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Elton Oltjenbruns oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (15 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (10 p.)
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsh (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
Interview conducted December 29, 2008.
The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust (New York: Bantam Books, 2010) and Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project, University of South Florida Libraries, 2010 Michael Hirsh.
Transcripts, excerpts, or any component of this interview may be used without the author's express written permission only for educational or research purposes. No portion of the interview audio or text may be broadcast, cablecast, webcast, or distributed without the author's express written permission.
Oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Elton Oltjenbruns. Oltjenbruns was a medic in the 102nd Infantry Division, which discovered the Gardelegen Massacre in Gardelegen, Germany. On April 13, 1945, 1,100 Jewish prisoners were corralled in a barn which was then set on fire. The 102nd arrived on the scene a day later, made the townspeople bury the bodies, and put a sign at the cemetery. Oltjenbruns assisted the battalion surgeon, who was in charge of the aid station. Although his unit was in the vicinity for nearly a month, he spent part of that time in the field hospital himself recovering from appendicitis. He and some other men from the 102nd went back to Gardelegen in 1979, at which time the original sign was gone, but he believes that it was put back after the Berlin Wall fell.
Infantry Division, 102nd.
Infantry Division, 102nd
v Personal narratives.
Gardelegen Massacre, Gardelegen, Germany, 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.
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Concentration camp liberators oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Michael Hirsh: Could you pleasejust so I have it on tape, could you please give me your name and spell it for me, please?
Elton Oltjenbruns: The name is Elton, E-l-t-o-n, Oltjenbruns, O-l-t-j-e-n-b-r-u-n-s.
MH: And youre at and your phone is.
EO: Thats right.
MH: Whats your date of birth, sir?
EO: August 23, 1920.
MH: August 23, 1920. Â You were with the 2nd Battalion, 405th Infantry Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division.
MH: When did you go into the service?
EO: I was inducted the twenty-fifth of October, 1942.
MH: Whered they send you?
EO: I was inducted at Denver, and I went to Camp Maxey, Texas, near Paris, and it was where the 102nd Infantry Division was activated.
MH: And before I forget, what were you doing before you went in the service?
EO: I was a farm boy.
MH: How long did it take before they sent you overseas?
EO: Â We shipped overseas about the twelfth of September 1944.
MH: Right after the invasion. Â And you went to where, Marseille?
EO: We unloaded off a troop ship at Cherbourg
MH: Cherbourg, okay.
EO: That was before Antwerp was liberated.
MH: And then what happens?
EO: Well, we waited there for a while, and they took our trucks to form the Red Ball Express. Â That was the name of the trucking company to help furnish supplies, ammunition, and whatnot over General (laughs)
MH: [George] Patton?
EO: Patton, yeah. Â He was way up north already. Â And that was before Antwerp was liberated; and later on, they were liberating Antwerp about that time, and that made the supply lines a lot shorter. Â We were assigned to the 9th Army, and that was up north. Â The British 2nd Army was up along the North Sea, and there was the British 2nd Army and the American 9th Army. Â Then there was the American 1st Army; that was where the Bulge went through.
MH: Whered you see your first combat?
EO: It was in an area on the north end of the Siegfried Line, there was a little bit north of Aachen, Germany. Â Well, we liberated one town in Holland, and then we started in on Germany. Â That was our baptism into fire, as I recall it.
MH: Ive interviewed, at this point, about 160 men who liberated a bunch of different camps, and Ive never asked this question: What was the feeling like when you finally crossed into Germany?
EO: We had a job to do. Â And we wentwe were under the 12th Armored group, Im not sure if it was the 12th Armored Group or what. Â General [Bernard] Montgomery was in charge of that part of the time.
While Bernard Montgomery was a British commander, he led the northern section of General Omar Bradleys 1st Army.
They gave Eisenhower a fifth star so he could have a little authority over Montgomery.
MH: At this point, what did you know, if anything, about concentration camps or slave labor camps?
EO: I didnt know anything about it.
MH: The Army never said a word to you?
EO: Not that I remember.
MH: So, did you run into any of them before Gardelegen?
EO: No, we didnt. Â We came to one place, I dont remember what it was, but I remember going intoit was just a small place. Â They had kind of a bunk bed with a little mattress, and there wasnt any food there, but I dont remember where it was, but it was a little camp on the way up towardwe headed northeast, past Dsseldorf, and we crossed the Rhine at Wesel, and headed up toward Berlin, and we met the Russians at the Elbe River.
MH: Gardelegen was just before the Elbe.
MH: Tell me the Gardelegen story. Â Whats your first sight of it or smell of it, or what happened?
EO: I dont remember, but I know it happened the day before we got there, and they started to bury the victims already at that time. Â You ever see pictures of it?
MH: Yes, Ive seen lots of pictures.
EO: Well, I was there the second day, 2nd Battalion Aid Station. Â We supportedgave medical support for the 2nd Battalion.
MH: Your MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] was a medic?
MH: So, you come across this place. Â Whats your first sight of it?
EO: It was terrible. Â The smell, the burning flesh. Â I was there, and there was a trench there with bodies in, and some bodies were still in the big barn. Â I went back there in 1979 with a group of infantrymen from the 102nd Division, and they had removed the sign there that had been put up by the 102nd Infantry by the cemetery, but that memory should be kept alive forever. Â But that sign was taken down. Â I understand it was put back after the [Berlin] Wall came down.
