight ahead; three minutes this way, three minutes this way. And we had the biggest convoy at the time. There were fifty-two ships. There were three aircraft carriers, and these cruise ships from the Grace Line. Santa Paula was the one I was on, then the Santa GraceI think there were only three of us.
MH: Do you remember the date that you sailed?
HF: Just between Christmas and New Years. I know that we
MH: What year?
HF: Nineteen forty-three. Forty-three , because we had our training in 1942 and forty-three . Anyway, we zigzagged. On the ship, they had one 5-inch gun. They had sailors therethe rest of us were all Armyand we were all given life jackets, the Mae Wests. We were fed only two meals a day, breakfast and then the evening meal. The officers had three meals a day. I couldve killed them for that. (laughs)
MH: What was your rank at this point?
HF: My rank wasI was a T-5.
HF: Oh, gesund.
MH: Thank you.
HF: You need a?
MH: No, I got it.
HF: Yeah, I was a T-5. I was a gunner. We were in the middle of the Atlantic, and all of a sudden, the sirens started blowing. All you heard was (makes siren sound). That was a submarine attack, which was real, and everybody had to just put the Mae Wests on, stand out on the deck from the railing to the back, and we had to line up, just in case we had to jump over, just in case they got us and the ship blew up or anything. Fifty-two ships on the convoy; on both ends there were Canadian corvettes. It was a low-silhouette ship, very fast, very quick, and being it was low, you could hardly just about see them because of the curvature of the earth. And they were always with us, thank God for them. Anyway, the call came out that there was a submarine attack, and thats all we knew, submarine attack.
MH: Daylight or nighttime?
HF: This is afternoon. I believe it was afternoon. Yeah, we could see each other. One corvette, who was all the way outI dont know where he came fromcame righthere we are, came from around the front of us, all around, and he circled us again, and then he stayed in back of us. And all of a suddenyou would enjoy thisyou see two ashcans, youve seen it in the movies; I dont think youve seen the real ones. Toom! These ashcans go down, they go down, and it looked like the whole Atlantic Ocean was just erupting. Boy, Im telling you. It was enjoyable; let me say that, even though we had no idea what the hell was happening. We were ready to drown and everything. They were putting on a show for us.
This corvette started doing circles in that one area, stayed right behind us, and it seemed that we were the targets, the Santa Paula. All of a sudden, theyre right in back of us, and theres two more ashcans go out and then another two, and we saw everything erupt and we saw things coming up. We dont know what the hell it was. It looked like oilcans or something. And you just look. Holy cow, Ive seen this in the moviesthere was no television at the time. Ive seen this in the movies; now Im actually looking at it. And he mustve gotten the sub, because he just went right around us once again and he took off into position. As I said, thank God for these Canadian corvettes, who were in this silhouette. We could just about see them.
And from there on, we had no problems. It waswhat do you do on a ship when theres nothing to do? They spread out a blanket and they played dice, they played cards. I remember I had eight dollars in my pocket, eight American dollars. I got into a card game, and that was it. (laughs) I had no money, because I didnt know how to play cards. The money was no good to me, and
MH: You were a musician and you didnt learn how to play cards?
HF: No, never. I was always practicing, eight hours a day, always practicing. I had to get as good as these guys, because they were in the business eleven years before I got there. I had to top themwhich I did, believe it or not.
Well, Ill change the subject. Some of them, they started bullying me. What I used to do, we always had a big trunk, a steamer trunk full of music. So, during the day, between shows, Id pick out somebodys part, I would go to the dressing room, and I wouldso, it was eat, perform, practice, practice, and I would practice the other guys part. One guy would come in and say, Yeah, why dont you take my part? Maybe you can take my place. So, I said, Hey, Im just trying toIm not as good as you guys. Im trying to get better. Take my part; maybe you can take my job away. So, I said, Im not trying to take your job! This is what I used to get, because I was the new kid on the block. Okay, this is to be expected.
Anyway, getting back
MH: So, the ship went where?
HF: The ship went to Swansea, Wales. Two nights before we landed, that whole port was bombed, and they cleaned it up in a hurry. We were in Wales, and the British were soldiersinfantrymen, I would assumewith their handguns, and they looked so funny to us with their short leggings. We woreI dont know if you know anything about the canvas leggings. We used to tie them in; our legs were always tied togethernot tied this way, but just tied up. I suppose it was to strengthen your muscles, or whatever it was. Wed see them, and some of the New Yorkers would start just throwing some language at em. (mimicking English accent) Hey, limey, how are you? and the limey would turn around, All right, Yank, youll find out what it is. So, they were always bullying each other.
We were out on that ship for two nightsthree nights. What the hell are we doing here? Why arent we on land? Theyre gonna come over again; theyre gonna bomb the place. Fortunately, we werent bombed. Anyway, at nightit was about the third nightwe all got lined up. Have you ever seen an English train withthe aisle was on one side, and you sit on the other side, so you could walk through.
So, about six of us sat in the cabin part. There was Scotland Yard guys with us: black coats, black derbies. I dont know if they carried a gun or not. But they looked at you, just kept looking at you, and their heads were all around, just in case somebody infiltrated our troops; maybe they could smell them out or something, whatever it was. And their cigarettes were awful. I didnt smoke at the time. We were given Camels, which were the top. So, I passed by one of them and said, Care for a smoke? Oh, he says, for me? and started pulling one out, and I said, No, no, take the whole thing. He said Oh! like it was gold, you know. Their cigarettes stunk like hell. But we got to know them, they got to know us.
We were on the train all night long. I think it was about two nights or so. And what we sawwe didnt hear, but what we saw was flashes of light at night, because you know, windows, you could see; just flashes of light. We had no idea what they were. I once asked this
MH: Scotland Yard guy?
HF: Scotland Yard guy. Thanks. (laughs) I notice its coming on now. I asked him, What are these? and he says, London is being bombed, and these V-1swhatever they call them; they used to bomb and it lit up the whole sky. So, every night wed see a few of those flashes. I said, Do these bombs come out here? and he said, No, theyre just after London. And I was there for four days in London. I saw the areas that were bombed, justIll tell you, it was really rough for those people. We didnt like them, they didnt like us, so it didnt matter.
From Swansea, Wales, we flewwe trained into Devizes. We were all around: Swindon, Devizes, different camps all over the place. But we were in Devizes for about six months, until we finally went across the Channel into France. But we had more training there, and we had the newer tanks, and these tanks were with the P-47 motors. We went out to theoh, God, the plains, the Salisbury Plain; that was like the moors, nobody living there. There was smoke, smog about this high, and fog. If you ever saw these Sherlock Holmes pictures, everythings so smoggy and rainy. The weather was miserable. We didnt know what sunshine looked like. All day long, it was smoggy. Well, anyway, thats what we had to live through.
We trained next door to the English. There was one Scottish guy who was the big sergeant there. He was in charge of the English. They didnt wear their tin caps; they wore Scottish tammiesso cute, so colorful: red, yellow, blue. And the way they marched, like robots. So, we used to tease each other. Thenthis is something I dont know how important this is. They were getting a threepence a day, each of the limey soldiers. We were getting fifty dollars a month. Suddenly, we get a newspaper that the English soldiers want us to contribute to their monthly salary, or weekly salary or whatever they got. In other words, we have to share our money with them. And boy, there was an uproar. No way! We got fifty a month and that was it. That was ours. That finally cooled out. It was almost a war between us.
While we were in England, we see Italian soldiers walking around freely, doing nothing. They were not training. They were prisoners, walking around freely, wherever they wanted to go. And all of them were very talented. We would give them a silver dollaror whatever it was; it was pure silver, and they used to make cigarette lighters for us. I dont know how they carved it out; they hammered it, did whatever they had to. They got the wicks, the little turner which made the spark, and the wick, and you could fill it full of whatever the hell it was. I dont know what it was, gasoline. But, anyway, we all wanted the cigarette lighters, and these guyswe used to pay them, a nickel or something, whatever it was. A nickel was a threepence.
MH: When did you go
HF: Okay, we were on thethis was in June. I think it was either June 5 or 6, D-Day. We were out on the Salisbury Plains, and we saw planes, B-17s, the English planes. And what they do, they came in like this and then they went east. Wed see squadrons; the sky was black. SquadronsI dont know where the hell they came from. There mightve beenI dont know, maybe twenty in a squadron, twenty-five or so. And then, youd see them come back: half a wing shot off, half a tail shot off. These are four-motor planes; one motor was working, the other three are out. The sides of the plane were knocked right out, it was open. And with one motor, they couldnt fly like that; they had to fly this way. And we looked at them. I tell you, our hearts really went out for them. Oh, my God, the whole thing took maybe a half hour. Theyd come over and then theyd come back, and wed look at them. Oh, my God. How did they fly with the tailsthe tails were just chopped off, nothing. How did they steer? I have no idea. But we used to watch them. Boy, Im telling you, wed just wave to them. And thats it.
Anyway, June 6, we heard that the invasion is on. Well, I know that this is the dateI know that they were going out June 5, the day before; and then the next day they were going on, one flight after another. Oh, boy. And we thought we were going over, and then at night we got into our barracks. We were all brought together into a gymnasium. And some boysoh, we waterproofed all of our vehicles, because when you go over the Channel, you cant go right into the shore; youre gonna be about 100, 200 feet away, and the tanks have to go down. How else are they gonna go? Theyre gonna go down. Everything had to be waterproofed. The motors had to be running, had to have air; it had to keep operating.
We waterproofed all our vehicles, and it wasnt until JulyÂ 17it was around that day; dont take that July 17 for granted. It was around that day; it was about a month, a little over a month later. We finally got to PortsmouthPortsmouth is a little fishing town with small English boats. They used everything to get us over. Anyway, we had three of our tanks went on this one boat. The boat was a flat bottom, made of steel; it had a ramp in the front that went up or down, and the sides were all steel. The back had a little tower, maybe twelve feet high. Thats where the guy steered the boat.
That night was the worst weather that England ever had. The stormsthe seas were just going up and down, and we all got on that. There were ships with infantry, there were ships with medical supplies; combat, of course, went first. And we were finallyokay, okay, we finally went out. Who do you think went out to France? Just our one ship; all the others remained behind. How we did this, I dont know, cause that flat-bottomed ship went like this, banging and plop, and here we got three tanks tied down, and its cold and miserable.
