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Schmidt, Max R.,
Max R. Schmidt oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (22 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (9 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 August 21, 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 Max R. Schmidt. Schmidt was a member of the 80th Infantry Division, which liberated Buchenwald on April 12, 1945. He arrived in Europe as a replacement in March 1945, meeting the 80th in Germany. Schmidt and his unit got to Buchenwald the day after its liberation; they only passed it, not having the chance to stay or go inside. He could smell the camp as they approached and saw piles of weapons confiscated from the Weimar townspeople. Passing the camp, Schmidt saw the barracks and some of the prisoners. He and some friends went back to Buchenwald in 1994 and toured it; though the memorial was closed, the staff made a special exception for them. Schmidt is very active in a number of veterans' groups, including the division association.
Schmidt, Max R.,
Infantry Division, 80th (1942-1946)
Infantry Division, 80th (1942-1946)
v Personal narratives.
Buchenwald (Concentration camp)
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1939-1945
Crimes against humanity.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.
University of South Florida.
Special & Digital Collections.
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 00:00:0.0 text MH: Why dont you give me your full name and spell it for me, please. 1 00:00:4.7 MS: My full name is Max, middle initial R. for Richard, and my last name is Schmidt. S-c-h-m-i-d-t. 2 00:00:15.5 MH: And your address? 3 00:00:16.2 MS: 4 00:00:16.9 MH: Phone number? 5 00:00:17.6 MS: My phone number is. 6 00:00:18.6 MH: And your date of birth. 7 00:00:19.6 MS: My date of birth is June 28, 1926. 8 00:00:22.9 MH: And the unit you were in. 9 00:00:24.3 MS: I was assigned after basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama for fifteen weeks and then I had towe left there. I had a seven-day delay en route until I got up to BostonBoston, sailing to Europe on March 1 . 10 00:00:46.8 MH: Youre in the 80th Infantry. 11 00:00:48.7 MS: Im in the 80th Infantry. I was assigned to the 80th Infantry Division once I got over into Europe. 12 00:00:53.1 MH: And you 13 00:00:54.0 MS: Whats that? 14 00:00:55.4 MH: You got to Buchenwald. 15 00:00:55.5 MS: Yes, yes. 16 00:00:57.7 MH: Thats just for the transcribers. 17 00:00:59.0 MS: Oh, I see. Okay. Well, I dontI was in the 80th prior to getting into Buchenwald, I joined them in Germany. I missed the Battle of the Bulge. So, thank God for that, because frankly, I wouldnt be here today interviewing with you. 18 00:01:16.5 MH: Whered you grow up? 19 00:01:18.2 MS: I grew up in Queens and Brooklyn, New York. 20 00:01:21.0 MH: And what were you doing before you went in the Army? 21 00:01:23.3 MS: Well, I was in school. I was able to finish high school and I finished in June, they drafted me in August, andno, in October. Im sorry, in October. And I took my basic training, as I said, in Fort McClellan, Alabama, and then I finished that and I got a delay en route to go home for four days before I had to report to Boston to get on the ship to go over. 22 00:01:49.1 MH: So you went over in 23 00:01:50.8 MS: I left Boston March 1, 1945. Okay, so I got over intofrom there, we sailed into Liverpool, and from Liverpool, we boarded busses to Southampton. Southampton, we crossed the canal into Le Havre, then we got on boxcars and right up to the front. 24 00:02:10.5 MH: You were there for just the last two months of the war. 25 00:02:14.6 MS: Thats right, yes, yes, yes. And dont ask mewhen we got into Germany, some point in Germany, we knew we were going to the front, and we stopped at some town that had just been taken by the unit. And let me say this to you, that when we got there, we all got out of the truck, and as we were proceeding in that town, wed seen some dead animals. Of course, the town was just taken, and some Germans were still laying on the side of the streets and so forth. And we got off the truck and we started to walk to report to our squads, and there I seen for the first time a body laying on the side of the street. It had an olive green blanket over it and combat boots sticking out, and I said, Uh-oh, thats one of ours. And I saidyou know, since I was a replacement, I says, Jeesh, maybe Im here to replace him. I wonder who might be replacing me before this is over. I mean, as an eighteen-year-old kid, so you know, I didntso anyway, we took several towns after that and we got to the Rhine River and we crossed the Rhine. I crossed the Rhine on March 29. Most of our unit wasCompany G crossed originally on the twenty-eighth of March. 