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Harvey, Thomas E.,
Thomas E. Harvey oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (22 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (19 p.)
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsch (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
Interview conducted November 1, 2008.
The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust (New York: Bantam Books, 2010) and Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project, University of South Florida Libraries, 2010 Michael Hirsh.
Transcripts, excerpts, or any component of this interview may be used without the author's express written permission only for educational or research purposes. No portion of the interview audio or text may be broadcast, cablecast, webcast, or distributed without the author's express written permission.
Oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Thomas E. Harvey. Harvey was a member of the 11th Armored Division, which liberated Mauthausen on May 6, 1945. Harvey and his unit spent a few hours in the camp, witnessing bodies, the crematoria, and some emaciated survivors; an engineering battalion was right behind them to bury the remains. Harvey also helped liberate several thousand prisoners on a death march near Cham, Germany.
Harvey, Thomas E.,
Armored Division, 11th
v Personal narratives.
Mauthausen (Concentration camp)
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1939-1945
Crimes against humanity.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.
University of South Florida.
Special & Digital Collections.
Oral History Program.
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.
Concentration camp liberators oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Michael Hirsh: Could you give me your full name and spell it for me, please?
Thomas Harvey: My what?
MH: Give me your name and spell it.
TH: Oh, Thomas, T-h-o-m-a-s, E. Harvey, H-a-r-v-e-y.
MH: Okay, and your address is.
MH: And your phone number is.
TH: Thats the cell phone. My house number is.
MH: Okay. Whats your date of birth, sir?
TH: May 1, 1922.
MH: Okay. Where were you before you went into the army?
TH: I lived at Stockbridge, Georgia.
MH: And what were you doing?
TH: Well, I was driving a truck, hauling gravel, building thewhats it called? Fort Gillem, it used to be, but they closed it up.
MH: Okay, and when did you go into the service?
TH: I went in October 15, 1942.
MH: Forty-two . And were you drafted, or did you enlist?
TH: I was drafted.
MH: Whered they send you?
TH: Sent me to Camp Polk, Louisiana.
MH: In the free infantry basic training?
TH: Yeah, uh-huh.
MH: Okay, and how did you end up in the 11th Armored Division?
TH: Well, thats where I started at.
TH: They were inthey had like thirty or forty men when I got there. You still there?
MH: Yeah, Im here. I hear you.
TH: Okay. There was about thirty to forty men when I got there, and then we built up to 200. Then they start checking our training.
MH: Okay. When did they finally send you overseas?
TH: I went over in September forty-four .
MH: So, you landed where? September
TH: We lived inwent to England first, Southampton, England.
MH: And then what?
TH: Then we went to Cherbourg, GermanyI mean, France. Cherbourg, France.
TH: When we got over therethat was in December, 15th of December. Thats when they made the breakthrough at (inaudible), what they call the Battle of the Bulge.
TH: They sent us ashore there on a 500 mile chase (inaudible).
MH: Okay, and that was your first combat?
MH: What was that like for you?
TH: Its hard to explain. It was twenty-five [degrees] below zero.
MH: Did you have winter clothes at that point, or still have summer clothes?
TH: That week we had OD [Olive Drab] clothes on.
MH: Okay, and so you were in the Battle of the Bulge.
TH: Oh, yeah.
MH: Were you wounded there?
TH: No, I got lots of hats right there, three of the guys gotlost their leg, their arms. They dropped the mortar in the half-track Im driving.
MH: They dropped a mortar right into it?
MH: You were with, what, the 21st Armored Infantry [Battalion]?
TH: Thats right. Yeah.
MH: Okay. Then what happens to your unit after the Battle of the Bulge?
TH: Well, (inaudible) dag-gone-it! Hated this war with Germany.
TH: Then we went to Luxembourg where, you know, Russians left in bales in there, and then to Luxembourg, then we went into Germany. We crossed the Rhine River in Wrms.
TH: Germany, and then went from there tomy old phone is cutting up on me. Went from there to Frankfurt, Germany and then went down into Czechoslovakiatried to meet the Russians there. Then back to combat and then we went into Austria and thats where we run into the concentration camp, course my outfit (inaudible) captain too though, concentration camp.
MH: Which ones were those?
TH: Well, one of themthe one I was in; I wasnt there with the group that captured the first one [in] Germany. The one I was in was in Austria, Linz, Austria.
MH: Okay, and which camp was that?
TH: Thatsthey called it the Mudhousen [sic].
TH is referring to Mauthausen concentration camp, located just outside of Linz, Austria.
TH: Mud. Mudhousen.
MH: Okay, tell me what that experience was like. How did it happen? What did you see?
TH: What was in the camp?
MH: Yeah. Whend you come across it?
TH: I dont remember the date. It was right near the end of the war.
MH: Okay, that was May 5 or May 6.
MH: Thats what they have you down for.
TH: It was something more along like that.
TH: Kind of hard to remember that after this many years.
MH: Right, tell me what you saw.
