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text Frederick Krenkler: Well, you ask the questions and Ill see if I can answer, if I can remember them.
Michael Hirsh: First of all, would you give me your name and spell it, please?
FK: Yeah. FredFrederickits Frederick Krenkler. And Frederick is F-r-e-d-e-r-i-c-k. Krenkler, K-r-e-n-k-l-e-r.
MH: And your date of birth.
FK: February 25, 1924.
MH: And I dont need your service number.
FK: (laughs) And Id gladly give it to you.
MH: Go ahead.
MH: Some things you never forget.
FK: Yeah, 339365519 [sic.].
MH: So, start at the beginning: you were born where?
FK: In Germany.
MH: How did that happen? Well, I know how it happened, but
FK: Let me explain about the birds and the bees. (laughs) Ill tell you how that happened. My father and mother had a tailor shop; my father was a master tailor. And after the First World Warwell, Ill back up a little bit. My father was in the First World War. And it so happened that he fought in the same place where the Rainbow [42nd Infantry] Division fought in France in the First World War. Rainbow Division fought by the Ourcq River, but also in the Marne Valley, and my father was wounded in the Marne Valley in 1914excuse me, 1917. He was wounded there, in the Marne Valley and I often wondered if it was against the Rainbow Division, although I never talked to him about it, and he never talked to me about it. Maybe he didnt know, I dont know; but he was like all the rest of us, he wanted to forget all that.
FK: (to Mrs. Krenkler) Hey, hon!
Verna Krenkler: You were right there?
FK: Yeah, didnt you see me waving? I thought
FK: I thought you were looking.
VK: (inaudible) when you come in from the outside, from the light.
FK: I thought I was
VK: Its dark in here.
FK: I thought you were looking right at me. Did you go up already?
VK: No, Im on my way up.
FK: All right, okay. Well, bring thosebring those books.
FK: Sorry about that.
MH: Thats your high school sweetheart?
FK: Yes. And thats another story. Who told you that?
MH: I read the
FK: Oh, yeahby the way, did you read the whole thing? Youre going to give that back to me, yeah. Okay, thats fine. What did you think of that?
MH: I thought it was an interesting story, but I thought you skipped right over the things that were probably hard to remember, or hard to talk about.
FK: Well, it was more a story of my life for my family more than anything else, but I interwove it with some of my experiences during the war. But anyhow, getting back to the original thingmy father and mother decided to give up the business, and my father came to the United States. Because he would work all week, and if he didnt spend the money he got for his tailoring in a matter of hours on Friday, it was worthless by evening. It was just impossible to live, so he came to the United States.
MH: This is after they had you?
FK: No, no, this was before. But my mother was pregnant, and she stayed over there. And when I was a year old, then she came over to my dad. But my father, in the meantime, had become a citizen, which gave me derivative citizenship. A lot of people dont understand or know what derivative citizenship was, but there was a period of time in the early twenties [1920s] where anyone born of an American citizen, which my father was, automatically was a citizen of the United States, regardless of where they were born. And this is called derivative citizenship.
Now, the Army in the Second World WarI should say the services in the Second World Warknew about derivative citizenship, because you could not send an American into combat if he wasnt a citizen. You could take him into the Army, but he had to stay in the United States during the Second World War. But anyone who was a citizen could be sent over. So, I had dual citizenship. I was an American citizenship, but Germany still recognized that I was still a German citizen, which I had dual citizenship until 1973. After a number of experiences, trying to prove that I was a citizen, I decided enoughs enough, Im going to get my own papers.
MH: What city in Germany were you born in?
FK: I was born in a very small town along the Neckar River near Stuttgart. Stuttgart is in southern Germany in the state of Wrttemberg. Wrttemberg [Baden-Wrttemberg] was one of the original three kingdoms that made up the German Federal Republic. Actually, Bismarck reunited all these various statesPrussia was the largest kingdom, Bavaria was the second largest kingdom, Wrttemberg was the third, and Saxony, I think, was about the fourth.
MH: So, you were born in
MH: Wrttemberg, and at the age of one, you come to the U.S.?
FK: Yes. But at the age of one, I came to the U.S. I actually learned to walk on the boat, I was told; I didnt know about this, obviously. But when we were here, my mother got homesick and she took me and went back. We went back to Germany. Now, just when that occurred, I never really found out. I never spoke tomy parents never really told me about when. In any case, we went back. But then my mother got homesick for her husband and she returned, but left me over there.
MH: Whod she leave you with?
FK: We had a large family, a very large extended family. And its tradition that in European, as a matter of fact, families, godparents step in and take care of children. Godparents. Now, my godfather, who was my unclemy fathers brotherI lived with him for a time, and I also lived with my godmother, who was my mothers sister. And thats where I lived for most of the time.
MH: So, you went to elementary schooland high school in Germany.
FK: Not high school. No, we didnt go to high school in those days. It was an intermediate school. High school I went to as soon as I came over here to the United States before the Second World War.
MH: So, how old were you when you came back to the United States?
MH: And why did you do that?
FK: I had to, because I was an American citizen.
MH: And did they tell you to get out?
FK: Oh, yes.
MH: Who told you?
FK: The German government. Said, Out. They did not keep American citizens over there.
MH: What year was this that they sent you back?
FK: One month before the invasion of Poland.
MH: So, thats thirty-nine ?
FK: Thirty-nine .
MH: And they literallyI mean, a knock on the door. Leave.
