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Nachman, Monroe Isadore,
Monroe Isadore Nachman oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (68 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (31 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 August 9, 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 Monroe "Monty" Nachman. Nachman was a member of the 103rd Infantry Division, which liberated Landsberg on April 27, 1945. The camp consisted of several huts inside a wire fence, with bodies all over the place; they could smell the camp long before they saw it. Nachman spoke with a few of the prisoners while they were there, which was about an hour. About forty-five minutes after they left, they found a death march on its way to Dachau and killed the SS guards. After the war, Nachman was assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps, serving as an interpreter. In this interview, Nachman also discusses his life after the war and the effect it has had on him over the last sixty-five years. He is very active at his local VA and with the Jewish War Veterans.
Nachman, Monroe Isadore,
Infantry Division, 103rd.
Infantry Division, 103rd
v Personal narratives.
Landsberg (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.
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: Give me your full name and spell it for me, please.
Monroe Nachman: My full name?
MN: My name is Monroe, M-o-n-r-o-e, Isadore, I-s-a-d-o-r-e, Nachman, N-a-c-h-m-a-n.
MH: But they call you Monty?
MH: And your address?
MH: And your phone?
MH: And your date of birth?
MN: 10-23-18 [October 23, 1918]. Ill be ninety years old October 23.
MH: And you were in the 103rd Infantry Division?
MN: I started out in Detroit, Michigan, in Custers 6th Cavalry with the National Guard, because I had a low draft number and I didnt want to be in the infantry. So, we went to camp at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. We were there for a year, and I was at Monsanto Chemical plant in East St. Louis, Illinois, on guard duty. It was, you know, a vital area we had to protect. And I went to sleep Saturday night, and Sunday, I was supposed to get a pass to St. Louis. Somebody woke me up Sunday morning and said, They bombed Pearl Harbor. I said, Who is she?
MN: I said, I dont know Pearl. Id never heard of Pearl Harbor. So, he says, Yeah, theyre gonna declare war, so we left there and came back to Fort Sheridan, and we left
MH: You had been drafted?
MN: No, I wasnt drafted. I joined Custers 6th Cavalryyou know, the horsesfor about six days, a week or two, and then they took the horses away. 210th Anti-Aircraft, Fort Sheridan, Illinois, for one year and then we were gonna get out; but the war came, and then
MH: Just so I have this at the front, the camp you were ultimately at was Landsberg?
MN: Thats the one, yeah, the one I liberated.
MH And thats for the transcribing person.
MH: You want me to build up into it?
MH: Yes, absolutely.
MN: Okay, so they sent us out to Paine Air Field, right outside Seattle, Washington, and we set up our guns. It rained every damned day there. My battery was run by Captain Pfeiffer; he was a German by birth here, but he was a nice guy. And we had thirty-eight Jews in my battery.
How did I get into the cavalry? We were in the poolroom in Detroit, and a fellow come in, Max Trachtenberg; Ill never forget him. And he sayshes all dressed up in the Army uniform, you know, with the hair. I said, Max, what the heck you doing? He says, You wouldnt believe this. I joined this outfit, we are in Custers 6th Cavalry and we ride horses, and theyre paying us. I said, What? How do you get in there? Because we used to ride horses on Sunday, go horseback riding. So, he says, Cmon, Ill tell you how to get there, and we went down there, and I signed up with about three or four of my friends, personal friends, and before you know it, we had thirty-eight Jews in our battery by Captain Pfeiffer.
We had a good outfit, and then we were sent out there to Paine Air Field, and it was a terrible place to be, but I got a passyou have a pass to go to this little village close by. You could either eat dinner or you could go to the show; you didnt have enough time for both. So, I came back from that, and I found that a bunch of my friends were shipped out to become gunners on troop ships, cargo vesselsthe Navy didnt have enough mengoing up to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.
So, I says, Captain, I want to go in the next batch, because I dont want to be here anymore. I want to be with these guys. So, he says, Okay. The next batch, they sent me to Seattle, and I got on a ship called the [USAT] David W. Branch. It was a troop carrier cargo vessel, and we started out through the end of the passage. I was up on duty at night. It was a rainy, windy night, and I got off duty, and I was just crawling into my bunk, and they hit an island.
MH: Literally, hit an island.
MN: Literally hit an island, this narrow passage. The guy mustve made that trip a thousand times, and it was just chaos. And then the next day, the morning, we get up and looked around, and were stuck on this island. And they try to pull us off. Boats were around there, and groups, they busted like a piece of string. Anyhow, they took us off and put us up with a Canadian Scottish resident until they got our boat to tell us back. And a passenger ship took us back about a week later. We went back to Seattle, and I got on the David W. Branch; it was strictly ano, Im sorry, (inaudible), and that was a straight freighter, an old freighter. I think it was taken over from the Japanese. So, we sailed. I made eight trips, all through there, the Aleutians and the Kodiak [Alaska] and all those islands up there.
MH: This is 1942.
MN: Early 1942, and I was there when Dutch Harbor was bombed the first time, the only time. So, after the eighth trip, they said, You gotta take your shots again, because we cant find your records. Okay, so I take the shots, and I take off, and we get to Skagway, Alaska. My buddy and I, we bought a pint of booze and drank it down. The next day, I was sicker than a dog, and I thought that last (laughs) really did me in. But it turns out that I had yellow jaundice, and then I had to wait until I got back to Seattle. It was a terrible time. And I wound up in the hospital there, and the place was loaded with guys. They had a bad batch of serum. So, a friend of mine said, Lets go to OCS [Officer Candidate School], so I says, Okay. I was just twenty-two at that time or twenty-three, and I didnt know any better.
MH: Had you been in college?
