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Creighton Kerr oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (20 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (11 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 January 25, 2009.
The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust (New York: Bantam Books, 2010) and Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project, University of South Florida Libraries, 2010 Michael Hirsh.
Transcripts, excerpts, or any component of this interview may be used without the author's express written permission only for educational or research purposes. No portion of the interview audio or text may be broadcast, cablecast, webcast, or distributed without the author's express written permission.
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Creighton Kerr. Kerr was a member of the 84th Infantry Division, which liberated Salzwedel on April 29, 1945. After capturing the town of Hannover, his unit found a Russian prisoner of war who told them about the nearby concentration camp, and they went to investigate. The guards had already fled, and the prisoners were screaming and dancing for joy. Kerr met two American soldiers, prisoners of war in the camp and gave one of them his rifle and some ammunition; to the other, he gave some of his rations, and he talked with him briefly. They were only in the camp for a short time before they had to leave. Kerr later met one of the former prisoners at one of his division's reunions.
Infantry Division, 84th.
Infantry Division, 84th
v Personal narratives.
Salzwedel (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 segment idx 0 time 00:00:0.6 text Michael Hirsh: Okay. Your name is Creighton? 1 00:00:3.9 Creighton Kerr: Yes. 2 00:00:4.2 MH: C-r-e-i-g-h-t-o-n? 3 00:00:5.9 CK: Yes. 4 00:00:6.3 MH: Kerr, K-e-r-r. 5 00:00:7.7 CK: Yup. 6 00:00:8.0 MH: Whats your address? 7 00:00:9.6 CK: 8 00:00:10.3 MH: And your phone number is. And whats your date of birth? 9 00:00:12.6 CK: 10-17-23 [October 17, 1923]. 10 00:00:14.9 MH: Okay. You were in the 84th Infantry Division, 333rd Regiment, Company D. 11 00:00:22.6 CK: Yes. 12 00:00:23.6 13 00:00:27.1 CK: What was I doing? 14 00:00:28.8 15 00:00:29.4 CK: I was in the vending machine business. 16 00:00:30.6 MH: In where? 17 00:00:32.1 CK: Oakland County, right here in Pontiac [Michigan]. 18 00:00:35.5 MH: Oh, okay. And were you drafted or did you enlist? 19 00:00:38.5 CK: Yes. 20 00:00:39.7 MH: And how old were you when you went in? 21 00:00:41.0 CK: Eighteen. 22 00:00:41.8 MH: Eighteen. Whered they send you? 23 00:00:43.7 CK: I took basic training at Camp Roberts, California. 24 00:00:47.3 MH: And then, when did you joindid you go over as a replacement, or did you go over with the? 25 00:00:52.1 CK: Oh, no. I went over with the division. 26 00:00:53.9 MH: When did they go over? 27 00:00:55.3 CK: Uh, I dont have that right with me. 28 00:01:0.0 MH: About? After D-Day? 29 00:01:3.9 CK: Oh, yes. Yup. 30 00:01:7.1 MH: Okay. So, you landed where, at Marseille? 31 00:01:11.4 CK: We went intono, we went up to the Firth of Clyde in Scotland first, and then we went down into England and stayed at the town of Basingstoke. We went over to the continent afterwards. I dont have those dates. 32 00:01:29.2 33 00:01:33.6 34 00:01:40.8 MH: Okay. How long did that battle last? 35 00:01:46.4 CK: Well, we took the Siegfried Line, we took Geilenkirchen, which is a pretty good size industrial town, and then Sggerath and Wrm, and then we just went on from there. I forget where we were at whenwe got our R and R [rest and relaxation leave], went up to Maastricht, Holland, when the Bulge broke. They put us on our trucks and didnt tell us a damn thing. Come back down and started down at Marche [Marche-en-Famenne], Belgium; thats the town that we started our Battle of the Bulge fight. And then we continued all the way up, and we took a couple of other good-sized towns. 36 00:02:44.8 MH: What was your job? 37 00:02:47.1 CK: I was a machine gunner. I was in the first platoon, first squadfirst platoon heavy weapons machine. 38 00:02:52.7 MH: So, this is a water-cooled machine gun? 39 00:02:54.9 CK: Yeah. 40 00:02:56.3 MH: A .30 caliber? 41 00:02:57.3 CK: Yup. 42 00:02:57.9 MH: Yeah. Tell me what happened from then on. Let me ask you this: at that point did you know anything about concentration camps, about the Holocaust? 43 00:03:10.1 CK: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, Id heard about them before. I heard about them when I was in England and so on and so forth. 