26 00:03:48.1 MH: Was Company G [in the] 317th? 27 00:03:49.2 MS: Infantry Regiment, yeah. And then we crossed and got over on the other side, and there was a lot of shelling going on at the time: we were shelling castles and we did quite a bit of shelling on that, into Germany. We got on the other side, finally, and we then got into our units again and advanced through Germany as best we can. Dont ask me what different towns we were in or anything. And then we got to Weimar. I was in a heavy wooded area; we were going through a heavy wooded area when they would start shelling us. And thats when I, you know, got some shrapnelnot shrapnel but tree debris that justin my leg, cut in my leg. 28 00:04:41.9 MH: From the burst? 29 00:04:42.5 MS: Yeah, from the burst: once they hit the trees, they splinter everything thats around it because it throws, and thats what they were attempting to do. They knew we were there and they were doing it. But after that, they patched me up and I went on my way and no problem. But weour original unit got into Weimar on the eleventh [of April], we got to Weimar. I finally got there on the twelfth, the day after. But fortunately, Weimar was declared what they said, an open city. In other words, there was no real fighting to get to take Weimar; in other words, liberating Weimar, there was no real fighting going on. The Germans surrendered the SS troops that were in the Buchenwald concentration camps; they took off. And when you got close to it, you could know there was something wrong, because you could smell it in the air. You could smell stinking bodies, basically, you could smell 30 00:05:49.0 MH: Did you know what the smell was? 31 00:05:49.9 MS: No, we did not know. But thatmy only opinion is that I feel that that was the key, to us. Thats why the Germans had it declared an open city, they didnt want to fight. They came to us, they came to our commanders and wanted to surrender because they knew. They knew once we got into Weimar what wed find, and that would be Buchenwald. And sure enough, it was the concentration camp. After that, wemy company was continuously moving. I did see piles and piles of rifles, weapons and all kinds of weapons that was put in the middle of the street. 32 00:06:35.6 MH: In Weimar. 33 00:06:36.3 MS: In Weimar, because thats when our general said, got a hold of the Brgermeister and he said, Everyone that has any weapons at all, put em in the street and get em here immediately, because he had already found out that Weimar had the concentration camp Buchenwald. And so, we liberated Buchenwald. I wasnt able to stay there. 34 00:07:7.5 MH: Did you go into the camp? 35 00:07:8.6 MS: Well, I just passed it. I seen things I didnt want to see, but nevertheless, that was part of it. I called it barracks, but they werent barracks; they were just little buildings that they kept all the prisoners in. And of course there were some prisoners there like skin and bones, of course, as you know. And youve probably seen that on history channels and so forth. But I didnt get a chance to stay there, but we wentwe continued on and went to Erfurt and so on. 36 00:09:11.2 MH: (laughs) (inaudible) 37 00:09:14.3 MS: So, finally he said to us, he says, If we had known that you were coming, we just had the press here that afternoon, television and video and all that kind of stuff, because hes writing the history of what went on at Weimar. So, he did open the gate and we were able to go in, all the ovens and everything were still intactwhich was part of the agreement, that they would not destroy that. In fact, theyre still there. You can go over there where they operated and took the gold from the mouth in the teeth and all that kind of stuff. Its still there, because we went back and I viewed it with my video camera at that time. So, thats basically what it was. But 38 00:10:3.9 MH: When you continued on past Buchenwald, did you go to any of the other camps? 39 00:10:8.1 MS: Oh, no, no, there was another camp. I believe it was Gotha. It was in Gotha. 40 00:10:15.3 MH: Ohrdruf? 