FK: Yeah. Yes. Exactly right. And had I not left, I probably could have caused the rest of our family a lot of trouble. But I was young. I didnt really, really know what was happening. At fifteen, you know, you think more about girls than you do anything else.
MH: And you came back to the U.S. at fifteen. And you spoke only German?
MH: How long did it take you to learn English?
FK: Very quickly. Very quickly, and this is one of the things that upsets me so terribly today, in the fact that we stand on our heads to have people use their own language for things that are really American. Nobody offered me to take my drivers test in German. I had to learn English. And of course one of the things thatit was a good bit of animosity, obviously, against the Germans, and I had problems in high school. Here in the United States, I had some real problems. Matter of fact, I had even decided to take German as a second language because I figured that would be easy; but unfortunately, the teacher was a Netherlander, and shewho was teaching German. And, of course, her country had been invaded and been occupied, and she didnt like me, so I darn near flunked out of German, believe it or not.
MH: Youre the only native-born German that Ive met who doesnt speak English with a German accent.
FK: Well, when youre in the Army, you learn to talk English, quickly. When youre just an ordinary person that lives on the street, I can understand it. But if you were to ask any one of the men that served with meunfortunately, theres nobody here from my squad or my companytheyll tell you I had quite an accent. Quite an accent. But that disappeared very, very quickly. Very quickly. And then of course I also went to college. I went to engineering school in Philadelphia at DIT, Drexel Institute of Technology; today its Drexel University. And there again, when you start reading and writing English, you learn it very quickly. But if you just start
(to Mrs. Krenkler) Oh, thank you, honey. Did you bring all of them? Just the one?
VK: Oh, just the one?
FK: Oh, thats all right.
MH: You went to college after the war?
FK: Oh, yes, yes.
MH: Okay, so you come back here and youre fifteen years old, youre in high school. Now the war is coming
FK: Well, I had started in engineering. I was in a program to become a master tool and die maker. Along with that, I had to have schooling. Now they offered schooling at the local level in local college, community college; but I felt if Im going to spend time in school, I might as well go to a school thats accredited, that is a little bit further advanced, that would offer me more, so I decided to go to Drexel. So, I became a master mechanic. In later life, I had my own business. I think that is in the memoirs, I think I wrote that in there. And this is probably why my accent is not there. As a matter of fact, Ive probably got more a Philadelphia accent than anything else.
MH: How did you end up in the Army?
FK: Well, I didnt end up in the Army. I was working as a tool and die makerwell, an apprentice tool and die maker. I hadnt finished my time yet. And I was very, very patriotic. I thought this was a wonderful country and I felt it was worth fighting for, even if it meant going to Europe and fighting against my ownactually, my own people. And possibly even my own family, because Im sure out of all the cousins that I hadI had something like thirty-two cousinsI thought, you knowI still felt it was my duty. The country had been good to me up to that time, very, very good.
I decided that I would enlist in the Navy. So, I enlisted in the Navy. On the way to boot camp in Bay Bridge, Maryland, the SP [Security Police] stopped the bus that we were on and they pulled me out, and I was told that my enlistment was canceled, that at the moment they needed material, they had sufficient personnel, they did notthe services did not need additional personnel, they had sufficient. What they were interested in was the buildup of material for the war. So, they sent me back to work.
But later, maybe possibly a year later, this would have been in forty-two , about a year later in forty-three  when they started plans, evidentlynot that I was aware of these plans, but as they started the plans for the invasion of Fortress Europe, they required people in the Army again. Now they needed to build the Army up. They wantedI forget how many divisions in the United States they planned to fieldwhich they never achieved, by the wayin the Second World War. They never achieved the number of divisions. I think it was approximately two thirds of the number of divisions they had planned on that they were able to put together.
In any case, what they used to do with draftees was always put someone that was working as a truck driver became a cook (laughs) in the service. Well, this was not the case with me. They put me in Army ordinance, and I was assigned to Aberdeen, Maryland, and I spent my time in Aberdeen, Maryland in Army ordinance. And I have my MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] numbers; I have a number of MOS numbers, so I took ordinance basic, worked in Army ordinance for the better part of a year. And then, they decided that they needed German-speakers, as many as they could get. So they wentevidently, they looked through all the records, found German-speakers.
In my case, I was told, You are now in the infantry, and they sent me to Camp Gordon, Georgia, outside of Augusta, and I got ten weeks of basic training. My orders were cut. I was to join the Rainbow Division and be sent over. And this is what I was. I joinednow, I did notI was not involved in the initial fighting that the Rainbow did in the part of France where it was committed. Now, the Rainbow Division was committed in Alsace-Lorraine in the
Hagenau-Strasbourg area; which, by the way, in 1971 [sic] became German territory.
FK means 1871, when Alsace-Lorraine was ceded to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War. The territory was incorporated into France after World War I.
So, that part of France speaks a lot of German; as a matter of fact, if you look at the map, you will see that the names of the towns are all very German names.
Some of the places where the division got hit hard, and this is another thingI have to give you a little bit of history even though I did not participate in this part of the campaign, because I did not join them until the division had gotten to the Rhine, and thats when I caught up with them. But places like Hatten and Schweighouse [Schweighouse-sur-Moder], these were all German. As a matter of fact, I had been in some French homes where on the mantel, the sonsthe pictures of the sons in the service, some were in German uniforms, some were in French uniforms. So, they served and those people were divided, and to this day they do speak German there along with French. But I caught up with the division, and then
MH: What month and year was this?
