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Harry Snodgrass oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (27 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (17 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 September 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.
Oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Harry Snodgrass. Snodgrass was a driver with the First Army. Arriving the day after D-Day, his responsibility was to take personnel where they needed to go. On April 12, 1945, he was driving a lieutenant back from an appointment when they saw some dead cows, and the lieutenant told him to follow the road, which led into a Buchenwald sub-camp. There were no Americans there, only prisoners. Snodgrass talked to one man, who showed him a building where the guards killed people. They spent only an hour at the camp as there was nothing they could do for the survivors. Snodgrass frequently speaks to schools and other audiences about the Holocaust. In this interview, his wife Ruth also comments, describing the first time her husband told her about Buchenwald.
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
text Michael Hirsh: All right. Your name is Harry Snodgrass, S-n-o-d-g-r-a-s-s?
Harry Snodgrass: Right.
MH: And youre at.
MH: Your phone number is.
MH: And whats your birth date?
HS: October 18. I was born in twenty-two .
MH: In 1922, okay. The unit you got to Buchenwald with was which?
HS: Well, my company was a driving company. It was called the 503rd Quartermaster Car Company, and we were attached to 1st Army, and anywhere anybody in headquarters went, they called us, and we took them and brought them back.
MH: So, you werent in a combat division, per se?
MH: Tell me, when did you go in the Army?
HS: I went in the Army when I was twenty years old. October 20, 1942.
MH: You were drafted?
MH: You enlisted.
HS: Yes, sir.
MH: What caused you to enlist?
HS: Well, I justeverybody else was leaving, so I thought Id go, too.
MH: And you were in Tennessee at the time?
HS: Yes, sir. I was raised in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and Johnson City, Tennessee.
MH: Whered they send you when you joined the army?
HS: They sent me toat first, they sent me to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and then that was the wrong place. Then they sent me to Camp Forrest, Tennessee. They were taking black volunteers at Fort Oglethorpe, and at Camp Forrest, they were taking white volunteers and black draftees. So, I ended up at Camp Forrest.
MH: Okay, and was trained to do that?
HS: Well, then I went to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, and thats where I was trained all that winter: marching and shooting and driving and all this stuff. But when we went overseaslike, when we were here on maneuvers, we were attached to 2nd Army headquarters, which was at Cumberland University in Lebanon. And then, when we went overseas, we were attached to 1st Army headquarters in Bristol, England. And anywhere anybody in that headquarters wanted to go, we went. We made a lot of trips from Bristol to London; thats where the main headquarters was, Ikes [Dwight Eisenhower] headquarters and all that stuff.
MH: And you were driving.
HS: Yes, I was driving.
MH: What were you driving, what vehicles?
HS: Oh, overseas, I believe I drove a Packard. I believe it was a Packard. They didnt have enough Army vehicles, I reckon, at that time, so they either took them or people volunteered them or something. Later, we drove staff cars, and then later I drove a Jeep, and when we went into the invasion, I drove a Weasel. Thats an (inaudible) thats got tracks on it, and the engine sits right beside of you. Doesnt have a top on it, but thats what I drove into Omaha Beach.
MH: During the invasion?
HS: Yeah, I got there D+l.
D-Day plus one day, i.e. June 7, 1944.
MH: D+1. How many people does a Weasel carry?
HS: Oh, it carried about five.
MH: Five folks.
HS: Well, now, Im talking aboutthat was crowding them, because really all it had was a backseat, it had the seat that I sat in to drive, then the engine sat beside of me, so it didnt hold many people. But they didnt need it verythey thought they did. Its fine in sand or snow, but on hard surfaces, it makes a lot of noise. So, we didnt keep it long.
MH: Then what happened to you after D-Day?
HS: Well, I drove all over France, and then all over Belgium. Peoplethe 1st Army headquarters would call us, see, and wed take whoever they wanted to go somewhere: whether it was a sergeant, a lieutenant or a colonel, wed take em and bring em back. We went to different places every day. It was really interesting.
MH: What was the highest ranking officer you got to drive around?
HS: Lets see, it seems like I drove a lieutenant general one time. But most of the time, they wasnt near that rank.
MH: Right. Were you in areas that were under fire?
HS: Oh, yeah. Yeah, when I was in London, they were bombing London, and they were dropping these incendiary grenades on the buildings. I was standing in the doorway, and they were falling in the street in front of me. So, they really tried to burn London up. But, now, actually being in combat, I wasnt. I wasnt close enough, you know. Of course, I was close enough to hear artillery fire and this kind of thing, you know.
MH: Where were you during the Battle of the Bulge?
HS: I was in Verviers, Belgium, and it was mud up to our knees there, and wed moved to Spa, Belgium, to a big house. They didnt call it a house, it was a wealthy persons chateau or something. Thats where we were when the Battle of the Bulge started. They got within ten or twelve miles there, and everybody else at 1st Army headquarters moved; then we moved, back toit was somewhere in Belgium, but I cant think of the name of that town now, pretty good-sized town. So, we stayed back there until they got all that cleared out, and then we moved back to Spa, Belgium, and we were located in a hotel there in Spa, Belgium. Thats where 1st Army headquarters were, close by. So, wherever 1st Army headquarters was, we were close by.
