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Rappaport, Melvin H.,
Melvin H. Rappaport oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (118 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (76 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 March 19, 2008, and May 12, 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 Melvin H. Rappaport. Rappaport was a captain and the liaison to corps headquarters in the 6th Armored Division, which liberated Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. A day or so later, he and a friend heard rumors about the camp and went to see it. Rappaport went through the camp, going inside the crematorium building and seeing the barracks and the Kleine Lager, the "little camp" where most of the Jewish prisoners were kept. He met an English-speaking Polish man, who told him about the camp. Rappaport was in Buchenwald for less than two hours, but it had a profound effect on him, and he is unable to forget what he saw there. In this interview, he also recounts his experiences in the Battle of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.
Rappaport, Melvin H.,
Armored Division, 6th.
Armored Division, 6th
v Personal narratives.
Buchenwald (Concentration camp)
Ardennes, Battle of the, 1944-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1939-1945
Crimes against humanity.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.
University of South Florida.
Special & Digital Collections.
Oral History Program.
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.
Concentration camp liberators oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript segment idx 0 time 00:00:0.2 text Michael Hirsh: Go ahead, sir. I just turned the tape recorder on, and Im talking to Mel Rappaport. So, go ahead. 1 00:00:4.8 Melvin H. Rappaport: Okay. So, Im talking into a tape recorder? 2 00:00:5.9 MH: You are. 3 00:00:6.5 MR: All right. 4 00:00:7.0 MH: Or a digital recorder, anyhow. 5 00:00:8.4 MR: No problem. I have no secrets. (laughs) No military secrets, anyway. So, our units were in that area. Could have been somebody else the next day, the second day. There were no heroes, and I dont like to take credit for being a hero. The guards had fled. 6 00:00:24.4 MH: This is April 7 00:00:25.5 MR: April eleventh. 8 00:00:26.8 MH: Nineteen forty-five . 9 00:00:28.6 MR: My friend, his name was Captain Fred Keffer, was in a reconnaissance battalion. In a little adjoining towndont remember the name of that crazy place. I could mail you a map about it. Hottelstedt! He goes into the little town, and suddenly 800I beg your pardon, about eighty German soldiers come running out of the basements and put their hands up. They want to be taken prisoners. He had no idea who they were. They were guards from the camp, and they just want to surrender. 10 00:00:57.1 So, he started to line them up against the wall, and suddenly, from a little crossinglets say 100 yards away, there was a clump of trees. Five or sixwell, as they turned out, he didnt who the hell they were, eitherRussian POWs that were in Buchenwald and fled when the guards had fled, hence the gates were open, had caught thesethey knew who they were, and suddenly, they were ready to tear these guys limb from limb. Keffer had to put guns on these guys, and he didnt know what the hell was going on. But one of the men in his unit knew how to speak Polish; he was Polish, thats right. Polish and Russian, I guess, are similar. He was able to get the idea that theres a prisoner of war camp two or three kilometers down the road, and these guys just escaped from it, and these are the guards, and all that bullshit. 11 00:01:44.2 So, Keffer called back to his S-2, and he was instructed to put these Russian POWs on his M8its sort of an armored car; its like a tank with wheels. It goes much faster. Lightly armed, though. And these guys literally directed us to them. In other words, he took us right to the camp, and thats how we discovered it. 12 00:02:8.8 MH: Okay. 13 00:02:10.0 MR: The 4th Armored, which I was in originally, was a little ahead of us at the time, and they discovered, or overran, a place called Ohrdruf. I dont know if youve ever heard of it. 14 00:02:20.2 MH: Ive heard of it. 15 00:02:21.0 MR: It was a sub-camp of Buchenwald, which was maybe twenty miles west of Weimar. I think the name of the town was Gotha, G-o-t-h-a. They took that horrible place, also: just walked in, the guards had fled, too, you know. So, I visited that thing subsequently. I can honestly say that Im no hero, I was just there. Im an observer. I saw what happened, and Ill never forget it. 16 00:02:45.2 The bodies were still roasting in the crematorium, like a roast chicken when you make it on Thanksgiving. Unbelievable! In fact, I had a buddy with me, Captain Bob Jackson, who had a camera with him, and he took pictures of this goddamnoutside the crematorium ovens, with these bodies piled high on these carts, like the next shipment coming in. I got them laying around here somewhere, which I can send to you, eventually. So, if youve got anything else to ask me, ask me. 17 00:03:10.2 MH: I have a lot to ask you, but I wonder if I can call you a little bit later this afternoon? 18 00:03:14.8 MR: Well, Ill tell you what to do. Michael, lets see, what is it, about two, three oclock? 19 00:03:20.1 MH: Its 1:24. 20 00:03:22.0 MR: About two oclock. I have to take my sister-in-law somewhere. Anyway, Ill be back aboutcall me sometime after five. 21 00:03:30.1 MH: Not a problem. 22 00:03:31.4 MR: Ill tell you what, make it actually six oclock, and Ill make sure Im right by the telephone to pick it up. Before you disappear 23 00:03:37.6 MH: You want my number. 24 00:03:38.2 MR: let me get down your phone number, please. 25 00:03:39.6 MH: Okay, its 26 00:03:40.5 MR: Hold on. Oh, by the way? 27 00:03:46.7 MH: Yes? 28 00:03:47.6 MR: The motto of this camp, as one inmate who spoke English told meIll never forget it. You come in through the gate, but you go out through the chimney. 29 00:03:57.5 MH: Nice. 30 00:03:57.8 MR: I remember that. Put that in quotation marks. 31 00:03:59.9 MH: Okay. Ready? 32 00:04:29.6 MR: Michael? 33 00:04:30.8 MH: Yes. 34 00:04:31.3 MR: Let me get this piece of paper here, so I can write down the information. Who am I imitating? I must have the information. I guess you never heard of him; youre too young. You ever hear of a man called Peter Roy? 35 00:04:44.1 MH: Yes. 36 00:04:45.3 MR: No. (laughs) 37 00:04:46.1 MH: Yes! Little short man with big bug eyes. 38 00:04:50.5 MR: Thats it, bug eyes. I must have the information. I used to do imitations in my younger days. Okay, whats the area code? 39 00:04:56.5 MH: 941. 40 00:04:57.5 MR: 914. 41 00:04:59.9 MH: 941. 42 00:05:1.1 MR: 914. 43 00:05:1.9 MH: No, 941. 44 00:05:3.6 MR: I beg your pardon? 45 00:05:5.0 MH: Youre switching them around. 46 00:05:7.4 MR: 914. 47 00:05:8.4 MH: No. 48 00:05:9.2 MR: What the hells wrong with me? 49 00:05:10.4 MH: 941. 50 00:05:11.5 MR: 941. God, Im really making a mess here. Okay, whats the rest of it? 51 00:05:16.2 MH: 52 00:05:16.8 MR: Or, in any event, you call me. 53 00:05:17.9 MH: I will call you. 54 00:05:18.8 MR: Michael, tell this to your wife: As they say in showbiz, Dont call us, well call you. 55 00:05:24.3 MH: Okay. 56 00:05:25.0 MR: Youve heard that one before. 57 00:05:26.0 MH: Yes. One last question 58 00:05:27.1 MR: Yeah? 59 00:05:27.7 MH: Do you know of a nurse named Ruth Puryear? 60 00:05:30.2 MR: Let me put it this way: I know all about her, because I subscribe to a periodical called the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, and she did a lot of things, this Ruth. I guessis she still alive? 61 00:05:44.6 MH: Well, Curtis says she is. Im just trying to find her phone number. 62 00:05:47.2 MR: Shes in Virginia. I tried to contact her a few times. I wrote letters to her, but she paid no attention to me. But I know all about her. She didI think she was in an evacuation hospital during the Bulge. I think she was in Bastogne for a while. But were not going to go into it now. 63 00:06:3.3 MH: You dont have a phone number for her? 64 00:06:5.7 MR: Ill tell you what I can do, if its so important to you. I couldnot right this minute, of courseI could write to the Battle of the Bulge people in Arlington, Virginia, and Im sure that they would give me the information. 65 00:06:19.0 MH: Okay. Well, I can contact them. If you tell me who the Battle of the Bulge people are, I can contact them directly. Okay, I will talk to you at six oclock. 66 00:06:28.8 MR: Whats the name of the town youre in? 67 00:06:29.5 MH: Punta Gorda. 68 00:06:30.8 MR: Never heard of it. I know where Fort Myers is. 69 00:06:33.4 MH: Im north of Fort Myers. Im twenty-five minutes north of Fort Myers. 70 00:06:36.2 MR: Punta Clura? 71 00:06:37.6 MH: Punta Gorda is where Hurricane Charley hit in 2004. 72 00:06:40.4 MR: Ill be damned. Well, Floridas a big state, of course. 73 00:06:44.4 MH: Yes. 74 00:06:45.5 MR: I have some friends in Sarasota. You near there? 75 00:06:47.6 MH: Were forty-five minutes south of Sarasota. 76 00:06:50.3 MR: Well, listen to this: This guyeither he owned it, or rented it, but he was on a little island called Tidy Island. Ever hear of that? Right off Sarasota. 77 00:06:59.1 MH: No, but theres a lot of little ones. 78 00:07:1.0 MR: (laughs) Well, they moved. Hes in something likeI guess hes getting older, like me, now, so they must have moved into some sort of an assisted living apartment. But Ill tell you, there was a very famous British movieof course, youre too young to know about these crazy things. It was called Tidy Little Island. So, I used to drive him crazy calling his home state, his own island, Tidy Little Island. 79 00:07:24.9 MH: Tidy Little Island. 80 00:07:26.2 MR: I better warn you, Michael 81 00:07:27.4 MH: Yes? 82 00:07:28.1 MR: Im a comedian. 83 00:07:28.8 MH: Ive heard. 84 00:07:29.7 MR: So, youll have to put up with my little jokes. (laughs) 85 00:07:33.9 MH: Okay. All right. 86 00:07:36.6 MR: Have a good lunch. 87 00:07:37.5 MH: Okay, thank you. Bye-bye. 88 00:07:39.1 MH: Mike Hirsh. 89 00:07:39.3 MR: Michael Hirsh, reporting for duty! 90 00:07:41.8 MH: You sure? 91 00:07:43.1 MR: Michael, first of all, give me your home address, please. 92 00:07:46.2 MH: My home addressfirst, its Michael Hirsh, H-i-r-s-h. 93 00:07:50.4 MR: H-i-r 94 00:07:52.2 MH: s-h. 95 00:07:52.8 MR: s-h. Gotcha. 96 00:07:55.1 MH: And the address is 97 00:07:56.1 MR: Is there a middle initial? 98 00:07:56.9 MH: S., but I dont use it. 99 00:07:59.1 MR: Never use it. Okay. (laughs) Okay, now your address, please. 100 00:08:2.3 MH: 101 00:08:3.1 MR: And I want you to do something: Take down my e-mail address, please. 102 00:08:5.8 MH: Okay. 103 00:08:6.8 MR: Its a cinch. Nice and easy. Now, listen, you must do this, please. 104 00:08:11.9 MH: I will send you an e-mail with my info. 105 00:08:14.1 MR: No, no, heres what you gotta do. The first time you do itmaybe tonight, even, if you get a chanceI usually play around with the thing right before I go to bed, around eleven oclock. In the subject matter, you must put down From Michael Hirsh. 106 00:08:27.0 MH: Okay. 107 00:08:28.4 MR: Friend of Curtis Whiteway. Otherwise, I delete it. I dont take any nonsense from all these people that are trying to sell me things and all kinds of crazy things. Unless I know who they are, I dont accept the mail. Its just the first time, until I put you into my buddy list. Put down Subject: From Michael Hirsh, buddy of Curtis Whiteway. And let me see if I got the correct phone number here. I want to mail you something, maybe tomorrow. It was. 108 00:08:54.8 MH: Correct. 109 00:08:55.5 MR: Got it. Okay. Now, ask me questions, and Ill tell you no lies. (laughs) 110 00:08:58.5 MH: Okay. Well, Im not sure about that. 111 00:09:0.8 MR: Anything you want to know. 112 00:09:2.1 MH: First of all, give me your full name and spell it. 113 00:09:5.2 MR: Okay. Well, actually, I gave you the name as Mel Rappaport, but the full name is Melvin H. R-a-double p-a-p-o-r-t. 114 00:09:14.8 MH: And your address, please? 115 00:09:16.3 MR: Now we know each other. Lets go. 116 00:09:18.0 MH: And your date of birth? 117 00:09:19.2 MR: May 24, 1919. 118 00:09:21.5 MH: Okay. Where were you born and whered you grow up? 119 00:09:29.1 MR: Stamford, Connecticut. I also was in Norwalk. In fact, I was just telling a friend of mine, I hate Joseph Lieberman, that senator from Connecticut, the dirty rat. Well, you know what hes done. 120 00:09:41.8 MH: I know what he has done. 121 00:09:43.2 MR: He suddenly switched around. I cant stand the sight of that bastard. 122 00:09:45.7 MH: The only good thing 123 00:09:47.9 MR: He went to the same school I did, but not at the same time. (laughs) 124 00:09:52.3 MH: The only good thing is, he didnt change his party, cause if he had changed his party, it would have screwed up the Senate. 125 00:09:56.7 MR: Hes not a Democrat anymore. Hes an idiot. 126 00:09:58.4 MH: Yeah, well. 127 00:09:59.8 MR: You know, theres something, Michael, I never could understand. Dont they havelet it be his wifeone good friend who puts their arm around him and say, Hey, Mr. Lieberman, youre making an ass of yourself. When they write your obituary someday, its not gonna be very, very pretty. You do all the wrong things! Youre supporting Bush. Youre in favor of the crazy war in Iraq. I could go on and on and on. This guy isI dont know. Theres no one that could straighten the guy out? I could never understand these things. One buddy is all you need, like I have, one good friend. You dont make a decision without my acknowledgement, and the same way with me. Everybody needs somebody. 128 00:10:37.1 MH: Okay, but back 129 00:10:38.6 MR: Let me just tell you a little thing about that. I happen to be an expert on this sort of nonsense. FDRI dont know if you remember this; probably not. He had a man called Harry Hopkins. He was his right-hand man, left-hand man. Truman had a guy called Vaughan, General [Harry] Vaughan. JFK had his brother. Nixon had some idiot called Bebe Rebozo. Everybodyyou cannot do it by yourself, even though Frank Sinatra used to say I did it my way. Everybody needs somebody. I just cant understand why people do all these stupid things without one person in their entourage to direct them and say, Youre making an ass of yourself, Mr. Lieberman. 130 00:11:21.1 Well, all right, lets get off this topic. Its unimportant. Lets talk turkey. 131 00:11:25.0 MH: Back to this. You went in the army when? 132 00:11:28.2 MR: Well, actually, I was in a long time before Pearl Harbor. Whend I go in? June forty-one . I was with the 4th Armored Division up at a crazy place called Pine Camp, New York. Today its called Fort Drum. Thats right, the 10th Armored 133 00:11:46.2 MH: The 10th Mountain Division. 134 00:11:47.5 MR: The 10th Mountain Divisions up there now. Its a whole different world up there now. When I was there, it was a different world. Its, like, next to a little crazy place called Watertown, New York: freezing, cold as hell there, coldest place in the city, something like Buffalo, maybe a population of 40,000, or so. That was our home base. 135 00:12:6.8 MH: So, you were in in forty-one . You were in for the duration of the whole war, then. 136 00:12:10.3 MR: Well, this is the story. When I went in, I was twenty years old or so; I dont know anymore. It was a twelve-month tour of duty. We made $21 a month. We used to sing a little song. You ready? 137 00:12:22.0 MH: Mm-hm. 138 00:12:23.1 MR: (sings) They wake us up at five oclock in the morning for $21 a day, once a month! 139 00:12:29.4 I was a good Jewish boy. I never smoked, gambled, cursed, and I usually sent half the money home to my mother. (laughs) Ten bucks! The moment the guys got paid, all these idiots would pull out the GI blanket: out came the dice, out came the cards for the poker, and two days later, nobody had a nickel except me, and theyd come around begging for a quarter so they could buy a beer at the PX. I could never, never understand it. But all that aside, in fact, I was looking forward to being discharged when Pearl Harbor busted out. At the time, I wasthey sent me to the Armored Force School at Fort Knox, Kentucky; thats right near Louisville. 140 00:13:11.6 MH: I went to basic training there. 