FK: This was in March of forty-five . And I joined them and I was with them in the campaign from Wertheim [Wertheim am Main], Wrzburg, Schweinfurt, Frth, Nuremberg, and then when we got to the Lech River.
MH: Thats L-e-k?
MH: L-e-c-h, okay.
FK: The city of Rain, R-a-i-n, the lieutenant came to me and said, Get yourself a driver, get two POWs, get yourself two POWs, some German prisoners, you get into Dachau.
MH: Why did he want you to take two POWs?
FK: To show us the way in, the best way in, so that we could avoid any firefights. They wanted us in Dachau as quickly as possible.
MH: This was what day?
FK: This was about the twenty-eighth of April. We made it into Dachau by the twenty-ninth of April. On the twenty-ninth. Now, I personally did not get into the camp, because we were stopped outside of the camp.
MH: Tell me about the Jeep.
FK: Oh, the Jeep. I had two prisoners and a driver, and we took off down the road and they directed us the route to go, which was least occupied by German troops that were resisting. Even though we did come under fire once, when we got fired on, but we disregarded it and kept going, and outside of the campnow, just far outside of the camp, and I have gone back with men from the squad to find this particular space, and Im trying to think. In 2001, we retraced our steps. I went over and we took em, and we retraced our steps. We could not find the place where all this occurred. But it had to be within a thousand yards of the camp. The Germans had set up a captured German tank
MH: American tank?
FK: American tank. Set up a captured American Sherman tank. That was the heavy tank that we had. And it was not running because the treads were off of it, but they had it on the road with barrels sited down the road, and we came under fire from that tank. We had to wait until anti-tank came along and destroyed it, too, so that we could continue on.
MH: Now, when they told you to go to Dachau, did they tell you what it was? Did you know what to expect?
FK: I was one of the few men in the outfit that knew what Dachau was.
MH: How did you know?
FK: Because as kids we were threatened: if you didnt behave, youre going to get sent to Dachau. Now, DachauI want to explain something about Dachau. Dachau in itself was not an extermination camp like Treblinka, Auschwitz; what it was was a labor pool. It was startedit was the first concentration camp in Germany, which was started in 1933. And it housed what the National Socialists felt were undesirables. Now, number one, they did have criminals there: it was for criminals, murderers and so forth. Homosexuals, even though there were homosexuals like crazy in the SA [Sturmabteilung]. And it also housed people that were against the regime. Matter of fact, there was one rather well-known Lutheran theologian that died in that camp, was murdered in that camp because of his resistance to the regime.
MH: Thats Neuberg [sic]?
MH means Martin Niemller.
FK: Yeah. So, what it was was a labor source. It supplied a whole number of sub-camps around Dachau in a radius of about 200 miles, so that they would send people out to these sub-camps, and companies that required workers would get these people from these camps. Now, what happened wasit was not an extermination camp in the sense that they would mass-kill people. What happened wastheyd work them to death is what it was. It was a gradualthey just gave them sufficient food to stay alive, but when they died they had to get rid of the bodies, so they had the crematorium there, and they got rid of them. Now, later on, as the Russians came, advanced through Poland and Czechoslovakia and Hungary, they emptied these camps. And this is where all the bodies in the boxcars came from. They were emptying those camps to try to hide what had happened there, and they brought it to Dachau because they knew they could get rid of the bodies there. Now, there were
MH: You learned this at what point in your life?
FK: While it was happening in 1945.
MH: You knew they were coming from other camps. How did you find that out?
FK: Well, I talked with the SS men, I talked with German prisoners: this was my job. And it was my job to find out who were guards and who werent; but I did not get intoin other words, I was not one who unlocked the gates.
MH: Thats okay. But lets talk more about the interviews you did, because you were in Intelligence & Reconnaissance.
MH: So, tell me, do you remember conversations with German prisoners?
FK: Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely.
MH: Tell me about those. See, Ive never heard this part of the story, ever.
FK: As a matter of fact, as a matter of fact, in this particular courtyard where we were stoppedwe were in this huge courtyard. I had my prisonersits a matter of fact, its all in the film there in that courtyard. And there was an SS officer, and I talked with him. And one of the thingshe was an arrogant SOB.
MH: Start this story from the beginning. Youre in a courtyard outside of Dachau?
FK: Outside of Dachau.
MH: And what happens? How do you come across these?
FK: Well, he was one of the guys that tried to get out of there. And they all tried to get away, one way or another. They knew what was coming and he actually surrendered to us. Matter of fact, I have his pistolor had his pistoland I had his dress bayonet.
MH: But hes outside of the camp?
FK: Yeah, hes outside the camp.
MH: How far away from the camp were you at this point?
FK: Well, I cant honestly tell you how far we were, because I cant remember. You could smell the camp from five miles away. And so it was one heck of aand I knew it was there, and, like everybody else, thoughtwell, wed seen plenty of dead animals and smelled the dead animals, and to this day, I can tell you where a dead dog is laying because I know the smell. And its a terrible smell; its one you never forget. But they all thought it was animals, my buddies. And I knew darn right well what it was, that it was a concentration camp.
MH: Now youre in the Jeep.
MH: Youre coming down the road.
MH: Youve already had the tank fire at you.
MH: Now, how do you see this officer?
FK: Well, because it was a whole group that wereyou have to recognize that at that point in the war, just about everybody knew that things were coming to an end. The Germans knew it, they knew it, we knew it. And it was an extremely fluid situation, very fluid situation. You had men that were trying to get away on the German side, not be recognized as SS. And this was one of my jobs. And the way I would always getwhenever there was a prisoner or a questionable prisonerI would ask him to lift his left arm. Bare your left arm and raise it. Because the mark was in here, they were all tattooed right here.