41 00:10:16.2 MS: Ohrdruf, yeah, thats right. I didnt get there. We were still on the move because we had quite a bit of firing, you know, combat with the Germans beyond that, because we were on their home territory and whatever they had, they were determined to 42 00:10:36.5 MH: They were pretty much on the run by then. 43 00:10:38.5 MS: Well, yeah, they were on the run, but nevertheless they had what they called the home Wehrmacht, the young kids and so forthyeah, sixteen, seventeen years old. I was eighteen, but they were younger than me. So, anyway, we continued on and took various other towns after that. And I finally wound upoh, I guess it was in late April, near the end of the war, because the war ended May 8, and in late April they found out when the war was coming to the end. They transferred me from my company to the servicenot the service department, the headquartersbecause they found out when they checked my qualifications, they knew I could type, they knew I knew bookkeeping, I did this. So, they made me a company clerk at headquarters. 44 00:11:34.1 So, when I got there, I said to the sergeant major who greeted meand I had my belt on, I had my ammunition, two hand grenades hanging from you; thats the way it wasand I went in to him and I said, Sergeant, Private Max SchmidtPFC; I was made a PFC by that timePFC reporting for duty. He says, Oh, yes, weve been waiting for you. We lost one man and we found that you could replace him by your record. And I said, Why the hell didnt you guys find that out before I got on the line? You know, kidding with them. 45 00:12:16.2 But anyway, that was my story, and then of course we continued on from there. We wound up in Fssen, where the castle ofthe one that is, the duplicate, the one in Floridathe castle in Florida, Mickey Mouse, Neuschwanstein. Yeah, that one in Florida from Disney World is a copy of Neuschwanstein. And we were in Fssen where Neuschwanstein is, and we went to a quite a few other places. And as they started then to, we went to Oberammergau, we went to Buchenwaldnot Buchenwald, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and Oberammergau is when they started to start sending the fellows home, to go home. And of course at that time it was on a point system, how many points you had. 46 00:13:24.1 MH: You couldnt have had very many. 47 00:13:25.2 MS: No. Some of the guys in our outfit were eighty-five, ninety, ninety-five. I had twenty-nine. So I said to myself, boy, how long am I going to stay here at the rate were going? But I finally spent eighteen months over there before I got home. I got home then in August of 1946. 48 00:13:47.5 MH: Whatd you do then? 49 00:13:50.0 MS: As I say, I was a company clerk for the 80th until they deactivated, and then they sent me over to the 9th Infantry Division. 50 00:13:58.7 MH: Once you got out of the service, whatd you do? 51 00:14:1.3 MS: Oh, when I went out of the service, I went back homeand I had a part-time job before I got into the service. And at that time, the government promised that if you had a job, a full-time job, you could go back to it when you came home. And they kept that honor and I went to work for the company that I left. So, I kept on then, from there on I went to school, back to school three nights a week to have some more studies, and I got involved in transportation at that time. I got my license to practice law before the Interstate Commerce Commission. I dont know if youre familiar withyeah. 52 00:14:46.6 MH: Whered you go to law school? 53 00:14:47.5 MS: Well, it wasnt law school; it was a private school that strictly taught transportation law. 54 00:14:54.1 MH: I didnt know that. 55 00:14:54.8 MS: Yeah. It was in New York, and I finished that and I stayed with the company and then later on transferred to another company after I had mycall it a degree if you want, but it really wasnt a degree, it was a diploma. Im not trying to blow this thing up. And I got married in June of 1947. I got discharged in August of forty-six  and my sweetheart, who is now my wife, waited for me to come home, we got married. We both lived in Queens and Brooklyn. I knew her from our church groups and so forth. So, it worked out real fine, it worked out great for me. 56 00:15:43.5 MH: Does what you saw in Buchenwald ever come back to you? 57 00:15:46.4 MS: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it does. When you see something like that, I guess you never forget it. 58 00:15:53.3 MH: Do you ever speak to school groups or that sort of thing? 59 00:16:0.2 MS: I do once in a while; I do back in Greensboro. I spoke toI belong to a lot of veterans groups, not just this one. Im a past commander, you can see, and very active. I dont know how many years with these people, but Ive got sixty-two years with the American Legion. I joined the American Legion as soon as I was discharged. And when I went to Greensboro, I joined the VFW. Im a lifetime member with the VFW, a lifetime member with the DAV, Im a member of the AMVETS, I have the 80th Division. So, you see, Ive been very active. 