TH: Oh, a lot of dead people. They was just piled up like cordwood, thousands and thousands of them. They had burning pits there to burn them. The Germans, they had a rock quarry there, too. Theyd make em jump; if it didnt kill them when they jumped, someoned go down and shoot them.
MH: The prisoners told you that?
MH: The prisoners told you about that?
TH: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And engineers, theyd come in behind us, and they just dug trenches with the bulldozers and laid them, and then buried and covered them up.
MH: How do you deal with seeing thousands and thousands of bodies like that?
TH: Digging the graves, that was rough. Something a lot of people dont want to see and dont like to talk about it, but
TH: But that was rough.
MH: Yeah. Do you talk about it amongst the guys when youre there? Or do you just sort of look at it?
TH: We just looked at it. We got people from all around therewe showed them what was going on therethe engineers coming covering them up, you know? Moving them. They hauled them on two horse wagons out of there, just like cordwood stacked on them.
MH: Huh. And, of course, nobody had ever seen a sight like that.
TH: No. Id sayI dont got his number right now, but Raymond Bush, he lives up north. He was in the engineers that helped clean them up down there, and he made a movie of that. Did you hear about that?
MH: No, I didnt.
TH: Yeah, he made a movie about it, and he sells it for twenty dollars apiece. Its a video.
TH: Name is Raymond Bush. Hes in theI believe the 56th Engineers [56th Armored Engineer Battalion].
MH: Okay. The 56th Engineers?
TH: I think thats what he was in.
TH: Have you got a book on it?
MH: No, I dont. I mean, I have books about Mauthausen, but I dont have a book about
TH: Was you at it?
MH: No, I was in Vietnam.
TH: Oh, were you?
MH: Yeah, Im a little bit younger. Im sixty-five.
MH: How long did you spend in Mauthausen?
TH: Oh, me?
TH: I didnt stay there too long, I guess. But when we went in there, we was in the halftracks and tanks outside, and we were only about three or four miles beyond that. Wed done cleared that out, with the engineers coming behind us, taking care of them. But we had a chance to go back and see what was all going on, you know.
MH: Yeah. Tell me what you saw when you went back.
TH: Well, the people were piled up just like they were when we come through there. They wanted, you know, all the people that could [to] see it, see what it was about.
TH: They haul people that were horrified around the front to see it.
TH: (inaudible) the Germans made them look at them.
MH: And, of course, the Germans said they didnt know any of this had been happening.
TH: Yeah, they didnt know. They acted like they did.
TH: Lot of people around the people close around it, and they go like they didnt know nothing about it.
MH: Like they couldnt smell it.
MH: Were there still live prisoners there?
TH: Oh, yeah. There was some live prisoners, but they were so poor they couldnt hardly walk.
MH: Did you talk with any of them?
TH: Naw, cause I couldnt speak their language.
MH: I see. Where you there when thewhen our medics came in to help them?
TH: No, no. I wasnt there when they come in.
MH: Okay. Before you got to Mauthausen, did anybody tell you about these concentration camps? Did you know about them?
TH: Nothing, other than we was up byI guess maybe a hundred miles from them in Cham. Cham, Germany, thats where we was at.
MH: In Cham, C-h-a-m.
MH: Yeah. And
TH: They heard thatthats what they said. They heard this German was killing a lot of prisoners down there, and they sent us through Normandy down in there to get em, to capture the camp.
TH: We had to go into Austria, out of Germany and lost; of course, we went too far. Wed done made it back down into Czechoslovakia there and backed us back onto the road.
TH: That we was supposed to have been on.
MH: When you got there, were the German soldiers gone? The SS were gone?
TH: No, there were some of them still around.
MH: So, was there shooting?
TH: Yeah. They were giving themselves up; there wasnt too much shooting going on there.
MH: When they gave themselves up, were you guys taking prisoners, or not taking prisoners?
TH: No, we was taking prisoners.
MH: Okay. Did you know Captain Fabrick? Does that name ring a bell?
TH: Captured Captain (inaudible)?
MH: Fabric. Elmore Fabrick.
TH: Elmore? Yeah, that was my commanding officer.
MH: He was your commanding officer?
MH: It was his daughter that gave me your name.
TH: Oh, was it? Okay.
MH: Yeah. What kind of guy was he?
TH: Oh, he was one of the best men that Id ever want to know.
MH: What made him so good?
TH: Well, hes just good to all the men. Hed never tell somebody to do thisthey always wanted somebody to volunteer and go out with him, you know, on patrol and stuff and stuff like. And he was right up there on the front line with all of us.
MH: So, hes a good officer
TH: Oh, yeah.
MH: Good commander.
TH: Yeah, hes a fine fellahe passed away here, you know, last year, or the year before last one.
TH: Lived in Aiken, South Carolina.
MH: Right. When you left Mauthausen, did you come to any other camps? Or did you see any of the death marches on the roads?
TH: No. Wed seen death marches in Cham.
MH: Tell me about that, would you?