MH: With the lightning bolt?
FK: Well, their numbers.
MH: The numbers?
FK: Yes. And what they used to do to try to hide that, they would burn that out with cigarettes. So, if you caught one with a scar right here, you knew darn right well he was some sort of SS man, and the scar in itself told you he was hiding something. He needed to hide something. He was worried about whatever it was. And these were the things I worked with. And anyhow, at that time, the prisoners, the German prisoners that we collected, they were a total conglomerate of just about everything. You had German Air Corps people, you had army people; you even had women anti-aircraft personnel. We were interested in SS. Theres a little bit of a side note. Our division is the one that captured Herman Gring, found Herman Ging. I wasnt involved in that, but our division did; he was one of the personalities that our division caught. So, I myself only got into Dachau later.
MH: Lets stick with this officer.
FK: Oh, okay. Well, he
MH: Theres a Jeep coming down the road.
MH: And now what do you see?
FK: Well, first of all, we get shot at.
MH: Okay, you get shot at and then you wait for the anti-tank guys
FK: To wipe the tank out. Thats right.
MH: They wipe out the tank. Now what?
FK: Now were there, and theres a stream of Germans coming towards us. We take em, keep em in the courtyard. I had maybe 150 of them that I sat down in the courtyard.
MH: These are Germans in uniform.
FK: Yes, mostly.
MH: Your weapon is?
FK: My weapon is just a rifle. I only carried a rifle.
MH: An M1?
FK: Yeah, an M1. My friend, my buddy Larry Hancock, was our BAR man, which was a Browning Automatic [Rifle]; he had that. And I think you might have remembered from the film: this German officer, this SS officerhe was SS, there was no question about it. He had his whole SS uniform on, immaculate, and it just so angered me to see this guy well fed, angered me because he was well fed, well dressed, and arrogant.
MH: How did he express the arrogance?
FK: He told me, he saidhe looked, and they did not like to talk to non-coms [non-commissioned officers]. They would only really talk with officers.
MH: You were a corporal?
FK: I was a corporal. So he said to me, I want to be treated under the Geneva Convention.
MH: He says this in German.
MH: How do you say it in German?
FK: (speaks German) And I said Like hell you will. That really annoyed me, when he said, (German), I said, (German) No, no, no. You stand at attention over there. Those boots, I had to get em full of crap.
MH: Tell me about the boots.
FK: They were highly polished. You could see yourself in em. I often thought you could actually see yourself good enough to shave in these highly polished boots.
Unidentified Woman: Good morning.
FK: (to woman) Good morning, how are you?
So, I made him stand at attention up there, and then I started questioning him.
MH: You said it was on a manure pile?
FK: Yes. I made him stand at attention up on a manure pile. And then, of course, I took his weapons off of him. But then he clammed up. Wasnt going tohe saw how annoyed I was. Then I told Larry, I said, Do me a favor: take him behind the shed there, take your BAR and run it off and come back out alone. Well, Larry didnt get a chance, because evidently there wereoh
Unidentified Man: Good morning, gentlemen.
FK: (to man) Good morning.
There were guys there from an outfitan American outfitthat took him. Now whatever happened to him after that, I dont know. My guess is that they eliminated him.
MH: Your personal decision to have him eliminated
FK: I didnt want him eliminated. I just wanted Hancock to run the BAR back there so everybody hears, and then come out alone.
MH: But you were telling him to kill him?
MH: You were pissed off.
FK: Yeah. Oh, sure. Absolutely, really pissed. But I didnt want him killed, because I wanted him to talk. And I figured this would make him talk, if I scared the hell out of him, and it would make the other guys and the other ones that we had talk. But then we were shot at. In that compound, we were shot at by a kid that was hiding in the barn. And instead of hitting any of us, he hit one of my prisoners in the ankle, an older man in an army uniform, German army uniform, and it shattered his ankle. I felt so bad for him. When I told the SS officer to stand at attention on the manure pile, I told all my prisoners to sit down, sit down. And they all clapped when the SS man went up on the manure pile. But what happened to himIm trying to think of the name of theah, you guys had em, too. Special troops.
FK: Rangers, thats it. The Rangers took him. And whatever happened to him, I dont know. Of course, I didnt care, either. I figured, whatever happened to him, he deserved it.
MH: Did you ever question any prisoners who told you about what was going on inside of Dachau?
FK: No, no, I did not. I didnt get a chance to. Because I was sent on immediately; as a matter of fact I didnt get into the camp to see what went on for a couple days.
MH: Where were those railroad cars?
FK: In the camp.
MH: Inside the wall?
MH: They werent outside the wall?
FK: No, nothey had a siding that went in.
MH: So youre back in your jeep and you go up to the gate?
FK: Yeah. Well, I didnt go up to the gate, no. I was then assigned to do something else, and we headed into Munich. So, I was constantly assigned to something different.
MH: In Munich, did you ever see people who had escaped from the camp?
FK: No, I never saw any; they tried to keep all the inmates in the camp. Number one, they needed medical attention, they needed food. And the United States Army tried to keep them in the camp. As a matter of fact, they even sent me to the city of Linz later on to keep the DP workers that were in Linz in the ironworks, the Herman Gring ironworks. I was sent up there to help sort them out. Who wasbecause the guards tended to hide among the concentration camp prisoners. And one of the sad things was I did find out later that quite a few of the guards were not Germans. The worst ones were Ukrainians, who were in a Ukrainian SS outfit that had joined the Germans in the fight against the Bolsheviks. And they were brutal, they were brutal.
