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Robert Persinger oral history interview

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Material Information

Title:
Robert Persinger oral history interview
Series Title:
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
Uniform Title:
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects
Physical Description:
1 sound file (37 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;
Language:
English
Creator:
Persinger, Robert, 1923-
Hirsh, Michael, 1943-
University of South Florida Libraries -- Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center
University of South Florida -- Library. -- Special & Digital Collections. -- Oral History Program
Publisher:
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
Publication Date:

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Concentration camps -- History -- Austria   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Concentration camps -- Austria   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Concentration camps -- Liberation   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Atrocities   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Veterans -- United States   ( lcsh )
Veterans -- Interviews -- United States   ( lcsh )
Genocide   ( lcsh )
Crimes against humanity   ( lcsh )
Genre:
Oral history   ( local )
Online audio   ( local )
Oral history.   ( local )
Online audio.   ( local )
interview   ( marcgt )

Notes

Summary:
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Robert Persinger. Persinger was in a reconnaissance squadron in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which was attached to the 80th Infantry Division when Ebensee was liberated on May 6, 1945. The squadron arrived in Europe in the summer of 1944 and fought at the Battle of Metz and the Battle of the Bulge, then proceeded on campaign through Europe. Assigned to capture and hold the town of Ebensee, they learned from the townspeople of a concentration camp up in the mountains. Persinger took two tanks and went to investigate; when they arrived, they walked through the camp, seeing the barracks and crematorium, and then radioed back to the platoon. They stayed in the camp for over a week while medical personnel began treating the prisoners. Persinger has been invited back to Ebensee for memorial services three times and has met many ex-prisoners.
Venue:
Interview conducted October 12, 2008.
Preferred Citation:
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.
Language:
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.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
General Note:
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsch (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 024825277
oclc - 647760664
usfldc doi - C65-00104
usfldc handle - c65.104
System ID:
SFS0022154:00001


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Full Text

PAGE 1

COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 201, University of South Florida. All rights, reserved. This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.


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text Michael Hirsh: First of all, just so I have it right, could you give me your full name and spell it for me, please.
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Robert Persinger: One moment, please.
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MH: Sure.
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RP: Let me ask you, sir, why are you writing this book?
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Pause in recording
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MH: Your name is Robert Persinger, P-e-r-s-i-n-g-e-r?
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RP: Thats correct. Yes.
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MH: You live at.
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RP: Correct.
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MH: Your phone number is. Your email address is.
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RP: Thats correct.
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MH: You were with the 80th [Infantry] Division.
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RP: No.
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MH: No?
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RP: 3rd Armored Cavalry. 3rd Cavalry.
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MH: 3rd Cavalry.
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RP: We were just doing reconnaissance for the 80th Division. They were about forty miles behind us when we got into Ebensee.
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MH: Okay, and you were at Ebensee. Tell me, where were youwhats your date of birth, before I forget?
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RP: September 29, 1923.
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MH: Nineteen twenty-three. When did you go in the Army?
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RP: March 1943.
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MH: You were drafted or you enlisted?
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RP: Drafted.
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MH: Drafted. Whered they send you?
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RP: Camp Gordon, Georgia. Thats where I had my basic training, and then my Tennessee maneuvers, firing on the ranges at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
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MH: And when did they finallywhat unit were you indid you go overseas with a unit or as a replacement?
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RP: Sure, I did.
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MH: What unit did you go over with?
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RP: 3rd Cavalry Regiment, reconnaissance squadron.
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MH: And was it part of a division at the time?
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RP: No, no, no. The 3rd Cavalry is a very old cavalry regiment, organized in 1846, and its been that way since then. They are now completing their third term in Iraq.
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MH: Okay. So, when did they finally send you over to Europe?
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RP: We got to Europewe left in July of forty-four [1944].
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MH: In July of forty-four [1944]. And you went where?