44 00:03:18.7 MH: Okay. Did the Army officially talk about it, or was it just conversation? 45 00:03:24.2 CK: No, I think we had some communications. I dont reallyI cant really swear to anything, except that I knew that there were concentration camps and I didnt know where, except that I did know that there were some. 46 00:03:40.8 MH: Okay. Was Salzwedel the first time you ran into anything like that? 47 00:03:45.9 CK: Yes. 48 00:03:47.5 MH: So, tell me about the day youre approaching Salzwedel. Whats going on? 49 00:03:51.6 CK: Well, what we did, we took Hannover, and thats a big town. 50 00:03:56.6 MH: Right. 51 00:03:57.7 CK: That morning onit was April 9, and it was a foggy, misty, rainy morning, just a nasty day. We started up on a highway, and there was a tank and a command car and then my jeep, and then the convoy behind us. And just as we started up, two guys came out of the ditch, waving white flags; one was a Russian prisoner of war and the other was a Polish prisoner of war. Of course, we stopped the convoy. Theyre talking half German, half Polish/Russian and so on and so forth. 52 00:04:44.7 The Russian went with the command car for probablymaybe half an hour, forty-five minutes, and he was picking out communication cables and locations that he knew about. Those two guys were working in the farms in the area. The day before we met them, they had escaped; they knew that we were coming soon and the Germans were leaving, so they just took off and spent the night in the field. But thats all he knew, thats all he had ever seen was just communication areas in that firstwell, theres a massive railroad crossing in there. After we went across the railroad crossing, they sent him back to our jeep because he couldnt tell him any more about Hannover. In Hannover, we had very little fighting; there was a couple shots here and a couple shots there, but very little resistance. 53 00:05:53.6 In one cornerI remember I had a guy in the platoon by the name of Meyers, out of Pennsylvania. He could speak German, and he let me know that that was a meat market, so we went in. They werent too happy, but we went in and got ourselves a case of eggs and some meat. Come back out, and the tank right in front of us, the guys hollering. He says, Is that eggs? I said, Yeah. He said, Get us some. So, we went in and got another case of eggs. The guy was holding the eggs on, trying to strap them on the back of his tank, as we moved out of that position. 54 00:06:35.2 So, then we went through Hannover 55 00:06:37.7 MH: Why do I have the feeling that were looking at a case of scrambled eggs very quickly? 56 00:06:40.9 CK: Oh, thatsI often wondered how many good eggs did he ever get of there. 57 00:06:44.1 MH: Yeah. 58 00:06:44.8 CK: But we just put ours in the trailer and lashed them down, and we had eggs for quite a while after that. 59 00:06:52.8 But anyway, then just outside of Hannovernot knowing this was a concentration camp or anything about Salzwedel, except that you knew that it was. This town of Salzwedel was cleaner than Hannover, and Hannover wasnt bad. There were stores that was open and people walking around in Hannover that we hadnt seen before. And I know that, when we got into Salzwedel, I didnt know what town that was. 60 00:07:26.7 We went through this compound, which ends up being the Salzwedel prisoner of war camp. We had a mental institution in Pontiac here, and it was laid out a lot like that. It was set back off the road, but they had good lawns, shrubbery around it. But they had it all fenced in, and a great big gate, the first gate that I could remember. And there was nobody there. When our jeep went by, there was nobody in sight anywhere in that compound. We went about probably a block, and theres another gate and a smaller gate and a walkway, and theres a guard post on both places. And there was nobody there: the Germans had left. 61 00:08:20.4 All of a sudden, we hear a commotion behind us, and we look and you could hear all these women screaming. We found out later on thatwhat I heard was that Captain Williams had shot the lock off that gate and that all these womenbut I didnt see any in that compound until afterwards. Then they were running around screaming and dancing. 