MH: You eventually did get into the camp.
FK: Yes, I did.
MH: Tell me, when did that happen?
FK: Oh, God, I guess that wasto really go in and look was weeks afterwards. It was after the end of the war that I got back in to look at it, cause I was stationed in that part of the country.
MH: The first time you got into the camp was weeks later?
FK: Oh, yes.
MH: Tell me about that. Why did you want to go?
FK: Well, I wanted to see it. I wanted to see it like everybody else. I wanted to see what was to see, but the bodies were gone by then. The facility, obviously, was still there. We saw the crematorium and saw the cells. And we went into the barracks to see how they were forced to live, we saw that. But evidence of what all had happened, meaning bodies, that was taken care of right away. Butand of course, Eisenhower wanted everybody in there to see, the populace even. I didnt personally see this, but I understand that the townspeople of Dachau were forced to go in and see what had occurred there, because they had denied it.
As a matter of fact, Im an avid listener to talk show hosts like Limbaugh, Hannity, but also, Mike Savage. I like to listen to Mike Savage. And I was listenening to Savage the other day, and he had a guy on that really made me mad, and made Savage mad, too. This guy denied that the Holocaust ever happened, and I told my wife, I said, Call Savage, because damn it, I gotta say that this guy is so full of crap. I was there, and I saw what had been done. And I saw the horror of thebut I got back in. I did get to see a couple of cars that still had some bodies in it. That was about it.
MH: A couple of railroad cars?
MH: What was?
FK: Bodies, of inmates that they had brought from the east.
MH: The Americans were still working on getting
FK: Oh, yeah. They were stillwell, the Americans didnt do that; they got the townspeople out to do that. Now, just where they buried them and what they did with them, I have no idea. But I know some of our guysmost of the I&R guys did not getright, the I&R. In other words, the
MH: Thats Intelligence and
FK: The I&R, the Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon of headquarters company, 222nd Infantry Regiment. Even though the regiment was the one that hit the camp first, we were stopped and we did not get in it. In other words, we didnt unlock the gates, our group. But we saw enough on the way in; that was bad enough.
MH: What did you see? I really need you to describe it and talk about it, cause there arent a lot of guys left who saw it.
FK: Well, I saw bodies on the way in, along the canal that ran along the side of the camp. I saw bodies that wereI really dont even know how to describe it. You could see every bone with the skin stretched over it like a piece of leather. And these bodies didnt even have a smell anymore, they were justthere was nothing there, thats how badly they were emaciated. But the odor from the boxcar full of ones had permeated the whole countryside, and we had smelled that well outside of the camp. Yeah, I saw them, saw plenty ofit wasnt a pretty sight.
MH: When you see this, what do you saywhat do you and your buddies talk about? Do you talk about it or do you just go silent?
FK: Well, most of us said, How the hell could they do this? How could they do this? How could you do this? We had fought, we had fought, the Germans shot at meI came close to getting killed a couple of times. That was war. They were soldiers. You saw a dead soldier, you saw a dead German; it wasnt a body, it was a human being. These bodies were not human beings. When you looked at em, theythe bodies that I saw had these sunken eyes, staring eyes, skin stretched over bones, and you almost thought they werent human.
MH: Did you cry?
FK: I dont think any of us could. I dont think any of us could. We were so overwhelmed with what we saw there. And after that, unfortunately, we got pretty damn nasty and rough with the populace; we didnt take much of anything.
MH: When you say pretty damn nastyyoure pissed off.
FK: Well, it took meyes, it took usI guess in occupation duty, it took us until about Christmas 1945 before we felt any compassion, even for the kids. We threw a Christmas party in Vienna, Austria, for the kids there. And the arrogance was there from the populace, and it wasnt just the Germans, it was the Austrians. The Austrians were just as fanatical. And theyunfortunately, I understood what they talked when Id hear them speaking. I understood what they were talking about, and it wasnt nice, what they were saying about us.
MH: What were they saying?
FK: Oh, that we were uncouth, uncivilized.
MH: They did this to humanity, and youre uncivilized?
FK: Yeah, we were uncivilized, uncouth, dirty. Undisciplined and everything else, they called us, and made fun of us. They made fun of us. I remember sitting in Vienna in a soccer stadium and was having a beer out of a can; we had beer in cans by that time. And I was drinking a can of beer, and I heard somebody behind me say, You goddamn Americans. I wonder if they have babies in cans, too. These are the kind of remarks we had to listen to. And you met that all the time, even a year after the end of the war.
MH: When did you come back to the States?
FK: In forty-seven . I stayed over there. I met an Austrian girl in Vienna who was from a family that had resisted the Nazis. As a matter of fact, my father-in-law before the war was a battalion commander of the fire department district in Vienna. And he wouldnt join the Party; he told them no, hes not going to join the Party. Which was required of any civil servant of any standing; in other words, like a battalion commander of the fire department. So they broke him back down to fireman, and he spent the war as an ordinary fireman. But after the war, he went up very rapidly, and my father-in-law became Fire Commissioner of the city of Vienna. And he told me a lot of things about the attitudes and what happened. He also suffered under the Russians. And I saw what the Russians did, thats another thing. People think the Russians, oh, they were great. They were anything but.