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RP: Liverpool, England, then down toIm trying to thinkwhere we all took off for the Channel, across the English Channel. I cant think of it. That big city wherethe ones that took off for D-Day, its the same city. Im trying to think of the name of the town, so you should know it as well as me.
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MH: Ill find it. Where did you land in Europe?
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RP: At Utah Beach.
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MH: And you went over with your tanks?
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RP: Yes.
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MH: Whats that experience like, unloading a tank onto a beach?
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RP: Just driving it off. It was no problem at all.
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MH: Oh, okay.
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RP: Yeah. The tide was out.
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MH: Take me through what happens to you in the early part of the war for you.
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RP: Well, the Battle of Saint-L was just finishing, and we went in with [George S.] Patton, General Pattons 3rd Army and joined that. Thirty-nine days later, after firefights here and there and chasing the Germans, we were in Metz, France, where we met heavy resistance. As you know, the Battle of Metz took about two months, so we were involved in that. Then we got in behind the Siegfried Line, and then shortly after that, we had D-Dayer, the Battle of the Bulge.
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MH: The Battle of the Bulge.
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RP: Yes. December 16.
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MH: What was that like for you personally?
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RP: Well, it was combat, and we had to experience that. It was a continuation of the very same thing wed been involved in for those thirty-nine days prior, or forty, before we got to Metzafter we got to Metz. Of course, it was very cold. It started turning cold, and of course the Germans were advancing with heavy artillery. We were lucky to be able to defend our positions, and we, of course, were driven back. But it was a trying time.
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MH: What vehicle were you in at the time?
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RP: I was in an M24 tank.
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MH: Were you wounded during the Bulge?
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RP: Yeah, I had shrapnel wounds, nothing serious. It was just a deep wound in the back of my hand, and then a scratch on my side and that was it. It was from a mortar shell.
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MH: What was your rank at the time?
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RP: Lets see, I was a platoon sergeant, a staff sergeant.
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MH: Staff sergeant. At that point, did you know anything about concentration camps?
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RP: No.
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MH: Nothing?
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RP: Not then. We were involved in too much other stuff. And, of course, we werent near a concentration camp then.
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MH: I know were going to talk about Ebensee, but did you see any of the others or any of the death marches?
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RP: No.
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MH: Nothing. So, tell me the story of Ebensee and how you came upon it.
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RP: Well, we werewe had been in the town of Gmunden; I guess thats the way you pronounce it. Its on the north end of a lake there in Austria, and on the south end was the town of Ebensee, fifteen miles south. And we were given the mission that day to enter Ebensee and outpost and hold it until the end of the war. We knew that the end of the war was near, because the Germans had been surrendering in droves to us. So, the civilians toldin the memories of our A Troopthat was the reconnaissance troop we were working withthat there was a concentration camp up in the mountains, a little higher up. So, two and a half miles up, there it was: this concentration camp.
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MH: How many tanks went up there?
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RP: Mine and another in my section. Two tanks, my tank and another tank. I was a platoon sergeant, and it was my section of the platoon that went up there.
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MH: So, its about ten men?
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RP: Yes. We had two tank crews and I was the tank commander of my tank. There was another gentleman by the name of Dick Pomante, who was the tank commander of the other.
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MH: Pimonte?
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RP: Pomante. P-o-m-a-n-t-e.
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MH: And youre going up a road or youre making
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RP: Oh, yes, it was a gravel road up there.
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MH: What do you see? Youre going up in daylight, right?
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RP: Yes.
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MH: What kind of day is this?
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RP: We got up there about ten [minutes] to three. It was a Sunday afternoon, just like today: a nice, beautiful Sunday.
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MH: So, you go up this gravel road in the tank, and what do you see? Are you riding inside the tank or on top?
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RP: No, Im inside the tank, in the turret. Well, we sawyou could smell the smell of death all over, and when we got close, thats when100 yards away. We looked down and made a right-hand turn into this road that led upit made a turn, and there, 100 feet, 200 feet away, was this concentration camp. There were people standing behind the barbed wire fences and the two towers there that were used for the entrance and guarding the gate.