We had no protection from the weather at all; we just huddled up right against each other. We had no food. What they gave us was a can, maybe twice as big as this and twice as round, and what you didnever saw this before. What you did, you just pulled a little tab, and the whole thing caught fire, but there was a pipe inside this that got warm and heated up the soup that was all around this. You couldnt touch it, it was so hot. Oh, man. So, you had to put gloves on, and you had cream of pea soup. That was our first meal going over to France.
(phone rings) Shes got the phone.
Anyway, that was it going over the Channel. It was a miserable trip. We got over to France in the morning, and we looked around. Were the only ones there. The weather was nice, the sun was out; there were no waves or anything. And it was disgusting. Here we see soldiers and sailors just floating on top of the(clears throat) Excuse me.
MH: You came into one of the D-Day beaches?
HF: Onto Utah.
MH: Utah, okay.
HF: Utah Beach. The beach was quiet. There was nobody there except the beach masters. They told us where to get off, when, and all that kind of stuff.
Let me just get a drink.
HF: We were the first ones in there, and we landed about 200 feet from the shore. It was just like a beach, sandy beach and all that stuff. As a matter of fact, I got some sand from that beach. One of President Bushs bodyguardshis uncle got killed, and he was there with Bushthis is just recently, maybe about eight, ten years ago. He took a bottle, a little jar, and he just scooped up sand from Utah Beach, and he covered it. He sent it to his father, whose fathers brotherthis bodyguards unclesent it to me. He took a shine to me. He said, Harry, you deserve this, and I tell you, I started crying. I couldnt believe it, you know. Instead of keeping it himself. Its in the other room now.
MH: Was it uneventful getting off the landing ship?
HF: What we didagain, I dont know why they did this. They kept us on that ship for two whole days, right on the shoreline. So, we had a colonel; I dont remember which colonel this was. I said, Colonel, when are we getting off? He says, When we get orders, son, when we get orders. I said, Were targets out here, because every night, Bed Check Charlie came over. It was so dark there wasnt even stars in the sky.
MH: You call him Bed Check Charlie?
HF: Bed Check Charlie. Came over, you could hear his motorit was just like a Maytag washing machineand you knew right away. Everybody said, Hey, Bed Check Charlie. Bed Check Charlie didnt do anything; he didnt drop any bombs, didnt strafe us. He took pictures, and we were told to not put your head up to try to see him, keep it down, because when they go back, they get these pictures printed, and then theyll know just where were at, because our white faces will show up on the pictures.
So, the ship we were onthe little shipwas camouflaged green and white, so that blended in with the seawater. And we knew right away, at night, were out theremaybe it was three nights; I dont remember now. And we started getting jittery. We said, Hey, Colonel, hows the chance of getting off? He says, If you wanna swim onto that beach, sonny, you do it, and I said, Im not gonna do that with a full pack and everything. So, anyway, we finally got orders. We got some food. And oh, yeah, we were the first ones there, and were looking around. Whats going on here? What happens if we get strafed? Theres nothing we can do. We got some guns on the tanks, but thatll run out fast. What can we do here? Fortunately, nobody fired at us.
However, while were out therethe weather was beautiful; we could see the beach and everything. We saw a few houses up above, and it seemed that every hour or so, four or six shells came in on the beach. And the war has already been going on for over a month, so the Americans had footholds already into France. So, these shells were pretty far from us, I mean, didnt do us any harm. So, I said, Colonel, what is that going on out there? He says, Oh, thats the engineers. Theyre clearing the beach of any shells out there. I said, Well, whos doing this? I dont see anybody out there. Once every hour so, these shells come in, they hit the same place. So, he says, Take my word for it, sonny, theres some engineers out there. Theyre getting rid of these shells; they want to make everything clear. And we looked at each other and we said, This guys full of baloney. Either that, or hes shell shocked now.
FinallyI dont know what happened, but somehow just at that time, we got in pretty close to the beach. The ship did not come in there. The motors were not going. Somehow, we got close to the beach. The ramp was put down, we unlocked the chains that were holding down the three tanks, warmed them up, and one by one we went down. We didnt have to use the waterproofing, because we were right on the beach, really. So, evidently, they waited until the tide was close to shore, because if we had to go 200 feet, I dont think any of our tanks wouldve made it. Our waterproofing was taken off before we got on the ship, so we were pretty lucky that way. Im sure thats the only reason I can think of that the tide came in where we were, right on the sandy beach.
And we waited there, we waited on the beach, and all theoh, I said we were the first ones? All of a sudden, I looked around, and I said, My God, the whole Army and Navy is here. How did they come there without us knowing, so quickly? That first day, we used to just look around and say, Nobodys here, only us. And for some reason, maybe twenty minutes later or a half-hour, I look around and say, Oh, my God, look at this. All kinds of ships, everything you could think of, Navy. They told us there were about 5,000 ships there. I dont know; maybe there were 5,000. Couldnt count them.
But we started one by one, we started de-training, de-shipping, whatever it was. Got on, we lined up, and the beach masters, they would have, Okay, you guys, come. There was always somebody in the front to lead us, so we had to follow them; they knew where we were going. And then the next would line up, and then wedwe were one of the last to get off the beach.
MH: What was your unit? What was your unit?
HF: Our unit? 37th Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division. 37th Tank Battalion. Our colonel was Colonel Creighton W. Abrams. The man became the
MH: Chief of Staff.
HF: Chief of Staff of the United States Army, 1957, around that time; fifty-six , something like that. And he was so well loved by every man, I tell you. The man never raised his voice, never screamed at anybody. The only time I ever heard him raise his voice was to another officer. Ill tell you that story; ask me and Ill tell you that story sometime. (laughs) That was funny.
MH: Anyhow, so, you start inland
HF: We started inland, yeah. We didnt know, but we were a mile from the front. We had no idea. We found out later on. But it started getting dark, and we had already heard about Sainte-Mre-glise. Does that sound familiar to you? Thats where the parachuter got caught in the clock up in the steeple [on D-Day]. Here I am, looking. Theres the clock, theres the parachute still up there. I think the chuter got killed, Im not sure.
The paratrooper in question was Private John M. Steele. He pretended to be dead for two hours, but was eventually captured by the Germans, later escaping to rejoin his regiment. Steele died of cancer in 1969.
But I think he wentIm looking at this. Holy cow, Im looking at history.
Well, we passed that, and we got into our bivouac area, where were in the hedgerows. You heard of hedgerows? You probably never saw them. Thats what they were. They were areasI cant tell you how much area they were, but they were areas with one little spot where you can go right through, because one tank had a bulldozer blade on it, and he could push everything out. We got into our area, had myI was a gunner at the time, still a gunner. Everybody was told, Dismount, dismount, get your guns cleaned. The tankeverything has to be cleaned before you eat or clean yourself. You can be as hungry as you can possibly be; that tank has to be cleaned, has to be ready for load and gassed up and everything. And that was our job every night. And we had to grease the bogey wheels and all that sort of thing. The treads could operate freely.
As soon as we got in, we got off the tank, we jumped off, and I hear a whistle. I mean, thats the loudest whistle I ever heard. A plane came over, and right into the next hedgerow, a bomb fell there, and you see a flash, and you hear screaming, Medic! Medic! Medic! I started shivering; I know I wasnt the only one. And we were told, Do not stay in the tank when theres firing going on. Do not get under the tank. You think youre going for protection, but youre not. I dont know who was in the next hedgerow, but I know a lot of guys got hurt there.
You could hear thewell, you could seeeven though it was dark, you could see the ambulances that had gone right into the hedgerow, and you could hear a lot of excitement. Over here, guys, over here cmon; heres one guy over here, cmon. And youd hear another guy say, I cant feel my legs, I cant feel my legs, and you hear all this. And this all came down as a big surprise. You can imagine my head. I cant talk for anybody elses. My head just started spinning. My God, what can I do here? Where can I run to? I cant run anyplace.
Anyway, somehow we started cleaning the inside of the tank. It wasnt dirty anyway, but any sand or anything; just started cleaning. Got the grease gun, started greasing the bogeys. A truck came by and dropped off jerry cans of fuel, and being I was the tallest, I got up here gavehanded it to the man up there. He gave it to the manto the driverand unscrewed the gas cap and hed empty that tank, throw it down. We had to keep these jerry cans together so that when the truck comes back, it can pick them upyou know, not look all around for them, just pick them up and go get more gas.
Well, that was one night to remember, one night not to forget. Anyway, we cleaned up the tank. The mess truck was there, and I dont even remember going to mess. Anyway, we got something to eat. We didnt even talk to each other. Nobody talked to each other. We were so scared. You cannot imagine that whistle. I heard this in the movies. I heard bombs in the movies, but thats Hollywood. Now I hear it in person, but it was so loud. Those bombs are made with fins on each side to make that whistle. Its very demoralizing. Boy, just getting those things in your head.
You got enough water?
MH: Im good, thank you.
HF: Anyway, we were in that hedgerow. We stayed there. It was pretty quiet, except for every so often, during the daytime, the Germans would send overnot artillery
MH: Rockets? Mortars?
HF: Mortar shells, yeah, into each hedgerow. So, if they hit the one next to us, we know that were the next one to get hit and wed get hit. There were some cows walking around, and both of them just dropped dead. And the smellthe odor was so terrible, so one of our guys took a shovel and just covered the wounded parts of the cows.
So, anyway, we were there for about a week, and then we had to move out. We went to Saint-L, and now things were pretty quiet. We just went in line. We went to Saint-L and we got up on a hill, and we stayed there for about six days. We just stayed there; of course, cleaned the tanks. You move two feet, you have to clean everything up. That is an SOP, standard operating procedure, you had to do it, and make sure theres enough in the gas tank.
We had two fire extinguishers in back of the tank, inside by the motor. In order to make sure they were working, you had to pullyou had to jump out of the tank, pullin case the motor caught firehad to pull. Yeah, this one works, okay. Now we know the next one works, but we dont touch that, because we need that one. So, we only had one fire extinguisher, even though there were two. You try it out with one and then depend on this one just in case the motor catches firewhich is very easy to do, because we used airplane gas, the highest octane that you can possibly get, and itll catch fire in no time.