MN: No. I got kicked out of high school in the twelfth grade because a guy called me a sheeny, and I hit him in the classroom, and they threw me out. My mother wanted me to go back to school. I said, Im not going, Ma. The wars coming and everything. But I tell you, in my younger life, I have to go byI lived in a half-Jewish, half-Gentile neighborhood, and every day I had to go by St. Marys Church, and every day I was fighting. My mother called me a vilde khaye becausebut she didnt understand. Here comes the Jews. So, Here comes the kikes. I was one of those guys thatand two other guys I ran with, we justwere the type of guys who dont take that kind of stuff, so every day we would fight. So, thats what happened there.
MH: Let me ask you, when you were in high school, did you pay attention to what was going on in Europe?
MN: Yeah, because we had Father [Charles] Coughlin in Detroit, and he was a momser from the first go, he was a bad guy; and not only that, we had the Nazi Southerner parading around, and we used to be fighting with him, too. And
MH: You knew about Kristallnacht
MN: I used to see it in the headlines: so many Jews killed, you know. Like everybody else, I didnt realize it, and it didnt get through my mind yet how this could be, because whoever could think of anything like this? And this is small. So, we volunteered for MPs [military police], quartermaster, and anti-aircraft was the first choice.
MH: At OCS?
MN: OCS. So, we become officers. So, I took the test and I passed it. I wasnt dumb; I was a hyper kid when I was young, see.
MH: Not like now?
MN: A little hyper yet, but not like I was. And so, I passed the test, and they picked him for MPs and picked me for infantry. I said, Im not going to infantry school. I signed up in the Army; Im not going. And Ill be honest with you, I was never afraid of anything in my life. So, they said, Youre going, you have to go. It was a Purim vacation, and we were training 1-Bs. They have short arms and left eyes, and we were training, given basic training, for office workers and stuff like that. And theres officers coming through just graduating, and were mad because the ninety-day wonders, they called them, out of college. They were put in with new divisions being activated, and the guys with that experience, they went right overseas. They gave them two weeks of delay en route, they called it, and then they shipped them overseas. So, I said, The hell with them. I wont make it. So, I went down there, and I told the guy, these redneck old Army guysthey made them second lieutenants to watch us; they called them bird dogs. Whatever you did, whatever you said was written down.
So, I figured, What the hell. Im gonna make this messed up so I dont graduate. Im not gonna graduate. So, I went there. My wife came down, my wife-to-be came down there, and we got married. And our honeymoon was a Saturday, and Sunday I left to go back to camp. But she wanted me to be an officer, and I said, Im not gonna be no second lieutenant in the infantry. I didnt sign up for this and I didnt want to be one.
Anyhow, my marks were good. I wasnt a dummy, just hyper. So, they called me before a board, just before graduation. I thought, jeez, theyre gonna pass me in spite of all this. And they called me, and its an infantry officer. What is it with you? Your marks are good. The attitudes so bad. I said, I didnt want to come here. So, they says, Well, how about if we give you a delay en route, and then you come back and take it over again. You got married and didnt have a honeymoon, and this and that. I said, No, sir I knew I made a mistake. I want to go back to my old outfit, which was the ships.
So, they dismissed me, and just two days now, I get my orders, and Im, Boy, Im going back to Seattle. I got my orders: Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, 103rd Infantry Division, 411th Regiment, 2nd Battalion, E Company.
MH: Which regiment?
MH: 411th, okay.
MN: 409th, 410th, and 411th is the division, and Im in the infantry at 411th.
MH: What rank?
MN: A T-5, corporal, Im T-5. Then I made sergeant, okay, I became a platoon sergeant.
MH: So, youre in the infantry anyhow.
MN: Im in the infantry. I was deep into the infantry. Once you get in the infantry, you cant transfer out. The only way you get out is you get killed or you get wounded bad, but youre not gonna get transferred out. And I became a sergeant, then they changed the commanders, and I got an anti-Semitic captain. And my wife says to mewe were on maneuvers, and she says to me, she writes me a letter, Meet me in Alexandria for our six-month anniversary. So, we were on maneuvers, marching, and I was with the captainone thing, I never, never dropped out of a march. I was strong and tough. I was small, but I was strong and tough. And I says to him
MH: How tall were you back then?
MN: Five-foot-five. So, he says, You cant go. Well, that was like waving a flag in front of a bull. I said, What do you mean, I cant go? He said, You cant go. Well, every time at the weekend, on Friday, the general has a critique, and he always took me and a couple of the other guys to the critique, the sergeants, you know. And this time he didnt pick me to go, so I figured, The hell with it, Im gone, and I did. When I come back, I was a private. I couldve fought it, probably, but I didnt care. And they made me dig a six-by-six, six feet deep and six feet wide, for a garbage pit.
But anyhow, we went overseas
MH: When did you go overseas?
MN: In 1944, in October of
MH: So, you spent a long time in Louisiana.
MN: I spentwell, I was in four years, eight months and twenty-one days. I was first in the National Guard unit; that was over a year. It was close to two years, and about a year and a half in Louisiana and Texas. We were sent down to Dallas, TexasCamp Claibornein Texas. So, from there, we went overseas
MH: When did you go overseas?
MN: In October, we went overseas. In October.
MH: October of 1944?
MN: Forty-four  yeah.
MH: Thats when they were pumping a lot of new divisions in to try andthey were still sending new divisions over in January of forty-five .
MN: Yeah. We went into action in a place called Saint Di. And the first day
MH: You went over by ship. Whered you end up?
MN: The ship, we come up in Saint Di, where we started out. Here, its down heres where we started out, Saint Di. Its up in the mountains, in the Vosges Mountains.
MH: Yeah, Im just going to spell some things for Kathy, whos typing this.
MH: Its Saint Di, capital D-i-. But you landed where?
MH: Marseille, okay.