TH: It was just a whole row full of prisoners, and theyre starving to death and theyre crying. And when we liberated them there just scattered and went everywhere, every direction: they were trying to find something to eat and everything.
MH: What did the SS do?
TH: Well, they fled through the woods, and some of them got away and some didnt.
MH: Could you tell where those prisoners were coming from, or where they were trying to make them walk to?
TH: No, they couldnt find out where they come from.
MH: How many do you think were in that death march at Cham?
TH: Oh, not sure; ten thousand or more.
MH: Really? So, they did really cover the whole road.
TH: Oh, they covered the whole road, yeah.
MH: And you came up behind them?
TH: No, we met them head on.
MH: Huh. And you were in a halftrack, right?
MH: So, youre coming up the road and you seeI mean, from a distance, you have to see whats looking like an army marching towards you.
TH: Yeah, this long line of people walking sideand some of them falling dead. Some of them passing out, you know, just couldnt make it no further.
MH: And did shooting break out right away?
TH: Well, there wasnt much shooting going on there. They didnt have too many SS troops, and there wasnt much fight left in them.
MH: Yeah. So, what do you do with all these prisoners? With all these
TH: Well, nothing we could do, except we just got on the side of the road and passed them all up.
MH: Were they wearing the striped uniforms?
TH: Some of them were.
MH: Yeah? Men and women?
TH: Oh, yeah.
MH: Yeah. What goes through your mind when you see something like that? I mean, you were what, twenty-two yearsyeah, you were about twenty-three years old.
MH: What goes through your mind when you see something like that?
TH: Oh, forgot about it. Just makes you feel lucky, you know, makes you stand tall, stuff like that.
TH: Something like that. Makes you a little madder, too.
MH: Right. Were you a religious person?
TH: Well, you know, had to be to be all right. (laughs)
MH: But how do you deal with, you know, with God when you see the kinds of horrors you saw over there?
TH: Well, thats still a hard question to ask us. When you see something youve got to do, you just go ahead and do it. Its either you or them, so its better to be them than you.
MH: That I understand, but how do you deal with GodI mean, do you ever say, How does God let something like that happen? Like the camps, like the death marches
TH: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
MH: You ever come up with an answer?
TH: No, never could. I never heard of anyone else coming up with one.
MH: Right. When you came home, did you tell people about those things you had seen?
TH: Uh, sometimes wed talk about it a little bit, but they dont believe it.
MH: They dont believe it? I mean, how does that make you feel when you know youve seen this and people say it couldnt be?
TH: You know a lot; didnt say a lot.
MH: Yeah. Did you tell youryou got married, right?
MH: Did you ever tell your wife about that stuff?
TH: Sometimes I talk a little about it.
MH: Yeah. Did any of that give you nightmares?
TH: Oh, it pops into my mind now lots, you know: every day, just about.
MH: Even today?
MH: Why do you think that is, that you cant forget it after all these years?
TH: Its just something youve got in your brain, and you cant get it out.
MH: Yeah. When did you finally come home from the war?
TH: I got home December 9 of 1945.
MH: And you got out of the army, and back in Georgia?
TH: Yeah. I went back to Alabama, went to Alabama and then went back to Fort (inaudible), and was discharged on March 17, 1945.
MH: March 17, 1946?
TH: Yeah, March of forty-six .
MH: Forty-six . And, so, what did you do as a career or job for the rest of your life?
TH: Well, I went to workoh, I got a lot of lawn out there. I took (inaudible).
TH: Its a 52/20. I could make more money staying at home going at twenty dollars a week than working back then, because I wasnt making nothing.
MH: That was the mustering out pay that they gave you because there were no jobs?
TH: And I took it, and then skirted around from one thing to another. I went to work with the civil service (inaudible) back then, and then Fort (inaudible).
TH: I worked there till sixty-four . Then I went inwhen I left there, I went into construction work.
MH: Okay, and whend you retire from that?
TH: I retired in seventy-five .
MH: Okay. Whend you get into thewhat do you have, a campgrounds?
TH: Yeah, I got that in ninety-nine .
TH: I quit construction and just put inwell, what it is, I bought me a place in the mountains and start building the campsite for my family, and first thing you know I had one big enough for four or five families.
TH: (inaudible), four to three campsites, its a small
MH: Where is Hiawassee, Georgia?
TH: Where is it?
TH: Its are you familiar with Gainesville, Georgia?
MH: No, Im not. Are youin relation to Atlanta or Macon or Valdosta, where are you?
TH: Oh, Im up inIm within five miles of North Carolina
MH: Oh, okay.
TH: Im up there in the north, northeast Georgia.
MH: Okay. The closest I ever got to there, I think, was Big Canoe.
TH: Big Canoe?
MH: Yeah. Thats about two hours north of Atlanta, I think.
MH: Yeah. Do you know any other vets who are still around, from your unit?
TH: Not really; you dont see them much anymore.
MH: Right. Okay, my last question is, do you have anya picture of yourself from World War II? Hello?
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