60 00:16:41.9 MH: Youre either buying or selling a lot of poppies. 61 00:16:43.9 MS: Well, yeah, I give em away and someone will give you a donation for it. But thats another thing, now that you mention it. Youd be surprised, when were in front of a department store or say a supermarket handing out poppies, you dont ask for money, you just hand em out, and if theyd like to contribute, they will. How many men will come up to you and say, Yes, I wouldnt pass you guys up. And Id ask why, and hed say, Well, my father was in World War II. And youd be surprised how many times some guys would drop a ten or a twenty dollar bill in that box. So, its stillits in with the older people, but if you go to schools today, they really dont know what the hell happened in World War II. And Ive had class, I spoke to a classfellas in my VFW, they asked us if we could supply them with someone who was in the European Theater and someone who was in the Pacific Theater. Unfortunately, we (inaudible)so I went for European and one of my buddies went for the Pacific. And we addressed a seniorIm not going to tell you what school it was, thoughjust a senior history class, and we both spelled it all out to them what we experienced and so forth. And do you know, some of those young and men and women there in that history class didnt even know who all three nations were that we were fighting against? Now, thats sad. Thats sad. 62 00:18:31.7 MH: They know who Hitler was? 63 00:18:32.5 MS: They knew Hitler, they knew Germany, some of them knew Japan because of the Hiroshima and the attack on Pearl Harbor. But there were very few that even knew Italy was one of our enemies. You know? And this is whats happening. Today, its getting more and more, because schools are not teaching anymore. 64 00:18:53.8 MH: Or its a paragraph in a book. 65 00:18:55.3 MS: Yeah. Yeah. Thats basically what it is. Its a sad situation. Becausebut Ive got now, I have three grown sonstheyre both marriedall three of them are married, each one has two girls, two girls, two boys. And we just came back, my wife and I just came back from Luxembourg back in June. We went over there because the 80th Division is invited over there, every year for about the last fifteen years. The people of Luxembourg open up their doors and welcome us every single year; they take us to all these places that were liberated by the 80th Division, and so forth. Its just a marvelous thing. And my three sons flew over there to be with us, because I was receiving an awardnot that I was in Luxembourg during [the] Battle of the Bulge. But those people feel that you got the Germans out of Luxembourg and you chased them back into their own country, and they are very, very grateful to the American soldiers. And yet in this country, when we go on a parade, we go in a parade and were carrying the American flag in our VFW or the (inaudible), whatever it might be, youd be surprised how many people dont even salute the flag when it goes by. So its getting sad. 66 00:20:26.7 MH: Maybe with the new generation of soldiers coming back, it will change. 67 00:20:31.6 MS: Ah, I hope so. 68 00:20:32.8 MH: But I hate to think we have to go to war in order to get it to change. 69 00:20:35.6 MS: Yeah. How many people greet the guys coming back now? I send gifts, and so does our veterans group, sends gifts out to Fayetteville and out to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Because the families of some of those men that are coming back wounded and need medical care are living there on the base, and we send packages down to them for their childrenyou know, books, pads and pencils; we give em all kinds of different things for the children. Its just marvelousbut its the veterans that are doing this. That theyI guess once youre a veteran, youre a veteran. So, you see whats happening. But thats basically my story, and as I say, Im nowhere a hero. I did serve on the line long enough I got my Combat Infantry Badge. I got my Purple Heart, I got my Bronze Star. But we very seldom talk about it. Now, I do talk about it to my sons, because theyre interested in it. But I thought it was wonderful how those boys flew on their own expense to come over. So, they got an interest in it. 70 00:21:57.7 MH: Thank you.
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