62 00:08:44.8 Two fellows, two GIs from the 106th [Infantry Division] come running down that sidewalk to the gate that we were at. They had been captured the first day of the Battle of the Bulge. Both those guys were buck sergeants, and both those guys were medics. The first thing one guys wants is a K ration, a breakfast K ration; the other guy wants my carbine, and I gave him a carbine. He turned around, and he never said a word. He said, I want me a weapon, and I gave him my carbine and a couple of clips of ammunition. He went right back up into that compound. We could see the buildings back maybe 100 yards or so: quite a few big buildings. And the other guy, all he did was sit on a curb and open up breakfast K rations, nothing else, and he was telling me that they got captured on the first day of the Battle of the Bulge. They didnt know it was the Battle of the Bulge, but the first day when the tanks showed up, they captured them. They had been there working in the hospital in that compound, in Salzwedel. 63 00:10:3.8 And, other than that, I can remember one thing. When I looked about a block behind me, there was a gal stark naked, and she had a green pair ofone green shoe and one red shoe, and hats on top of her head as high as she could hold her hands together. She was out there in the streetwell, they all were all dancing and singing. You could just visualize at that point: thats all she dreamed about when she was a prisoner, was to get a new hat and a new pair of shoes. 64 00:10:39.6 We were there maybe half an hour at the most and left. The guy sitting on the corner was eating his K rations, or breakfast rations, and we pulled out. I didnt know anything about all those females. I didnt, really, at that time, until later on that night when we stopped and found out that they had to gather them back up and put them back in the compound. There was no place for them to go. 65 00:11:5.5 MH: Did you ever get your rifle back? 66 00:11:7.1 CK: No. No, I never saw either one of those two guys again. 67 00:11:10.1 MH: I thoughtmaybe World War II was different, but I thought you get busted if you lose your weapon? 68 00:11:16.5 CK: Well, I had my jeep blown up on Christmas Eve, and I lost every single thing I had, and that went with the jeep. That went with the jeep and the trailer, as far as the Army went. 69 00:11:30.5 MH: I see. 70 00:11:31.4 CK: But theyours was a different war all together. 71 00:11:36.9 MH: Yeah. I mean, this has to be a sight thats completely, you know, out of anything you could have possibly have expected to see in war. 72 00:11:47.8 CK: Two things: The otheryoure right there, thats number one. The second thing is when we were up on the Elbe River. We had this Russian and we had this Polishboth those guys were sergeants. The Russianthe Pollack, I never cared much about him, but the Russian was a good soldier. He was captured in the siege of Stalingrad, and he was also a machine gunner, so we had a lot in common. I took him under my wing, because he could speak a little bit of German and English. He was a good soldier, and interested in the war. The other guy, all he wanted to do was find women and eat and something to drink. But anyway 73 00:12:36.1 MH: Not that theres anything wrong with that. 74 00:12:38.1 CK: Pardon? 75 00:12:38.9 MH: Not that theres anything wrong with that. (laughs) 76 00:12:40.9 CK: Oh, no, no, no, no. But, I mean, I just gave him to the other squad. I keptwe call one guy Bigboth of thems name was Michael. I wish to hell that I had kept their addresses, but, you know, at that time you never think about it. He had a baby; he was married and had a little baby, and he wanted to go home and get his baby and come back and fight all the Japanese in the world. So, he knew we were at war with Japan. 77 00:13:10.6 But, anyway, to see the Russians come on that levee on the Elbe River was something else. 78 00:13:20.1 MH: Tell me about it. 79 00:13:21.1 CK: Well, we were there about three days before the Russians. We went across the river twice. Ed Hunt and I and a couple other guys in the platoon took oar boats, flat bottom scows, across, and we brought prisoners of war back and so on and so forth. Then [Dwight D.] Eisenhower said, No, no more. They had a series of flares, different colored flares telling you the Russians are twenty miles away, ten miles away, whatever it was; I dont remember all the sequences. 80 00:14:2.5 But the number of Germans that drowned in that river to get away from the Russians would be just astronomical, because they knew what was going to happen. And when those Russians cameyouve never seenif you had had a video camera and seen their horses and their sabers and their actions up on that river, youd talk about a slaughter. They didnt havewe had good equipment; theirs was all plow horses. They just rode up and down that levee just slaughtering anybody in their way. I mean, it was really something to see. That lasted maybe a half a day, and it was all over with. They got them back off the river and so on and so forth. 