Well, we got into Saint-L, about four miles outside of Saint-L. We could see whats going ahead. Suddenly, 3,000 planes come over, and again we watched them. They came from west, east, south, wherever they came from. They got together, moved forward, and we saw these bombs just dropping. And there was one small American plane that flew around in that area. He would drop down a flare, that flare would come down, and that showed where the target was for the big planes. And as soon as he did that, ooh, he just took off, because now bombs started coming down, and he certainly didnt want to get hit.
And then, when there was a littleit became a little quieter, silentthe Americanthe small plane would go out, and he would see enemy artillery tanks or anything, whatever it was. Artillery, infantry, no matter what it was, again, he would fly down. Hed fly pretty low, and he knew he was safe. Here are the Germans down below, they could machine gun him down, but theyre smart. If they did that, theyd give their position away, and were ready to pounce on them. So, they didnt fire on them.
But he would take flare; a couple of flares, just throw it out. Wed see him throw it down. That flare would go down, and you followed the smoke on down, and then the planes would come in. And, of course, there was communication between the small plane and the big leader planes, the B-17s and all that. They would tell himwe could hear it on our radio somehowOkay, little guy, get outta there, cause were gonna drop some he didnt say bombs. Were gonna drop some eggs down. And of course, he would move right back to our area. He would gas up and make sure he was in a flying position. And then theres a little lull in the bombing, and hed get up again and he would look at another little sector. And, of course, he was looking at sectors where he saw a buildup of plenty of Nazis, plenty of Germansthe enemyand he would givewell, he would give thedrop the flares. And this kept on going for a few days.
One day, I was on guard, right near my tank. It there was a big hole, maybe 6x6, maybe five feet deep, big hole. And, instead of walking guard, they said, Get into this hole and just keep your gun with you, and if you see anythinganythingif you hear anything, just shoot at him. Dont even ask who it is, just shoot wherever the noise is coming from. And boy, I tell you, I just stood up there and had that gun up there. All of a sudden, I hear this. (footsteps) Oh, my God, I dont wanna kill anybody. And I just heard whats going on, and I gave him some short bursts (sound effect), and when we got up in the morning, two cows were just walking around. They couldve come into the hole with me. But I killed both cows. What the hell did I do here? There were no Germans near us.
Anyway, Germans were about four or five miles from us. Theres the little plane always overhead, and he was giving us signals, and he would tell us just where the enemy is, what to expect. Theres tanks here on your right flank, theres tanks in the front. Theres artillery right in back of them. And he would tell us so we knew on our maps just where it is.
And we had oneeach platoon had a lieutenant. The lieutenant I had was the greatest in the world. What a sweetheart. We all loved the guy. Came from Mahanoy, Pennsylvania. His name was Bernard J. Susavage, funny name, S-u-capital S-u-v-a-g-e.
Transcribers note: Feinberg is misremembering the spelling. In cemetery records, the lieutenants name is spelled Susavage.
He looked out after the tanksour tanks, his platoonmore than he looked out for himself, believe it or not. He went into enemy territory, and hed radio back, Guys, be careful over this ridge. Theres some tanks when you go over. Just be ready. Stop there, get into position, and when you see themIm telling you where they are. When you see them, just annihilate them. And he would give us
Well, this poor guy, he went ahead once. We were always attacking, constantly attacking. There was no such thing as going back. No such thing. Everything was attack. And we were given enemy positions. This one time, he went to an enemy position, and he went to a machine gunBernard Susavage went to a machine gun, an American machine gunner. They had a .30 caliber water-cooled machine gun, and one guy was feeding him belts, feeding belts into it.
The gunner says, Hey, Lieutenant, this is as far as you go. So, Lieutenant says, Why? Theres nothing out there. He said, Theres one house out there, and theres a sniper in there. Hes knocking off anybody who goes there. Theres a few of our soldiers that are down, because hes knocking them off. And if I fire at him, hes gonna know my position. Im just here just in case I really have to fire. And Susavage says, Hes in a Jeepwe call them peeps. Hes in a Jeep, or a peep, with his driver, himself, and an artillery forward observer, a Jewish guy. I forgot his name.
Anyway, the machine gunner says, Lieutenant, do not go down there. Im warning you. Matter of fact, I forbid you. So, Susavage says, Sonny, I got the bars, you have the stripes. Youre only a sergeant. Ill decide what to do. Okay, do what you have to. So, he went up; he was almost close to the house. Lieutenant Susavage wore three hand grenadessix hand grenades, three on each of his suspendersand he got hit by the sniper. One of the grenades blew his head right off.
And the forward observer, he was ready to go out of his mind. From what he saw, he just was just going nuts. And the drivera nice Irish kid, really nice, we got along so well. All he did was just made a left turn. Susavage flew out of the Jeep, and he came back to our sides. He says, I give up. I give up. I cannot And the poor forward observer, hes just shaking like the wind was blowing. And they took them both back. I mean, they were useless. And then we heard that SusavageI didnt see his head come off; I say I did, but I didnt. We were told that Susavage got killed, and we got a couple of lieutenants after that. They were just no good to us.
MH: At this point in the war, did you know anything about concentration camps?
HF: No, nobody knew anything about concentration camps. As I say, we were constantly pushing forward, pushing forward, pushing forward. We saw plenty of action, because they were waiting for us. We got into a town, Gotha, Germany, and here we are. We went through the dragons teeth, you know, and there were signs on theI know Im going offsigns on the sides of the mountains. See Germany and Die, all in whitewash. See Germany and Die. And we went through a tank and just knocked those dragons teeth over.
We got into a town called Gotha, Germany, and we noticed that the war was winding down. We didnt do as much shooting. We were getting strafed, we were getting bombed, but not as much groundwork. And we saw tanks; we saw enemy tanks just knocked out. We saw our own knocked out. I mean, it was not a pleasant sight. Theres no such thing as a good war. People might say this is a good war; its baloney. Anyway, I got into Gotha, Germany, and I gotta tell you this story before I tell you about concentration camps.
We were on a road, a paved road. I dont know what position; I was in a tank. By this time, I was now a tank commander, because our guys were getting killed so they promoted me, gave me three stripes. Baloney. I didnt want those three stripes, or any of them. Anyway, were on attack. I dont remember what was on my right side, but I remember on this [left] side, I see about maybe I dont know, eight, ten houses, well-kept two-story homes. We stopped on the road, we gassed up, oiled up and greased up and did what we had to, and were just waiting for a command to move out.
So, I said, Hey, guys, Im going into this house across the road. Its a big, well-kept two-story home, and there was a wrought iron fence all around with fleurs-de-lis all on this black fence. And as Im going in there, I just want to see whats in the house, which is the most stupid thing I ever did. I go to the door, and I turn the handlethe lockand the doors unlocked. So, I go in, I look, and Im in a big, big living room, and theres a woman on the other end. Shes dressed from here down to her ankles, and she had a German honeycomb hair comb. I dont know if youve seen them; it looked like a bees.
HF: And she says, Kommen in Heim, kommen in Heim. I was usedbeing I could speak Yiddish, I was used as a German interpreter, so I understood her. And I looked at her. All I had was my .45 and my grease gun, and I look around, and I see a door here and theres a door there, and it didnt dawn on me. What am I doing here? There might be enemy in there. My God, they can make mincemeat out of me. But it didnt dawn on me until I ran out.
Anyway, she says to me, Kommen in Heim, this is my living room, and she spoke in German. She asked me Keine Schokolade? I said, Nein, keine Schokolade. I explained to hershe says, Ill make a trade with you. I said, Im not going to do anything with you, so what are you bartering about? She said, See this lamp, here, on the end table? You take this. You give me chocolate, and you can take this home as a souvenir. So, I said, Nein, nein, die Schokolade ist fr die Kinder, because every town we went to, it seems the little five, six, eight-year-old kids were not afraid of us, even in Germany. They used to come around to see us, look at us around our tanks. Very poorly fed, very poorly clothed in Germany. And the American soldiers not a tough soldier; hes a sweetheart, hes a marshmallow. They see kids, they jump off the tank and theyll give them kaugummi, chewing gum; and if we had any tanksor cookies, oh, these kids would love us. And wed pick them up and just play with them. They would laugh. Of course, this is when were not firing.
And I said, Nein, die Schokolade ist fr die Kinder. She said, For a souvenir, take it home with you. So, I looked at the lamp, and something shuddered over my body. Its a small lamp, maybe this big, and what do you think the hood was made of? Its human skin. And I tell you, I got so numb and so
MH: With a tattoo number?
HF: With what?
MH: A tattoo number?
HF: I dont know if I saw one. Im not gonna lie. I dont know if there was a tattoo number on there or not, but I saw human skin with a light under it. I waved her down, and I turned around and ran out, and the guys said, Hey, what happened? I said, I did the most stupid thing that I ever did. What the hell did I go in there for? and I told them what went on. They said, Youre nuts. How did you know there wasnt enemy soldiers? I said, Boy, Ill never do that again. I must be nuts!
So, anyway, we were told that its time to move out. We stayed in Gotha, Germany, which is such a beautiful little town, about 50,000 population, laid out so nice and neat and everything, and we didnt do any firing. And I never remembered what was on my right side, but I did find out later on. We came into town, and we chased people out of houses. We made headquarters in one house, and they all screamed, Mein, mein! Raus! Im a marshmallow myself. I said to the colonel, Colonel, I cant chase these people out, and he says, Why not? Theyre your enemy. I said, They didnt do anything to me. I cant do this. Get another interpreter. So, he says, Feinberg, come on, youre in a war now. So, I said, I cant do it anymore. I cant interrogate these people anymore; chase them out of these houses.
Anyway, we stayed in Gotha for just a day or two, maybe three or so and theres no firing. Everything was just quiet. And then we were given orders to go out. So, the next town that waspooh, pooh, I forgot the name of the town. Anyway, its a small town; its in between. We were told to make a left turn, go up this street, and we come up to the woods, and we see there are signs there written in German, Verboten, which means forbidden, cause the kids used to tell us, We want to go up there and play in the woods; these soldiers wouldnt let us go.
And we got up there, anda tank itself has an odor, but this waswe were smelling something up there. We went up there, and suddenly we lookwe see fences, and we see guys who are delirious, in striped uniforms, and they were like skeletons. They were looking at us with owl eyes. Just looking at us, didnt say a word, but they were skeletons. Cheekbones like this, and the owlthe eyes were just round, like owls. They didnt even know there was a war going on, believe it or not. After we got into there, we found out.