MN: Then we had to walk all the way through town up to the mountains with our full, fullall the gear we had duffle bags, rifles, helmets, everything. It was a terrible march, but we got up there. Then we had to start digging a foxhole, and it was slate, so I just had enough room down there, soand then they came over, the Germans, with propaganda planes, you know, buzzing us. And, We know youre here. Your girlfriends and wives are out with other guys, all that crap. Anyhow, we took off by boxcar, 40-and-8 boxcars, and we went upgot off at Saint Di, and that was where we were committed to action.
What happened was, we were supposed to get a fifteen-minute barrage. And then we take off at seven oclock. Well, quarter to seven came and no barrage, no artillery. We took off and we lost fifty-five guys that day, wounded and killed. So, and then we continued. We were in a lot of battles.
MH: What was your first reaction to battle?
MN: Well, its scary, but when youre in the heat of the battle, you know, youre not thinking. Youre just constantly thinking about
MH: Your training comes in. How did you react to incoming?
MN: You hear theif you hear them, then youre over your head. The Screaming Mimis, we called them. When you hear them, you know theyre over your head. When you dont hear them, thats when you know youre right in the middle of fire, which we were, under friendly fire. Later on, we come into this place, and all of a sudden, it starts coming in on us, and it was friendly fire. A couple guys got killed. But that first dayand then, I could hardly walk. I couldnt hardly do anything, you know, really.
MH: Did you have the right clothing? Winter clothing?
MN: We had the right clothing, yeah, and then they changed the boots later. They gave us these rubber boots. Now, this is from the regiment, this is division. Thats the story of the regiment; you can read it in there. So, lets see, we went upwe were all the way up, and then we got some heavy fighting around, where the hell was it?
MH: Where did you cross into Germany?
MN: We crossed into Germany around the Siegfried Line. Lets see. We were one of the first ones to come into Germany. Oh, here. We came in (microphone is muffled)it was so long ago, you know. Speyer, on the Rhine; they had a wine cellar.
MH: Speyer is S-p-e-y-e-r.
MN: Yeah, they called it Speyer. It had a million bottles of champagne, and the railroad car went right into this mountain.
MH: You guys didnt drink any of it?
MN: (laughs) Yeah. So, the Germans were in an island in the middle of the river, the Rhine, and the captain says, Dont anybody get drunk here, because We got pie-eyed drunk, but I never drank champagne after that. It gave me such a headache. Id drink booze, but not champagne. And we took off from there, and then we pushed the Siegfried Line, and we got into the Siegfried Line, and we stood out three counterattacks that night. And we were down to forty-five guys.
MH: In the company?
MN: Well, the cooks and office dont count. The fighting guys, yeah. And they took us out and put us on trucks and took us over to Lorraine. Found out that Patton cut over, you know, about the Battle of the Bulge. And Patton cut over to cut them off. We were holding down the right flank to the 7th Army, which I was in, and the left flank of the 7th Army, and the right flank of the 3rd Army. And they brought us up replacements. We stayed there about a week, and then we moved out, and then we got General [Anthony] McAuliffe took over our division. He came over after Bastogne, and we finally got into a rest area, and we were 130the division was 133 days on the line without a division rest, so they put us in this rest area, and everybody got replacements and everything. And were having a nice jolly old time, and the wars coming to an end. You know, close by. And the general requested the division to be put back into action, and we did. We went back into action, and we fought, and then we came across this, at Landsberg.
MH: Tell me aboutdo you remember the day before Landsberg? Had they told you about concentration camps?
MN: No, had no idea. But in Europe, they have these honey pots. I dont know if anybody ever told you that. They clean out the outhouses in all these small villages, and they stunk like crazy. But then all of a sudden, when were approaching this place here, all of a sudden it started to smell like a different smell, a terrible, terrible smell. And it never goes out of your nostrils. You always remember that smell; you can never forget what you see. And we came into this place, and my God, it was horrendous. A few of my guys threw up.
MH: Youre riding on a truck?
MN: No, we walked.
MH: You walked?
MN: Yeah, we dont ride on trucks.
MH: And youre carrying an M1?
MH: And your rucksack.
MN: Well, this time, I think I traded it off for a burp gun, they call it. I traded it first for a smaller weapon; I forget what they call it.
MN: Carbine, yeah; and then I ran into a tanker, and I traded for the burp gun, machine gun. So, we come into this camp, and my God, it was unbelievably horrible.
MH: Whats the first thing you see?
MN: Bodies lying all over the place.
MH: Inside wire?
MN: Inside wire camp. These underground huts, okay, like this, and theyre laying all over the place, filthy, and the stink around there was unbelievable. So, I talked to some people there in Yiddish, and they said whoever could walk they were taking to Dachau to kill off. I told the lieutenant, and he says, Well, we gotta secure the camp, so they came up behind us, and we caught up with him.
MH: How much time did you spend in the camp?
MN: Not long. About an hour, and that was too much.
MH: What did you do in the camp?
MN: Well, we couldnt do much of anything. We were notthey told us not to give them anything to eat; maybe some water, thats all.
MH: And you talked to some of the inmates?
MN: Yeah, in Yiddish.
MH: In Yiddish. Where were they from?
MN: All over the place. They didnt even bother to tell you where theyre from. It was too traumatic.
MH: Youre looking at somebody whos skin and bones, or not even that much.
MN: Skin and bones and nothing. Really are. See, and
MH: Whats the conversation like? How do you even talk to somebody like that?
MN: Well, I didnt ask them what happened. I know what happened. We couldnt talk to them, hardly, but this one guy, he says to me, (inaudible) to Dachau. And thats when I got that out of them. So, we left, we got in our Jeeps. We caught up with them.
MH: How long did that take?
MN: It didnt take long, about forty-five minutes or so till we reached them.
MH: What do you see down the road?
MN: Nothing, until we got up and saw a line of people. Then we got up to the front.
MH: Single-file line or just all over the road?