141 00:13:13.7 MR: (inaudible) Anyway, I was there for about three months, learning how to repair tanks or some goddamn thing like that. Oh, wait a minute. In everybodys life, theres a fork in the road. (laughs) This was my fork in the road. I was just a kid, I didnt know my ass from third base, but my best friend that slept alongside of me was a Jewish fellow. He was a lawyer. Hirtz, his name was, and he had brains. The moment Pearl Harbor busted out, he said, Mel, we cannot go back to the 4th Armored Division. I said, Why? Were sergeants, we know everybody, everybody likes us, blah, blah, blah. 142 00:13:49.2 Listen, you idiot, its a line outfit. Theyre trained, theyre ready to go. Who knows, maybe next week theyll be sent out to the Philippines? What were gonna do is go to officers school here at Knox. They had the officers training school, OCS, at Knox. He said, Itll take us three or four months to get through the OCS, then theyll probably send us to a new division. Itll guarantee us another year in the USA. So, this guy knew how to do it. You know, he was an attorney. He knew how to get the paperwork and where to get the applications and the whole thing, and I followed him around like a little shepherd. 143 00:14:20.9 So, we went to OCS, and we came outgee, it must have beenI cant remember anymore, somewhere in the mid-summer of forty-two  as second lieutenants. By that time, they were forming new armored divisions, so they sent me to the 6th. They had sort of a common sense rule: they wouldnt send you back to the same division, cause maybe there were a bunch of guys I didnt like and Id get even on them, or all that nonsense. So, I ended up with the 6th, and thats where I saw my action. 144 00:14:45.7 MH: Which 145 00:14:46.6 MR: I was a tank platoon leader. 146 00:14:47.4 MH: What division were you in? 147 00:14:50.0 MR: 6th Armored. 148 00:14:50.8 MH: 6th Armored, okay. 149 00:14:51.7 MR: See, the 4th and 6th actually were the two spearheads for Pattons 3rd Army in Europe. We were his favorites. I wish we werent, but there we were! (laughs) 150 00:15:1.0 MH: So, when did you finally go overseas? 151 00:15:3.7 MR: We went to Europe January forty-four . Thats right, we were in California at the time. We went on maneuversI know you know this. In California, they have a tremendous desert. Its called the Mojave Desert. 152 00:15:16.1 MH: Fort Irwin. 153 00:15:17.9 MR: It was right along the Nevada border, as I recall. We were there for about six months, getting ready toactually, they were going to send us to Southnot South Africa, North Africa. But by that time, Rommel had been defeated by Montgomery and Eisenhower there, so they sent us to the UK. We ended up in merry old England for aboutJanuary to July. We went to Normandy in the middle of July. There was no room for us there. You cant imagine what it was like. They just had this little, little piece of land that they were battling in, you know, and finally we busted out. I still remember this like it was yesterday. They hit a town called Saint-L, in Normandy, with about 3,000 bombers. Ill never forget that hot July day. Over came thousands and thousands of planes, and when they dropped their bombs there wasnt a cockroach left. Thats how the hell we got out of there. Now, most of the 154 00:16:13.6 MH: Did you make the D-Day invasion? 155 00:16:15.7 MR: No, no, of course not. There was no room for us. Whats the matter with you? With an armored division, there are so many vehicles, tanks, involved. Its unbelievable. So, we landedwe got into Normandy in mid-July, and then we busted out there after this attack on Saint-L. We went west, instead of east. The whole army went towards Paris; we went the other way, to Brittany. Our first mission was to capture the port of Brest, B-r-e-s-t, which was a huge U-boat base. Well, Im not gonna go into the details. And then from there, we went down to Lorient, another U-boat base, and then to Saint-Nazaire, and finally we swept across France and joined the rest of the army along the Moselle River. 156 00:16:56.5 MH: Were you still a second lieutenant? 157 00:16:58.1 MR: No, no. By that time, I was a first lieutenant and then a captain. Then we ended upwhen the Battle of the Bulge busted out, we ended up in a son of a bitch town called Bastogne, Belgium, and were there for about two weeks. How I ever survived it, I still dont know. In fact, I was killed there maybe a dozen times, but managed to survive it all. We lost half our division in that goddamn battle. You know what the casualties were in the Bulge? 158 00:17:22.5 MH: No, sir. 159 00:17:24.5 MR: Okay. The battle lasted from December 16, started at five am in the morning with this tremendous artillery barrage all along the line. I happened to be in Verdun at the time; I wasnt there with my unit. In addition to my other duties, as they used to say, I was the S-3 for air. In other words, I had an air tracka half track, with all kinds of UHF, ultra high frequency. I was able to talk to the airplanes, I had their frequency: the fighter planes, B-47s. So, I was able to direct them in air-to-ground combat. I was the air-to-ground officer. I get the targets from other units; they call in to me, and I send them on to the (inaudible) in the front there. What happened was there were times when we had what was still called friendly fire: instead of hitting the enemy, they were hitting us. So, they sent me back to Verdun, where my B-47 airbase, where these planes took off [was], and I was there at that time to speak to the squadron commander to sort of straighten things out. 160 00:18:28.3 Suddenly, these guys came back one afternoon, December 16, and said there was a big breakout. I didnt know what the hell they were talking about, so I got my ass back to the unit and thats when the Bulge started. It ended at the end of January; it took about six or seven weeks to restore the original line. 83,000 American casualties, not all dead, about 22,000 killed, 22,000 POWs, the rest walking wounded, wounded, MIAs, and so on. And the Germans lost 110,000, and the Brits lost 3,000. Those were the casualties in that goddamn seven weeks of warfare. Would you believe it? 161 00:19:5.8 MH: Yes. 162 00:19:7.1 MR: Eighty-two thousand American casualties. Unbelievable. A tremendous (inaudible). And plus, the best part, Mike: it was the worst winter in Europe in fifty years. Below zero, snow up to our ass, freezing, ice, cold, fog, and it was an excellent time for the Germans to attack, because the weather was so bad we had no air support. You know, it was all foggy up there. So, for the first ten days, they had a field day. But once the weather cleared up, they bombed the shit out of them, and changed the whole complexion of battle. I could go on and on and on, but you ask me the questions now. 163 00:19:44.5 MH: Okay. At what point did you become aware of anything such as concentration camps? 164 00:19:50.3 MR: Well, thats something I will never, never forgive. When I die someday and I meet General Eisenhower in heavenif I ever make itI want to know why we werent instructed. We had never even heard the words. There was one movie in 1940 with James Stewart and an actress called Margaret Sullavan that youve never heard of, very sensitive actress. Its called The Mortal Storm, and it had to do with the fact that her father was a Jewish professorFrank Morgan, thats right. He was the actor: wonderful actor, at the time. In fact, in The Wizard of Oz, he was the Wizard. Frank Morgan. You know The Wizard of Oz; youve seen it. 165 00:20:26.0 MH: Yes. 166 00:20:26.6 MR: He was the Wizard. Anyway, he was the Jewish professor. It was just the time when Hitler was coming into power and all this was going on. Id never heard the word before, but in the movie, he ends up in a concentration camp. Thats where I heard the word concentration camp. They never prepared us for it. Surely, some son of a bitch must have known what we were gonna run into eventually. They were all over the goddamn German landscape and in Poland and everywhere else, you know. It was all new to us! Its unbelievable how theywe were unprepared for it. We had no knowledge to take care of the poor inmates, who were starving to death. In fact, when we took that goddamn Buchenwald, there were aboutwell, prior to us getting there, as I read later on, there were about 60,000 inmates in the camp. The Germans knew that we were in the area, of course, and started to march them out to Dachau and other places. 167 00:21:19.5 So, we got there, and there were about 22,000I dont know, about 20,000 or 22,000 left. I dont think there were 200 that were able to stand on their feet by themselves. Everybody wasthey were literally crawling on their bellies. Mike, I dont know how to say this to you, but theres only one way to make you understand me. If I take Mike Hirsh, nice guy, starve you to death, beat the shit out of you, shave all the hair off your head, and put you in a pair of pajamas, a striped uniform, guess what? If I threw a piece of crust in front of you, youll kill three people to get it. You no longer become Mike Hirsh. And thats what these inmates were reduced to. No ones thinking of escaping, theyre just thinking of trying to stay alive. It was just beyond your wildest dreams. 168 00:21:58.4 MH: But youre getting ahead, so let me just take you through this so I get the whole story. 169 00:22:2.3 MR: Okay. But let me just add one thing to it. 170 00:22:7.1 MH: Yes? 171 00:22:7.8 MR: Mike, I dont remember what I had for breakfast this morning. I was in Buchenwald for maybe an hour and a half. Its still all indelible in my memory, as it was two days ago, two minutes ago, two hours ago. Its an amazing thing. Did you ever hear of Ilse Koch? Ilse Koch? 172 00:22:23.3 MH: Yes. 173 00:22:24.3 MR: The Bitch of Buchenwald. Her husband was Karl Koch. In other words, if Mike Hirsh came in and she spotted you and you had tattoos on your arms, shed either have you hung or shot, and then shed have you skinned alive, or whatever, and she used to make lampshades out of you. The lampshade lady. Have you ever heard that? 174 00:22:39.7 MH: Yes. 175 00:22:40.4 MR: Okay. So, remember 176 00:22:42.0 MH: But lets back up. The Battle of the Bulge is over, and youre moving on 177 00:22:51.0 MR: Well, it ended, as I said to you, but there was still a tremendous amount ofwhat would you call it? Defense, opposition. It wasnt like a runaway. If we gained 200, 300 yards a day, it was a big deal. First of all, it was terrible weather, by the way. Its hard for you to understand what its like. Let me ask you one quick question: Lets sayI used to carry a submachine gun with me, a Thompson submachine gun, or a rifle or whatever you had. The bolt actually freezes up in the winter, in the ice. What do you if the enemys coming at you 100 yards away? They dont teach you this at West Point, by the way. 178 00:23:28.4 MH: Yeah. 179 00:23:29.2 MR: You piss on it. Itll loosen up that mechanism, you know, where you can put the bolt action in. Did you ever hear that? 180 00:23:36.0 MH: No, but did you have to do it? 181 00:23:38.4 MR: Of course! We all did. We figured that out ourselves. Number two, you dont want the barrel of the gun, or whatever you were carryingrifle, submachine gun, carbine, et cetera. You dont want the barrelto have the elements get in there or get it wet and stuff. You had to keep it dry. 182 00:23:55.0 MH: The same way we did in Vietnam. 183 00:23:57.4 MR: Whatd you do? 184 00:23:58.1 MH: Condoms. 185 00:23:59.2 MR: You got it, baby. And we shot right through the rubber. You must have learned that from us. (laughs) 186 00:24:5.8 MH: (laughs) Older sergeants. 187 00:24:7.9 MR: Number three, quick! Now, you got a can ofwe had a delicacy called meat and beans, meat and hash, and meat and something else. Eat cold, its like dog food. How do you heat it up without making a fire? 188 00:24:19.0 MH: You put it on the manifold of a vehicle. 189 00:24:23.4 MR: You put it on the manifold, turn the motor over for twenty minutes, and heat the goddamn thing up. Thats how we survived. But I was lucky, to be honest about it. I used to get a package from my parents every week. They used to give me little salami and mustard and food and cookies and things like that, a pair of gloves, a scarf. So, the truth of the matter is, I was never hungry. But, of course, I used to share it with the fellas, you know, give them one of my little goodies. I used to have plenty. I never was hungry; I always had plenty of food from my folks. They never forgot me: every week I got a beautiful little package from them. 190 00:24:56.7 Okay, lets go! Ask me questions. 191 00:24:59.4 MH: Ive been trying. (laughs) 192 00:25:1.0 MR: (laughs) I havent talked about this stuff in a rather long time. 193 00:25:6.4 MH: You leave the Bulge, and your division is on the way to where, in forty-five ? 194 00:25:15.4 MR: In forty-five ? What do you mean, we go home? I dont get you. 195 00:25:19.7 MH: No, no, no. Before you get to Buchenwald. 196 00:25:22.1 MR: All right. Well, we got to Buchenwald on April 11. The reason I remember it so well is FDR died the next day, April 12, so I always associate those two days. We went aroundthis is what happened. In April, we could suddenly that the resistance was weakening. All we were doing was running at their strong points. What we would try to do is just avoid it, just go around it, no combat, because the people in back would sweep behind us, and just keep going. Our mission was, at the timeand we were very happy about thisto get tothere was a river below Leipzig, right in the center of Germany, called the Mulde River, M-u-l-d-e River. Get to the west bank of the river, and stop. We knew once we get there, the wars over; theres no place to go. Just wait for the Russian army, the Red Army, to come from the east and meet each other, because they didnt want us shooting at each other. 197 00:26:10.7 So, we stop on the west bank, right below Leipzig, and wait for the Red Army to approach, eventually. We were in a great hurry to get there, and thats what was happening in April. Hitting Buchenwald at that time was just another day at the office. We didnt take it seriously. I hate to say it, I didnt give it another thought until days and days later, when I realized what we had seen and what we had done there. 198 00:26:35.9 MH: But you keep rushing ahead, and I gotta take you 199 00:26:38.8 MR: That was our mission: just keep moving, and again, avoid combat if possible. If we went into a town, for example, that had a dozen Germans trying to defend the town or whatever, we hit it with artillery fire and just go around it and just keep going, because the infantry was behind us a day or two later, and theyd clean it out. By the way, when we got in there, we were only in there for maybe a day or two 200 00:27:1.7 MH: Okay, but dont take me in there yet. 201 00:27:3.6 MR: We were followed. Let me get this off my chest, or Ill forget what Im talking about. My memorys not sharp anymore. We were followed in by, believe it or not, the 5th Ranger Battalion, of all people, and the 80th Infantry Division, and they were the ones that captured Weimar, by the way. I dont know if you know anything about Weimar, but before Hitler took over, they had the Weimar Republic. 202 00:27:23.6 MH: Right. 203 00:27:24.2 MR: It was the capital of Germany. And something else, by the way, which I can never forget: Weimar, to this day, is the cultural capital of Germany. Theres a hotel there. When I was there, it was smashed to bits. It was called the Elephant Hotel, and all the poets and ballet dancers or whatever you want to call them, intelligencia, authors, writers, historians, philosophersto this day, theyre all there, at this hotel. Elephant Hotel is like the Waldorf-Astoria, of course. Nobody in Weimar even knew there was a concentration camp. 204 00:28:0.9 MH: Okay, so thats what Im saying. Youre supposed to go to the Mulde River and wait. 205 00:28:5.0 MR: Wait for the Russians to approach, yeah. 206 00:28:7.8 MH: Okay. Youre heading for the Mulde River 207 00:28:9.2 MR: Huh? 208 00:28:9.9 MH: How do you find out about 209 00:28:12.0 MR: We got maps, goddamn it! 210 00:28:13.1 MH: No, no. How do you find out about Buchenwald? 