So, some of ourespecially one guy had, as I told you, a bulldozer blade on his tank.
MH: Thats the guy who was at the
HF: Yes, he was there.
MH: The guy in the wheelchair.
HF: Yeah, he was there, Joe Vanacore.
Joe Vanacore was also interviewed for the Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project. The DOI number for his interview is C65-00139.
But he was in a different sector. He was in the 8th Tank Battalion; I was in the 37th. There was another tank battalion; two of the guys that were sitting there that you were talking to were in the 35th Tank Battalion. Come to think of it, we had no 35ths with us at the dinnerluncheon.
Anyway, we went through and what do we see there, guarding thiswhat we saw, a camp, we had no idea what it was. The two old men, maybe seventy, seventy-five years old, with long German uniforms on, their helmet, and theyre walking back and forth. They see us, they take their helmets, threw it down, they threw their guns down, theyre Kommen, kommen! and they started shaking. And, of course, Im there to interpret them.
MH: You used the dozer blade to
HF: Yeah. Well, he did; he was in another section. But our tankswith thirty tons, you just go through. We went through the gates. There are two big gates there.
MH: You knocked em down?
MH: You knocked the gates down?
HF: Oh, yeah, right through. No question about it; they were maybe ten, twelve feet high. So, we asked, Where are the soldiers? They ran away about a half-hour ago; they saw something coming and they were told something was coming. They ran away. They took this road, they went away.
So, the guys got off their tanks. We looked around to make sure that there was no enemy soldiers; nobody was there, just these two guys. What the hell are they guarding here? And I look at the courtyard, and I see bodies laying in the courtyard. I have pictures; I cant even show them to you, because we recently moved in here, and I have no idea where theyre at. Theyre still in boxes somewhere. But when we get ourselves settled, Ill look for them.
MH: Yeah, Id like that. Okay.
HF: So, guys jumped off their tanks. They all had their
MH: Grease guns.
HF: grease guns with them, and they all looked around and said, What the hell is this? Jesus, look at this. You ever seen anything like this? And the gentiles, they started bawling. They had tears in their eyes. And me, I started walking around, and these bodies were laying all over. Some were clothed; some had just this striped thing. Their heads were all shaven, and none of them are breathing. And I look, and I see one guy, his eyes back, and hes laying. He had a (inaudible). I dont know if he was Jewish or what the story was. But he had no face, everything was justI see him just gasping for air, so I looked at him, so he suddenly looks up at me. I dont know how he opened his eyes, and he says, Amerikaner? I says, Ja, Amerikaner, and he goes like this. (makes gesture) And I look around, and theres nobody else is breathing, just this one guy.
I ran over to the tank, got on the horn. I said, Medics, medics, come out here, Im in so-and-so area. Get Doc [John] Scotti here. Doc Scotti was our battalion commander, an Italian guy.
Dr. Scotti was the battalions surgeon, not its commander.
He was the greatest. He was the salt of the earth, just the greatest; had a heart as big as a whale. He came over in his Jeep, and I motioned to him. I said, Doc, the guys still breathing. I see him gasping. All of us took our handkerchiefs out, and we had to cover ourselves. It was impossible to breathe, because the smellthe odor was terrible. At one point, I even went over to one of the barracks. I opened the doors, and heres bodies laying over these wood beds, two-decker beds. Oh, jeez. I had to close the door.
HF: Dead. I didnt go inside, I couldnt go inside. They were justall of them the same, all with heads shaven. This particular camp, Ohrdrufits named Ohrdruf because of the town. It was Gotha, then another town, then Ohrdruf. We made the left turn there and went into the camp, and we had no idea what the hell it was. What the hell is it? Whats going on here? Theres a big hole about 50 feet by maybe 200 feet with railroad ties shoved in there. They were going to bulldoze the bodies in there and then set the thing on fire, and then cover it up so the Americans cant see what theyd done. But, anyway, there was no time for them. They escaped.
So, Dr. Scotti, he gets on his horn and says, Ambulance, come here, were in this sector. Ambulance came by, he says, Back in, back in. Somehow he touched here, touched here, and he listened; didnt take his
HF: Didnt take his stetho [stethoscope] out. He just touched. He says, Get the (laughs)
HF: The litter carrier, yeah; you know what they look like, two oak poles with
MH: The canvas, yeah.
HF: and canvas. He says, Very, very carefully, pick this guy up, and this guy, he didnt have the strength to do this.
MH: Youre putting your hands on your breast.
HF: He was praying, just Amerikaner, so evidently he was one of the guys who knew that we liberated him. But thats the only one I saw who was
MH: Did they have the Star of David on the
HF: They must have, because they had uniforms; they had these striped uniforms. They mustve had. I didnt notice. We didnt know what Star of David was, believe it or not.
Finally, after a few minutes, we looked around, covering our nose and our mouth. We look around, and Colonel Abramshe himself, I see him with tears. Jeez, I couldnt believe that. Hes a very soft guy. He was a nice guy. He didnt try to show you how tough he was or anything. And he gets up on his tank and says, Okay, guys, come here, lets settle here. We found out that the troops that were guarding the camps, they took off, so he had a few tanks go down the road. Which way did they go? They went down this road. Go down this road; the little airplane was up above. He called the plane and said, Let us know, somebodys trying to escape. Get their position. He got a platoon of tanksmaybe five, six tanks, something like thathad them go after them. I understood that they put on full steam ahead and got them and just annihilated these guys. I didnt see them.
But anyway, Abrams gets on his tank. All right, guys, now you know what were fighting for. He himself had no idea. The colonel in charge of a whole battalion had no idea what was going on, had no idea there was concentration camps or anything. And that surprised me, really surprised me. Anyway, after he says, Dont touch anything, guys. The best bet is to get away from this area, because there must be a lot of disease floating around. What they did, I dont know.
MH: Did you find any other people alive?
HF: There were people alive, yeah. All of them were not dead. There were gays, there were Gypsies, there were
MH: How did you find that out?
HF: Talking to some of them. Yeah, talking to some of them. There were
MH: Political prisoners, too?
HF: Thats what Im trying to think. Boy, my head must really be
MH: Its okay. Ill work for you. (laughs)
HF: Thats all right. Im glad. There were political prisoners, too, yeah. And one guy was pretty heavy. He didnt look like he was there too long. I dont know what the story was. He may have squealed onI understand there were some Jewish guys who were squealing on some of the other Jewish or some of the other prisoners. But I look at his picture even now, and hes pretty heavy. His hair is combed nicely. There was athere was something built there for hanging.
MH: A scaffold?
MH: A gallows, you mean?
HF: Yeah, it was a gallows, two A-frames on each side and a block of heavy wood. Theyd get the guys up there. I didnt see anybody hanged, or anything.
MH: Were there gas chambers there, at Ohrdruf?
HF: Not in Ohrdruf, no. Six days lateroh, anyway, Abrams said, Feinberg, get a Jeep, go down into town, get the brgermeister, tell the brgermeisterhe was the mayor of town; he was top man. He wants every man, woman, and child to get up here. We even sent trucks down there to get them. But anyway, they came up, and they had handkerchiefs over their mouths. They were laughing like it was a big joke, the townspeople. Oh, they dressed in their Sunday best, every one of them. Nice hats, the woman had nice hats and everything, and they were taken through the camps. Some of the men in their best clothes were told to, Put the people gently into this big hole so we can bury them, because how are you going to find out who they are? Anyway, we were told to bury them. I didnt stay there that long. I couldnt.
Anyway, we werent there that long, either. [Dwight D.] Eisenhower had a Jewish colonel [Bernard Bernstein] as an aide. The colonel came down, looked at this, couldnt believe his eyes, couldnt believe his nostrils, and he drove back to headquarters. And from the storyI didnt see this, but I heard that he came over to Ike and he says, Ike, you have to see this. Ike says, I dont have time, Im too busy. He says, Ike, you have to come down here. Ill drive you. You have to come and see this.
He finally talked him into it, so Iketheres a picture of Ike, [Omar] Bradley, [George S.] Patton: the three big ones. I think [Walton] Walker was there, Im not sure if he got killed yet.
General Walton Walker was indeed at Ohrdruf. He died in 1950, during the Korean War.
But Bradley, Patton, Eisenhower, the three of them came and they looked at it, and they could not believe their eyes. From what Ive been toldI didnt see them, I didnt hear them say itfrom what Ive been told, Now you know what were fighting for. And Patton says, No more prisoners. We are not going to take any more prisoners. From what Ive been told, from some of the guys who were still behind, Patton went behind one of the barracks and, as tough as he washe didnt love anybody, he hated everybody
MH: He was an anti-Semite, too.
HF: He started throwing up. Yeah, he was antiwell, he didnt do me any harm, let me say that.
MH: Okay. (laughs).
HF: I was close to him as I am to you, two, three feet away.
MH: You were there when Patton was there?
HF: Well, we had already gone out. We had gone out of there toI dont know why, but our mission was to keep going ahead. Our mission was to37th Tank Battalion and the 8th and the 35th, our battalionsthe three armored battalions were told to go out. In other words, we had them on the run. We actually had the Krauts on the run, and we saw guns laying all over the road. They were stripping themselves just to run faster and everything. So, we knew the war was just about ending.
MH: This wouldve been April 3, 1945?
HF: Around the 3rd, 4th, something like that. Six days later, we come upon Buchenwald. Oh! This one had the ovens. We went in there and, again, because of my speaking, I got a hold of somebody, talked to some of the Germans. I spoke to some of the prisoners. They were walking around; they were delirious and very lightlike pajamas, striped clothes, little caps, striped. And we did something wrong. We didnt know what we were doing. You see a guy, hasnt eaten in two or three weeks, so you take your cookies, your candy, and they take it and run away, because they dont want anybody to take it away. Our doctor got a hold of all of us, Do not feed them! Youre going to kill them. They cannottheyre not in any position to eat anything. And from what I understand, they were given just milk and
MH: Turnip soup, I heard.
HF: It wasntno, no, I dont think so. I dont know, maybe.
MH: Were you in the first group to go into Buchenwald, too?
HF: No. The guy that told you
HF: Mel Rappaport; hes a meshuggener. Nice guy, I love him. (laughs) You ever get any of his e-mail?
MH: Yes. Im going to see Mel onwhats today? Sunday? Im going to see Mel tomorrow.
Melvin Rappaport was also interviewed for the Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is C65-00110.