MN: No, theyre walking allif they could walk, you know, theyre stumbling all over the place.
MH: These are still skeleton-type people.
MN: Sure, whoever could walk, but most of these people there, they couldnt walk, even.
MH: And where are the SS guards?
MN: Well, they tookthe guards were around, and the dummies shouldve left them, but they didnt, and we caught up and killed them.
MH: Can you describe the action, what happened?
MN: We got around there, they threw down their arms and everything, see. And I just plain shot them.
MH: How many were there?
MN: There were about a dozen or so. I just shot them. And the other guys shot them, too. We didnt take any prisoners.
MH: Was that what you were told to do, or thats just the reaction totheyre SS.
MN: No, just did it.
MH: You used the burp gun.
MN: Yeah. One time, I was taking some prisoners back to camp, and it was kind of a long way back, and I says, Hell, what am I doing? Here comes a black captain in a Jeep, and I said, Cap, do me a favor. I gotta take these guys back to prison camp. I dont even want to go. You want to do me a favor and take them back? He said, Well, you know what were gonna do. I said, I dont give a damn what you do. See, and we left, and I know damn well they didnt get back, because they didnt take black prisoners, either. They shot them and killed them. It was a crazy war. When we got in there, there was little kids.
I have a friend, Sammy Weinstein. Sammy came in and he weighed about 120 pounds soaking wet, like five-foot-four or five. I dont think he was my height, even. And he got shot through the cheek by a thirteen-year-old sniper. And we caught him, the kid. They just took him prisoner; they didnt kill him. But Sammys okay. A guy by the name of Ralph McMahon ishe passed away just recently. He picked him up, and he carried him back, held his tongue out so he didnt choke on the blood. And we meet every year. Were meeting, our division reunion. But Sammy was fine.
MH: Let me go back to following these people down the road. You kill the guards. Now how many people do you have to deal with?
MN: I dont remember the exact number.
MH: Are we talking 20 or 200?
MN: Talking about forty, fifty. And we made sure it was secured, you know, people coming along all the time. And we turned them over to them, and we went back to our task, because we were driving to the Rhine. Not to the Rhine; we were going into Germany, way into Germany now, and we just had to get back. So, we didnt stay around too long, you know; and like I said, I dont have any pictures because we never carried cameras. The only thing we carried was a canteen cup; that was what we ate with, drank with and ate with. And then I got wounded on March 4, in my arm, right here.
MH: With one month to go.
MH: One month to go.
MN: Yeah, shrapnel, yeah.
MH: Mortar fire?
MN: Yeah, thats a big casualty taker. And then, it was rough. We went through the mountains in the wintertime, and it was cold, colder than hell. You dig a pit, dug out a pit, and you hit water. You gotta start all over again. It wasnt easy, I gotta tell you. Ill show you some of the
MH: Did you ever get to Dachau itself?
MN: No, I never got to Dachau, because we were driving right along, see. I got some of the pictures with the snow we went into. Theres Marlene Dietrich. They made us walk. I didnt even want to go to see her, but I did. This shows the snow. And then I went on this ship. I got pictures of that, where I was in snow. The ship was decked
MH: Where were you when the war ended?
MN: War ended, the last day of the war, we fought up until the Brenner Pass. Met up with the 5th Army at the Brenner Pass, and then we pulled back into a town. It was a nice town; I forgot the name of it. But, lets seesee if I can see the map I could tell you.
MH: This has you going into Italy. You went into Italy after the war?
MN: No, up to the Brenner Pass, then we turned around and came back.
MH: There they are.
MN: My eyesights 20/20, but for small stuff I have these ten dollar glasses. I just had cataracts taken out. Innsbruck, that was a nice town, but they took us out of there because the infantry doesnt hanging around the big towns. And we went to another place, and it was like a hotel. Not a hotel, a resort right on the lake, and it was wonderful. We had a Dutch cook.
MH: In Austria.
MN: Yeah, in Austria and we had a Dutch cook, and I used to go outnot canoeing. One-man paddleboats, you know.
MN: Yeah, kayak, yeah. I used to do that around the woods, went swimming, fishing, all kinds of stuff. But that didnt last long. They took us out and put us in a small little village, and we were guarding that part out there.
MH: How longd you stay?
MN: I was thereI didnt get back until October forty-five , since I was the Army occupation.
MH: Where do you go home?
MN: I was attached to the CIC. At that time, they called it Counter IntelligenceIntelligence Corps. Because I spoke Yiddish, I picked up German. So, thats what I was doing, spending most of my time with them. Then
MH: Youd ever run into any Nazis after the war?
MN: Nobody was a Nazi, are you kidding? Nicht Nazi, not me.
MH: Nicht Nazi!
MN: Nicht Nazi, not me!
MH: And I didnt smell anything. I didnt know the camp was there.
MN: They were crazy. So, I haveone of the guys, hes a friend of mine, Ralph Durand; he was a lieutenant, and I was his interpreter. And then Ralph hated Germans with a passion, and I was in the office, and a couple young ladies came in and said they were being evacuated from their house they were living in. The house was a little shed behind a farmhouse. You know, there are villages, and they then go out to their farms. But behind that home there was a little place there, a small place, a couple could stay there with maybe a kid or two if they wanted. But the farmers kid was coming back from the German army, and he wanted to live there with his wife.
So, they came in and said, Check it out. So we went and checked it out. He says he wants to stay there, and he started giving me an argument, and it was on the street. And I says, You aint going in there. I talked to him in German. So, then Ralph came along. He said, Whats the matter here? and he was a little taller than me. I says, Im having trouble with this guy. He wont listen to what Im telling him. He cant move in the house. He wants to kick the girls out. So, he comes up and says, Hey, American SS officer, I blow your fuckin head off. The guy and all the people listening around there, Oh, oh, hes in the SS, the American SS, me. (laughs)
Then the last thing, they sent me out. A guy, a couple fellows come in; an SS officer, a major, came in, and he lived way back in the woods. Thats where he lived, a little village way upthis was in the mountain area there. And hes taking over again, see. Go out and check it out. So, I took another guy with me, and I knocked on his door, and I had my pistol in my hand. I knocked, and I stuck my gun in his face. And, sure enough, he was an SS. You could tell an SS if you see the tattoo on his fingers or under his armpit.