211 00:28:15.3 MR: Im telling you. We overran it on April 11. I think I told you my friendhis name was Captain Fred Keffer, wonderful man; he just passed away, of course, after all these years. He was in this little town, not more than two or three kilometers away from Weimar, and Weimar was no more than six kilometers south of Buchenwald. Ill send you a map one of these days; youll see it. 212 00:28:40.2 MH: Ill find a map. 213 00:28:41.2 MR: So, as I mentioned, he gets in this little town, and suddenly Germans come pouring out of the basements of the houses to give up. Their hands are up. They want to surrender. So, he started to frisk them for weapons and stuff, and suddenly, 100 yards across the street, somewhere or other, came these six or seven Russian POWs. Now, he didnt know who they were, either; they were in strange uniforms. And they were ready to tear these guys apart, because they recognized them. 214 00:29:8.7 So, finally, as I think I explained to you earlier, one of our men spoke Polish; hes a Polish fella. Russian and Polish are almost the same, and he was able to decipher the fact that they saidthey called it a prisoner of war camp. There was a prisoner of war camp two, three kilometers down the road. So, my friend Captain Keffer called up his S-2 of his battalion, and said, What do I do? They said, Put these guys on your M8, his armored car, and let them take you to it. And thats how he got there. Then, of course, the word spread 215 00:29:40.3 MH: So, wait. You got them on the armored car. Are you riding in that armored car? 216 00:29:43.5 MR: No, of course not. I wasnt there. 217 00:29:44.5 MH: Okay. 218 00:29:45.6 MR: I was in the area. But then they found out about it the next day, and I went there with a friend of mine, Captain Jackson. The two of us took a jeep to see this crazy place. We had no idea of what we were going to see. Oh, by the way, before I forget, write this down: There were two camps. Buchenwald consisted of two camps, the main camp, large camp, and a little thing adjacent to it called the Kleine Lager. In German 219 00:30:8.5 MH: The small camp. 220 00:30:9.5 MR: Small camp, right. Which was worse, if possible, than the goddamn main camp. And in it, by the waythis is something Ill never forget. See, Im all wound up on this crazy subject. In it was a concentration camp within a concentration camp. It was thislike a double barbed wire entanglement, fifty feet high, double barbed wire. Behind it, as I subsequently found outof course, I didnt stand there counting them850 young Jewish boys, ages five to about sixteen. Two of them, by the way, were quite famous subsequently. Elie Wiesel, he was sixteenyou know, the authorand a five year old child, who subsequently became the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yisrael Lau. These were two of the men, human beings, that were in this goddamn Kleine Lager where they had these young boys. What the hell they were doing with young children there, Ill never understand. They were running around like a pack of wild beasts, wild beasts. I was looking at them and they were looking at me. (inaudible) You become a little insane. 221 00:31:16.4 MH: Okay, well get to that. 222 00:31:17.8 MR: Now, ask me questions. 223 00:31:18.5 MH: Im trying. 224 00:31:21.0 MR: Try harder. (laughs) 225 00:31:21.6 MH: (laughs) You get a message from your friend, whos already there. Is this a radio message or a messenger? 226 00:31:29.8 MR: Not me, I got no radio message. There was justyou know how these rumors spread quicklythat the division overran this concentration camp. At the timewell, let me go a step further. I was quite, quite lucky: thats the reason Im still alive. Around the beginning of March, we were somewhere on the Siegfried Line, and I get a radio message that the chief of staff wants to see. What the fuck is going on? What does he want to see me for? Probably he wants to shoot me at sunrise. I couldnt imagine. So, I got into my jeep, all full of mud, six-day growth of beard on my face, you know, havent cleaned up or anything. 227 00:32:7.8 MH: Youre a company commander at this point? 228 00:32:9.1 MR: No, I waswhat the hell wasno, I was the S-3 for air. S-3 for air. 229 00:32:13.0 MH: S-3 for air. Okay, go ahead. 230 00:32:14.2 MR: And other things: I was also the signal officer, et cetera, wire officer and all that. Anyway, I go backby the way, in every army, Michaelthere are two armies: the army that does the fighting, and then the rest of the army, ten to one. So, when you get back to the rear, everybody looks like they just came out of West Point: nice uniforms, all shined up, theyre all clean. (laughs) They didnt know who I was! I hadnt been back in months to see these rear echelon troops. 231 00:32:40.5 So, I finally found my way back to the chief of staffoh, just a minute. Colonel McBride. I knew him, but I dont think I ever spoke to him before. I walk in there, all dirty and muddy, salute him, reporting, you know. He said, Captain Rappaport, you have been recommended to me to be our liaison officer to corps headquarters. At that point, I was ready to get down on the ground, grovel to his feet, and kiss his ankles, cause I knew what it meant. When you go to corps headquarters, now youre going back twenty miles the other way. See, all of the rear echelon troops are in the rear. (inaudible) at the front, as they used to say, and very, very busy in the rear. So, he explained to me that he wants me to go back there. SomebodyI dont know who the hell whorecommended me. And this, that, and the other thing, and they give me my duties. 232 00:33:33.4 So, I tried to play it cool, of course; I didnt want to jump on top of him and give him a kiss. (laughs) I said, Yes, sir, I think Id be just the perfect man for you. I know exactly how Ill be able to get this information for you and bring it back to headquarters, and all that bullshit, you know. Without another word, I was nowhe said, Okay, report to the division CO, and hell get a different jeep and all that, and another driver. I went back to my own unit, I didnt say goodbye, didnt say hello, just took all my gear out of my half-track, went back to headquarters, and that was it. 233 00:34:7.9 So, for the rest of the warit was March, April, May, and the war ended in May, and then for the next six months during the occupation army, I was the liaison officer to corps headquarters. In fact, corps headquarters was so far back to the rear they gave me an airplane. It was called an L4. It was an artillery observer plane. These guys could land this little plane right in your backyard. They were wonderful. So, I was flying back and forth every day: you know, taking messages back. I was telling my wife about it; today theyd replace me with a fax machine. (laughs) But in those days, they needed an officer to pick up the information and bring back maps, all that crap, you know, back and forth. So, thats how I spent the rest of the war, thank God. I was not on the lines. 234 00:34:49.6 MH: Okay. So, you hear 235 00:34:51.0 MR: What were you asking me, again? 236 00:34:51.7 MH: You hear rumors that theyve come across Buchenwald, and you want to go see it. 237 00:34:57.5 MR: I had this other guy, Bob Jacksonhes still alive, by the way; lives in California somewhere. So, we hopped into a jeep, and I think some sergeant who had been there before gave me some directions: you go here, you go there, and all that. We found the goddamn thing. If I went back, I dont think I could find it. It was hidden away somewhere, on a plateau. There was the goddamnit was a great big gate. Oh, by the way, youve got to write this down: On the iron gate, they had a saying. Now, at Auschwitz, they had the slogan Arbeit macht frei, Work will make you free. This one had something else, and to this day, I still cant figure it out. JedemJ-e-d-e-m d-a-s Seine. Jedem das Seine. And guess what it meant? What does it mean? You ready? 238 00:35:51.3 MH: Yes. 239 00:35:51.8 MR: To each, his own. (laughs) I still dont understand the significance of that. That was the big ironI dont know what it was. 240 00:36:0.5 MH: But you 241 00:36:1.3 MR: (inaudible) (laughs) 242 00:36:3.5 MH: You pull up to the gate in your jeep. 243 00:36:5.2 MR: Yeah. We walked right in: the gates were open now. The prisoners had opened the gates for us. We walked in, and theres the crematorium with the bodies frying, six, seven crematorium ovens. 244 00:36:19.7 MH: But this is stillthis is days after the place has been captured. 245 00:36:23.5 MR: This was about a day or two afterward, yeah. 246 00:36:25.3 MH: And the ovens are still 247 00:36:26.6 MR: Still smoldering, yeah. It was coal; they had coal in those days. 248 00:36:29.4 MH: Okay. 249 00:36:31.3 MR: Well, the Germans would use oil. (laughs) 250 00:36:33.7 MH: Okay. But, tell me what you saw, and take me through the camp as you walked it. 251 00:36:39.2 MR: Well, I cant recall theits just so hard to remember the exact situation there. But the crematorium ovens were there; thats where everybody was. There were other troops coming, too, at this time, like sightseers, you might say. That was the thing to look at; there were the bodies burning up, and outside they had these huge carts. Ill mail you a couple pictures of it, by the waytheyre laying around here somewherethat Jackson took. I didnt take the pictures; he did. They were the next load; you know, it was like a business, you see. Oh, yeah, thats right. And then, some guy led me to the back of the crematorium oven. 252 00:37:17.4 Down belowthere was like a dozen stepsthere was like a basement underneath the crematorium. It was a huge room; it was likeI guess you can compare it to a butcher shop, with hooks all around the room, you know, like youd hang up meat. I just assumed they used to hang the inmates there and beat them to death. And then, in the corner, there wasI wouldnt call it an elevator; it was more like a little lift. They had the big ironstretchers, I guess youd call it; I cant think of the exact wordin a big corner, all piled up. So, apparently, theyd take an inmate, put him on the stretcher, put him on the lift, up it went into the crematorium oven, and then they just took the stretcher and throw it into the oven. You know, theyd be laying on the iron stretcher, and thats how youd be burned to death. 253 00:38:0.9 MH: And the stretcher would come back down. 254 00:38:3.1 MR: And then the stretcher would go down. I mean, I just assume this; I assume thats how it was working. But those were in that room right below the crematorium ovens, where they had these hooks all around the room, and that little lift, like an elevator, that went up to the crematorium building itself. 255 00:38:21.0 MH: German efficiency. 256 00:38:22.7 MR: No room for this, goddamn it! And the oventheres only one nut like me in the whole world that would observe this. But on the oven, it had the logo of the manufacturer, like Made by IBM, or Made by Microsoft. (laughs) In other wordsI dont want to make a joke out of it, but I cant resist it. Before it was in service, (inaudible). (laughs) They were proud of their product. 257 00:38:50.0 MH: Whose logo was it? 258 00:38:52.1 MR: Huh? Are you with me? 259 00:38:55.2 MH: Whose logo was it? 260 00:38:56.7 MR: Well, as I found out later onlets see. If you go down the autobahn, there was a whole series of towns, each one just a few miles apart: Gotha, Jena, Erfurt, Weimar, something like that. I cant remember. I got a map somewhere, and you can look it over. So, in Erfurt, which was the one before Weimar, just west of Weimar, is where they made these goddamn ovens. In fact, I ran into some woman historian from Texasshe also died recently. Cant remember her name anymore; its not important. She was telling mewhat the hell was the name of the concentration camp she was in? Well, its besides the point. She was (inaudible). I told her about the logo on top of the ovens, and she knew all about it. She said, Yes. In fact, this companyits like the I.G. Farben company in Erfurt. They sued the German government later on for putting them out of business. In other words, they couldnt make crematorium ovens anymore, so they went bankrupt. (laughs) Can you believe this? They had a lawsuit against the German government for putting them out of business. 261 00:39:59.7 MH: It was I.G. Farben? 262 00:40:0.9 MR: No, of course not, goddamn it! 263 00:40:2.6 MH: Okay. 264 00:40:3.4 MR: Make it IBM, doesnt matter. Just some goddamn company; who could remember? I just use that cause its in my mind, you know. 265 00:40:10.1 MH: Butokay. So, youve been in the crematorium building. 266 00:40:14.1 MR: Yes. 267 00:40:15.8 MH: And then you go out of it. 268 00:40:16.6 MR: Then I wandered around, and I saw this place where the children were, in the Kleine Lager. That was the Small Camp, yeah. 269 00:40:23.0 MH: Did you go into that camp? 270 00:40:24.2 MR: Huh? 271 00:40:24.9 MH: Did you go into 272 00:40:25.8 MR: Just next to it, right adjacent to it, like walking from the living room to the bedroomwell, not quite, you know. Its right there, right adjacent to it. In factI hate to make these assumptions, because it sounds almost ridiculous. The prisoners in the big camp looked down on these poor slobs in the little camp, because they had it even worse than them, if you can believe it. 273 00:40:45.3 MH: What was worse in the little camp? 274 00:40:47.4 MR: Well, from what I understand, first of all, it was the stench. In other words, there were no sanitary conditions there. I walked into these, like, barracks, you might say. In each barrack, they had big boardsgo into, like, a barracks, and theres boards three levels high, and thats where these people were laying sleeping, one on top of the other. Theres noI dont know, I think they had the toilets out in the street somewhere. The stenchwhen I walked in there, the stench would knock you backwards. Its beyond description, and it was just unbelievable, just unbelievable. I dont know how these people were still alive there. It was fantastic. 275 00:41:23.7 MH: Did you vomit? 276 00:41:25.4 MR: But, uh 277 00:41:26.6 MH: Did you throw up? 278 00:41:27.7 MR: No. No, no, not really. No. 279 00:41:30.0 MH: Did you cry? 280 00:41:31.6 MR: No. I hate to say it. It was likein other words, I had seen plenty of dead bodies, believe me, and plenty of casualties and all that. But this is just beyond your wildest dreams. Who ever heard of anything like this? It was like a murder factory, you see. The inmates were literally crawling on the ground. They were likethey couldnt stand on their feet anymore, they were so badlyyou know, without food and everything. They were starving to death. In fact, as I understand, about two or three days after we leftI think it was called the 120th Evacuation Hospital came in to do what they can, and the inmates were still dying at the rate ofjust from hunger and everything else, diseaseabout 200 a day, until they finally managed to straighten things out there. 281 00:42:19.6 What else? Come on, lets go. 282 00:42:22.1 MH: Did inmates try and come up and talk to you? 283 00:42:24.7 MR: There was onethe guy that spoke to me, and I got most of the information, like What had you done? (inaudible), and so on. I ran into ahe was Polish, a young student. He was maybe twenty-five years old or so. I said, What the hell are you doing in here? Why did they take a young guy like you? He said that he had three brothers that were fighting in the Polish underground, so they grabbed him to punish him for their activities, something like that. Thats how he ended up there. He had been going to the university in Warsaw or something. But he spoke fairly good English, come to think of it, and he was the one that explained to me a lot of these little crazy things. 284 00:42:56.9 MH: What else did you see in the camp? 285 00:42:59.1 MR: Huh? 286 00:42:59.9 MH: What other buildings, what other things did you see in the camp? 287 00:43:2.5 MR: The barracks, basically. The barracks, you know, where they slept. They were all wearing that goddamn pajama suit, likewhat do you call it? Black stripes, like a striped zebra suit. Youve seen it. 288 00:43:14.4 MH: Was it blue and gray or black and gray? 289 00:43:16.4 MR: Oh, God, I just left out which to me is one of the most important things. In Buchenwald, they had 168 Allied Air Force officers. They (inaudible) to be in a POW camp, like Stalag 17, the movie; youve seen it? 290 00:43:32.4 MH: Yes. 291 00:43:33.1 MR: With William Holden? 292 00:43:33.8 MH: One of my favorite movies. 