HF: Hes a nice guy, loves me. I dont know why. But now he sends me e-mail. This is kindergarten stuff. (laughs) But dont tell him I said so. I like him very much, nice guy. He cant attend these meetings anymore. I wish he could.
MH: Because of his health, you mean?
HF: Hes got his own, yeah. Every day, he sends me e-mails.
But they were there, the first ones. We get over to Buchenwald, again, we seeand we captured some of the guys. Some of our MPs [military police], we gave them over. We have no time. Were combat, were notand we were told not to take prisoners. Patton said, No more.
We walk around, and all of a sudden, I see a boxunpainted, just raw wood, maybe six, five, four feet highfilled with childrens shoes. And a few of us look, and we lookI cant believe it. How could one human being do this to anotherlittle kids? Then we walked around, saw this box. I could never forget that. And we walked around inside. We saw the showers; we saw the experimental room made of tilea tile bed or table, whatever youd call it. There were two glassfilled withglass cases, filled with doctorswhatever they need
MH: Surgical instruments?
HF: Surgical stuff, saws, the little knives they had. Oh! And you look at them, you dont know what to expect. Of course, they werent there now; they werent there at the time. We saw those, and we went through; we saw the ovens, which is enough to make you just drop dead, just to look at it, and they did not clean the ovens. There was a little railway youd push by hand. Youd get these prisoners, put em in the shower, cold shower, and theres a window on the other end of the shower. This guy turns it on, cold water, and he looks and (laughs) They cant take this ice water! Cant believe it. We heard it from some of the guys. Theres a guy watching them taking this cold shower, no clothes on, unclothed. And theyd walk into the next room, and theyre shoved into thisI dont know. There were three or four of those
MH: They were killed in the cold shower?
HF: With the coldno, no, no. They were taken out. They were taken out; all their clothes were taken off. They were put on this little railing, and they were pushed in there. The railing came out, door closed, and
MH: They were put in the ovens alive?
HF: Not whenwell, maybe when we were there. I was going to say, Not when we were there. I was invited back there in 1999. I was invited byI dont know if I told you yesterdaya high school principal who wants to get rid of the stigma, the swastikas, these crosses, anything Nazi. He wants to get rid of them, so he and his whole school of teachers, they formed some sort of association. They dont want this done, and theyre teaching it in their high school. Imagine that. Theyre teaching it. And they have a 4th Armored jacket, combat jacket, 4th Armored patchesthe ones that we hadand some guns.
MH: This is in Germany?
HF: In Germany. In Buchenwald, yeah. No, no, its in Germany; its in Gotha. And we have befriended ourselves. The principal, hes got a girlfriend; he may be married now, who knows? Anyway, whenever they go on vacation, on holiday, they come to America. Theyve been to California, to Grand Canyon, Philadelphia. Whenever they have a vacation, both of them come out here and they visit. They want to see as much of America as possible. And they look upon us as saviors, that we liberated them.
Once, while I was there, I said, How in the hell did we liberate you? We were fighting the German army. He said, No, no, you werent fighting the German people; you were fighting the Nazis. All Germans are not Nazis. And I opened my mouth, and I said, I cant believe thisand I just found this out ten years ago. I was there. Imagine that. All these things were kept from us. We thought we were fighting Germans. (laughs) We were fighting Nazis. Can you believe that? But its hard to believe, because you see
MH: Buttalk about at Ohrdruf, when they marched the brgermeister up there.
HF: I said that?
MH: When they marched the brgermeister up at Ohrdruf, they said they didnt know anything about it?
HF: They said they didnt know anything about it. Thats what they say, but how could you not smell? Theres nothing to camouflage that.
MH: When the woman showed you the lamp, how did you know that was human skin?
HF: I got a feeling. I got a feeling and looked at it, because the light was still on and I could see through there. It was sort of a grayish-yellow coloring. When sheI could not sayif she didnt tell me, I could not say that was human skin, because I never saw.
MH: Oh, she told you?
HF: But then she finally said, Do you know what this is made of? This is human skin, thats when I just turnedI wheeled around and just waved her down. How could she live in a house with this? And then when I went back to Gotha in 1999, where do you think the hotel was? Right next door to that house. Yeah.
So, I had to make speeches in Gotha. I had to make speeches to the mayor of town. I had two interpreters, one on each side; one was the high school principal. The first night we were there, they had the brgermeisterthe mayorwho was a judge, big heavy guy, German; a doctor; a floristthese are wealthy menan attorney. They were in the room, and they wanted to know from my side of the fence what it was like.
So, I asked the principal. I said, Well, should I pull punches? Im talking to your people, and he says, You do not pull punches. You say whatever you feel, whatever you went through, thats what we want to know. So I said, Are these guys gonna be mad at me? They throw rocks at me or anything? and he said, Absolutely not. Theyre the ones who paid to have you come here. Okay, fine.
A few of them spoke English. But when I walked in the room, theyre all seated in a square, all around. Im seated right next to the brgermeister and the two interpreters. I wasnt seated yet, I was introduced: This is the doctor; this is And the doctor says to me, I have to introduce you to somebody, because they already knew I was a tanker with the 4th Armored Division with General Patton. This, they knew.
So, a tall guy, slimthe bluest eyes I ever saw. I never saw Frank Sinatra with blue eyes like that. The blues eyes, the whitest crew cut haircut, stood at attention like an arrow, straight as a beam. And the doctor says, This man was a colonel in the Nazi army. He puts his hand out, and I looked at him in his eyes, and I put my hand out. We shook hands, and he bowed right down to his ankle, right in front of me. I just gave him this, like, Im the winner, youre the loser, you know. I would not give him the satisfaction of giving him a bow, but he just shook my hand and he held it, just held it. Im introduced as a liberator of their town, so they did not look upon me as an enemy.
MH: What years was this?
HF: I think it was 1999. We were invited to HollandI dont remember if it was 1995 or 1999. I have to look it up and see. I really dont remember. I think it was ninety-nine .
MH: Ninety-five  wouldve been the fiftieth anniversary.
HF: Fiftieth anniversary? All right. I was invited to Holland in 1995. I was invited to Holland, and in ninety-nine  I was invited by these guys.
When I was in Gotha, Germany, the brgermeister, the mayor, had American flags put out, plus their now-German flag. From the top of the building all the way down, there was a streamer. I was driven up there. One of the guys has a Jeep; he brought it to him; its gold. Anyway, he says, You do not walk into the square; Ill drive you in. So, I took another 4th Armored guy with me, because I didnt want to be alone. Okay, they paid for him, what do I care?
We were both in the Jeep, and he had the siren going, drove all around. German towns, or European towns, have a square. Its not like this town. If the town wants to gather, where the hell we gonna gather? We just dont have a square. But over there, every town has a square. The people were told that Feinberg is going to be here, the liberator will be here. We got out; were introduced to this brgermeister. He looked just like Abraham Lincoln; he was maybe seven feet tall, with the beard and everything, didnt speak a word of English. Whatever I remembered, I tried to speak German to him. And he, in turnI had the interpreters with me, anyway.
But its nice to be looked uponand the people in the square gathered around; there were seats there. And I had to make three speeches: one to the high school studentsthe auditorium was packed. I was very, very shocked when I found out that the German kids spoke English better than the kids here, without an accent. And how did you learn English? We see American movies, and thats the way they spoke. Even our interpreter spoke English, I couldnt believe it, withit wasnt the Kings English, I mean, this is English that you talk, that you hear every day.
And, lets see. Beer was a nightly thing. They took us to beer gardens, whatever they call it. And Im not a drinker. First, Im a diabetic, I cant have it, and I dont go for any alcohol. What else was I going to talk to you about?
MH: When you went into Ohrdruf, how do you even deal with what youre seeing?
HF: Well, I think the correct word is numb. You become numb, you have no feeling. You say, I dont believe this. You look around, and of course you had to cover your mouth and your nose. Of course, we have seen dead people before we got there. We had damaged all of Europe; my God, France, Germany, Luxembourg, where else?
HF: Belgium; yeah, we were in Belgium. Oh, man. Now, how do we feel? Its something thats just not true. Its not true. Hollywood couldnt make it as true to life as what we saw, because the smell was there, the odor and everything.
Theres another time we went into a town in one of our escapades. We went into a town, and we were toldthere was one guy who had two big speakers and a microphone, and he said in English and in French, Do not resist us, do not resist us, were coming into town. We are here to liberate your town. And he kept saying it, and it was loud enough that everybody in town could hear it. And right off one of the buildings in front of ushere the tanks are ready to go in. Hes on a porch, and he runs out. He was a middle-aged man, roly-poly, and there were bazookas, German bazookas, laying all over the road.
MH: Were they Panzer guns?
HF: A bazooka is
HF: Panzerfaust. One shot, one shot. But they were all over the road, guns and everything else. And he ran off his porch, ran out, picked up a Panzerfaust. He wanted to fire at the lead tank, and the guy in the bow gunner, the assistant driver, just let go his machine gun. Oh, God. I saw this guy justhe was in a meat grinder. I saw everything just flying off him, and he didnt get to fire that thing. What else can I tell you?
MH: When you came backwhen did you get back to the United States?
HF: I got back October 15, 1945. I went therewell, I was in the Army almost four years, just a few months shy of four years. Drafted in 1942.
MH: So, you come back to your family in Passaic. What do you tell them?
HF: The first night, I couldnt say anything, because I think everybody in Passaic came in there. Welcome home, Harry. Of course, my mother hung onto me, my father and my kid brother and sister, who were just babiesI didnt even know who they were; of course, Id seen them, but they were maybe four or five years oldand the people on the block. And I have scars, which were very pronounced. Over here; theres one here. My nose had a slash across it. Of course, people at the time that came to see me didnt see fifty-two pieces of shrapnel; they were small pieces, but you may see them now, I dont know.
MH: When did you get hit?
HF: We were making an attack in Plormel, France. We went into a town(coughs) Excuse me. We went into this town at five oclock in the morning, to raid the town. There were two-story buildings on both sides, and these are buildings that the people lived in. However, the people were chased out, and the German soldiers took the buildings. They occupied the buildings. We had no idea what we were gonna do. All we knew is were going into town. We were on the outskirts of town, were going in there, and were only about ten feet apart, the tanks.