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MH: Was the gate open or closed?
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RP: The gate was closed at the time, but they opened it for us to drive in.
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MH: So, the Germans had gone already.
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RP: Oh, yes, the Germans had left the day before, on Saturday. The SS had left.
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MH: Tell me what you see. You get out of the tank?
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RP: Eventually, yes. We saw peoplewell, youve seen pictures, Im sure
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MH: Of course.
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RP: of concentration camps, and thats exactly what we saw: people standing in mud behind that fence with no clothes and some with clothes, and some with the tops and some with the bottoms. And, of course, they were so thrilled to know that they were going to be free. So, it was a terrible sight, as far as something to see. It was terrible.
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MH: You were about a twenty-two-year-old kid at the time.
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RP: Yes.
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MH: How do you deal with it?
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RP: Like you do with anything. As the same way all of your life, you deal with it. You mean, at that time? How did we deal with it?
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MH: Yeah, at the time. How do you cope with what youre seeing? Youre seeing something you probably couldnt even imagine.
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RP: I saw things that I couldnt imagine on the way to getting there, so it wasnt too much out of line. I guess if thats what youre asking, of course, it was horrible, terrible sights. But we had been used to seeing horrible sights. We were combat veterans, I guess you would call us at that time. We had been with Pattons 3rd Army, and if you know what theyhistory tells you what they done, so we were part of it.
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MH: I understand.
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RP: Yes, it was tough.
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MH: So, what do you do?
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RP: Well, our mission was to go up there and see if there was any resistance. And there was none, so we didnt have no reason to stay there. Simply, all we had to do was see what was there. I called the lieutenant, and I told him what was theremy platoon leader. And in the meantime, those people wanted us to get down and dismount off our vehicles, and we finally did.
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MH: They called to you? They were speaking
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RP: No, nobody speaking any English. They were all foreigners to us. I dont thinkthere was only a couple of our guys could speak anything but English, outside of some Polish boys that was in our tank crews.
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MH: You dismounted from the tank.
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RP: Yes.
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MH: Did it make you nervous to do that?
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RP: I dontwell, you ask me nervous. It wasof course. I was not nervous, no. We knew we were getting into a bunch of filthy human beings with ribs showing, at sixty, sixty-five pounds, and they were full of lice and fleas and sores and everything else. Of course, we didnt know, really, how bad, but we heard later that they were loaded with fleas from typhoid fever. And they, of course, were all over us. They hugged us, and doing everything like that. So, it was
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MH: Thats sort of what I was getting at. That sort of thing.
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RP: It was hard to put up with, very hard, just that alone. But then walking amongst the dead bodies and seeing them, seeing the dead bodies piled around the crematorium and then into the crematorium, things like that was what was making you feel much worse than looking at those poor people that didnt have no garments or starving to death. So, you felt sorry for them, and you sure felt sorry for all those dead people that you were looking at.
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MH: Were you a religious person?
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RP: Well, I was Protestant, and I believe in Jesus Christ, and still do. And the Holy Father, of course.
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MH: When you find yourself in a situation such as you saw with all the dead people and those who survived, is that a moment for prayer, or not?
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RP: Yes, it certainly was. Yes, it was, before and then when we saw them, and since then, for all of those poor people.
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MH: You walk through the camp. You saw the crematorium. Did you go into any of the other buildings?
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RP: Yes, we walked into the barracks.
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MH: What were they like?
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RP: Terrible, absolutely terrible. There were people lying in the barracks that would probably be more than half-dead, because their eyes never made contact with you at all. So, those folks were in very bad shape. Of course, [there were] some alive, too, in there. Horrible place.
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MH: You got on the radio, you said, to the lieutenant and told him what youd found. Was there any indication at that point how long it would take to get help?
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RP: Well, I simplyhe told me, Make sure you keep track with anybody up there who can speak English, and stay right where you are. Well be up there very shortly, and so they did. The rest of the platoon came up. Yes, and then weit was obvious that folks needed food. Thats what it was.