293 00:43:35.0 MR: They threw these poor sons of bitches into this goddamn concentration camp. Im still in touch with one of them. When I get to know you a little better, Ill give you his name and address. He lives in Victoria, British Columbia. His name is Lieutenant Arthur Kinnis, RCAF. He was shot down over Holland [in a] Lancaster, a big four-engine bomber. See, the British used to bomb in the daytimeno, they used to bomb at night, and we used to bomb in the daytime. He was shot down, and I guess he must have jumped out with a parachute; he was picked up by the underground. In the underground, there was alike a double agent. In other words, he was like a German agent, and he would turn them over to the Gestapo and hed get paid for it. So, they took this poor guy, Kinnis, and threw him into the concentration camp. 294 00:44:23.4 MH: How do you spell 295 00:44:24.8 MR: He was in Buchenwald. 296 00:44:25.5 MH: How do you spell his last name? 297 00:44:26.4 MR: Arthur, like Arthur. 298 00:44:28.0 MH: Yeah. 299 00:44:28.6 MR: I got his phone number. Ill give it to you; you can call him tonight. Kinnis, K-i-n-nwell, I dont know about the time difference. K-i-n-n-i-s. Give me a minute; let me look it up. Hold it. 300 00:44:39.1 MH: Okay. 301 00:44:45.1 MR: Write it down, please. 302 00:44:46.5 MH: Okay. 303 00:44:47.3 MR: Arthur, like Arthur, G., K-i-n-n-i-s. RCAF; he was a lieutenant. Heres his address: take the whole goddamn thing down. Now, heres his phone number. God damn it. Shit. Phone numberoh, yeah, you better have the operator help you. His wifes name is Betty. Tell him its Mel Rappaport; hell know who I am. Listen, call him tonight. Its only six oclock, so theyre still up. 304 00:45:17.4 MH: Okay. You 305 00:45:17.7 MR: For the hell of it, call him tonight, will you? 306 00:45:19.1 MH: Yes. 307 00:45:19.8 MR: But have the operator help you with this long distance number. 308 00:45:22.3 MH: Ill get it. You met him in the camp? 309 00:45:23.7 MR: Of course not! Hold on just a minute. (laughs) 310 00:45:32.4 MH: Why is that such an amusing question? 311 00:45:34.1 MR: Oh, come on now. I wasnt walking around trying to introduce myself to these guys. In fact, as I remember itI think about a week before, I think they marched him out. See, what they were doing, as the Russians were coming from the east and were coming from the west, you know what was going on. They were taking a lot of these inmates and shoving them around. Half of them died on the roads marching and all that crap. I think they took him and the 168 fellowsin fact, he had a club called the KLB Club, and he was the president of it, these 168 guys. I dont suppose theres anybody left anymore. 312 00:46:12.9 But hell tell you all about it. Its best that you talk to him directly. Arthur Kinnis, very splendid chap, and tell him Mel Rappaport, and hell let his defense down immediately and hell talk to you about anything you want to know. I mean, I cant remember all this crap anymore; it happened so long ago. But hes a good guy. In fact, he wrote a book. What the hell did he call it? The Lucky Ones: the 168, the lucky ones. Yeah, thats right, something like that. Well, hell tell you all about it. He sent me a book, by the way, autographed it to me here. 313 00:46:43.4 Okay, what else? 314 00:46:44.5 MH: You said you spent about an hour and a half there. 315 00:46:48.1 MR: Huh? 316 00:46:48.7 MH: You spent 317 00:46:49.7 MR: No more than that. The war was on, man, I had to get back! 318 00:46:51.8 MH: I understand that. 319 00:46:52.5 MR: This isnt like going to Disneyland. 320 00:46:53.5 MH: You spent an hour and a half there. 321 00:46:55.1 MR: Just about. 322 00:46:56.3 MH: And 323 00:46:57.7 MR: Then I had to get my ass back to Headquarters. 324 00:46:59.2 MH: How has that hour and a half affected your life? 325 00:47:1.5 MR: Let me put it this way: To this day, II said I dont know what I had for breakfast this morning, but yet, what happened in this crazy place is indelible in my mind. I dont know how else to explain it, you know. Ilse Koch, these RAF officersit wasnt just RAF, by the way; they had American officers, Australian officers, New Zealand officers, and they were all thrown into this goddamn camp. Arthurll explain it to you in much more detail what it was all about. I just cant remember anymore why they took him and threw him in there. But he was betrayed by some bastard that the Dutch underground wanted picked up, poor guy. 326 00:47:40.1 MH: But the impact 327 00:47:41.9 MR: Another punch line. Ready? The punch lineyoure not gonna believe this. Finally, after all this poor son of a bitch has been through, he makes his way back to his Canadian Air Force base in Germany. They dont believe him. They think hes AWOL. (laughs) 328 00:47:56.1 MH: Oh, good 329 00:47:57.0 MR: I said, Arthur, you know what Id do? Id pick up a two-by-four, and Id beat the shit out that goddamn GT officer who doesnt take your word. Afterward, he goes back to Canada. His government dont believe him, cause hes entitled to certain compensation. I guess you know about that. If you were in a concentration camp, they paid you for each day you were there. I dont remember the details. So, he was entitled to compensation. It took him months and months and months, years, to finally collect his money. The government didnt believe him, either. Hell confirm everything Im telling you, when you speak to him tonight. (laughs) 330 00:48:29.1 MH: Okay. But I want to know from you 331 00:48:31.9 MR: Yes? 332 00:48:32.6 MH: How did that experience affect your life? 333 00:48:35.6 MR: What can I tell you? I cant tell you; its just one of those things. (inaudible) It affected me very much, and I can never forget about it. I dont know how else to explain it to you. Life goes on. 334 00:48:47.4 MH: Let me ask you a question 335 00:48:50.7 MR: Life goes on. 336 00:48:51.5 MH: Were you a religious person before the war? 337 00:48:53.4 MR: No. 338 00:48:54.1 MH: Were you a religious person after the war? 339 00:48:55.5 MR: No. That didnt change me in any way like that. I have to tell you, everybodys different. You read about these guys coming back from Iraq, post-war syndrome and this and that. They dont recover and they murder their wives and all that horseshit. With me, once I was out of it, I was out of it. It was all behind me. I went back to college and just picked up my life where I left off. I met my wife and had a very happy marriage. 340 00:49:19.1 MH: Whered you go to college? 341 00:49:20.6 MR: (laughs) Where are you from, by the way? 342 00:49:23.8 MH: Chicago. 343 00:49:25.1 MR: (sings) Chicago, Chicago. (laughs) 344 00:49:27.6 MH: And then nineteen years in Los Angeles, and then here. 345 00:49:29.3 MR: Anyway, heres a story. I dont know if you know about anti-Semitism in the good old USA. 346 00:49:35.0 MH: Ive never heard of it. 347 00:49:36.3 MR: Okay. You never heard about anti-Semitism. Let me tell you about it. I lived it. In 1940, when I was going to school in the city, it was called CCNY. 348 00:49:46.4 MH: City College of New York. 349 00:49:47.6 MR: City College of New York. It was something else; I dont remember it. It was 99 percent Jewish boys and girls. A Jewish man or womanjust take my word for thiscould not get into the Ivy League schools, professional schools, lawyer, doctor, dentist, et cetera. 350 00:50:5.0 MH: My father had to get into Northwestern on a quota. 351 00:50:8.4 MR: Well, I should take a step back. At Columbia University here in New York, if they had a 400-member freshman class, six little Jews would get in, maybe. Thats how it worked out. Thank God later on, of course, the world has changed. Today, of course, if a college tried to pull that shit, youd sue them for discrimination and all that. The world has changed, of course, but thats the way it was back in those days. For the men that wanted to become doctors, dentists, and lawyers, their family, if they were rich enough, they used to send their childrenI had two friends, by the way. One went to Canada; I think it was called McGill University. One went down to Mexico; I think it was called Guadalajara University, or something like that. Thats where they got their degrees. Jews couldnt get into professions. You never heard this before, did you? 352 00:50:57.8 MH: Never. 353 00:50:58.6 MR: All right, let me tell you about me. Ready? 354 00:50:59.7 MH: Yes. 355 00:51:0.3 MR: In my junior year, I guess, or maybewhatever it was, I was called down to the guidance counselor. Heres something I cant forget, either. I was nineteen years old, big blue eyes, and the nice gentleman, gray-haired, says, What would you like to do, sir? I said, Well, my daddy and my mother think that Id make a good architect. [He said] Hmm, very, very nice. Are you Jewish? [MR said] Yes, I am. He saidlook, Im paraphrasing it, of course; (laughs) it was fifty years ago. He said, Lets face the facts of life. No architectural school will probably admit you, and if they do, when you graduate, IBM and General Electric arent gonna hire you. (laughs) So, I opened my blue eyes, and said, What do you suggest, sir? He said, Major in education, and take a minor in accounting. Thats exactly what I did. (laughs) Thats the way it was, baby. 356 00:51:58.3 MH: Okay. 357 00:51:59.6 MR: Different world, different world. You know what changed the world, by the way, to a great extent? GI Bill of Rights. Yeah, because after the war ended in forty-five , forty-six , you had thousands and thousands of men eligible to go to college. It sort of became like competition; they had the money to pay the tuition and all that crap. In fact, when I went to CCNY, there was no tuition. It was free. Thats right! All you had to do was pay for your books. Yeah. 358 00:52:23.0 MH: So, you were in college before the war 359 00:52:27.9 MR: Yeah. 360 00:52:28.8 MH: And then 361 00:52:29.6 MR: And I came back. I finished it off. 362 00:52:31.4 MH: You finished it. At CCNY? 363 00:52:32.8 MR: Huh? 364 00:52:33.5 MH: At CCNY? 365 00:52:34.6 MR: Yes, I went back to school. I got out inwhat was it, forty-six  or forty-seven . I had aboutI guess I needed another thirty credits. I dont remember anymore; its too goddamn long ago. 366 00:52:46.3 MH: So, what kind of job did you get? 367 00:52:48.4 MR: WellI never thought Id get into this again. I went to get a job as a schoolteacher. I majored in economics and history, I think, social science. So, I went down to the Board of Ed; it was on a street in Brooklyn called Court Street. I went to the Board of Ed, told them Im ready to study, and they offered mewrite this down to give to your wife, please$2,850 a year, $2,850. That was the salary. So, I scratched my behind, and (inaudible) the guy with me, another buddy. As we walked out, he said, Mel, can I make a suggestion? I said, Sure. He said, Go back to school at nightthey have these evening classesand take an insurance brokerage course. Go into business and become an insurance broker. And I did. I took his advice and went back to school; in six months I became a licensed broker, and then I was in the insurance business. And thats the story of my life. (laughs) 368 00:53:40.5 MH: Well, not quite. When did you get married? 369 00:53:42.5 MR: When did I get married? Nineteen sixty. 370 00:53:44.7 MH: Not till 1960? 371 00:53:47.2 MR: Yeah. 372 00:53:48.1 MH: Do you have kids? 373 00:53:49.3 MR: No, we didnt have any children. But I got a beautiful wife and a beautiful marriage, and Im very happy. Ill mail you some pictures of us here. 374 00:53:57.9 MH: Okay. Speaking of pictures, do you have anyeven one photo of you in the war? 375 00:54:4.0 MR: Of course. What, are you kidding or something? 376 00:54:5.9 MH: Some people have them 377 00:54:8.3 MR: Oh, God, I have them. 378 00:54:9.6 MH: Some people have them, and some people dont. 379 00:54:11.1 MR: No, I got plenty of pictures here. Listen, something else: I stayedI only told this to two other people, my wife and my best friend, Marvin. I stayed in the active reserves when I got out of the service for one reason only. I used to train once a week, on Mondays, from like seven to eleven at a place here called Fort Tilden. Its right on the coast here. I used to get paid a days pay equivalent to my rank. And the reason I stayed in the active reservesIm telling it to you now; it doesnt matter anymore, cause you probably think Im a war hero. (laughs) I needed the money. I needed that fucking $125 a month I used to get from them. But, guess what happens? 380 00:54:52.5 MH: What? 381 00:54:53.4 MR: The Korean War busted out. (laughs) In 1951, we all got letters from Harry Truman, the commander-in-chief, and he reactivated us, or whatever you want to call it, and we all went back to Fort Dix, New Jersey. (laughs) I joined the 9th Infantry Division as a replacement. This was during the Korean War. So, I put in another two years. 382 00:55:14.4 MH: You didnt get sent overseas? 383 00:55:15.4 MR: Im ashamed to tell you, I went there just for that goddamn $125 a month. I needed the money. 384 00:55:22.4 MH: When they recalled you, did they send you overseas? 385 00:55:24.9 MR: No, no, no. I didnt go to Korea. In factgee, I never thought Id get into this, goddamn it, Michael, but Im gonna give you the whole nine yards already. I was at Fort Dix, New Jersey, at the officers club one night, and they were all drinking beerI never drank beer, never drank whiskey, never drank anything; [I was] drinking my Pepsi-Cola, I suppose. I sat up and said, Fellas, I want to make a toast, and they all looked at me, and I said, I want to say the following: Ive had diarrhea, Ive even had gonorrhea, but I hope to fuck they dont send us to Korea. (laughs) Youre not giggling, damn it. Youre not giggling! 386 00:56:1.3 MH: You know why? I did a lot of work with M*A*S*H, the TV show. And, actually, theres a line in one of the scripts about Korea rhymes with dia. 387 00:56:14.5 MR: (laughs) Oh, really? 388 00:56:15.3 MH: Yeah. 389 00:56:15.8 MR: I never heard that. I want to tell you something: Ive seen every war movie that ever occurred, more than once, like The Great Escape, Stalag 17, and so on, Twelve OClock High, et cetera, all the great movies. But the one thing I never enjoyedand hated!was that M*A*S*H. 390 00:56:33.2 MH: Why? 391 00:56:33.8 MR: A bunch of wise guys, they made a joke out of it; it was all a lot of fun, nobody got hurt, and everybody was bullshitting around. 392 00:56:40.4 MH: But thats not so. 393 00:56:41.4 MR: Every time a high-ranking combat officer came around, they made a fool out of him, you know. I hated that goddamn program. 394 00:56:47.6 MH: Really? But its the only television 395 00:56:49.7 MR: Im serious. They were a bunch of bastards. 396 00:56:51.7 MH: Its the only 397 00:56:53.4 MR: It was a comedy. It was a lot of fun. The Korean War was a lot of fun for these guys, includingwhat was his name, Alan Alda? He was the head comedian there. I remember this one timethis was very funny. He made a remark to someone that Everybody here is so bored, I can walk around naked and nobodys gonna look at me. 398 00:57:11.1 MH: Right. 399 00:57:11.6 MR: So, for about thirty minutes, he went around nakedwell, of course you couldnt see him too well, just from his chest upand nobody noticed that he was naked. Very funny. Very funny. Im laughing hysterically. We had other things on our minds. I wasnt worrying about being bored. No, I dont think I was ever bored. I couldnt stand that whole goddamn program. It was just a bigto them, the Korean War was a joke, a big joke. 400 00:57:35.2 MH: I dontyou know something? I dont agree with you, but I also know youre wrong. 401 00:57:41.0 MR: Really? Listen, youre entitled to your opinion, but I didnt like the program. 402 00:57:45.3 MH: I know the people who created that show. 403 00:57:46.9 MR: All right. 404 00:57:47.5 MH: I worked with Larry Gelbart. 405 00:57:49.3 MR: Its a funny thing. I saw the movie. It was based on the original movie; I forget who the actors were. 406 00:57:53.7 MH: Well, Elliott Gould, Donald Sutherland 407 00:57:57.1 MR: Thats right. The movie I enjoyed. But that thing that went on for twenty years, I hated it. I used to watch it occasionally, even the reruns, just so I could hate it. And then that guy was running around wearing a dress and all that bullshit. To me, it was nonsense, sheer nonsense. 408 00:58:10.0 MH: You know, the guy running around wearing the dress was based on something Lenny Bruce actually did in World War II. 409 00:58:15.2 MR: I know nothing about that. But I dont consider that fun. To me, its not funny. On a few occasions, a high-ranking officer would be wounded or something, so theyd make a fool out of him cause he was a combat officer. Well, I wont go into it. They had no idea what the war was really all about. 410 00:58:34.6 MH: I 411 00:58:36.2 MR: To them, it was a big joke. And they had that (inaudible). 