MH: How do you react? Â Youre walking through there, how do you react to it?
EO: I dont remember. Â Its been sixty-some years ago.
MH: Yes, it has.
EO: I was sure glad to come home. Â Id had all the death that I could handle, and I was destined to come back and go toafter the war was over, I had appendicitis after D-Day over there, I had appendicitis when I was at Gardelegen, and they flew me in an old DC-3 or C-47 to a hospital in Belgium, and I got in with the low-point men that were going to the Pacific. Â The second A-bomb was dropped while I was on the high seas on a freighter. Â We docked in Boston about the fifteenth of August or something like that. Â The headlines of the Boston newspaper read that Japan wanted to surrender then.
MH: And you knew you werent gonna go.
EO: Well, I didnt know anything about it, but anyway, I never went. Â That was great.
MH: How long do you think you spent at Gardelegen?
EO: We were there in that area forwe were at Stendal, a little place east of there, for a month or so. Â I dont remember.
MH: Were you there when they had the civilians come in to bury everybody?
MH: What was that like?
EO: That was different. Â Thats all I know. Â The way I can explain it.
MH: What do you mean, different? Â One man told me that the ones who were reluctant got hurried along with a bayonet on a rifle.
EO: They probably were; I dont remember that part of it. Â I was a corporal at that time.
MH: And you were a medic, you said.
MH: Were guys coming to you for help in dealing with what they were seeing and being forced to deal with?
EO: Not really, no. Â We justour battalion surgeon, he was a doctor, and he was in charge of the battalion aid station. Â I worked with him whenever there was casualties to evacuate. Â I was involved with that.
MH: Where did they set up the aid station when you were dealing with the Gardelegen massacre?
EO: Well, there was a collecting point back farther, and then from that collecting point, they were evacuated to a field hospital. Â Thats where I had surgery, at a field hospital there.
MH: How did seeing that affect the way you felt about the German people?
EO: I felt sorry for the kids. Â Theyd stand by our garbage pail where we left the chow line to empty our mess kits. Â They were waiting like theyd sure like to have some food.
MH: The German kids.
MH: Did you feed them?
EO: Well, if we had any scraps left. Â Im an old farm boy. Â I had an appetite, I never had any scraps; I ate all I could get.
MH: What about the adults? Â Were you dealing with people who said, We didnt know, we werent involved, Nicht Nazi?
EO: I dont remember anything about that.
MH: Anything else that comes to mind?
EO: Not that I remember. Â I always remember the story about Churchill when he and Eisenhower went across the Channel; did you hear about that story?
EO: When Churchillthey got over into Germany, and he unzipped the trousers of his pants to what he called anoint the hostile land.
MH: Id heard something like that with Patton.
EO: Thats the way it was. Â We had a saying around the company to urinate in the Rhine. Â That was the goal of everybody.
MH: And did you fulfill the goal personally?
EO: As I remember, Im sure I did.
MH: Well, thats good. Â Do you happen to have a photo of yourself from World War II?
EO: I believe I do somewhere.
MH: What Id like to get is a picture of you from World War II and a relatively recent photo. Â If you have it, I can send you a photo envelope and you can mail it to me, and Ill scan it in to the computer and send it back to you.
EO: Sure, I can send one to you.
MH: Okay, Ill send you an envelope. Â And its H-o-l-y-o-k-e?
MH: Nothing else that comes to mind, particularly about Gardelegen?
EO: Not really. Â I remember when we met the Russians at the Elbe.
MH: What was that like?
EO: There was 145,000 [soldiers who] surrender to the 102nd Infantry Division. Â There were weapons, rifles and whatnot, lined up there about four feet high for about a half a block long.
MH: Thats a large stack of rifles.
EO: It was, yes. Â I remember that very clearly.
MH: They didnt want to have anything to do with the Russians.
EO: No, I guess they were told the Russians didnt take prisoners. Â Theyre probably right. Â I wasnt there, and I really dont know. But I can understand and Im probably sure that was the way it was.
MH: Do you know anybody else who with the 102nd who was at Gardelegen?
EO: Im thinking. Â Most of the guys I was with arent there anymore. Â Hey, you might send to Bob Enkelmann from St. Louis, Missouri.
Robert Enkelmann was also interviewed as a part of the Concentration Camp Liberators OHP, DOI C65-00038.
Hed give you a story, Im sure.
MH: You dont have a phone number, do you?
EO: Just a minute. Â I can find it. Â I got it right here, hold on.
EO: Hi, you still there?
EO: Bob Enkelmann, Robert, and his wifes name is Irene. Â His phone number is.
MH: And how do you spell his last name?
EO: E-n-k-l-e-m-a-n-n [sic]. Â He was with 2nd Battalion.
MH: Okay. Â Whatd you do when you came home from the war?
EO: I went back to the farm after about a year or so, year and a half or two years. Â I got married and raised four daughters on the farm and moved to Holyoke when I got to be sixty-five, and Im still here.
MH: At what point did you tell your wife and your kids about what you had seen?
EO: I dont remember when it was.
MH: Okay. Â All right. Well, I thank you very much. Ill send you an envelope, and if you can send me the pictures, as I said, Ill scan them and Ill send then right back to you.
EO: Okay, thanks a lot.
MH: Okay, take care. Â Happy New Year to you.
EO: Same to you.
MH: Okay, bye-bye.
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