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MH: Did you stay there until they got food and medical help?
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RP: Oh, yes, we stayed there for about a week and a half.
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MH: Really?
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RP: Yes. We helped feed them. All the Army units, as far as 3rd Cavalry Regiment, started gathering food wherever they could get it, and the next day, we served them a soup that was made up by all the vegetables and things we retrieved that day. So, it was a terrible time. But just a few people out of that 18,000 had a nice meal that Sunday evening.
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MH: There were 18,000 in Ebensee?
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RP: Eighteen thousand and four hundred people in a camp up in the mountains with nothere was no open fields or nothing like this. This is up in the mountains, up where there was pine trees, and that was alland very small openings, but pine trees were all over the place.
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MH: Pine trees were in the camp?
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RP: Mm-hm. And there was a roll call square area, which we drove into and parked our tanks. But the rest was just a muddy mess, what you found.
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MH: Did you ever find anybody who spoke English?
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RP: Yes, they found a man that did speak English. Yes.
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MH: What did he tell you?
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RP: Hes the one that convinced us to get off the tanks and take a walk. Hed show us the camp, and thats who we followed. So, it was a horrible experience, but I guess it helped us a lot to know that the war was ended on the eighth of May, and we were so relieved. Our shouldersa big load came off, and so on. That probably helped us a little bit in forgetting that camp, just to know that we would be free again and we werent going to be fighting.
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MH: The experience you had in the camp, where you had a chance toyou spent a week and were helping feed peopleI mean, its
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RP: We fed them the first day. Then, after that, the quartermaster units came in, and we didnt have nothing to do with it.
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MH: But, I mean, youd been in combat, heavy combat, until then.
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RP: At times, we were, yes. Wed done a lot of reconnaissance.
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MH: And this is a different kind of experience. This is a saving-life experience.
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RP: Yes, true.
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MH: Did that cross your mind at the time, what a big difference it was to be saving lives?
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RP: Oh, of course. Yes, yes, we were very glad we did finally find them. Of course we didnt know we were going to find them that May 6, that morning. We had no idea we were going to be up at a concentration camp at three oclock the following afternoon.
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MH: Right. When did you finally come back to the U.S.?
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RP: Got back to the States in July of 1945. We were goingGeneral Patton had got us all together, and he told us he was going to get us home for thirty-day furloughs, and after the furloughs, he would be glad to take us into Japan.
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MH: Which, fortunately, wasnt necessary.
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RP: Thats right. Thank goodness for both of those atomic bombs. It saved all of so many American lives.
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MH: Right.
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RP: So, we were relieved, and then I got discharged October 29, 1945, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
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MH: Where did you go home to?
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RP: Morengo, Illinois.
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MH: Morengo?
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RP: Mm-hm.
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MH: You werent married at the time, were you?
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RP: No, no, no. I didnt get married until 1950.
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MH: Did you tell people back home what youd seen at Ebensee?
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RP: Oh, I told a few people, but theyd heard so much bad news and all of that. World War II was so horrible compared to what we have now that the people were glad just to see us back. And I guess we were so thankful to be home, just to be on furlough and away from it all. PeopleI didnt tell many people. My parentsor my mother, not my parents; my father was gone long before I even went into the service. He passed away in 1939.
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MH: What did you do when you came home? What was your work?
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RP: Oh, when I came home, I couldve went back to a little factory, and I didnt choose to do that. I chose to work with a man that I knew, who was a good friend of the family, who owned a Shell distributorship with a lot of activity and needed a lot of help. So, I was willing to try and work for him, and I did. That was until 1953 I worked for him. He was a wonderful man. That was the type of work I done, working with petroleum products, even delivering petroleum products to farmers in the town of Morengo, a farm area. And I married my wife in 1950.
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MH: And children?
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RP: I have three children, one boy and two girls.
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MH: Except when people like me call you and ask these questions, does what you saw at Ebensee come up, or is it just generally what you saw in the war?