412 00:58:39.0 MH: I think youre wrong. You know why I think youre wrong? 413 00:58:41.8 MR: Why? Wait a minute; Im not defending myself here. 414 00:58:45.4 MH: No, no, Im just telling you. 415 00:58:46.4 MR: We all have our likes and dislikes. I hated that goddamn program. 416 00:58:48.4 MH: I know. But you say they knew nothing about the war. You know how much time in that series they spent in the operating room and lost patients? 417 00:58:55.6 MR: But they were joking about it. They were always making jokes about it. 418 00:59:0.3 MH: Okay. I wont try and convince you. 419 00:59:3.3 MR: Listen, let me give youI guess Im a little different than most people. Now, there was this other crazy thing, Seinfeld. It was on for ten years. The greatest comedian that ever lived never smiled or laughed once. My wife used to like to watch it, and I used to sit there. Nothing ever said [was] funny. Nothing clever, nothing amusing. 420 00:59:21.3 MH: What makes you laugh? 421 00:59:23.0 MR: And by the way, I happen to be a real laugher. Im not joking. You take that Bob Newhart program; I always remember that, because the woman that played his wife, Emily, she just died. 422 00:59:33.3 MH: Suzanne Pleshette, yes. 423 00:59:34.8 MR: So, it brought it all back to me. I never missed one of them. I used to watch that thing religiously. And then Carol Burnett came on the next night, and then Mary Tyler Moore. They were so fantastically great, funny, interesting, clever. But M*A*S*H and SeinfeldSeinfeld I can understand. I always remember one little crazy thing with Seinfeld. The crazy bastard Kramer didnt know how to take a shower. So, they gave him a book, How to Take a Shower. For twenty or thirty minutes, he was in the shower with the water on, and hes reading a book on how to take a shower. That was the program, that particular 424 01:00:13.0 MH: I wont defend Seinfeld. 425 01:00:14.9 MR: The funny thing is I used to watch it and say, Where are the jokes? There wasnt one funny remark, nothing funny. I never got into it. But listen, please, Mike, dont say I dont laugh, that I dont appreciate comedy. I sure do. 426 01:00:31.5 MH: Did you use comedy to get through the war? 427 01:00:34.6 MR: I was always a comedian. Let me put it this way: I always had a light touch, to this day. I dont know how to put it. You know, I take things seriously, but not that seriously. (laughs) Including myself. 428 01:00:48.0 MH: But, I mean, let me ask you a serious question about something funny. 429 01:00:50.8 MR: Okay. 430 01:00:51.8 MH: After you had seen Buchenwald, could you still tell jokes? 431 01:00:55.7 MR: Of course. Im telling youI became myself again, let me put it that way. You know what I mean? 432 01:01:1.5 MH: How long did it take? 433 01:01:2.7 MR: I didnt havewhats the word?nightmares or anything like that. I just adjusted very quickly back to normalcy. Lifes too important. Im not gonna dwell in the past. I know what Ive seen, I know what I did, I remember it all so well, and Ill describe it and all, but Im not gonna let it have me howling in the middle of the night at the moon. 434 01:01:21.8 MH: Were you wounded at all over there? 435 01:01:23.6 MR: Yes. 436 01:01:24.6 MH: More than once? 437 01:01:26.6 MR: Just once. 438 01:01:27.8 MH: Just once. 439 01:01:28.7 MR: I gotwhat do you call it?shrapnel down the side of my arm there. Well, it wasnt anything serious. Im sorry I brought up M*A*S*H, cause now you think Im a sourpuss. 440 01:01:40.3 MH: No, no, no, no! We just have a difference of opinion. 441 01:01:43.8 MR: I didnt see anything funny about it, ever. There wasnt one funnythere was one I did enjoy thoroughly. A bunch of nurses come up, new nurses come in for one reason, and one of them was an old girlfriend of his that he knew when he was going to medical school. Cant remember herlovely actress, by the way. So, they started to relive their old times together, and she gave him up, because he loved medicine and being a doctor, more important than romance, and she couldnt take that, you know. They were sort of reliving the past of their lives, and they talked a little about how he had gone to medical school and all that. I always enjoyed that one; it was a little more human, you know, about the two of them. And then, of course, she gets transferred to another unit, and that was the end of it, you know. But he was in love with his profession, and had no time to make love and all that sort of thing. That was basically the theme. Wonderful actress; I cant remember her name. But that was one thing I did enjoy. And I also enjoyed that fellow from Boston; I cant think of his name. 442 01:02:50.1 MH: Winchester. 443 01:02:51.3 MR: Winchester. 444 01:02:52.1 MH: David Ogden Stiers. 445 01:02:53.8 MR: He I did enjoy, and they tried to make a fool out of him. They were always doing crazy things with him. 446 01:03:0.1 MH: That actor was at my daughters bat mitzvah. 447 01:03:5.3 MR: Lovely guy, lovely guy. Very, very nice. 448 01:03:7.4 MH: I dont know if you heard, but he came to my daughters bat mitzvah. 449 01:03:10.3 MR: Really? (laughs) 450 01:03:11.5 MH: Yes. 451 01:03:12.7 MR: You know, its a funny thing. Usually when these guys get finished with a sitcom, you never see them again. But him, he did appear several times in other little works sometimes. I recognize the voice more than anything else, you know. 452 01:03:25.8 MH: Yeah, hes done a lot of voiceovers for Disney, in Beauty and the Beast 453 01:03:29.8 MR: Theyre all good actors. Im not gonna take anything away from them, you know. That guy Farrell was very good, too, I thought. 454 01:03:34.2 MH: Mike Farrell I talk to once a month. 455 01:03:37.2 MR: Yeah. But what can I tell you? I just neverIm telling you, I couldnt understand why it was such a goddamn big hit. I saw nothing funny about it. It wasnt funny! 456 01:03:47.0 MH: Okay! Ill take your word for it. 457 01:03:49.9 MR: I did enjoy the colonel, too. What was his name? 458 01:03:52.6 MH: Harry Morgan. 459 01:03:53.5 MR: Yeah, Harry Morgan. He was in a lot ofin fact, I caught an old movie with John Wayne. It was Waynes last picture, The Gunfighterwhatever, I cant remember it.Â The Shootist (1976). Takes place in Carson City, Nevada; he was an old-time gunfighter, so all the tough guys in town wanted to go up against him. I remember Henry Morgan was the sheriff, and told him to get the hell of town; hes causing too much trouble. He was a good character actor, a wonderful character actor. 460 01:04:22.7 MH: Yes. Yes, hes still alive. 461 01:04:24.5 MR: Wait a minute; he was in Dragnet, too. 462 01:04:25.8 MH: He was in Dragnet 463 01:04:27.1 MR: He was in Dragnet. 464 01:04:28.4 MH: He was in the movie The Oxbow Incident. He was in a lot of stuff. 465 01:04:31.6 MR: Yes. He was in somethingno, no, he wasnt in it. Ill tell you the funny thing: I got a film here for VCR, and no one seems to know about it except me. It was Marlon Brandos very first movie. It was called The Men. Two words: The Men. And it had to do with paraplegics inwhat is the name of that place?Tuscaloosa. Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And all the actorsthats right, the only two real actors were Marlon Brando, his first film; Jack Webb, who was his best friend; and the doctor, who wasI cant remember his name anymore. Dr. Brock. Everybody else was real soldiers, real paraplegics, and it was just the most wonderful movie in the world about how they adjust to normal life, you know. 466 01:05:23.3 Theres one line that Ill never forget. It opens up with Dr. Brock, the head doctor there, in a big auditorium, and hes got all the wives and sweethearts and mothers and so on, and hes talking to them. Hes explaining whats going on. He said, Now, theres oneIm quoting him. Lets get one thing understood here, madam, lady, madam, whatever. The wires have been cut. These men will never walk again. And the little old lady from the back comes running up to him at top speed, grabs him by the white jacket hes wearing, and looks up at his face and says, But, Doctor, (sobs) Im crying, my boys only eighteen! He says, Yes, madam. Take good care of him, and someday hell be seventy-five. 467 01:06:11.5 MH: (laughs) Oh, jeez. 468 01:06:12.6 MR: Ill never forget that little old lady. But, Doctor, my boys only eighteen! 469 01:06:16.9 MH: There were a lot of eighteen year old boys. 470 01:06:18.0 MR: What a wonderful movie! Check it out for me on Google, will you? The Men. 471 01:06:22.8 MH: Ive seen the movie. 472 01:06:24.4 MR: You did? 473 01:06:25.2 MH: Oh, yeah. 474 01:06:25.7 MR: You son of a gun. And the girl was wonderful, Teresa Wright. In fact, I caught the other night a remakea repeat, ratherof The Best Years of Our Lives. She was the sweetheart of Dana Andrews, Fredric Marshs daughter. What a wonderful actress she was, beautiful, so sweet and so innocent and so nice. I love that film, by the way, The Best Years of Our Lives. I also remember it had one great scene where hes up in thethey have all the old planes being taken apart on this airfield, and he climbs into an old B-25 that he used to be a bombardier in. Hes sitting up there, and all of a sudden all those memories are coming back: hed hear the roar of the motors and all that. He hears a voice, What the hell are you doing up there? so he jumps out and says, Well, I used to fly in one of these things. The guy says, Yeah, youre one of those guys up in the wild blue yonder, and I was down on the ground in a fucking tank getting my ass shot off. 475 01:07:16.7 MH: (laughs) 476 01:07:17.1 MR: He said, Look, buddy, tell me about your wartime experiences some other time, but Im looking for a job. So, they gave him a job making prefabricated houses. Thats towards the end of the movie. I caught it the other night: it was wonderful, just wonderful. 477 01:07:29.6 MH: Anything else you want to tell me about 478 01:07:33.1 MR: I could talk all night on this, you know, but I guess youve had enough. 479 01:07:36.4 MH: about Buchenwald? 480 01:07:37.6 MR: Listen, Michael, we could talk again, and you couldjust think of anything you want to ask me. I want you to call up Kinnis right today. Please, dont let me down! 481 01:07:44.6 MH: It may not be tonight. 482 01:07:46.3 MR: Why not? 483 01:07:47.0 MH: Because I have some other calls to make tonight. 484 01:07:48.7 MR: How long does it take, goddamn it? Just dial the number. 485 01:07:51.0 MH: I could dial the number, but I dont want to say, Hi, its me and Ill call you back. 486 01:07:58.2 MR: Ill get back to you later. Just want to break the ice, thats all. 487 01:08:0.1 MH: Okay. 488 01:08:1.0 MR: Its Mel Rappaports buddy. 489 01:08:2.5 MH: I promise you I will call him. 490 01:08:3.8 MR: Well, all right. Hes got a lot tohe himself has got an awful lot to tell you about his experiences in that crazy place. And also, he wrote this book, The Lucky Ones, how he was lucky to survive it all, you know. 491 01:08:15.4 MH: Okay. 492 01:08:16.3 MR: He was treated like a regular inmate. 493 01:08:18.2 MH: And the book was The Lucky Ones? 494 01:08:19.9 MR: I think so. I think it was called The 168. There were 168 officers there, and I think it was called The Lucky Ones. Well, hell tell you all about it. 495 01:08:28.1 MH: Okay. 496 01:08:29.2 MR: He was a Canadian RCAF officer. But the best partremind himis his unit that he went back to didnt believe himthey thought he was a liarand the Canadian government didnt believe him, either, after all he went through. (laughs) I cant get over it! But hell tell you the story better than I can. Ive forgotten a lot, you know. Good guy. Im still in touch with him. I write him little notes now and then. Very fine gentleman. All right? 497 01:08:53.3 MH: Okay. I will be back in touch with you. 498 01:08:55.6 MR: Now, listen, number one, send me your e-mail tonight. 499 01:08:58.0 MH: I did. 500 01:08:58.7 MR: Dont forget. From Michael Hirsh. 501 01:09:1.1 MH: I sent it already. 502 01:09:2.1 MR: Oh, you did? And Ill put you in my buddy list, and thenwell, actually, what I usually send to my buddies is just my corny jokes. 503 01:09:9.3 MH: Yeah, but dont send me a lot of jokes. 504 01:09:12.1 MR: No? 505 01:09:12.6 MH: No. 506 01:09:13.3 MR: No kidding? 507 01:09:13.9 MH: Please dont send me a lot of jokes. 508 01:09:15.1 MR: All right, no jokes. 509 01:09:15.9 MH: First of all, I probably got em all from my eighty-eight year old uncle. 510 01:09:18.5 MR: (laughs) 511 01:09:19.6 MH: Second of all, I get so much e-mail for work that I 512 01:09:22.7 MR: All right. 513 01:09:23.4 MH: But what I would like you to look for is if you can find a good picture of you from the war, and 514 01:09:30.0 MR: Yeah, Ill look around here. 515 01:09:31.4 MH: and a good picture of you from today. 516 01:09:33.1 MR: Tell your old uncle the following. 517 01:09:35.4 MH: Yes? 518 01:09:36.1 MR: Tell him that Mel Rappaport claims hes slowed down so tremendously, last Sunday, it took me two hours to watch 60 Minutes. 519 01:09:43.3 MH: Ill do that. 520 01:09:46.2 MR: Oh, my God, youre not a giggler. 521 01:09:48.5 MH: Im smiling. 522 01:09:49.5 MR: Youre not a giggler! 523 01:09:49.5 MH: Im smiling! 524 01:09:50.9 MR: (laughs) 525 01:09:52.4 MH: Look for a picture from then, and also one from now. 526 01:09:55.8 MR: Ill mail you some of this stuff over the weekend. Oh, no, the weekends gone already. 527 01:09:59.1 MH: Okay. And one from now, too. 528 01:10:1.5 MR: Call me anytime you want. Usually in the evening, though. 529 01:10:3.7 MH: Okay. 530 01:10:4.2 MR: All right. 531 01:10:4.4 MH: All right, thank you. Bye-bye. 532 01:10:5.4 MH: First of all, were talking with Melvin Rappaport. 533 01:10:7.8 MR: H. Rappaport. 534 01:10:8.5 MH: Melvin H. Rappaport, R-a-p-p-a-p-o-r-t. Your address is? 535 01:10:13.6 MR: 536 01:10:14.3 MH: And your phone number. 537 01:10:15.0 MR: 538 01:10:15.7 MH: And your date of birth? 539 01:10:16.7 MR: May 24, 1921. 540 01:10:19.5 MH: You grew up where? 541 01:10:21.2 MR: Stamford, Connecticut. 542 01:10:22.8 MH: Whatd your family do? 543 01:10:26.9 MR: Father was from Budapest, Hungary, Hungarian. My mother was born in England. Father came here when he was seventeen years old, had no training, couldnt speak the language, never went to school. The reason he had to leave Hungary, it was a very Orthodox family, and he was going to be eligible for the army; they had conscription there. So, when he was seventeen, he have to go intothatd mean he have to eat the treyf food, and that was out of the question. I had an aunt here who was eighteen years old; she greeted him at the dock. They had to get him out of there. 544 01:11:3.4 By the time I came alongsome years later, because he was married to my mother thenhe had a big bakery in Stamford and a big retail shop, and my mother worked behind the counter there, and about a dozen men working. He made, like, a loaf of white bread, like Silvercup, and he distributed it throughout the area. He was very successful, had cars and houses and everything else. How he did it, Ill never understand it. Hes my hero. Hes my hero. 545 01:11:29.5 MH: How many brothers and sisters? 546 01:11:31.2 MR: I got two sisters and one brother. 547 01:11:33.4 MH: And youre what, the oldest, middle? 548 01:11:35.2 MR: Im in the middle there, somewhere, yeah. 549 01:11:36.6 MH: Youre in the middle. So, how did you end up in the army? 550 01:11:39.4 MR: My mother, by the way: what happened to her, the family came from Lublin, Poland, and of course they didnt have enough money to go all the way, so they stopped in England, and thats where she was born. So, they stayed there about five years. Thats how it was in those days. They accumulated enough money and finally came to America, but she was born in London. 551 01:11:54.4 MH: Howd you go in the army? Drafted? 552 01:11:58.0 MR: Lets see, it was June 1941. I wanted to get it over with. Thats right, it was a twelve-month tour, and they were sayingall of us, like talking about getting a Ph.D. and getting a masters degree, we were talking about should we join the Air Corps, the Marines, or the artillery. (laughs) That was all that was on our mind at that time was going to college. So, I said, in my senior year, Oh, lets get the whole goddamn thing over with. 553 01:12:21.4 MH: Where were you going to college? 554 01:12:22.2 MR: CCNY, City College [of New York]. 