MH: In the course of your military actionIll get to when you were a civilian in a minute. But did you see any otherany of the sub-camps? Did you ever run into escaped prisoners? Did you ever run into any other evidence of the Holocaust?
FK: Not during combat, no. No.
MH: And after combat, did you run into any other Holocaust evidence?
FK: Not really, not really, because we were intent on catching the criminal element of the National Socialists, meaning SS men who were wanted. We had our records, we had the books, and we tried to find any of them that were wanted. This was our job afterwards. And I did notI was sent to places like the Inn Valley, Schwatz, Wrgl. They sent me down to Schliersee, Tegernsee. I had to work in Salzburg, outside of Salzburg, and Anif. I worked in Linz, Linz, Austria. This was all in conjunction with trying to findand this continued for years after the war, trying to find war criminals. Of course we were involved more with the lesser ones, not the really big ones. But still, we still did it.
And every German that came up from Italy over the passes, we screened em, because a lot of the SS would put on army uniforms and try to pass as German army men. They tried all kinds of tricks. Matter of fact, I was toldI did not see it, but I was told that in the camp, they tried to be inmates. They dressed like the inmates to try to get away. Now, this officer that came out of there, he evidently didnt come right out of the camp, because there was Dachau, Dachau, Dachau. There was Dachau, the town of Dachau; Dachau, the concentration camp; and there was Dachau, the SS training camp, which was right next to the concentration camp. So, you know, even much later afterwardswell, we were in Dachau. Yeah, sure there were a lot of people at Dachau. But which one?
MH: Did you run into civilians who said, We had no idea?
FK: Yes, that I did. And my answer was, Well, I saw different. You cant tell me any different. You knew about it, because I knew about it. I knew about it before the war. You knew about it before the war. You knew about it during the war. Dont give me that crap that you didnt know. You knew. And unfortunately, the populace was soI dont know, brainwashed, I guess, about everything, they believed everything that was said. And if they were told that this didnt happen, they believe it.
MH: They didnt believe their noses?
FK: Thats right.
MH: You could smell the camp. When the crematoria was running, you could smell the camp.
FK: Thats right. You could see the smoke.
MH: And they could deny it.
MH: When you came back to the United States, did you talk about what you had seen?
FK: I wanted to forget it. I wanted to forget it. I had a wife, I had three kids. I wasnt going to tell the kids that kind of horror stuff. I dont thinkI think most of us, most of us in the Rainbow, didnt talk about it until the eighties [1980s]; in my case, the nineties [1990s].
MH: Thats forty years later.
MH: But youre walking around with this in your heart.
FK: We all came back different. Now, you fellas came back from Vietnam, we also came back. But what we came back with, we didnt talk about it. We didnt letwe concentrated on our families that we had, and we didnt want to talk about it. I had three children. Not a one of them ever asked me, What did you do in the war? I have a granddaughter who now is so interested; as a matter of fact she is going to be at the banquet on Saturday here. And she is the one whos really, really interested in what her grandfather saw and did. And I documented it all. But my memoirs I did not want to make strictly a war experience thing, it was a life experience thing. The war would
MH: Did you have nightmares?
FK: Oh, God, yeah. Yeah.
MH: When did they start?
FK: Well, that iswhen I think about it, it didnt start until well after the war back in the States. It didnt occur over there right after I saw it.
MH: What were the nightmares?
FK: Rehashing it all. People getting killed, killing people. Senselessness of it. What we saw, proud of what we did to stop it but no, I often woke up with cold sweats.
MH: Did your wife ask you what was going on?
FK: Well, not really. Because Im afraid I was a different person when I came back than when I went over. I had an anger in me that I didnt understand. As a matter of fact, I didnt understand that anger until ten years ago, when I got a little psychiatric help. That anger expressed itself in many ways.
FK: Anybody did anything, anything that offended me, Id go into a rage. Went into a rage.
MH: And that started shortly after the war or ten years after?
FK: Quite a few years after the war. As a matter of fact, as a matter of fact, I spent about five years recovering in military hospital for whatI was not wounded, but I had the medical condition in my back that required surgery, severe surgery. I was offered a disability, but I was just too proud to take disability. I figured thats my payment, to be treated and taken care of. And I was in and out of that hospital for about three years, and to this day I still have problems with it. But the rage in me and the anger in me can be attested to by quite a few in my family. I got to be pretty nasty, probably never really realized why.
MH: When did you figure it out?
FK: Like I said, it was within the last ten years.
MH: What got you to a therapist?
FK: A very severe blow up, very severe blow up. Anger, anger like you wouldnt believe.
MH: The anger goes from A to Z in a second.
FK: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
MH: So, you had classic post-traumatic-stress disorder.
MH: But they didnt know that.
FK: No, I think in the first war they called it shell shock. But I didnt know it. I never realized what was happening to me. I could have enjoyable weeks on end and have one, two, three days where my wife would want to just plain get rid of me. And Id bury myself in work, bury myselfeverything in work.
MH: It affected your relationship with your kids?
FK: Yeah. I have two of them to this day that wont have anything to do with me. Makes me very sad because its a big hurt. And my oldest girl has cancer, and that makes me sad. I carried a package. But we all carried a package. I was not alone, thats the big thing. I was even not as bad as some of them. A lot of our men went into religion.
MH: I was just about to ask you about that.