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RP: It comes up, of course. I think of that lots of times. And I dont mention that, of course, but I neverI never let it bother me like it could, I suppose.
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MH: Right. Okay. Anything else that I shouldve asked you that I didnt?
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RP: Well, just one thing: we have met many an ex-prisoner, and also grandchildren of ex-prisoners. Im having one Monday, tomorrow, coming from Toronto, Canada. Hes a grandson of an ex-prisoner. He just wants to come and talk to me. Weve met a lot through our Army reunions; weve always had quite a few of the ex-prisoners come to our reunions, and they are recognized. They get to talk and tell their stories, the ones that do come to our reunion. We just had some in Elk Grove this fall, this last September, and we had a reunion. We had some there then, too, and had a grandson of one.
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So, I guess thatll live on and on. And Ive been invited back to Austria to tell the story of how it was. They always have memorial ceremonies on May 6 every year, and I have been involved a lot. Ive invited back, like I say, to Austria.
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MH: Did you go back?
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RP: Oh, yes. Ive been back to Ebensee three times. People in Stockholm, an ex-prisoner who lives thereI got involved with an invitation to Stockholm to go back to Sweden to tell my story. Ive been to San Diego, California, Los Angeles at the 1035 Club and spoke there in Beverly Hills and spoke there in 2005, to tell the story. Theres so many things involved here. Its just a story that should never be forgotten.
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MH: Have you written the story down?
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RP: Have I written the story?
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MH: Yeah.
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RP: No. Ive written mythey know my story, of course. Ive gotten it written down, and my family all knows about it, but I have neverI possibly couldve written a book on all of this.
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MH: No, what I mean is, since youve done a number of speeches, is it something youve written or you just talk?
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RP: I just talk and answer questions, and thats basically it. I would tell my story about that, more complete than what I have to you today.
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MH: Have you ever recorded any of those speeches?
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RP: Have I recorded them?
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MH: Yes.
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RP: No. No, reallyyes, I guess I have, too. Here in Rockford, the city of Rockford, thereve been places where Ive told my story.
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MH: I just wonder if theres more details about Ebensee that youve told that we havent talked about today.
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RP: Golly. No. Theres been a lot of people, of course, saying, We were the first there. But I know we were the first two tanks there into the place, so I guess thats aboutwe drove in and got off the tanks and walked in. I know that was one of the most horrible things that Ive ever had to do. And looking back on it, Im glad I did get a chance to see it as long as we were there. We had heard in the last two weeks of the war, wed heard about some concentration camps, and we all said, well, we hope we never run into one of them. Little did we know.
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On the fifth of May we did have resistance. We run into some Germans, Hungarians. We got in a firefight with them, and we had one of our tanks knocked out and two men killed. The crew was severely injured, the remainder, and that was the day before, on the fifth. So, we knew it was just a terrible thing, and we were so glad the war was over. And that was the last two people that were wounded or killed, on the fifth of May, of our regiment.
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MH: When you see a place like Ebensee, one of the things that Ive run into in reading and in talking to people is that the Germans were intent onthey didnt want any of the prisoners to fallany of their prisonersto fall into the Allied hands.
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RP: They didnt want nobody into the Russians. Allied hands, they surrendered to us in droves.
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MH: Right, but they didnt want the concentration camp prisoners to be found alive.
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RP: Well, thats true. Yes, they had plans on blowing up the tunnels they were in.
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MH: I find it hard to imagine what kind of people do that. They know theyve lost the war, and theyve got to keep killing until the last possible minute.
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RP: Well, the SS, as you know if youve studied them, life didnt meanthey were so wicked and cruel. Thats all theyd been taught. Something like we have now with the otherour terrorists thats coming up today, its the very same thing. They dont think anything of life. They were so glad to do what they were doing. To them, it was a pleasure. It had to be, because nobody else could stand to do such a terrible thing. Believe me, it was terrible.
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MH: I understand. Do you have a picture of yourself from World War II?
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RP: Yeah.
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MH: If I send you an envelope
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RP: I can send you a picture, I guess.