So, the first tank went through this narrow road; it was just wide enough for a tank to get through. Second tank went through. I was the third tank. When the first tank went through, he woke everybody up, because you could hear the clanking. The second tank went through, and now theyre rubbing their eyes. What the hells going on? Here I am, in the third tank. So, I didnt see the guy, but he threw a grenade down, and it exploded. I heard a pop up my head, and I just sat right down in the seat. I was out for maybe a second or so.
MH: Youre inside the tank, or youre outside?
HF: My head was out. I was looking around, and half my body was out. So, there are scars here. But, of course, these are all little pieces. When we got into the townthis is something else I cant understand. My gunner was directly below me. Now, there wasnt much room for me to get into the tank. Now, how did this grenade explode, and most of the shrapnel went down and hit my gunner here? He wasnt wearing a cap, his helmet or anything, and hes bleeding, blood is just spouting out.
I looked and got on the horn. I said, Hey, medics, come into the center of town. My gunner is hit, and hes bleeding. I dont know how bad it is. And my loader says, Holy mackerel, youre bleeding, Harry. I didnt feel anything. I said, What do you mean, Im bleeding? He says, Look at your head. I didnt realize, but blood is spouting out.
MH: Of your forehead?
HF: Yeah. I have some scars there that are marks of honor. And I had thisI just didnt feel anything. I said, Not me. Oh, the medics finally came up and said, Come on down, Harry. I said, Not me, my gunner. And the gunner is like, Am I gonna die? Took his handkerchief out and started mopping up his skull. He got killed anyway, later on. But I got down off the tank, and the medic says, Get in the ambulance. I said, Not me, my gunner. He says Come on in the ambulance. So, I get in there and we drive in the center of town. By that time, the
(door opens) Just a minute! My son.
MH: Oh, okay. Oh, hes in.
David Feinberg: Hi, everybody.
DF: How you doing?
DF: How are you?
HF: Okay. Im driven into the center of town, and I keep telling the guy, Not me, its my driver. He said, Come on in here. They broke down a liquor store, because there was no first aid station. By that time, a French doctor with grenades on, he comes in: a real handsome guy, wavy black hair. He starts talking to me. They didnt have alcohol, so he goes to one of the shelves, and he opens one of the bottles, pours it on gauze, and he starts. Â I said, Doc, do you know whats going on? He says, You were hit, and I says, I dont feel anything. So, again, he keeps wiping me up, and I think the alcohol probably stopped it.
By this time, now I feel something. He says, Anything else? I said, Ill tell you, my arm is burning. So, he takes my shirt and he just rips it open and says, Oh, my God, and you see these black pieces of metalit just pierced the skin; it really didnt do anything. But it pierced the skin, little pieces of this grenade, both sides. Theres one really big one I have here, you can see that. But between that and the gash that I had across my nose and some of theseso, I was hit by two grenades, actually, one at another time, and I got some more shrapnel. Im glad they were only grenades, and Im glad they werent close enough to really
MH: So, you come home. The first night home, everybody from Passaic is there?
HF: All people: relatives, friends, people on the block and everything. Welcome home, Harry, carrying boxes of candy. I dont remember if reporters came up or not.
MH: Whens the first time you told somebody about the camps?
HF: I dont know. It was all so newyou know, I really can't answer that, because the next day, I didnt have any civilian clothes to wear. I wore my Army uniform. Of course, I got used to my mother and got used to breakfast, and my father didnt even go to workit was Depression time; just getting out of the Depression, anyway; didnt go to work. They just looked at me and felt me, and when I took a shower, my little brother had to go into the bathroom with me to see if I had any scars. And I heard my brother say, I cant see anything. But I didnt have anything. (laughs) But I knew he was doing it. Whats the matter, Bobby? He said, Nothing, just looking.
But, anyway, somehow Id like tolater on, had lunch. I said, Mom, Id like toIm living with you anyway, Id like to go out and see some of the people. The old ladies that hung around the house, around the corner said, Why dont you get married? I said, Please, (laughs) Im not ready for marriage. But anyway, I went around, went to different stores, people I bumped into. Patsy Befunda, the shoemaker said, Hello, Mr. Feinberg! Come in, sit up on the chair, and he shined my boots. And I saw people, some of my friends; some of them had come home before me. But we ran into each otherand then, something really sad.
Cattycorner from where my parents lived and I lived, there was WillyI forgot his name. Willy and his brother, I forgotanyway, we used to play together, went to school together and everything, and just right across the street. Willy went to the Pacific, and hefrom what I heard, a sniper got him and killed him. And it was very sad. I went in to see the folks, and we sat around the table. Of course, the mother startedtears in her eyes, and then she said something. I just didnt want to go back there. She said, Oh, youre home alive, and Willys over there in a cemetery someplace. I was shocked. I didnt expect that.
So, anyway, it was the first time I heard that Willy did not come back. Theres another brother, BernieBernie and Willy, yeahso Bernie didnt go into the service. He was still alive. I really felt very bad because she said that. My Willys in a cemetery somewhere over there, and you had to come home alive. I could see that the father didnt want her to sayhe didnt really want it. So, he patted her and said, Okay, all right, okay. And, what else?
MH: Whens the first time you ever talkedcan you remember talking about seeing the camps?
HF: Yeah, people came over, and I started opening up. They wanted to know, Did you kill any Germans? Thats what we want to know. I even went to shul, and, Did you kill Germans? Thats what I want to know, the rabbi used to ask me. Yeah, we killed plenty of them. It wasnt bang-bang, youre dead. I didnt do that. We had guns that we fired with the heavy tank guns, and when did Iits a very fair question, and Im at a loss for words, because all this is fresh in my mind.
MH: Let me ask you a different approach to it: How do you feel seeing what you saw in the camps affected you later in life?
HF: It affected me plenty.
MH: Tell me about that.
HF: Edie [Mrs. Feinberg] could tell you. I stillwell, not lately, but when we moved from the other house, Iit hurt me, really felt terrible, because you can't forget about it. I go to a psychiatrist now. The VA [Veterans Affairs] wants me to see a psychiatrist, so I go there every three months, every six months, every year, whenever he gives me an appointment. This one doctor is the head psychiatrist, Dr. Falcone, speaks aterrible accent, comes fromwell, anyway, he speaks with an accent. He wants to hear stories, and I keep telling him these stories, and helike yourself, he questions me.
I said, Doc, do you want me to pull punches? No, no, I want to hear what you And he will ask me, Does it bother you at night? Do you dream about this? Doc, I can tell you plenty of stories. I can be here all day and all night with you and just tell you stories from start to finish. I start crying, I start bawling myself; tears come out of my eyes. I try to hold back, but he says, Dont hold anything back. I want to hear you. I never went to a psychiatrist in my life, but he wants to hear these stories. Do you dream about it? I said, Yes; you know, at times my wife has to nudge me because Ill start moaning and jumping all over the bednot vertically, but start tumbling around, and shell say, Harry, whats the matter? And at the timeYou just woke me; I dont know. Shell ask me, Is it the war? Ill say, Yeah, Edie, I was just dreaming about the war. And many times, it still happens; even lately, these years now.
MH: Did these dreams increase after you retired?
HF: Yeah, they increased. Yeah. You cant forget it. I asked Dr. Falcone, Isnt there a magic bullet? Cant give me a pill? He says, Mr. Feinberg, you cannot forget it. You will never forget it. I said, Why am I coming here? I want to forget about this, or I want a pill thats going to soften everything. I dont want to think about this anymore. So, he says, Theres no such pill, and you will never forget about it, and I said, Why am I coming here? He says, Im gonna give you a pill. He gives me a prescription, and I get thirty pills every month.
MH: What do you take?
HF: Its the shape of a canoe.
MH: Its not Prozac?
HF: No, no, not Prozac. Its
MH: Youll look at it later and tell me.
HF: Yeah. I have some in my bathroom. Ill get it out.
MH: Whats it supposed to do for you?
HF: Its supposed to slow me down. How it can slow me down? Im the slowest person on earth.
HF: My wife even says, Theres nobody more relaxed than you. She doesnt know anybody. I trynot knowingly, but I try to just take it easy, take it easy, because I earned this being slow and careful. I cant walk because of my leg. I had three back surgeries; I think I told you that. And after the second one, I was home for three years, and the walking got worse and worse. No pain, but I cant balance myself, thats why the cane. Some people say, Well, get a walker. I dont want a walker. I dont want one of these.
MH: What did you do professionally? What was your work?
HF: After I got out of this, I had no trade. I didnt know what I was gonna do. I was not gonna go back into show business. I wanted to do something. Did not finish high school, so I cannot go to college, and I really didnt know what to do. My father was aby that time a contractor, a building contractor. He had men working for him. He had a partner, because of his knowledge of the English language; his writing and his speech was not that good. He would make himself known. He was a tremendous worker. He could carry a whole shoulderful of 2x4s, climb up on the roof, do whatever has to be done. Great worker and everything.
I took advantage of the GI Bill when I came home. My father says, Whatre you gonna do? and I said, I have no idea. I dont want to go traveling anymore, had enough of that, enough of show business, and enough of the Army. So, it was almost eight years between both of them when I didnt see my mother, never had a furlough. I think its because Im Jewish that this one first sergeant
Oh, I gotta tell you about him. Hated everybody, and wouldnt even give me a pass to go home. We were in Pine Camp, New York; it would take me eight hours by train. Id be there Friday night, Saturday, come home Sunday night, get back to camp. Couldnt get a pass out of him. Everybodys getting passes, not me. So, I hated the guy. I swore that if I ever get him in civilian life, if I ever get him alone, Id choke him to death. He was the meanest, meanest person, just made things very, very miserable for the otherthere were five Jewish guysand for myself. I didnt get the garbage that the other guys did.
So anyway the Armythe militarystarted with GI schooling. My father said, You know, you better take advantage of it. Go to a trade school, which I did, signed up for trade school, and he says, And work for me on the job. Ill pay you three dollars a day. What did I need money for? I could take the family car wherever I wanted and when I wanted, and three dollars a day, so I made my twentywhats three times seven?about twenty dollars a week, something like that. It was a lot of money in those days.