555 01:12:24.6 MH: Studying what? 556 01:12:25.4 MR: Education. Shall I tell you why? 557 01:12:27.5 MH: Yes. 558 01:12:28.5 MR: Those were the bad old days. I dont know if this is going to shock you like it shocked Captain Renault in Casablanca. Jewish men and women could literally not get into professional schools. They had a quota. Say Columbia had four freshmen coming400 freshmen. They let in two or three Jews, probably rich ones whose father contributed to the alumni association. And thats the way it was. 559 01:12:53.2 I still recall this like it was yesterday. I went down to my guidance counselor. The first two years, in those days, you tookeverybody had to take the regular courses, you know, the 560 01:13:2.7 MH: The required courses. 561 01:13:3.7 MR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Today, of course, you take ballet and gymnastics and all that crap, but it was a different world then. So, I went down to this fellow, nice little gentleman with gray hair, and he said, Whatd you like to do, sir? Soof course, Im paraphrasing all this, now. I said, Well, my family always thought Id make a good architect. I think its a nice profession for me. 562 01:13:25.5 Very nice, very nice. Are you Jewish? I said, Yes, sir. He said, You better face the facts of life, or something like that. No architectural school will probably admit you, and if they do, when you graduate, IBM and Westinghouse, et cetera, is not gonna hire you. So, I opened up my nineteen year old baby blue eyes and said, What do you suggest, sir? He says, Major in education and take a minor in accounting, and thats exactly what I did. (laughs) Thats the way it was. The thing that changed the world later on was that G.I. Bill of Rights, which came into the late forties [1940s], but I dont want to get into that now. So, anyway, I went into the service willingly, figuring in twelve months Ill be out and itll be off my head. 563 01:14:8.1 MH: You didnt finishyou didnt get your degree? 564 01:14:10.0 MR: No. I had about sixteen credits or so to complete, but it didnt seem to matter at the time. I couldnt care less. 565 01:14:16.9 MH: When you went into the service, we werent in World War II yet, or were we? 566 01:14:20.2 MR: Oh, no, this is June 1941. Russia had just been attacked by Germany. Dont you remember? They attacked Russia June 22, 1941, thats right. So, they were just starting to form the army divisions at that time. Youre not gonna believe this. We had the old steel helmets from World War I, that little round pot. We had that old gas mask. Our artillery piece was the French 75. (laughs) And the tank, we calledI dont know what they called it. It was a twelve-ton tank, but we called it the Mae West. It had twin turrets, and our armament was a .50 caliber machine gun in each turret. That was our armament. And no communication system, no radio. What had a radio? So, if I was up in the turret, where the driver was below me, Id kick him in the left shoulder to go left, right shoulder right, hit him on the head to go faster, and kick him in the ass to slow down. And it worked! Oh, wait a minute, and then we also used arm signals. Its unbelievable. (laughs) 567 01:15:22.7 So, then the break of my life came: They sent me tolets see, thisd be aboutmaybe October of forty-one . They sent me and a whole bunch of other guys to Fort Knox, Kentucky. They had the Armored Force School there, tank training and tactics. Nobody calls it that anymore. So, were gonna be there for three or four months. I was at Fort Knox when Pearl Harbor broke out, December sixseventh. Seventh, of course, yes. So, luckily, I had two breaks. Its like a fork in the road. Next to me, in the next bedin those daystoday, everyone has their own little room, you know, like a motel. There we had rows of cots. 568 01:16:6.1 MH: I went to basic training at Fort Knox. I was probably in the same barracks you were. 569 01:16:9.6 MR: Could very well be. So, anyway, he wasin those days, you couldve been a Ph.D. in nuclear physics and they handed you a rifle. Theres no rsum. So, the guy next to me was a lawyer, Manny Hirst. Still remember. He was about twenty-eight years old. That was like an old man to me in those days. (laughs) So, right after the war started, he says, Mel, we cannot go back to the 4th Armored. I said, Why, Manny? Were sergeants, we know everybody, we got a good rating. He says, Look, you idiot, listen to me. If we go back there, this is a line outfit. They could send us to the Philippines next week. Who knows whatll happen? Well go to officers school, and that way itll at least guarantee us another six months in the United States, and who knows what happens afterwards. 570 01:16:48.2 So, this guy knew his way around, he knew where to get the paperwork and how to get the affidavits and the whole story, and I just trotted along with him. We ended up at the Armored Force OCS [Officer Candidate School] school for platoon leaders in the tank unit. And when I graduatedthey wouldnt send you back to the old outfit, you know; its not a good idea. The 6th was just being organized, so they sent us to the 6th Armored down at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, which was just in its infancy then. There were only a few thousand officers and men at the time. So, I went to the 6th Armored. And then, of courseshould I continue this sort of thing? 571 01:17:26.9 MH: Yes. 572 01:17:27.7 MR: Well, I was a tank platoon leader like everybody else. Thats what they needed. And then, again, I get the break of my life. Ill never understand how it happened. I get a communication that General [John] Devine, who was the Combat Command A commander, Brigadier General Devine wants to see me. I figured he wanted to shoot me at sunrise. What could I have done? (laughs) So, I went over to see him, and he told me that Id been recommended to him by I dont know who. He needed an ADC, aide de camp, and a signal officer for his combat command. I was ready to get down on my knees and kiss his feet and grovel, but I said, Yes, sir, I think Ill do a good job for you, sir. Just give me that opportunity, and Ill prove it, and this and that. 573 01:18:10.2 So, I left the armored regiment and went into the combat command headquarters, and I was with him for several months. And then there was a reorganization of the division, and thats when this new general came in, General [Robert W.] Grow, and Devine went to the 90th Division as a commander there or something. Luckily, I stayed behind in the same unit. Then, of course, they gave me other jobs. I became what was known as the S-3 for air, in the S-3 section. Well, we got into combat. I had a half-track with UHF materialits called ultra-high frequency radio materialso we could speak to the fighter planes. And I had an Air Force sergeant who drove me around, and he was able to speak their lingo. And we had their call signs and all that. 574 01:18:56.5 Whatd I do? I get orders from different battalions about some target out there that they want hit. So, I try to see if I canI didnt know where the hell they were. Theyd be flying around, and Id call out, If youre in the area, come down, and they would. Eight of them, P-47s: four up, four down. You know, they deck each other. And Id give the coordinates of the map and this and that to hit the targets, and that was part of my work. And then, we had a situation where we were suddenly being hit by, laughingly, friendly fire. They were dropping the bombs on us instead of the enemy. I still remember it. 575 01:19:29.1 In December of 1944, they sent me back to this P-47 air base on Verdun. I still remember that particular time, because thats when the Battle of the Bulge busted out. I was at this Air Force base at Verdun to see thewhat do you call it, the squadron commander?to try to straighten things out. And back came the pilots one afternoon, saying there was a big breakup up north or something. I didnt know what the hell they were talking about. I said, I better get my ass back to my unit and see whats cooking. 576 01:19:55.7 MH: What was your rank at that point? 577 01:19:57.4 MR: Captain. So, then, of course, everything changed, and our lives were never the same. We went into Bastogne, Belgium, during the Bulge. I was in there for two weeks. We mustve lost about a third of the division there. The worst winter in fifty years, snow up to our gun belts, freezing weather, fog. We had no air cover, because the planes couldnt fly. And it was just a terrible time of our lives. But somehow, we survived it. Youth, that was the thing, youth. When youre twenty, twenty-one years old, you can take anything, you know. And then life, of coursethen our combat continued, of course, and we got through the Siegfried Line, et cetera, and then it was in April. 578 01:20:42.2 Oh, yes, then another thing happened to me. Gee, another break. It was at the end of March. I get another message on the radio, to see Colonel [Glen C.] McBride, our chief of staff. Id never met the man. Id heard of him, but Id never met him before. When did I ever see a chief? The rear echelon is so far back it could be in another country. So, I said, Oh, good God, what did I do now to goof off that hed want to see me? So, I got into my Jeep. I had a weeks beard on my face, mud all over my shoes, and came to this luxurious headquarters building. They were back maybe fifty kilometers. I found this chief of staff office, and I went in there and saluted him. 579 01:21:20.5 He got right to the point. He says, Youve been recommended to us as a liaison officer to corps headquarters. And, of course, my mind was working feverishly. I suddenly realized if were here, corps is about fifty, sixty kilometers to the rear of them again! So, now, I was going to the rear, which if Id had a million dollars, I wouldve paid the colonel to get that job. Again, I tried to be very humble, and I said, Yes, sir. Thank you very much for the opportunity, and Im sure Ill be an excellent liaison officer for you. So, I spent the rest of the war, until the war ended and then till we went homeyou know, the occupation Army. 580 01:21:58.5 I used to flywell, they gave me an airplane. It was so far back, corps headquarters; it would take me hours to get there and hours to get back. So I had an L-4thats an artillery spotter plane, like Lindberghs plane, a little single-wing, you know; maybe it went 100 miles an hourwith a crazy pilot. He could put that plane right in your backyard. They were wonderful. Provided the weather was good: if it was a rainy day, Id take the Jeep. I wasnt going to take changes riding in bad weather. And then Id be flying back and forth all those seven or eight months. You know, you go to the G1, G2, G3, G4, G5, get their information and go to the corps G1 and exchange it, then come back. I hate to say thisin fact, I wont, but maybe I will. Today, Id be replaced by a fax machine. (laughs) Seriously! 581 01:22:44.0 MH: Not even a fax machine. It would be the Internet. 582 01:22:47.0 MR: Thats all Id be doing. Id be on the Internet. But that was my job, and it was a pleasure. I was able to, of course, eat in the officers mess back at corps headquarters and have great food, and got to know everybody there. So, I had no complaints as the war went on, and when the war ended, you know. (taps on table) 583 01:23:3.2 MH: Dont tap. Youre right next to the microphone. 584 01:23:4.2 MR: Oh, gosh. So, then we came back. It must have been October or so of forty-five . 585 01:23:12.9 MH: We need to back up. 586 01:23:15.9 MR: Ask me anything. Sorry. 587 01:23:18.1 MH: I want to talk about when you first 588 01:23:20.4 MR: Oh, about Buchenwald. 589 01:23:21.9 MH: When did you first became aware that there was a Holocaust? 590 01:23:24.3 MR: I was at corps headquarters. 591 01:23:25.9 MH: And what did you find out? 592 01:23:27.2 MR: I dont remember exactly. I was with another officer, Captain Bob Jackson. Hes still alive, by the way. And someone who had just been thereI didnt know the name. We didnt know there was such a place as Buchenwald. He says, Gee, by the way, theres a concentration camp about here, right beyond Weimar, and so on and so forth. I said, How do you get there? He said, Follow me, Ill take you there. If I went back there now, I couldnt find it. It was way up on a plateau, hidden away. 593 01:23:54.5 MH: Did you know what a concentration camp was? 594 01:23:56.4 MR: I hate to say it. If ever I have to fault the army in anything, they neglected to tell us that were going to run into these things. Surely General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower and SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force] headquarters knew about these crazy things. We were told nothing about it. There was a movie with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan calledcant remember the name of the moviein which they playeda 1940 film in which they played a couple in Germany. Her father was a professor, and they were Jewish, so they threw them in a concentration camp. That was the first time I ever heard the word concentration camp. Im sorry to say it, but that was the truth. 595 01:24:31.4 MH: That was before the war. 596 01:24:32.9 MR: Yes, 1940. There was a movie. What was it called? I dont remember anymore. 597 01:24:35.5 MH: Ill find it. My wife will actually know the name of it. 598 01:24:37.9 MR: Margaret Sullavanlovely actressand Jimmy Stewart. 599 01:24:40.9 So, this fellow took us to this crazy place, and there wasthe only way to describe it is beyond your wildest dreams. Id seen plenty of dead bodies, but Id never seen people that had these huge, big, black crematorium ovens. And by the wayI dont think anyone in the world except a nut like me would remember this. They had the log of the manufacturer on the top. Ill never forget that. ABC Crematoria Company, Erfurt, Germany. That was the next town from Weimar. 600 01:25:10.8 MH: What was it? 601 01:25:11.7 MR: Erfurt. I dont remember the name of the company. 602 01:25:13.1 MH: Erfurt? 603 01:25:13.8 MR: Yeah. Thats where they made it. (laughs) Im not making a joke out of it, theres nothing funny about it, but when I think back about it today, all they had to do was put down, Heres our 800 number for sales and service. I hate to say it, but I think about it. 604 01:25:28.4 MH: Tell me about just driving up to Buchenwald. How long before you got there had the Americans gotten there? 605 01:25:34.1 MR: Oh, it was the next day. 606 01:25:34.9 MH: So, you were there on the second day. 607 01:25:36.3 MR: Second day, yeah, yeah. 608 01:25:37.3 MH: Okay. So, tell mepick it up. Youre coming up the road. 609 01:25:39.9 MR: Well, we came there in the afternoon. It was afternoon, and the prisoners were wandering around. There were two camps, the Kleine Lager and the main camp. For some reason, this guy dropped us off in the smaller camp, which was even worse than the main camp, if thats possible. And the first thing anybody was attracted to was thesethis crematorium building, you know, with the big ovens and the bodies still in there smoldering away. See, it was all coal in those days. They had no oil. It was like they were making a roast chicken on a Thanksgiving. They were! 610 01:26:9.2 And underneath itgee, I still remember this; somebody mustve done it. They took thearound the back, below the crematorium oven, and that was like a huge room with hooks all around it. I just have to assume this is what they did. They would hang the prisoners on these hooks like in a meat shop. And then in the corner was a lift, like an elevator, with these metal stretchers where they probably put the body on, take it right up and into the oven. They were very efficient, you know. Unbelievable! And 611 01:26:40.6 MH: There were no 612 01:26:41.8 MR: There were no bodies there at the time. 613 01:26:43.4 MH: Hanging. 614 01:26:43.9 MR: Hanging, no. But they were on that iron thing. What do you call it? They took the iron stretcher and threw it right in there, you know. That didnt burn. And then, outside the crematorium buildingI showed you the pictures, in factthey had the next bunch that were to be burned up. There was hundreds of bodies piled up, you know. And all justyou know, one after another, throw it around, like it was fun. 615 01:27:8.0 MH: The stench? 