MH: The lightning bolt.
MN: Lightning bolt, yeah, SS. So, he had a P30 Luger pistol, and I took that away from him, and I brought him in, but who knows what happened to him, you know. And that was some of the things that had gone in there.
MH: What was it like coming back home?
MN: It was great, but coming back home was like coming into another world. It was total destruction, Germany, especially in Germany and France, but not so much in the German cities. They wouldnt fight in the German villages; they fought outside the villages. France was devastated, because theyd fight even in the churches. They didnt give a damn. But in Germany, they didnt fight that way. They fought out in the fields. They didnt want to destroy their cities, so Germany was a beautiful place. And the peopleafter a while, you get to talk to them, after a while; theyre clean and industrious, like nothing.
MH: Did you ever ask them, How could you let this happen?
MN: Nicht Nazi. (inaudible) You understand Yiddish?
MH: A little bit. A bisl.
MN: It wasnt me. Im not involved in that. The butcher, he was a Nazi, and he used to sell meat to all the guys; we used to come in and buy meat from him, you know, and wed broil it. And I got to be friendly with him because I talked to him. So, one of the majors, he picked up a BMW in one of the villages there, and he took it with him. He rode around, thats his car. So, when were going home, the major says, See what you can do. See if you can sell the damn thing. So, I said to the butcher, Listen, I got this car, the majors car. Hell sell it to you for so many thousands of marks. He was making money, because it was American marks, American currency. Not like our dollars, but they were invasion dollars. He bought it. Then I went and exchanged itI went to Munich with a driver, and I exchanged the money for him.
By the way, I gotta tell you: when I got married, Rabbi Shane, he was the chaplain there. He married my wife and I; we were about eighth or ninth in line. And he was the first rabbi that talked over German radio. I heard him speak, and I looked him up and found him. I spoke to him when I was there, which was kind of exciting. Im not a religious man, and I swim four times a week, a third of a mile, and my rabbi swims with me. I have Rabbi Norman Goldberg, hes my best friend.
MH: That sounds suspiciously Jewish.
MN: He is a very religious man.
MN: Norman Goldberg.
MN: Yeah, Orthodox. You cant call him after four oclock on Friday, you know. So, Norman was a chaplain in the Army in the Korean War, and we swim together. And I was talking to him one day. I said, Norman, are you in the VA system? He didnt even know what it was. I says, You know, youre entitled to get into the VA system, and you can get your medications and this and that. So, I got him involved and I got him in. And we became very, very close.
I want to tell you, I was in the hospital twelve times last year.
MH: For what?
MN: I got a problem with my arteries, you know. I got eight stents and a pacemaker in me. And I still swim a third of a mile, four times a week, and I play gin rummy after I get through swimming. I played poker last night. And I belong to a mens talk; thats where I was this morning. Im one of the moderators. So, as dumb as I was and never graduated high school. My wife never worked, and I sent two kids to college, and here I am.
MH: Whatd you do for a living?
MN: Well, when I came home from the Army, I was from Detroit, and my wife came from Chicago, and her father had a little business, tailor supplies, dry cleaning supplies. And I just knew two streets: Wilson and Kedzie, and thats it. So, I went to work with him a little bit, and I learned the area, the streets. I was with him for about five or six years, and he went out and I took it over. It was a one-man business, and I didnt want to do it anymore. So, nobody would hire me. I was forty years old already. So, a friend of mine says, You want to sell cars? I said, Ive never sold one, but Ill try it. And I got the job, and I loved it.
MH: Whod you work for?
MN: Well, theres no school for that. I started out with Z Frank on Peterson Avenue. And then I worked for two years. The first year, it was just like a yearthe second year, Dave Leavitt, I worked for the guy; he was a son of a bitch. He wasif he saw you in a restaurant with five people, he picked up the bill. But when youre working for him, he was terrible, he was tough. So, he calls me in one day, just before Christmas holidays, hed pass out the bonuses and stuff. He calls me in his office, he starts bawling me out. What the hell is it with you? This is down and thats down. I can get Andy (inaudible) to do that. Back and forth. He said, What happened now? Complaining about my this and that. The next morning is the breakfast, and who do you think gets number one salesman? Me! I got the thing that he gave me, if you want to see it. But nevertheless, thats what happened.
Then I worked in the automobile business, but I invested in the stock market, too. And so, Im very comfortable now, money-wise. And my wife never worked, and here I am. I got a beautiful yardyoull take a lookand the swimming pool, which I dont use, hardly, because I do my swimming over there. And we have a library with a workout room, but I cant use that stuff because of my condition. In the pool, Im fine, when theres no weight on my body.
MH: So, let me ask you. Its now sixty-three years past the war. You saw horrible stuff. Does it come back to you?
MN: All the time. Im on medication. Now, let me tell you what happened. Ive been fighting the VA for sixty years or thereabout. Send me proof. This wound was nothing. Send me proof, send me this, send me that. My records are burned up, this and that. So, finally I was hassling them. So, then I says, You know what, I think is the last time Im gonna write them. The hell with them; Ill just wipe it off. So, I write them a letter, and I says, Okay, you win. I did it. You win. But youll never know how many nights I was up with nightmares and flashbacks from a concentration camp that I liberated and the friends that I lost, and things like that, and the sleeping pills that I had to take and the fights with my wife. I never abused her physically, but mentally, you know, I used to blow up fast. And I had a temper when I was a kid, too. I used to fight at the drop of a hat. And next thing you know, I get a letter from them. Congratulations, youre 100 percent disability, but were only going to give you 80 percent.