Girlfriend, I didnt have. Thats another story that I dont want to go into. I got a Dear John letter, after getting all these beautiful letters in four years in the service. Last mail in Germany. I didnt know should I open this letter? I felt something there. I opened it. Oh, man. I kept the letter until just recently. I just picked it up and read it again. I said, Edie, you want to read it? and she said, No, I dont want to read. (laughs) Beautiful girl, nice girl, but I found out from some of the people she got pregnant while I was away. (laughs) So, its better it didnt happen. It all worked out well. I was not gonna get married. No way. People started hounding me. Harry, get married. I just didnt want to. This is a blind date, best thing that ever happened to me in the world.
MH: What year?
HF: Nineteen forty-seven we got married, two years after I got out of the Army.
MH: So, you just had what anniversary?
HF: Sixty-first. We just had our sixty-first; it was the 20th of this month. Todays what, the 27th?
MH: Yeah, todays the 27th.
HF: Last Sunday. Yeah. So, it was an interesting life, between this
MH: So, you were in construction all your life?
HF: I went to this school in Patterson, New Jersey, took advantage of the GI Bill, and signed up for a four-year course. I only went three years, because I met Edie and I wanted to see her. But I had a great teacher. He was a man who worked on the job. He went to college.
MH: Thank you.
HF: He went to college, and he knew how to teach. He knew how to show the students how to do this, how to lay out a house. See, I can take a house with a big squareyouve seen a carpenters square?
HF: I can lay everything on the house, have it cut up and put together, itll all be put together. I can number each part and do all this on the ground. I got to know my tools. I worked with my men, and we got some pretty big jobs. We got sixty home developments, my father and I. We hired men. And we worked some bigger developments, made a good name for myself. My father was a tough person; he was not liked at all. People like me because Im nice. My father, not nice: argue, scream, yell. They didnt like him. The men who worked for us didnt even want to work for himthat worked for me. It wasI hate to say itI mean, my fatherbut what can I do?
Anyway, thats what I did. Worked on the job, went to school three nights a week, learned all this stuff. I can make payroll out with this big square, figuring out how many hours this guy worked, how much an hour, how much do I take off for FICA and all that stuff. So, I was doing everything on the job. It was a tremendous experience for me. Anybody would hire me.
The only thing is, the men that we hadI had some good ones. Not all were good. I had some good ones. Boy, I would keep them until today if I was able to. But cant blame a man, he doesnt want to work for somebody the rest of his life; he wants to go into business for himself. Even my good men, even if I offered them more money. Harry, its not you. Ill stay with you forever, but I want to see what its like. So, they became my competitors. And they were undercutting me on price, and we were undercutting each other. No good, no good.
Then, my back started acting up. I dont know if I told you, but I started with my back in the Army. You get up on the tank, you climb up; to get down, you jump down. Every time I jumped, I would complain to my first sergeant. All he wanted to know is, Any bones broken? No. Any blood showing? No. Get outta here. And he wouldnt let me see a doctor, wouldnt give me a pass to see a doctor. If I went over his head, I would be dead now. He would give me some detail.
So, second operationfirst one in 1953. Home for six months, went back to work. I made sure that I wasnt clomping, I wasnt lifting, tried to be as gentle as I could for myself. But the back started in 1988 again. This time, Im home for three years, and theres nothing I could do to relieve myself. The pain was just terrible. So, our family doctor calls me one night; we got to know him on a first-name basis. He says, Harry, youre suffering, youre not getting better. Theres a doctor inI forgot where he lives; out here in Jerseyhes tops in the field for your back. Hes gonna make an appointment for me, Ill go see him. See him, and whatever he says, do it.
So, I saw Dr. Nicolaa little guy, maybe this bigand he heard all about me through my other doctor. He says, Let me examine you. He examines me, takes X-ray, he says, Nothing wrong with you. Go home, sit like this in bed for a week. You sit like that, youll be fine. He knew all the while I had to go in for surgery. So, I sat in bed; the only time I get off is to go to the bathroom. Its getting worse and worse and worse. The pain was unbearable. So, finally I said, Edie, call Dr. Nicola; tell him I cant take it anymore. He had a room all ready for me in a hospital, and said, Okay, get him down there. So, one of our neighbors drove me there. I was there two weeks. Two days later, they took a myelogram, terrible thing to go through.
He operated on me. He admitted that, at that time, 194oh, it was 1953 alreadyhe admitted that they dont know too much about backs. But he has a name; hes already made a name for himself in that field. He says, I dont want you to worry about anything. Youre going to be fine. Ill put you out. I said, Okay, Doc, whatever you can. I cant take this anymore. Did that, got up the next morning, and I didnt have the pain, but I knew that I went through something. I was so weak, so weakened. And he came in to visit me a couple times a day, pinch me here, made me feel better. All you do is lay here. Well get the nurses to put you in a wheelchair. Go into solarium, get some sunshine. You just lay in bed, youll be fine. So, he made me feel good. And, sure enough, that first surgery without knowing what to do, made me feel great, and went home after two weeks.
MH: What year is this?
HF: This was 1953. Yeah, that was my first one. I was able to pick my kids uplittle kids; I was able to handle them. So, I felt better. Six months home, went back to work, got myself a bunch of men, we got some jobs together. And in 1988, the next one came on. Boy, that was bad. I was home for three years. Three years, nothing would help me, and the doctors even said, You better retire, you cant do anything. So, I
MH: Did you get VA disability?
HF: I didnt want to. I was too proud. People kept saying, Go for disability. I said no. I was making money, I was losing money, and we got along. And second time I went inthe second, 1988, I went back to work after three years. It was not good. I took a lighterI did something lighter. Instead of putting up buildings, I went into locksmithing, which isa lock isnt heavy; you, just kneel and bend. And I was getting work, working for people.
I never knew what it was like to work for somebody, and a boss could be mean. Theyd send me out on a job with my van and whatever I needed to fix the locks, install them. I had that with me, and as soon as Id get to the job, the phone would ring, and the owner of the house would say, Your boss is on the phone, he wants to talk to you. Yeah, whats the matter, Tom? He says, How many locks did you do? Id say, I just got here; you just sent me here. He says, You didnt do any yet? So, that didnt last too long. I thought, I better leave; I dont like this. Im doing work for you, working very cheaplyvery!just so I have money in my pocket.
Then, my third operation was in 2000, eight years ago. Couldnt take it, but they made a little hole and put a camera in there. From what I understand, all they did was take a little bit of the disc out, and now Im fine. But Im afraid if I walk off a curb and step off the wrong way; if I cough, it wouldif I sneeze, I have to be careful for that. I cant jump. Its impossible. And I cant be pushed around. If people push me around, Id fall over. Thats where its gone. Im not complaining.
People watch over me. This big guy wouldnt let me do a thing, number one son. Number two son lives in New York. He comes here as often as he can, and he helped us take all the boxes out, empty them, put them where everything had to be.
How are we doing on time? (laughs)
MH: I just have a little bit more to ask you about. Howd you get involved with the Association, the 4th Armored?
HF: Okay, the Association started in 1947. It was started the night before I got married. I was sent a postcard. One guy got all the guys names and addresses and sent out postcards, and he said, Theres a 4th Armored Division Association; its gonna take place. So, he sent these postcards out. Next day, I was supposed to get married, and I was over at Edies house, said goodbye to my grandparents. This is it, youre not gonna see me anymore. Of course, we did see each other.
I went to New York to the Pennsylvania Hotel, and I met some of the guys that you saw. Gee, I havent seen them in a couple years. Hated the Army. I said to myself, If I ever see them again, Ill just run. I dont want to see them anymore. Hated everybody. Suddenly, we get to see each other, were hugging each other. So, the National Association was formed, and a presidentone of the presidentsone of the guys became a president. He formed a chapter, New York Chapter, and then somebody in California formed a chapter, so there are about nine different chapters: Tri-State, MidwestI forgot alreadyConnecticut Chapter. Theres a chapter in Florida; thats the Dixie Chapter. I dont even though if theyre still in business. I think the only chapter thats really going nowthis has been so successful that were the only ones who are operating.
Anyway, we went through a few different secretary/treasurers. We vote upon different officers. And the guy who had it for twenty-eight years, he kept us together. He really did a grand job. He was always doing newsletters, three-, four-page newsletters, phone calls. We would havelike we had the other day, get-togethers, and wed go to the Catskills once a year; wed spend weekends there. It was really nice.
I had nothing to do with the chapter. All I did wasYoure coming here. When is the meeting, so-and-so? Ill be there. Wed pay our dues, Id come to the meeting in New York, and it was nice, every three months meeting. Then, he got sick; he got Lou Gehrigs Disease and couldnt walk anymore. His doctor said, Youd better move to warm weather, to a warm climate. Youll feel better. So, he packed up, left to Arizona. Before our last two meetings, he got up, ran the meetings and said, Boys, somebody better take over; otherwise, well fall apart. I figured somebodys going to take over. Nobody took over. So the last meeting, just a night or two before the last meeting, I called him up. I said, Ed, did anybody call you? He said, Nobody called.
MH: What year is this?
HF: This was 1985, eighty-five . Its twenty-three, twenty-four years ago. I forgot already. Anyway, I said, Ed, this cant fall apart. Itd break my heart. He said, Harry, I have to move to a warmer climate. I said, Somebodys got to take this over. He said, Harry, nobody called. So, I said, All right, Ill be at the next meeting, and ask once again. If anybody wants to take over, fine; if not
MH: Youll do it.
HF: I know what Im in for, Ill take it over. Im sure theres somebody better than myself who can take it over, who can speak better. In those days I spoke better; now, I dont know what the hells happening. I want to say a word; I just cant get it out.
MH: It was hard giving the speech you had to give the other day?
HF: Oh, no. Its tough. I want to say things
MH: No, I dont mean finding the words, I mean looking at these guys and realizing theres only a few of you left.
HF: Well, I dont think of it that way, because there used to be four meetings a yearanyway, a meeting every quarter, and then I just made it into a family affair. Women were not allowed to come to this. I said, To hell with this, let the wives. We have some money in the bank. Lets have these meetings, but well cut it down to twice a year. They come in from all the way down South Jersey, from Connecticut who couldnt make it, New York, where else? On the Island, Bronx, Brooklyn.
And were losing them. Were losing too fast. I get these phone callsI hate to get on the phone. Every time Ishell say, Harry, its for you, and I get on the phone. One of the children, or a wife, would tell you, Sorry to tell you this, but Bernie just passed away, or Charlie. So, this semester, there were two that passed away. I just got one the other day; his son called.