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MH: What Id like is a picture of you then and a picture of you today.
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RP: Well, eighty-five years makes quite a difference. I was twenty-two, twenty-three, when I got out of the service. But Im thankful to live as long as I have, and Ive enjoyed my life and my wonderful family. And thats my greatest, greatest, greatest asset, my family and my wife.
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MH: Whats your wifes name?
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RP: Arlene.
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MH: Arlene? A-r-l-e-n-e?
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RP: Right.
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MH: If I put a photo envelope in the mail to you, if you could send me a couple of pictures, Ill copy them on the computer and send them back to you.
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RP: Well, lets see. I can do that.
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MH: Okay. Ill send that to you. I thank you very much. I know its difficult to talk about these things.
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RP: Oh, its not that bad, because its a lot easier now than it was then, much easier than it was as the years have gone by.
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MH: Okay. Do you have any articles that have been written about your appearances?
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RP: Yes, I think I still have.
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MH: If you couldwhen I send the envelope to you, if you could send me a copy of those, Id like to read them.
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RP: I made the Los Angeles Times, the front page of that, I guess, when I went out there.
The article, Nazi Camp Survivors, Ex-GI, Celebrate Anew, by Tony Perry, appeared in the March 6, 2006 edition. As of 2010, it can be read online at the Los Angeles Times website.
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MH: Oh, okay.
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RP: Thats about what I have.
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MH: If you could make a copyif you could copy it, Id appreciate it. Okay?
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RP: Ill see what I can do for you, sir.
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MH: All right. Thank you very, very much. I really appreciate your time.
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RP: Of course, I dont have your mailing address.
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MH: Im going to send it to you.
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RP: Oh, okay.
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MH: In factwell, Ill email it to you, but Ill send you an envelope in the mail. Okay?
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RP: Okay.
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MH: All right. Thank you very much, Mr. Persinger.
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RP: Youre welcome.
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MH: I appreciate it. Bye-bye.
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Pause in recording
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RP: But not far down the street was this bakery where it was refused. That bakery refused to give him anything. And he went and got his tank and his crew
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MH: (laughs)
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RP: and he drove down in front of it and said, Now, whatre you gonna do?
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MH: Mr. Persinger, whatthe notion that there were 18,000 people in the camp
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RP: Eighteen thousand four hundred and some.
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MH: How do youI mean, the audacity of saying, Were gonna make soup, and were going to try and feed these people
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RP: No, we knew that we could feed a few, because remember, half of them were ambulatory, and the otherwe just knew that they wouldnt be able tothat we wouldnt be able to feed all those people.
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MH: But, I mean, just going in there with as much as you could make, Id be shocked if you could feed 1,000 people.
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RP: Well, no, I thinkI dont know what we fed. I really cant tell you that night what we did. We had an awful lot of it, because we had a lot of those kettles boiling over with soup.
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MH: Where were you cooking it? In the town and bringing it up?
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RP: No, no, no. Up there in the camp; we built fires under it.
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MH: Oh, okay. Its almost likeyou know, its American GIs saying, Were gonna do something.
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RP: Oh, yeah. Well, thats the way we did it. Thats true.
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MH: I try to compare it, for example, when they came in after Katrina, the hurricane in New Orleans, and the job they had of trying to feed thousands and thousands of people. And they also hadI mean, you had thousands of military guys and civilians and everything else to try it. And how many people were in your tank outfit that was at Ebensee?
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RP: It was eighty-eight of us in our company. Eighty-eight men.