81 00:14:55.0 The Russian, he had aI dont know how you pronounce it, octatina? [concertina]one of those little accordions. And he knew that they were coming; of course, we let him know whats going on all the time, anyway. But he was playing a tune the first time he saw a Russian soldier over there, and he was doing that squatting dance and so on and so forth. I have no idea what the Polish soldier said, but he dropped that thing and he hit him, and hed have killed him. He had him right by the throat. If we hadnt pulled him offand I never did understand what he said, but he made a derogatory remark to that Russian Army, and that was the end of him. I mean, we got those two guys out of there right now. It was the next day that we turned all our prisoners in. 82 00:15:52.0 MH: These were the two guys that you had found? 83 00:15:55.5 CK: Yeah, that we got out of Hannover. 84 00:15:59.0 MH: Right. 85 00:16:0.4 CK: But I never under stood what he said, because it was probably Russian or Polish or German. Well, he just made a smart remark, and man, that was it. 86 00:16:13.3 MH: To go back to Salzwedel for a second, in the camp: when you saw the women, there was anotherother Americans had gotten there before you and were already inside? 87 00:16:22.0 CK: No, no. We were theas far as I know, we were the first tank and tank battalion and command officer, and our jeep was the first one. But by the first gate, we never stopped. There was nothing there; there wasnt a guard, there was nothing. There was a great big wide gate where youd take a vehicle. Then we went about a block, which was init reminded me of this institution up here. About a block away was another guard outpost and a fence gate, but it was a walking gate; it was one that had a walk going up through the lawns up to the building. And that wasnt locked, it wasnt nothing. There was nobody there, and then all of a sudden these two GIs come running down. And that was it. 88 00:17:13.9 MH: What was your rank at that point? 89 00:17:16.1 CK: I was a sergeant. 90 00:17:17.2 MH: Okay. All right. 91 00:17:20.5 CK: Did you get any information about our reunion in Buffalo? 92 00:17:24.3 MH: Uh, no. 93 00:17:26.2 CK: Or in Albany, rather. In Albany, New York, when we had a reunion there? 94 00:17:32.1 MH: No, I didnt. 95 00:17:33.9 CK: Well, when we were there, there was a girla lady showed up. Her name was HelenIm pretty sure Ive got it rightT-r-a-m-i-e-l. 96 00:17:51.0 MH: Okay. 97 00:17:54.1 CK: And I have a picture of her, if you want that. Its got her and her husband and her daughter. Jack Griffin and I were together at our 84th Infantry reunion in Albany, New York. She was a prisoner in Salzwedel, and she saw in the newspaper that we were going to be there, and she came and she spoke at that reunion. 98 00:18:22.5 MH: Where does she live? 99 00:18:23.8 CK: I dont have her address. Maybe the headquarters of the 84th might have her address, or somebody from the newspaper would have it, but I didnt get it. There was so muchso many people talking, so Im lucky that I got a picture of her. 100 00:18:40.9 MH: Do you have a picture of yourself from World War II? 101 00:18:45.9 CK: Oh, Ive got quite a few. Ive got one with her and Jack Griffin and I and her husband. 102 00:18:53.4 MH: But I mean from World War II, from back in forty-five ? 103 00:18:56.6 CK: Oh, yeah. 104 00:18:58.9 MH: Could you send me a copy of that, of one of your pictures from World War II and the picture of the two of you with this woman? 105 00:19:7.7 CK: Yeah. Yeah, Ill mail it to you. 106 00:19:10.0 MH: Okay. Do you have an email address? 107 00:19:11.7 CK: No, I dont even have a cell phone. I have a thing. I dont have email, I dont have thisin fact, I dont even have dandruff. 108 00:19:21.6 MH: Well, thatsyou know, what can I say? Why dont Iyou want me to send you an envelope? 109 00:19:29.8 CK: No, Ill just mail you these pictures. No, I just 110 00:19:34.9 MH: All right. Let me give you my address. 111 00:19:36.9 CK: Okay, and thats. 112 00:19:40.9 MH: You got it. 113 00:19:41.1 CK: Yeah, Ive got that flyer. 114 00:19:43.1 MH: Okay, great. 115 00:19:43.9 CK: 116 00:19:45.2 MH: Thats me. 117 00:19:45.4 CK: Yup. 118 00:19:46.7 MH: Okay. I appreciate it, and thank you for calling.
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