FK: A lot of our men went into religion. I personally had a very goodI know Ray Willemson went intohe became a minister. Bob Weiss became a priest. Sidney Bercoin became a priest. Norman Fordy became an Episcopalian priest. A lot of them, lot of them, went into religion.
MH: Were you religious as a kid, before the war?
MH: And after the war?
FK: Sad to say, I slipped away from it. Its only been in the last ten years that Ive gotten back to my beliefs.
MH: Did you ever question God while the war was going on? Or theres no time for that?
FK: Well, as I wrote in my memoirs, the traditional thing is you see your life pass before your eyes. My life did not pass before my eyes. I did not ask God to save me; I didnt do any of that. I just did my darndest to get my butt out of there in one piece. And after that was over, then it hits you. After the one ambush I was in where I was laying out in the middle of the road, and they had me zeroed in with a machine gun and the bullets were going about two inches over my body, and I was getting down as low as I possibly could, and the guys were back in the woods. They said, They got Fritz, they got Fritz, but I wasnt dead. And Im trying to get em to give me cover fire to get the heck out of there, but they said, They got Fritz. And I can still remember I was so damn mad at that, because it was my own fault. I should have known better. I would have never went into that ambush, I was a lead Jeep. I was going into town, and the German inhabitants had the white flags hanging out of their windows signifying that the town was clear of Germans, which it wasnt.
But I didnt realize that they sometimes were also under the gun, because the army would make them put theand then set up a roadblock and then theyd nail us, which is what happened that particular time. Well, I gotthat I remember as being my first rage. I almost killed the mayor there when I got into that town. I almost killed the mayor. And I was in a huge rage. But afterwards, it hit me so hard that my tongue swelled up; I couldnt talk. I can still remember that. My mouth went so dry, my tongue swelled up to the point where I could not talk. I can still remember that. And from that day on, anything that looked like the enemy was shot at.
MH: This is before the twenty-ninth of April.
FK: Yes. Yes.
MH: When you came back to the States, did you ever see or confront anti-Semitism? Did you hear people talking about Jews?
FK: Well, let me say this. I had never been anti-Semitic. Never, never. Never once. And when I went in the service, now, I had a very dear friendalso a German, born in GermanyI have a very dear friend who also went in the service. He was a paratrooper in the Pacific. Well, they gave him such a difficult time. Americans gave him such a difficult timethey called him Hun and everything elsethat he changed his name from Reinholt to Hank. Just to get away from it. I went into the I&R, and three of my best friends were Jewish. Sid Schafner, to this day, I give him a hug and he gives me a hug. Herb Herman, him and I, and then Marowitz. It was Fritz and Marowitz. We carried a piece of chalk, each one of us. And what we did with that chalk at the end of the day: if we were in combat, wed find a house, wed get in there, see if there was beds that we could slip into, because the I&R was very, very mobile, and we were lucky in that respect. And we would write on the end of the bed, Fritz and Maury. That was it.
MH: Marowitzs first name was what?
FK: Richard, Rich.
MH: Hes the magician.
FK: Yes. My sister-in-lawmy brother married a Jewish girl. My nephew married a Jewishand these people were wonderful people, I couldnt understand what the problem was. Look, just because the Jewishand Im comfortable in the temple, the Reformed Jewish temple. Im comfortable in there. You know? Hey, Jesus was a rabbi. You know. So, whats there to say? People used towhenever Id hear, Oh, Jews, Jesus killers, you know, that just burns my butt. And I
MH: Did it set you off?
FK: Oh, yes. Yes. Im afraid I came down very hard on some people in my life who said the wrong thing at the wrong time to me, and this was one of em. These were one of the things. Because this is something I wouldnt tolerate. I did not tolerate it.
MH: Do you remember George Lincoln Rockwell?
MH: You remember thinking any particular thoughts about him? Because that was all in the fifties [1950s].
FK: Yes, I know. No, I tried not to listen to it. I totally disagreed with all these what I called fringe philosophies. I couldnt handle it. If I got involved, even today, my wife will say, Youre on your soapbox again. Hey, hon, youre on your soapbox. Get off of it. Because I work myself up so bad, and its not good for me.
MH: How did the therapist help you?
FK: He let me rant and rave. He let me rant and rave.
MH: Was this a private guy or a VA?
FK: No, no, this was private. This was private.
MH: He let you rant and rave.
FK: Yes, let it out. And this was the thing that was bottled up much, much too long.
MH: This is like opening up a tap and it comes flowing out.
FK: Yes, absolutely. Its unbelievable. Right now when I think about it, Im ready to
MH: So now, when you hear the President of Iran say, This never happened.
FK: I would like to go over there and grab him by the balls and pull his tongue out. I dont care of its the President of Iran or some yahoo from here in this country, calling in to a talk show host and tell him, like on the way here. This happened on the way here, and Im still mad about it. That SOB that called in telling Mike Savage it never happened. Well, Mike Savage, you are a dumbest son of a bitch. I dont know how he got away with calling him everything on the air like he did, and Im there. Give it to him. When I get the number, I got to call Savage and let him know that I was there, to refute what theseI dont know where these people get this idea.
And the other thing, the other thingIm very passionate about whats happening now. And if people think for one minute that this war on terror is just a bunch of nuts, it isnt. It is Islam wants the Judeo-Christian society at an end. They want us dead. And these idiots do not understand it out there. They do not understand this. They are still fighting the Crusades, is what it really amounts to. This is how I feel about it. And I justin my prayers every day, I thank God for the men that are over protecting us, over there, keeping them away from our shores. Not knocking the PresidentI talked with a Marine this morning at 5:30 down in the lunchroom, who was in uniform, and I thanked him for his service. I said I wished him well, and I asked him how is the morale of the service at this point in time. He said, Its real good, but were all very, very afraid about this election. Becauseand I have said it alsoit could be chaos. It could be the end of our military as we know it. Were going to be back into the Carter days, and it scares me. Were going to get hit harder. I know its going to happen. Its gonna happen.