MH: Then they give you unemployability, and you get back to the 100 percent.
MN: No, no.
MH: They didnt give you unemployability?
MN: No, no, they didnt. Thats all they gave me is 80 percent. Now, theres a difference between 80 and 100, a big difference. I just got through talking to the Congress lady. She said they might be able to help me. But they wont do nothing, you know. Anyhow, when I got the 80 percent, the DAV, Disabled American Veterans, they told me, They screwed you again, see. They send me a check for about $15,000, $16,000, something like that, and I get $1,460, something like that, monthly, which is good. But theres a big difference. My friend was a POW; he gets everything, 100 percent. Didnt do nothing, got captured by the Russians.
MH: You ought to nudge them one more time.
MN: I am. Im going to start nudging them.
MH: Tell them you want the 100 percent. And I dont know how Illinois does it, but if you are 100 percent, youre probably exempt from property taxes.
MN: I know. You know what? Illinoiss the second-worst state in the union for veterans.
MN: They were terrible here. When I first started going there, my God, this was years ago. My feet used to swell up. When I came home, I bought theseyou know your army shoes arebought these shoes, and I couldnt get the things on or off. My foot was like a vice. I had a hell of a time getting them back on, so I had a pair of shoes made on Lawrence Avenue; there was a guy making shoes. And I went to the VA, and he says, Youre still walking around. I dont want to use the words, but I said, Go screw yourself, and I walked out. I said I wouldnt go back again.
MH: Which VA do you go to?
MN: I go over on Howard Street, but I get glasses and hearing aids at North Chicago.
MH: Thats a schlep.
MN: Thats a schlep. But they got a bus thatll take you out there. I used to like to go out there because I go for a ride or something. Anyhow, I play cards, gin rummy; and we buy new cards all the time and I take the old cards and bring them out to the VA.
MH: Tell me about the nightmares.
MN: I used to get crazy, you know. Itd come back, its a flashback.
MH: What do you see?
MN: Well you see the bodies. When I came home, my wife had a family club. And it at the house, and when I got home, you couldnt get an apartment, so we were living with my in-laws on Kedzie and Leland. And we had this party, then they introduced the new son-in-law. Now, I never lacked for words in my life, but all of a sudden, I get up and Im talking. And all of a sudden, Im seeing bodies laying all over there. I become like a schtoomie, you know what I mean? I couldnt talk. They must have thought I was
MH: Whats the word?
MN: Yeah, thats like a guy who cant talk.
MH: Oh, okay.
MN: Schtoomie. So, that was that case. Another time, I testified whennow, I never said anything. When I came home from the Army, I never said anything about the concentration camp to anybody. It was too horrendous, and nobody in my group would even talk about it when we first started, you know, from our division when we had reunions. They didnt want to talk about it. And just one time, a guy by the name of Don Powers, he was a vice-president for Amoco in Paris, and he came back to Houston, and he wanted fifteen minutes just to speak to the group Saturday morning.
MH: Which group is this?
MN: The 103rd, to speak to the group about the denial of the Holocaust.
MH: What year is this?
MN: It was about four, five years ago. And he came back and says he wanted the division to go on record that the Holocaust did happen, and somebody seconded it and another guy said he wanted it to go on the Congressional Record, and they seconded it, which it did. Our battle flag hangs in Washington, D.C. And I made Steven Spielberg sent a crew out to my house because this Professor [Arthur] Butz, the University at Northwestern, wrote a book and said it never happened. I said, What the hell you talking about? It did happen, and I was there. And thats when I first came out with it. And then they had a dinner, and they invited me to the dinner.
MH: Did you ever confront Butz?
MH: Or any of those people?
MN: I confronted when the KKK came here to Skokiethe Nazi party, rather, came to Skokie. My Jewish War Veterans and my wife was with me. We went outthere was rabbis praying down by the lakeside, and this ones praying on this side, but we were out there. We were out there; they never got to talk. We were throwing stones and rocks at them and stuff like that, but they never got to talk.
MH: This was in downtown Skokie.
MN: No, this was in Wilmette Park, the police
MH: Oh, this is a different one, then.
MN: No, its the same one, but they put them in Wilmette Park, so they didnt come into Skokie at all. We had a Mayor [Albert J.] Smith. He was a very, very good friend to the Jews, and we gave him a cap, a Jewish War Veterans cap, as abecause of all the good things he did for us. One time, the Jewish War Veterans couldnt sell poppies directly; we had to buy them through the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars. But Mayor Smith got it so we could do it and do it in Skokie on our own, which is very nice. Lets see, what else was
MH: What other times did these visions, these flashbacks, hit you?
MN: Oh, a lot. I couldnt go to sleep at night a lot of times. Id be so nervous, Id twitch around and everything.
MH: And you were only in that camp for an hour.
MN: Five minutesll do the same thing. If you had seen that, you wouldnt believe it. It just didnt happen. How could anybody do something like that to human beings? I had a couple things I brought. One was a round cylinder about so long, and it had a real strong spring. You could flip it out that, and you could do it like this, and on the end, they had an iron ball on that. Now, you could crack a guy over the head with the ball, break his skull, and nobodyd say a word. Nobodyd do anything.
MH: You found that in the camp?
MN: Yeah. I had that, and I had a dagger, Deutschland ber alles, and a few other goodies. And my wifes cousin, he was going to high school at that time, and me, like a dummy, he says, I want to bring it to the school to show the guys. And then he tells me he sold it. I think he sold the stuff, hes a momser kid. But I lost it. I shouldve never given it to him, but I did. The two guys I had, a Beretta and this Luger I took from the Nazi guy. I gave the Beretta towhen Israel was forming a state, theyd come around looking for uniforms and stuff like that and guns, and I gave them the Beretta. The Luger, I kept. And my wife didnt want it in the house anymore, and I was hot tempered at that time. I came home, and I wouldve killed my brother-in-law. We got in a fight. It turned a little physical, not too much.