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MH: Eighty-eight men. How long did it take before the Army caught up with you and had medics and
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RP: Well, the 80th Infantry Division, which is the division that we were doing reconnaissance forin other words, we crossed the Inn River, and thats Hitlers Braunau, Austria, and we were doing reconnaissance for them, because they were still way behind. But thats where we were, and they just followed us. The day we went in the camp, they were forty miles behind us yet. So, thats the kind of reconnaissance work we done. We done that all through the war. We justcavalry is the outfit
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You just gotta remember, there are only 1,550 of us in the two cavalry squadrons, and 1,500 enlisted men and fifty-five officers composed the 3rd Cavalry mechanized cavalry group, or two.  Today, its about 8,000 mennot quitewith all the Air Force, helicopters and all of that that they got. And theyre in Iraq today for the third time. Anyway, its a beautiful old cavalry outfit, and I was very proud to serve in such a wonderful, wonderful unit, and its just that today. And its justits unbelievable.
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The American people dont know what we really got. We just dont know what we have. The Army is so strong, and all of them in the Army are amazing, amazing people, Ill tell you. Thats kind of like we were, becauseyou know, we were drafted, but everyone went because we all wanted to win World War II. We all knew we had to win that war. So, everybody went, and if you didnt, you were a draft dodger and you were looked down upon. You didnt hardly dare walk outside of your house. Anyway, thats the way it was back then, when America was America, not what it is today. Its a shame. Ive said enough about that, I guess, but, boy, I have my opinions.
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MH: Yes.
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RP: Just because of what wed done. What I thinkwe had a part in saving this United States of America, and I know we did. And General Pattons 3rd Army had a big part. And we were all dedicated soldiers because we had to become soldiers. No ifs, ands, buts or nothing about it.
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MH: That was a war that had to be won.
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RP: Yeah. You were exposed to it all.
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MH: Okay. I thank you very much for calling me back.
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RP: Okay. (laughs)
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MH: And I probably will be in touch again as I start writing and have a couple more questions.
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RP: Yeah. And then thereswhats her name? Erwin? No, Elvin, the lady that getsI think shes the lady that
236
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MH: Oh, that I met at the 80th Infantry Division?
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RP: Yes, yes.
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MH: Jan Elkins, I think. Jan
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RP: Jan Elvin, E-l-v-i-n. Elvin.
Jan Elvin is the author of The Box from Braunau: In Search of My Fathers War (AMACOM, 2009), a book about her father, Bill Elvin, who was in the 80th Division.
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MH: Yeah. Right.
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RP: You see, her husband got to Ebensee about a month later. Thats what she tells me. Again, it was the 80th Infantry Division. I told you that they were behind. The guyswell, thats just the way they were. It was a good division; it was nothing wrong with that.
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But we were trying to meet the Russians at the Elbe River. The Germans had been surrendering to us in droves about three days before that ever happened, and I dont knowIm sure the SS from that camp saw us. We mustve met them, because they didnt want to get captured by the Russians. They were trying anything to escape the Russians. So we just let them go, and thats the way it was. Terrible, terrible SS men. If wed known that group was in that bunch, we probably wouldve got them, if wed known what we were gonna run into, because that was a horrible, horrible mess. Its just something thatslike I say, thats glued in my memory.
243
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MH: You guys did an amazing job. Thank you again very much.
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RP: Well, and the time ever comes, you get your book ready
245
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MH: I will make sure you will be getting a copy.
246
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RP: Thank you kindly.
247
00:36:32.2
MH: Take care, sir.
248
00:36:32.9
RP: Bye.
249
00:36:33.2
MH: Bye-bye.


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Robert Persinger oral history interview
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This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsch (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
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Interview conducted October 12, 2008.
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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.
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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.
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This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Robert Persinger. Persinger was in a reconnaissance squadron in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which was attached to the 80th Infantry Division when Ebensee was liberated on May 6, 1945. The squadron arrived in Europe in the summer of 1944 and fought at the Battle of Metz and the Battle of the Bulge, then proceeded on campaign through Europe. Assigned to capture and hold the town of Ebensee, they learned from the townspeople of a concentration camp up in the mountains. Persinger took two tanks and went to investigate; when they arrived, they walked through the camp, seeing the barracks and crematorium, and then radioed back to the platoon. They stayed in the camp for over a week while medical personnel began treating the prisoners. Persinger has been invited back to Ebensee for memorial services three times and has met many ex-prisoners.
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