MH: You think fighting in Iraq is protecting us?
MH: See, I dont.
FK: Yes. Its keeping the fight there, on their turf.
MH: I dont believe that. Because Al Qaeda doesnt work that way. Al Qaeda doesnt have turf, thats the problem. Theyre in Pakistan.
FK: They have turf in the sense that throughout the word, their message is throughout the world. Weve got to hit them, weve got to hit them throughout the world; we cant wait until they come here. My greatest fear is that theyre going to set off a dirty bomb in San Francisco, and its going to drift east and its going to kill millions of people. And we have got to recognizeif you look like a duck, you walk like a duck, and you quack like a duck, youre a damn duck. And Im all in favor of profiling.
MH: Let me ask you one other question off of that subject, cause we could sit over beers and disagree on this. Did you ever talk to any of the other guys and tell him how therapy helped you?
FK: No, no. This has been very private, as far asas a matter of fact, youre one of the first strangers Ive mentioned it to.
MH: Thats cause I pushed you.
FK: Whether you did or not, its because I wanted to answer.
MH: Thats true, too. So, thank you very much. Anything else you want to tell me?
FK: No, you ask the questions, and Ill give you the answers.
MH: As Im writing, some other things may come up and Ill give you a call, especially the spelling of names or places in Germany.
FK: Sure. Well, like I said, Ive led an interesting life with a lot of regrets. And a lot of pride, though. Proud of this country, very proud of this country. It offered me a lot, gave me an opportunity to be a lot, gave me the opportunity to do all the things I wanted to do.
MH: So, Im talking to Fritz Krenkler.
FK: Thats right.
MH: Again, so the question I asked you was: youre German, youre of German origin. You were naturalized American. But how did it make you feel about the German people?
FK: Uh, first of all, I want to say right off the bat that Im very disappointed that this happened to a people that I felt, and still feel, had a lot to contribute to humanity prior to all this happening. As a matter of fact, my father, during the war, had Jewish men in the German Army that fought the Americans, believe it or not. Ive been to German military cemeteries and Ive seen the Jewishthe Star of David on the graves. So, I feel real, real bad about what some of our people did. I feel real bad about some, the other ones who didnt do anything but also didnt speak up. I know they feared for their lives. I know theythey had a choice. They didnt make the hard choice, and this disturbs me more than anything else, that they didnt make the hard choice, because the German people as a race have contributed much. As a matter of fact, one of the
FK: One of the more famous men that comes from my part of Germany was Albert Einstein. He came from Ulm, which was only a few miles from where I grew up, and Ive admired Albert with his thinking and the depth of his thinking. We had many, many German Jews that were really, really great contributors, as were regjust Germans of long German backgrounds. But it has made me sad that they have done this. Mainly, it was more a case of commission, but of omission. And this is what bothers me, that they did not speak up, because this could have been prevented.
MH: They closed their eyes, too. I mean the people who werent the Nazis: you know, Oh, I dont know anything about it, I never saw it.
FK: Well, this was a normalthis is a normal thing for the human being to do, is to deny, even though they felt and knew that it was all wrong. In my family, I have toIm proud of the fact that none of my family had anything to do with them. We were all of us staunchly against it, but the family did not speak up. I was, unfortunately, in a position without too much concern about my own wellbeing, because II really knew that they just couldnt do anything to me because of my dual citizenship, my American citizenship. So, thats all I can say. I feel sorry. TheyIve been on German television, spoken my piece there; all my relatives are proud of me. I helped them regain their lives after the war. I made sure that clothing and food was available to all the deserving ones, and there were very, very few people that I knew that werent deserving of it.
And thats basically how I felt about it. It was a dual feeling. It was notI was sad for what they didnt do. Im very, very sad for what they did do, the ones that did do it. I could honestlyI can still honestly say that Im proud of my heritage, because it goes back to the 800s AD, family history, and I have personal records back to the fifteenth century when the church burned down; the records prior to that were destroyed. So, I do have a huge and long background of being German. But today, as always since Ive been here, I have felt American.
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Frederick "Fritz" Krenkler oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (75 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (32 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 March 18, 2008.
The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust (New York: Bantam Books, 2010) and Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project, University of South Florida Libraries, 2010 Michael Hirsh.
Transcripts, excerpts, or any component of this interview may be used without the author's express written permission only for educational or research purposes. No portion of the interview audio or text may be broadcast, cablecast, webcast, or distributed without the author's express written permission.
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Frederick "Fritz" Krenkler. Krenkler, who was born in Germany, was in an Intelligence & Reconnaissance platoon in the 42nd Infantry Division, which liberated Dachau on April 29, 1945. As a native speaker of German, his job was to question prisoners, looking for war criminals. He was ordered to take two POWs to show him the best way to Dachau; as they approached, a tank fired on their jeep. Krenkler did not go into the camp that day as he was interrogating the guards in a courtyard and quickly moved on to continue his work. He returned to visit the camp several weeks later, after the war had ended. In this interview, he also discusses post-traumatic stress disorder and how seeing Dachau has affected his life.
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