MH: Whens the most recent time you had a nightmare or flashback?
MN: Im on medication for it.
MH: Whatd they give you?
MN: Its an anti-depressant. Its in the long name, you know, so I take it every night.
MH: Wellbutrin? Prozac?
MN: Ill show it to you, just a sec. I just got a refill on it. It comes from the VA.
MH: C-i-t-a-l-o-p-r-a-m hydrobromide. Citalopram hydrobromide [Celexa].
MN: So, I take this. That helps, that helps a lot. It calms me down, because I used to be so damned nervous and get twitchy and everything like that and in my hands and fingers. Im gonna put this back.
MN: Can I get you a drink?
MH: No, Im good, thank you very much. You said youre not a religious person, even though youre hanging out with an Orthodox rabbi. (to Mrs. Nachman) Hello, Im Mike.
Mrs. Maria Nachman: Hi!
MN: This is my wife.
Mrs. Nachman: Hi, Mike.
MN: Maria. Sixty-six years, well be married.
MN: Got married in Fort Benning, Georgia.
MH: Did the Holocaust have anything to do with you being not a religious person?
MN: Not entirely. Because like I said, I was a very hyper kid, and I went to Hebrew school when I was a kid, and my sister and brother, I dont know who did it, but they bought me one of these dollar watches. And I brought it to school, and they used to beat methe rabbid pull your ear, and thats for nothing. For something, youll get more. I had Mrs. Margolis; that was the teachers name. And a guy asked me what time it was, and I pulled out the watch, and I told him the time. He says, Bring the watch here, so I showed him the watch. He says, Leave it here. I said, I want the watch. He said, Youll get the watch. When class is over, I say, Give me the watch, he says, Tomorrow, you get the watch. Tomorrow, somebody stole it out of the desk. Well, I threw the place up for grabs, and they kicked me out. So my ma says, Ill get a rabbi. I said, I dont want no damned rabbi.
Now, my rabbi here, I talk to him four times
MH: Were you bar mitzvahed?
MH: Your rabbi here hasnt offered?
MH: Your rabbi here hasnt offered to bar mitzvah you?
MN: Oh, let me tell you what he says. So, he says to mewe talk all the time, and the different things I do, and I helped him outI did a lot of good stuff in my life, I really did. Matter of fact, I just saved a womans life on this floor, and Ill tell you about that pretty soon. Rabbi Goldberg is my best friend. I love the guy, and hes a very religious man, and one day he says, You know, Monty, youre more religious than you think you are. Because you can go to shul, you can daven all you want and shuckel all you want, and you go out and screw the people. Thats not a good Jew. But youre a man that does a lot of things, you never get anything back, and you never ask for anything back. You got enough mitzvahs built up that you got the key to the place. So, I says, Im glad to hear that, Rabbi. But thats Norman. And he served in Korea, like I told you, and he had a shul in Texas, Waco, Texas, and he didnt like it there, so he came here
MH: How many Orthodox Jews could there be in Waco, Texas?
MN: Not a hell of a lot, but they had a shul there. He didnt care for it, but heIll tell you about this, too. He came here and got into the academy, the Jewish Academy, and he was a teacher and then he became assistant administrator. I bought a star in Jerusalem: it was all gold, it was really nice star, and I wore it all the time. When the Jewish Center closed, they had a deal with the YMCA over on Touhy Avenue that we could use their pool. Now, when you go in, you have a locker, a place where you can put your valuables. I put all my valuables in it, and didnt put the star in there.
So, now I go in the bathroom, and the rabbi was with me. And Im going in the bathroom before I go down; I take my towel because Im going to take a shower before. I get to talking and put my suit on and go downstairs. Now we come up and the place is cleaned out. My shoes, my socks, my underwear, everything; they took everything. And my star is gone. Anyhow, I reported it to the police and insurance took care of it. But what happened was one day I come to the J, and he says, Do you see whos up there? Yeah, the Israelis selling custom jewelry. He said, They got stars, and Im gonna buy you one. I say, Rebbe, you dont have to do that. He says, Im going to buy you one.
So, we went out and I picked out one, and I really wore it all the time. Now, I go to have cataracts taken off, and I take the star and give it to my wife, and she cant find it. Disappeared. Now, this I bought for my grandson, Mark, who happens to be a MD, PhD; hes on the staff at Northwestern, a neurologist, but hes in research, too. So, I bought him this one. Hes a younger kid, and he says, Pop, whyd you choose this one? He says, Because I dont wear it, you can take this. I said, I like this one. So I took it, see, and I got a lot of compliments on it. But thats what the star and my rabbi.
MH: Howd you save a ladys life? How did you save someones life here?
MN: Oh, my neighbor right down the hall, her husband had a stroke, and hes incapacitated to the fact that he can walk around with a cane, he had a brace on this leg and he has trouble getting it on and off. And his wife had cancer, and then she beat that, and then she hasnt been feeling well. So, I go in there and I bring the Saturday paper up and the Sunday paper upactually, the Sunday paper upand I go to stop in and see them. Okay, so I went last Thursday it was, last Thursday. I go in there, and theyre having dinner, and Im at the table just carrying on a little conversation, and he says he didnt like the food; he needed a couple crackers and hed be fine. She tried to get up, and she couldnt hardly stand up.