616 01:27:9.0 MR: The stench was beyond your wildest dreams. It was unbelievable. And I still remember this crazy thing. On top of one of these cartsactually, it had rubber wheels. It wasnt a wagon; it was maybe a cart or whatever. There was this naked body on the top, big fat guy about 220 pounds like me, with a crew cut and his tongue sticking out. So, I remember I spoke to one of the inmates. He was a Polish youngster, twenty years old; he was in there because his father and his two brothers were members of the underground, so they threw them in this camp. He spoke English rather well, and I said, What the hells that? Whos that? He said, Oh, thats Herman, the guard. Before he could get out, the prisoners grabbed him and stripped him and killed him and threw him on the top, there. So, there was this big fat German guy, all nude, laying on the top. I still remember that idiot laying on the top. All the bodies were like skeletons, all black and discolored, and he was laying up there, nice pink skin, you know. Herman the German, I still refer to him. (laughs) 617 01:28:10.6 Okay, then something else happened. I wandered around this nightmare 618 01:28:15.7 MH: Were you being escorted by this 619 01:28:18.1 MR: Not by anybody. It was just a dozen men wandering around by themselves at the time. And 620 01:28:22.1 MH: What are you feeling inside? 621 01:28:25.0 MR: I cant explain it. First of all, the war was still on, and I shouldnt have been there, you know what I mean? I should bereally, literally, we were supposed to be in headquarters in case something happened, and I was hoping to God the chief of staff of the corps headquarters wouldnt be looking for me, so I couldnt fool around. I realized my time was limited, so I wandered around. 622 01:28:46.6 And the next important thing to tell you waswell, maybe 200 yards to the rear was this, like, a little concentration camp within a concentration camp: a big huge barbed wire entanglement, double barbed wire, and big chains on the front. And behind it was these young Jewish boys. As I found out later onI didnt stand there counting themthere were 850 of them. I would say the ages from about six to sixteen. Subsequently, many years later, I found out one was Elie Wiesel; and the other one, six years old, later became the chief rabbi of Jerusalem. His name was Rabbi Yisrael Lau, L-a-u. And I dont know, they were starving and hungry and cold and miserable. It was like a pack of wild beasts, just running around this little enclave in there. They looked at me, and I was looking at them. I didnt know what to say. It was unbelievable. All youngsters. 623 01:29:37.3 MH: Were you able to speak to them? 624 01:29:38.2 MR: No. What kind of talking? And they had the snot coming out of their nose; they all had colds. Oh, God, what a mess. So, then I went to the barracks. 625 01:29:50.1 MH: Wait, but youre seeing all these little kids. 626 01:29:52.4 MR: Whatre you gonna do? 627 01:29:53.2 MH: I dont know. 628 01:29:54.5 MR: Break the door down? Break the gates down? 629 01:29:55.8 MH: How did you know they were Jewish? 630 01:29:57.6 MR: I found that out later on. Everybody in there was Jewish, of course. Well, no, no, some were not. Yeah, thats right. Oh, each of the prisoners in the striped zebra suits had the logo of theirthe Frenchmen had an F, the Russians had an R, the Poles had a P, and the Jews had the Star of David. Thats right, yeah, yeah. So, you could tell who they were. 631 01:30:15.2 MH: So, the little kids 632 01:30:15.9 MR: No, they had civilian clothing on. They were, like, in civilian clothing. They were not very well equipped, of course. It was cold weather. This was April. And they were just running like wild beasts, running around wild. 633 01:30:27.8 So, then we went into a couplewe kicked the doors open to some of the barracks, and again, the stench was just unbelievable. It just hit you in the face. The latrines were out in the street, the toilets; all the toilets were right in the street there. And the inmates, they had, like, huge boards where they slept on, you know; where maybe you could hold maybe normally thirty people, they had maybe 300 in there, packed in there. So, all they did was poke around and look at them, and they were looking at me, and 634 01:30:56.1 MH: They were alive? They were dead? 635 01:30:56.9 MR: They were still standing around, yeah, standing. And some were standing against each other to keep themselves up, to hold each other up. If one of them walked away, the other one would fall down. 636 01:31:7.8 MH: Did they try and touch you? 637 01:31:9.0 MR: No, no, no. Just looking at me, and I was looking at them. 638 01:31:11.4 MH: And again, what are you thinking? 639 01:31:15.1 MR: I cant recall. I honestly cant recall. All I know is that it was unbelievable, just unbelievable. I hate to repeat it, but my big thought was how to get back to my headquarters. I was afraid I was gonna be missed. Jackson and me; see, he was with me. And hes still alive by the way, lives in California. Nice guy. 640 01:31:33.7 MH: So, you come out of the barracks, and now what do you do? 641 01:31:36.2 MR: We just wandered around there. 642 01:31:37.9 MH: Youre still in the Kleine Lager. 643 01:31:39.0 MR: Yeah, we just wandered around. Finally, we said, Gee, we gotta get our ass back to headquarters, so we jumped back into the Jeep and that was the end of it. Then it was about a week laterI have to tell you this, I had plenty of my own problems at the time. Didnt give it too much of a thought. But about a week later, Robertwhats his name? Richard Murrow? What was his name? Murrow? 644 01:32:0.5 MH: Edward R. Murrow. 645 01:32:1.3 MR: Edward R. Murrow went there and made thisthis would be about maybe two weeks laterand made this very famous speech on Buchenwald. And it became a classic. I dont know if you know anything about it. And he mentioned the word Buchenwald. So, I said to my buddy, Hey, Jackson, thats where I had to have heard the word before! Thats where he mustve been! because he was saying he was right outside of Weimar, and all that sort of stuff, you know. So, thats how I knew the name of the camp, Buchenwald. In other words, it wasnt like youre coming down the Long Island Expressway with a great big sign, Make left turn to the crematoriums, make right turn to Buchenwald. (laughs) There was nothing like that. They had this thing hidden away. 646 01:32:38.9 And the terrible thing about it was it was no more than six or seven kilometers away from Weimar; which, as I subsequently found outdidnt know anything about it at the timewas the cultural capital of Germany. In fact, today its still the cultural capital of Germany. All the great philosophers, writers, poets, musicians, et cetera all used to meet there. There was a hotel there called the Elephant Hotel, and thats whereand to this day, its like the Waldorf-Astoria. It was bombed to hell, you know. They all meet there to discuss things, and of course nobody in Weimar ever heard of Buchenwald. 647 01:33:14.7 Except, in February of forty-four , it was bombed. It was a real military target. They were making some type of munitions there, all right. So, the 8th Air Forceas I recall being told, the B-17s went over it, so the ack-ack [anti-aircraft] guards didnt go up. They thought they were going somewhere else. They went out about fifty miles and came back and caught them with their pants down. They clobbered Weimar pretty good, and also parts of Buchenwald; unintentionally, I suppose. About 500 prisoners, I think, were killed there. And the thing I recallnobody says they knew anything. Who do you think cleaned up the mess? The inmates! They came into Weimar with those striped zebra suits, and they were the ones that cleaned up the mess. So, of course, all this nonsense that they didnt know what was going on Â 648 01:33:58.8 Oh, by the way, not only did they know what was going on, but the commandant of Buchenwaldbefore they hung him; the SS hung himIlse Kochs husband, the Bitch of Buchenwald. He used to sell tickets. Thats right. He used to sell tickets to the inmatesI beg your pardon, to the good citizens, the sweet, adorable, sweet citizens of Weimar, to go into the camp or around the camp to see the inmates, like you go to a zoo or something. So, everybody knew what was going on. He was eventually hung, by the way, for corruption. In other words, they had a zoo there for the guards. I dont know if this isIve never seen it, but I had a friend of mine, this guy Bob Duoos,Â Robert Duoos was also interviewed for the Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is C65-00034. who claimed that they had a little Russian circus bear tethered to a post so the SS guards could play around with him, you know. And after the guards left, the inmates killed the bear and ate him up. I did not see it; this is what I was told. Very possible. 649 01:34:58.7 But Commandant [Karl Otto] Koch wasit was run like a business. They gave him so much money to pay the SS guards, buy the food, buy the fuel, buy the coal and the food for the animals in the zoo and all that; but he, of course, was keeping it all. And the SS caught him, and I guess it was even too much for them, so he was tried, court-martialed, and hung in Buchenwald. But his good wife, sweet, adorable, cute Ilse Koch, remained behind to continue her work. She was the one that used to make lampshades out of the bodies, the lampshade lady. Ilse Koch, the Bitch of Buchenwald. Unbelievable. Gee, I wish I had written all this stuff down. I cant remember it anymore. But that was basically the ingredients of it. 650 01:35:50.6 MH: Did you see any of the other camps when you were there? 651 01:35:53.0 MR: No. We ran across many prisoner of war camps. We liberated dozens and dozens of them, but not concentration camps. You see, every unit basicallywe fought on a broad front and units went straight, and no one deviated around that. Thats why that 761st Tank Battalion was full of nonsense.Â MR is referring to the controversial 1992 documentary Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II, which claimed that the 761st Tank Battalion and the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion, both all-black units, liberated Dachau, Buchenwald, and other camps. They claimed that they liberated Ohrdruf, Buchenwald, and Dachau, all in three different corps areas. It was like saying one of them was in Chicago, one is Miami, and one is Los Angeles. Well, you just didnt run around like that. It was ridiculous, so I knew it was total nonsense to begin with. 652 01:36:34.0 Of course, every unit hasevery company, in facthas what they call a morning report. Its nothing more than a diary: who got killed, who got wounded, who was missing in action, the coordinates of where you werea little, you know, summary of what happened that day. And all this is preserved by the way, at the Carlisle Barracks. So, we were able to get that stuff. We knew where they were. When we were at Buchenwald, they were at a place calledI cant remember the name. It was about 200 kilometers eastor west, ratherof Weimar. And that other, where Leon Bass came from, the engineer battalion, they wereon April eleventh, twelfth, they were near Frankfurt, Germany, working on the autobahn. Doing important work, fixing it and something, but they were nowhere near these places. It was just ridiculous. Well, no sense beating a dead horse. 653 01:37:18.4 MH: These are people whove claimed that they liberated 654 01:37:20.2 MR: They liberated all these camps, yeah. And I hate to say thisif I can find it, I got a letter from the U.S. Memorial Museum down in Washington, D.C. Youre not gonna believe this, because I wrote to them about that. They supported it, by the way. PBS had their support that the black troops did all these things. So, I wrote them a letter. 655 01:37:42.6 MH: That blew up in WNETs face. 656 01:37:44.3 MR: I wrote to the chief archivist, and I said, This is all nonsense. I was there, and they werent within 500 miles of us. So, back came the letter, something like this: Dear Mr. Rappaport, there is no doubt whatsoever in our mind that the 761st liberated Ohrdruf. There is no doubt in our mind that they liberated Dachau and Buchenwald. And then the best one of all: Theres no doubt in our mind There was another concentration camp about sixty kilometers north of Buchenwald called Dora-Mittelbau. I know nothing about it, but I remember the name. The 199th all-black Tank Battalion, a tank destroyer battalion, liberated Dora-Mittelbau. 657 01:38:23.3 I had never heard of them, so I wrote a letter to the Pentagon. I said, Who are they? What are they? Back came a letter: There was never any such unit in the United States history. (laughs) But this is the Holocaust [Museum] supporting all that nonsense! Would you believe this? 658 01:38:38.4 MH: Yeah. 659 01:38:39.2 MR: So, I remember the chief archivist at the time was a very lovely gentleman. Hes died, unfortunately. William Kesterling, or something like that; cant remember his name anymore. He was a former master sergeant in the Army, then went back to school, got a masters degree and Ph.D.s and all that sort of stuff. Dr. whatever his name was. So, I became kind of friends with him after a while. And he agreed with me, it was all total nonsense, of course. And then he had a heart attack. One of his subordinates wrote me a letter telling me that unfortunately, Your friend passed away. A lovely gentleman, though. 660 01:39:11.9 MH: When did you come home? 661 01:39:15.3 MR: October forty-five , I guess. Yeah. And, by the way, to show you what an eager beaver I was, on the ship, the [USS] Liberty ship coming back, I was in one of the cabins with a very good friend. Captain Baron, I think his name was. Well, whats the difference? He said, Mel, whatre you gonna do when you get home? I said, Well, Ill go back to college. I gotta finish a year or two there. He said, I got a suggestion for you. Why dont you become a veterinarian? I said, Why? He said, I have a brother-in-law, hes a veterinarian. Makes a wonderful living, great life, has a beautiful home and all that. In fact, when we get to Fort Dix, Philadelphia, where the University of Pennsylvania has a veterinary school, why dont you run down there and see whats cooking? 662 01:39:58.6 So, we got to Fort Dix. It was a madhouse, thousands and thousands of troops being discharged, so they told us that wed have to hang around for about eight or ten days before they could get around to us. So, we were free. The eager beaver that I am, I didnt waste any time; with the medals on my chest and the full uniform, I grabbed a cab to Trenton and then I got on the train to Philly. And it was dark, it was night by that time, so I checked into a hotel; and the next morning, I took another taxi to find where the hell the University of Pennsylvania was, because I hadnt been in Philadelphia before. 663 01:40:32.8 They took me to the veterinary school there, and I met a lovely man, the dean, a very nice gentleman. He was very impressed with me. I was telling him what my plans were, and he said, Thats very nice. I think we probably could admit you, but of course you dont have any physics. Whats this? I needed a background inwhats the word? 664 01:40:55.7 MH: Biology? 665 01:40:56.6 MR: Not biology. Theres a name for that type ofyou know, sciences. I had no physics. 666 01:41:0.3 MH: Life sciences. 667 01:41:1.3 MR: Thats right. Its like having a medical degree: youve gotta have the background. He says, What youll have to do is, first of all, complete your degree. That would take a year, maybe a year. And then youll have to take two years of the physics and the bios, et cetera, and then we can let you in. So, I sat there calculating in my mind. Lets see, Im twenty-five, another year is twenty-six, and two years of physics is twenty-eight, and then four years of medical school. Ill be thirty-five years old before I see my first dollar! (laughs) So, I shook his hand and thanked him very much, and I went back to Dix. (laughs) It was just too much to even think about. But I always remember being there that afternoon. They had all these animals there, horses and goats and chickens and all that, for the young men to work on, I suppose. 668 01:41:49.1 MH: You got out of the service 669 01:41:51.8 MR: Its a funny thing. As I was crossing the street to get out of the school, a car pulls up in front of me. I said, What the hell can this be? Someone wanted to see me. I walk over. Who is it? It was our G-4, Colonel [J. Caleb] Boggs. He was from Delaware. Later on, he became a senator, by the way, Senator Boggs. He and his wife went to Philadelphia from Delaware to buy somewhat do you call it? Civilian clothing. (laughs) And he just got this puppy, so I had a long conversation with him I remember. Then I went back to Dix, got discharged, and went back to school. 