So, you ask me, theyre likebelieve me when I tell you theyre like brothers to me. Hate to say that were just not strangers. What we went through, the bondfrom what we went through, we would do anything for each other, believe it or not. You go to any of these meetings, and youll see guys hugging each other; theyll hug or kiss on the cheek, you know. And were all straight men, I want you to know. But thats the way it is. I never saw anything like it in my life. Even the women, the wivesthey love her. She has helped me tremendously; shes really done a lot for me.
MH: Did the experience, especially of seeing the camps, change the way you feel about religion or about God?
HF: I was never religious, but now I am less religious, and Ill tell you why. We had some kids from New Mexicothey spoke with an accent, believe it or notand American soldiers. A few of their boys, a few of their boys, they used to hang around together because theyd speak Spanish; nobody else spoke Spanish.
So, whenever one of them got killed, I would see them get together, and they would sayId go in with that gang, cause I wanted to hear them, even though I cant speak Spanish, but they would tell me what theyre saying. A few of them said, I am going to be more religious now. Danny just got killed. Now Im going to be even more religious. And one of the other guys, Abraham, he got killed. Were always on the front line; every minute, somebodys getting knocked off. And I would hear that, Im getting even more religious now. Boy, its terrible; they come here, they come to save our country and looks what happens? They get killed for nothing.
One of these guys, who I liked very muchwe were discharged from Fort Dixwhere were we discharged from? I forgot already. From Fort Dix; it came to Fort Dix. So, he says, Harry, I dont have money to get home. Could I borrow some money from you? Ill send it to you when I get home. I said, Of course, so I took out thirty bucks. My father came to pick me up; I didnt need any money. Took out thirty bucks, he never paid it back. But I keep laughing about it. If I saw him today, I would hug him. I never saw him after that.
MH: You were talking about religion.
HF: Yeah, religion. From what Ive seen, I just cannot believe theres anybody upstairs looking. I dont tell this to my wife. I go to shul only because my wife says, Its Friday night, lets go. But I just do not believe. How comehere were six tanks together, making an attack. How come these two over here get hit, how come I didnt get hit? Why? Why? I cant understand it. And think about that. How come? Why didnt I get hit? The only time I got hit was when I was standing still or when I didnt make an attack; they threw the grenades at me. I did get hit once, but nobody was in the tank.
I had an argument with one of my replacement lieutenants. We had made an attack all day long, and then at night we bed down and he says to me, You see that hill up there? I want you to go up to the hill, get on top, and I want you to park there for the night. Take your gun, and I want you to zero in on the roads down below. So, I said, Lieutenant, Im a target up there. I get on top of that hill, Im a target. Why dont you let me go behind the hill and let me just put the gun out, let the turret be exposed. He says again, See this? You only got the stripes on yourIm telling you what to do. You dont like it? You want to complain tomorrow after the battles over?
Okay. So, I got down, got my boys together, and I said, Boys, were going to be a target. Were going up on top of the hill. And they said, Why cant we go behind the hill? Everybody else is behind. I said, Yeah, you just heard the lieutenant. They said, Oh, for Christs sake, were gonna be hit, sure as shootin. We gotta get hit. How in the hell can we get up there? So, we get up on the hill, we park. The hill is like this; everybodys behind us, and we park just like this on top of the hill. And were parked sideways, so if they hit us, they hit the side of the vehicle.
Nothing happened all night. We got in our bedrolls, slept the night through, got down, breakfast timebreakfast is early, five oclock in the morning. Went to the chow wagon, got our oatmeal, whatever, slices of toast and bacon, whatever they put in there, and we sat down by the tank, right alongsideno, right in front of the tanks; we were targets, too. Anyway, were sitting there talking, didnt even think anything about getting hit.
Suddenly, a shell comes in. This is a high explosive, and it comes in near us. Fortunately, none of us got hit, but oh! We heard this and saw that, saw the smoke going up in the air. So, we just dropped our mess kits and we got into the tank, and I looked around. I didnt see anybody there. Well, I was so scared, so nervous, I didnt see anybody. As Im looking, and were all in position, I said to the gunner, Get a shell in thereI said to the loader, Get a shell in there, and hurry! Which he did: put the shell in, locked the breach. I said, If you see anything out there, or if I tell you to fire, you just fire. If you see anything, just step on that solenoid trigger and fire.
So, we didnt see anything, and Im looking. I swear, I didnt see anything. Its all woods out there. Finally, after just a few minutes, we get hit right on the side of the motor. Our motors in the back. He hit us right in the motor, and I see sparks coming into the turret; they start coming all around. I said, Guys, were hit, get out of here! The loader, a big tall guyI dont know how he passed me byjust jumped out of the tank. The driver and assistant, they jumped out, which I didnt know, and the gunner sat there. I said, Smitty, get out of here, were hit! He was such a nice guy, he says, Go ahead, Harry, I said, Smitty, get out of here! I figured this is the last man in the tank, because Im in charge of this, Ill be the last one. Ill stay with the tank until it goes down. Why did I think that, of all things?
I kept arguing with him. Smitty, get out of here! So, finally, I had to pull him. He steps on the chair, he dives out, and I step on the little stool, and I dove out. I looked around. I still didnt see anybody there, but I see billows of smoke coming out of that tank in the motor area. And I jumped down and, boy, you wanna see me run down that hill! I started running and the medics started running after me and they tackled me, and I said, Oh, my God, did the guys get out of the tank? They said, Dont worry about them. I said, God, did they get out? Im more worried about them than myself.
So, they finally tackled me. They tagged me with a little piece of cardboard tag; its like youd see [at] a sale. So, they tied it around and got me to the ambulance, so I sat down in the seat. By that time, Id cooled off, but I still kept wondering, Gee, I hope those guys got out. And I said, What am I doing in the ambulance? Heres a guy on the floor with a broken leg; they doctored him in the field, and hes all bandaged up. Hes got splints on both sides; hes on the floor. Another guy sitting this way across from me, and hes got a tag on him marked Moron. He didnt even know what the hell was going on. And this is the way he looked. I looked at a few other guys.
MH: (laughs) Im sorry.
HF: Yeah, just be happy you werent there. And I see these guys in the other seats, and Im in this seat here, and I look out. Some were bleeding, they were bandaged up: the arm, the head. And this guy, the moronthis moron did not even blink an eyelash; he just sat there. Poor guy with the broken leg, he was moaning. And suddenly the ambulance driver gets in, his assistant gets in the other side, and we start going back to the field hospital. As were going there, the Germans start firing at us. Oh, man, am I glad they didnt hit us; we wouldve just exploded.
MH: Did your guys get out okay?
HF: Did we what?
MH: Did your guys get out of the tank okay.
HF: No, no. Oh, alone, yeah, but that was the tank. We were in the
MH: But they got out of the tank.
HF: Yeah, they did get out, because I met them in the field hospital. Yeah, so everybody got out. And we drove I dont know how many miles back, maybe five, six miles or so, and there were tents all over the place, these big field tents, hospital tents.
So, I go in there. They grabbed me as though I couldnt walk and they gave me a pill. I swear, that big blue pill, and they say, Gotta swallow. I said okay, I swallow it. I see everybodys walking around drunk. One guy comes over, Oh, Harry, youre gonna walk the same way we do. Oh, that blue pill. I looked at him, I thought it was funny. I said, What the hells the matter? Theyre drunk, I swear. Theyre walking around and theyre ready to fall and everything.
So, anyway, I had my dinner and they showed us a movie, and [when it was] time for bed, so they put us to bed. The male nurses grabbed me, both under each arm, and they said, Well walk. I said, Wait a minute, I can walk. They said, No, you cant. I thought I was walking. I mustve been walking like them, too. I said, Guys, dont hold me, I can walk myself, and I mustve beenanyway, they put me in a cot, and both of themone nurse on one side, one on the other side. They were awake all night; they stayed with me. And I said, Hey, guys, get some sleep. Im okay. You think youre okay, youre not okay. So, I dont know, really dont know, if that pill affected me, too.
But you want to see these guys in the field hospitals. Oh, jeez! That field hospital had to be erected in one day. Its not one tent, its a bunch of tents put together. Had to be erected in one day, and then the next day, the combat soldiers would make their attacks. The male nurses, they would have to put all the tents up
MH: Yeah, fold it up and move it.
HF: and move with them, so we had to stay with them. I was there for three days.
And if you want to hear something funny, Ill tell you. One of the guys in our outfit, he was an Englishman. He was so funny. They cleared the tents, put them all away. They get a little card table. The doctor sits on this side and were lined up; a whole bunch of us were lined up in the field, and hes interviewing each guy. He looks at them, he looks at the eyes, and hes got a big cigar. I didnt smoke then. I said, God, whatre you doing? Hes puffing his smoke right into us. So, one at a time, he says, Okay, you stay here with the hospital, you stay here, you And hes interrogating, and he says, You go out to the front again, and you I couldnt find my way to get to the front of the line, so I
MH: (on phone) Hi. Hello? Hi, Im not quite finished. Ill be finished in a few minutes.
HF: Yeah, cause he wantsthey want to go out to eat.
MH: (on phone) It takes twenty minutes, twenty-five minutes to get home. Yeah. Okay, bye. My wife.
HF: In order for me to go to the back of the line, Id have to run all the way back there. So, Id push one of the guys back near the doctors desk (laughs), his table. Whats your name, soldier? and he looks at my dog tag and all that stuff. He says, How do you feel? Are you nervous at all? I said, No, I feel pretty good.
While Im being interrogated, this one guy who was with us, he says, Watch me go back to Paris. He starts running up and down the line. He says, Let me in the front. My men need me! Theyre out there! Â Let me out in the front! Take me back to the front! I look at him and said, Whatre you, crazy? I said, Doc, please, dont send me to the front anymore. He says, Im sorry, son, I have to sendyoure in shape, you can go back.
So, this poor guy, Georgie, he goes to the doctor and he almost upset the table, and the doctor says, Take it easy. Two of the male nurses grabbed him, and he says, Leave me alone! I gotta go with Harry! I have to go to the front! So, I didnt see George anymore. That was the end of him. I saw him after the war.
MH: He got to Paris?
HF: He got to Paris. (laughs) He had the time of his life there.
MH: Anything else you want to tell me?
HF: Uh, I know they want to go out to dinner.
MH: Let me turn this off.
COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 201, University of South Florida. All rights, reserved. This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.