Finally, she gets up, and I took a look at her legs. I said, Ruthie, what happened? Your legs are all swelled up, thats dangerous. She says, Yeah, I feel terrible, Monty. I just feel terrible. So she had a little bathrobe, summer weight bathrobe, and I said, Im going to touch you, and went like this. Full of water. I said, Ruthie, youre going to the hospital. He said, Ive been trying to get her to go for three days. She wont go. I spent about twenty minutes and convinced her. I said, Bernie, shes going, I dont care what she says. You call 911 and get them out here as fast as you can.
I says, Ruthie, hes going to be okay. Shes worried about her husband wouldnt have anybody to help. I said, You got your sister. If necessary, I will help, my wife will help him. He will be fine. Youre the one thats sick now. So they called 911 and she went in. So, the next day I called her up and she said, Whos this? I said, This is Dr. Monty. She says, Oh, Monty, I was so sick. You have no idea. And her husband came back to her later on. He was trying to call me for three days, but he had the wrong number.
MH: What was it she had?
MN: Shes full of water. They dont know, they got to takesome of the water went out of her stomach, but the legs were still swelled. They got to take a biopsy of her liver, which is not a good sign. Shes such a wonderful person. She was a teacher, a nice lady, real nice lady. But thats what it is. And see, Ive done a lot of things for people.
When they opened up that VA on Howard Street, I went in there. There was a Filipino doctor there, nobody could understand her, but she says to me, My deareverybodys my dearif I dont get people in here theyre going to close the place up. So, I says, Give me your car. I know a lot of people, because I belong to this mens talk, and we had 135 guys one time showing up on Wednesday. This was a few years back. And I got up and I says, Fellas, I got some good news. Theyre opening a station over here; you can get your medication for four bucks. Wow! It set the placeand they were, Give me the cards, give me the cards! I couldnt give it enough cards.
And everybodyI go into a shopping center, I carry her cards with me. I go into a shopping center and shesmy wife goes shopping, and I dont follow her around and I just sit there and I talk to whos ever there. I talk to them, Are you a veteran? Yeah. I give them a card, go here and do this. So thats what I did. They sent me a nice plaque; Ill show it to you later. I got all my medals and stud hanging in it. And this is my pleasure, and I bring the cards, like I said, to the VA; and I sell poppies, and Im one of the biggest moneymakers for poppies. And I wrote an article in the Times, not theabout the poppy days. You know how they look. If you want, I can show it to; you can read it. Its a small article.
MH: You mentioned youve talked to schools, high schools, grade schools. Whats that experience like for you?
MN: Well, you know that, it was a great experience, and I want to tell you
MH: This is Monty Nachman again.
MN: The experience I had there was the most interested people and asked the most questions after was the blacks. And I associated it with the fact that they have their problems, too, and they ask more questions than the white kids did.
MH: What kind of questions did they ask?
MN: Why did they do that, you know; what was it like, and what did you think? And stuff like that. And at the Jewish Solomon Schechter School, we had some questions asked but mostly from the teachers. Not the students. One or two students asked a few questions, but nothing serious. But this is my experience. Then I went out to Waukegan at the Abbott School out there, and my wife was with me, and they had a group meeting me at the door and gave me a shirt from the school, and I gave my speech and showed them the pictures and stuff like that. They were very appreciative again. A lot of blacks and some Latinos were asking the same questions, different questions; I dont remember now. But that was the experiences with them.
The fact is that there are people, you know, even the younger ones that lived this life. You know, you cant picture yourself in somebody elses shoes, especially the blacks. You know, a white person canthe irony is, when I was a kid, I applied for a job at AT&T. At that time, we had to put down your religion, so my friend puts down American, and like a dummy, I put down Im Jewish. He got the job and I didnt. Now, the same thing with my wife here in Chicago. Her and her cousin went for a job at Wards. Her cousin said American, she put down Jewish. She didnt get the job. So, thats the anti-Semitism that exists.
MH: You dealt with anti-Semitism before the war.
MN: Oh, yeah.
MH: What about after the war?
MN: Not too much. You know, I had anti-Semitism in the Army days. I had a fight with one guy in my platoon. He was a bully, and he was a little bigger than I, he was a farm guy from Iowa. Like I told you, I was a scrapper. And I took my stripes off, and we went out in back, and we had it out. Now, I wouldnt say I was the winner; he was the winner, but we had it good. And I could take a lot of punishment, because that was me. After it was over, the captain said, What happened? I says, Nothing. And all the guys came up to me, and they really came around me andnow, we got into combat, and who do you think the first guy that run away?
MH: The bully?
MN: The bully, yeah. I got his picture in the thing there, one of my books. I got a lot of pictures in the books. But the bully was the guy who ran away.
MH: But you didnt run into anti-Semitism when you came home?
MN: Ah, a couple times, but you want to know something? I got to a point where I overlooked it, because I didnt want to get in trouble. I was a hothead. I got to tell you something. I left my wife at her girlfriends one time on Barry Street in Chicago; its two lanesits a one-laned street, actually, going south. A taxi guy gets behind me, and he starts blowing the horn, and I says, Ill be a minute. And the girls go out, theyre walking. I get out of the car and I walk back to the taxi, and I said, What the hell you blowing your horn for? and I punched him in the nose. I turned around and went back in my car and went away.
MH: I think you still have issues.
MN: (laughs) But even to this day, I find theres Jews thatI wouldnt say theyre anti-Semitic, but theyre anti-Jews, anti-religious, and I speak up for my rabbi. And the strongest part, I think, of the Jewish religion is the religious people. They know everybody and everybody knows who they are, see. They dont hide the fact, and theyre very proud of the fact. Its hardmy mother used to say Shvertz azayan Yid, which means, Its hard to be a Jew, and it is hard to be a Jew, because the cost and the different efforts you have to make and the things you have to do. But they do it, and theyre very strong here. The shuls that close up are the Conservative ones and the temples. The ones that are surviving and opening more up on Touhy Avenue is the religious.
MN: Yeah, all kinds. They got all kinds, you know. So, this is what that is
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