670 01:42:25.4 MH: Whered you finish school? 671 01:42:28.0 MR: At the City College. 672 01:42:29.5 MH: Yeah? And got your degree in what? 673 01:42:31.2 MR: Education. Well, I guess I may as well give you the whole nine yards already. I went to get a position as a high school teacher. And they paid us in those days, they told meI went to the Board of Ed there, I think it was on Livingston Street in Brooklyn at the time, Brooklyn, New York. They paid, I think, $2,860 a year. That was the salary: $2,860 a year. So, I sort ofI was making more than that as an Army officer. (laughs) I said, Well 674 01:43:2.0 MH: What rank were you when you got discharged? 675 01:43:3.6 MR: Captain. 676 01:43:4.5 MH: Still a captain, okay. 677 01:43:5.4 MR: Then later on I was in the reserve, but Im not going to go into that now. 678 01:43:8.4 Oh, I was with a friend of mine. Gee, its a funny thing how little things can change your life, like that fellow Manny Hirst that made me go to OCS with him. He says, Mel, you know what I suggest? Go back to night school. They all have these tradelike insurance brokerage, things of that nature, real estate brokerage. Go into business. So, I went back. I went to Brooklyn College at night. They had these six-month courses, so I took the insurance brokerage course, and then I took the state test or whatever. I passed the thing and became an insurance broker, and I went into business. And I did a thingthe thing that I was able to survive with competition, like from Allstate and State Farm, et cetera. I did a thing at the time. Its not so novel anymore. Its called insurance premium financing. I had a license from the state banking department. My father, who was a wealthy man at the time, gave me enough money to put in the bank. 679 01:44:5.9 In other words, lets take Michael Hirsh. He has two cars, one for the wife, one for him. He has a boat, cause he goes boating, and he has a big home and he has a summer home in Sarasota. And lets say his premiums come to $16,000 a year. If he went to his brother-in-law to borrow the $16,000, the brother would throw him out the front door and say, Never come back here! We laid out the $16,000 for you. We paid the premiums. Of course, we didnt do it for everybody; it had to be a responsible person. And then we had them decide how theyd want to pay it off: ten months, twelve months, whatever was favorable to you. And we had a bookkeeper that handled all this with a business machine and all, and we were entitled to a $20 service fee for laying out the money for you, and five days to get the payment in. Just like when you go to, like, Visa or something. If you didnt get it on the fifth day, double your charge. And I dont care if youre Donald Trump; nobody gets the payment on time. Not that you dont have it; you gave the letter to your wife, but she didnt mail the letter, you know. So, it all added up. 680 01:45:7.4 What it amounted to, basically, waswe made our living from the payments we got from the company, but this paid our expensesand kept the customer. See, Michael Hirsh isnt going to go to Allstate, because if you went to the manager of Allstate office here on Northern Boulevard and asked him to lend you a dime, hed kick you out and tell you never to come back again. And thats how we kept our trade. My wife helped me, by the way; she was my helper, the two of us. Well, I had half a dozen employees, of course. 681 01:45:39.2 MH: What year did you get married? 682 01:45:40.5 MR: Nineteen sixty, I guess it was. Nineteen sixty-one. 683 01:45:46.2 MH: So, you were single for a long time. 684 01:45:48.3 MR: Yes, I was. Yeah. 685 01:45:49.3 MH: Did you have children? 686 01:45:50.4 MR: No. And I have to tell you the truth, Im glad I waited, cause I finally got the lady Id been looking for all my life. No regrets, no looking back. Took one look at her, I knew this was it. 687 01:46:0.6 MH: Her name was? 688 01:46:1.6 MR: Hilda, Hilda Solomon. I guess we were going together about eight weeks and got engaged. I put a ring on her finger immediately, cause I felt as long as youre single, the girl could do anything she wants. (laughs) So, once the engagement ring is on her finger, she belonged to me. And then we were married about three months later. There was nothing to wait for. I couldnt get married quick enough. We were happy. And all this is hers. Were here about thirty years. We lived originally on Queens Boulevard. We had a lovely apartment there, but finally we outgrew it. 689 01:46:36.4 MH: Yeah. How often do you remember the war? 690 01:46:41.1 MR: Well, Ive been in touch with so many people. Theres not so many, not anymore; theres nobody left. But with my e-mail, Im still in touch with at least eight, nine men, you know. You know, I shoot the breeze with them and tell them about this, that, and the other thing. We talk about it. But of course, its just a memory now; you cant live in the past. Thats ridiculous, you know. 691 01:47:4.5 MH: Did the 692 01:47:5.9 MR: And as a reserve officer, I think I told you, I was called back to Fort Dix for two years. 693 01:47:9.1 MH: During Korea? 694 01:47:10.9 MR: Yeah, during the Korean War. We used to train once a week at an Army post called Fort Tilden here. I think it was Long Island; I think it was Queens, yeah. And I didnt think it was anything to worry about. I used to like the camaraderie of the guys, you know, I used to love it: give lectures and that sort of thing. And then, suddenly, we all get letters from Harry S. Truman: he activated the unit. (laughs) Gave us thirty days to get our affairs in order. 695 01:47:43.8 But thank God, I was put in charge of a communications school there, signal school. In those days, we still used Morse code. Youre not going to believe this. (demonstrates) People would laugh at us today. And also, the coding machine. See, nothing was said in the clear. You understand that, dont you? You assume anything you send out, the enemy is picking up. They had thesethere was a name for these things. It was called triangular. Theyd have three of them. When you send out the signal, they could pick up the signal, and they could tell where you were. And if they were close enough, theyd throw artillery on you, so you had to make it quick and fast and put it in code. Dont let anybody pick your messages up, you know. What the hell was the name of thoseinterceptors! Thats right. They used to intercept our messages. Yeah, yeah, yeah. 696 01:48:30.5 So, I didnt have to get my hands dirty. I didnt have to go marching around in the hot sun. All nice young boys from the East Coast here, lovely kids, but it was a meat grinder. Fourteen weeks, and over they went to Korea. There were no exceptions. 697 01:48:45.0 MH: You never had any nightmares from the war? 698 01:48:52.7 MR: I have to say, I was always capable of putting things behind me. Once I was out of it, I was out of it, even in combat. We pulled back a few hundred yards; somehow, when the danger wasnt there, I was myself again. I always had that ability. I didnt dwell on it. I cant explain it; its just the way I was. Whats new? 699 01:49:10.2 MH: You were never hit? 700 01:49:12.7 MR: Slightly in the arm bywhat the hell do you call it? Mortar fragments. Gee, I dont know if I should tell this to you, since Im on tape, but it doesnt matter anymore. I only tell this to my wife and my best friend. 701 01:49:26.4 I had this cut down the side of my field jacket, and all I was thinking about is, if I go back to an Army evacuation hospital, Ill get some hot chow and maybe get out of combat for a day or two. So, when I got into the ambulance with these other guys, badly wounded, I was at the very end of the ambulance where the doors are. But they didnt close completely, you know, sort of ragged. So, when nobody was looking, I was taking my wound and rubbing it into the edge of that goddamn door, trying to intensify the wound. Im no hero. Thats what I tried to do. (laughs) But I couldnt fool the doctor; he just put some iodine on it and a Band-Aid, he gave me a kick in the tail and sent me back. (laughs) I sure remember that. I wanted to make it a bad wound, but it didnt work. (laughs) Well, whats the use? You have to understand what its like to be in combat day after day after day after day and no hope. 702 01:50:19.9 MH: The kind of combat that you were in with enemy artillery, did you face enemy airplanes, too? 703 01:50:28.4 MR: Oh, of course, particularly in the early daysnot as the war went on, cause we dominated the air. But at Normandy, we were constantly strafed by theirwhat do you call them? It had to be 109s. Oh, yeah. Gee, I lost several men there. They came down on us there. 704 01:50:42.7 MH: You made the Normandy landing? 705 01:50:43.9 MR: No, no, we got thereNormandy was June; we got there in the middle of July. There was no room for us. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of vehicles. Where you gonna put us? So they had to push in maybe twenty-some-odd miles before they could land us, and they had us back in the reserve area. I dont know if you know what happened. There was a very key point in Normandy leading towards the interior of France called Saint-L, a little city, occupied by the Germans. 706 01:51:11.0 MH: Thats where the parachutist got 707 01:51:12.8 MR: No, no. They sent overIll never forget that hot afternoon, end of July3,000 B-24s, B-17s, etc., coming over us. I couldnt imagine whats going on. Wave after wave after wave. They all hit this one spot. There wasnt a cockroach left. They just blasted it apart. Everybody was dead, killed, murdered. And then they were able to push usthats where the breakout came. 708 01:51:38.5 Most of the troops went forward towards France and Paris; us, we turned around and went into Brittany, which was the other way, going west. Our mission was to capture Brest, which is at the very tip of the Brittany peninsula. It was a huge seaporta U-boat base. What am I talking about? Seaport? A U-boat base. Thats where the U-boats used to come out. So, the idea was to capture this goddamned thing. And little did we realize, until we got there, there was aboutall the German troops had started to flee Normandy. All fled into Brest. They mustve had, like, sixty thousand, seventy thousand troops are there: Air Force, Army, Navy, everything else. (laughs) We didnt know that, and our divisions about twelve thousand men. And we were to attack it the next day, as soon as we got there, no time wasted. Bingo! See, I still remember this. 709 01:52:29.6 We got there in the late afternoon. There was a signal, a Code One or something, so we all fanned out. No ones getting in, no ones getting out. Weve got it surrounded. And suddenly, I see little dots on the horizon, and they got bigger and bigger and bigger. Well, I wont get into it; Ill get to the point. There were one thousand B-26s. Its a small, light bomber, five-man crew. Five hundred up, five hundred down, and over the city they came. And suddenly, just before they released their bombs, up went this ack-ack, and thats when they started to shake like a leaf, rattle and roll, thousands and thousands of these black puffs of smoke. I realized that tomorrowbing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing! You could literally walk from puff to puff, and the planes did not deviate. Into this mess they went. 710 01:53:21.0 I counted eight planes that got hit immediately, big flamers. Broom, broom, brooom! Some of the men claim there was a few more or a few less; I dont remember anymore. I did see a few parachutes coming down. But the entire armada of these planes went right into this thing and dropped their bombs. Now, once they dropped the bombs, everything stopped; now theyre all jumping into their places to save themselves. But what I remember were these black puffs of smoke and this beautiful blue skyand it was blue. Thousands and thousandsthese were the .88s, the .88 millimeter gun. Bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing! And the planes went right into it, right into it. No one tried toyou know, no evasion. But they dropped their bombs, and of course, then they went on their merry way back to England. 711 01:54:4.3 But the thing that scared all of us was we knew what was going to happen tomorrow: all these guns were shooting up are now gonna be shooting down. Luckily, we were supposed to attack at five or six in the morning. I guess probably headquarters knew what was going on by this time, so they sent out a message to discontinue the attack and pull back and just contain them, like 500 yards, and we just stayed there for five or six days. Then they sent us down to Lorient, which is another U-boat base aboutoh, I dont know, maybe forty kilometers south. Thats right; it was Brest, Lorient, Saint-Nazaire. Â They sent usin fact, Bradley, Eisenhowers chief of staff or whatever he was, the second in command, regretted it later on. They sent in four full infantry divisions, maybe sixty separate artillery battalions, and it took them six weeks to take that goddamnedwe were supposed to do it in one night! Took em six weeks to finally take out Brest. 712 01:55:10.5 But at that time, of course, the Germans blew everything apart. They sunk every goddamned ship in the harbor. It was never used. See, in World War I, Brest was the entry port for the American army. Thats where they came in. Brest was like New York, a deep-water port. Thats what they needed. But the Germans destroyed everything; it was never used, and nothing was gained. Nothing was gained, except casualties. He admitted later on in his memoirs that it was a mistake to take Brest and lose all those men there, four full infantry divisions, about sixty thousand or seventy thousand men. Four weekssix weeks, I thinkto take that goddamn town. Thats how they were fighting. They had aboutIm telling you, it must have been about sixty-five thousand German troops there of all kinds: Air Force, Marines, SS men, who the hell knows what. But at least it wasnt used as a U-boat base subsequently, you know. In fact, the U-boat base, as I understand when I read about it, they had, like, twelve feet of concrete over it where the boats used to come in, so they were never damaged. With all the bombing, it never really touched them. They were impervious to it. 713 01:56:14.6 So, then we went down to Lorient and contained that. By the way, Lorient was never taken [by the Americans]. Thats right. They didnt want to make the same mistake. We simply surrounded them, kept them in there; and then when we left, somebody else took over, and they survived the entire war. How they did it, Ill never figure out. Whered they get the food from, and everything else? They were oversupplied. Well, somehow they lived to the end of the war, when they finally surrendered. In fact, there was a movie that brought back this memory to me, called Das Boot, D-a-s B-o-o-t 714 01:56:44.2 MH: Its a wonderful film. 715 01:56:45.4 MR: Yes. Its about a German sub and what they went through. When the film opens up, where do you think they opened up from? Lorient. When they came back in the end, they came back to Lorient. Of course, when I hear Lorient, I get sort of excited about it, you know. But that was the U-boat base where they used to get out of there. See, it was basicallyit wasnt like a Nazi story so much as it could have been any submarine crew and what they went through: the terror of being hit by these depth bombs and all that sort of thing. 716 01:57:14.0 Ask me a question. 717 01:57:15.9 MH: I cant think of anything else to ask you. The person who took this, you said, was Bob Feingershs 718 01:57:23.2 MR: Brother. 719 01:57:23.9 MH: Brother. 720 01:57:25.0 MR: BobIll give you his address. If he doesnt answer me, hes not gonna answer you. (laughs) 721 01:57:28.9 MH: Well, Ill take a shot at it. 722 01:57:29.7 MR: All right. 723 01:57:30.2 MH: Anything else you want to tell me? 724 01:57:32.2 MR: Well, not really. 725 01:57:33.4 MH: Okay. 726 01:57:35.0 MR: Actually, that little booklet there, that cassette or whatever the damn thing is, it was very well done. They had four people here for several hours, and they hadlike they make a movie with their lights on me and all that. When they asked me questions, they took turns. It went on for several hours. In fact, it seemed to be about three hours with those guys. Very nice people. Shoah, thats right. Steven Spielberg is the guy in charge. Yeah. 727 01:58:0.1 MH: Okay.
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