MH: When did you first hear about concentration camps?
HS: I never had heard about them, till I went into that one at Buchenwald. It just hadnt been talked about. They didnt say, Men, in a few days, were gonna be running into some concentration camps. There was nothing like that said at all. And the day that I did go into that one, it was just by accident.
MH: Tell me about that day.
HS: Well, I was driving a Lieutenant Gant from McMinnville, Tennessee. I forget where we had been, but we were heading back to where we had left from. And it was odd. At the end of this road, there were some dead cows laying there in holes or something, and he says, Whoa, wait a minute. Theres something around here, and then he said, Go down that road right there. So, we went down that road, and it took us right into Buchenwald concentration camp.
MH: Do you remember what date that was?
HS: Well, I can tell you, just about.
HS: It was about April 13, 1945.
MH: And Americans were already in there.
HS: No. No, there wasnt any Americans in there. The prisoners was in there, you know, political prisoners and Jews and all this stuff. But the Americans hadnt taken that camp yet, because there was no medical people there or nothing. I seen one American soldier, but all these other people, they were laying there dead or dying, and they had been starved to death. There was no gas chamber there.
HS: Uh-uh. And I heard that that was one of the smaller camps, so I dont know.
MH: Exceptwell, you mean it was one of the Buchenwald sub-camps.
HS: Well, this was Buchenwald itself, but there was other camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka that was real, real big.
MH: Buchenwald was pretty big, too.
HS: Well, Ive forgotten now. But I know what I seen, you know.
MH: Did you drive into the camp?
HS: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
MH: You drive in, and youre driving one of the staff cars or something else?
HS: No, I drove a Jeep. I was driving a Jeep then.
MH: Whos with you?
HS: Lieutenant Gant; he was from McMinnville, Tennessee,
HS: Uh-huh. And what he was, his job, he was a liaison officer for Colonel [John Bruce] Medaris, who was over 1st Army ordnance. He was a colonel, and I drove him a lot.
MH: What unit was Gant with?
HS: What unit was I with?
MH: Was Gant with?
HS: Oh, Gant? He was with 1st Army headquarters; he was with the ordnance department.
MH: Okay. So, you drive into this camp. The gates are open?
HS: Yeah, yeah, drove right in there. And there wasnt no other Americans there.
MH: What time of day was this?
HS: Lets see, this mightve been around noon or something like that. There was one American soldier there.
MH: What was he doing?
HS: He was just standing there, looking at this pile of dead people. But there was no American officers, was no American people there or nothing. So, undoubtedly, we were the first ones in there, you know, and there wasnt nothing we could do for them people.
MH: Did the people come up to you?
MH: Were you able to talk to them?
HS: Yeah, most of them couldnt, but I was able to talk to this one man. He was a Lithuanian, and he talked to me, and he said, You ought to go see this building back here? and I didnt know what it was, and I said, Yeah? and we went back there and went inside. It was a pretty good-sized building, and it had sawdust on the floors (inaudible). And he said, This is where they brought the people at night that they wanted to kill. So, I asked him, I said, Well, they didnt use a machine gun, theres no machine gun fire been in here, and he said they didnt use a machine gun. He says, They had them kneel down and theyd come behind them and shot them in the head. Thats what this man told me.
MH: How do you react to something like that?
HS: Well, youre just in shock, you know. You aint never seen nothing or heard nothing like this, and I thought, My God, we wouldnt even treat a dog like this in our country. But them peoplenow, they didnt have those gas chambers there. The people that I seen were starved to death, thats all there was to it.
MH: Did they have ovens there?
HS: No, uh-uh. No, they didnt. Theres one man here in Nashville thats alive today; my wife handed me this book, and he was in that prison camp when I went in it. His name is Menachem Limor.
Menachem Limor was also interviewed for the Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is C65-00080.
MH: How do you spell his last name?
HS: Last name? Limor, L-i-m-o-r.
MH: Okay. And hes in Nashville?
HS: Yeah, Nashville, Tennessee. And he was a survivor from Poland, and he was in Buchenwald concentration camp. Ive got this book is in front of me, and his pictures in it. Ive met him. And he said that the day we came in there, he was in there. He was fourteen years old.
MH: How long did you stay inside the camp?
HS: Not long, cause I didnt have any business in there.
MH: What was Lieutenant Gant doing?
HS: Well, he was walking around with me, you know, he was just seeing this for the first time, too, and he said, I guess we better move on. I said, Yes, sir, lets go. So, you know, he was a lieutenant, but I did whatever he wanted me to do.
MH: What else did you see when you were walking around the camp?
HS: Well, I just seen these people laying there, you know. Some of them were behind this wire fence, and they had clothes on and all, but you could tell they was starving. And the other people I seen were just laying there, some of them dying and some of them dead. But there was no gas chamber there.
MH: Were you abledid you try giving them food, or didnt you have anything?
HS: No, I didnt have anything to give them. But undoubtedly I got there early, because there was no medics there, no one. Im sure that the medics got there after I left, you know, because those people needed medical treatment bad.
MH: The stuff that I have from the Holocaust Museum and the Army said that Buchenwald was liberated on April 12.
HS: April 12, okay.
MH: And I just wonder if the camp you got to was a sub-camp of Buchenwald, cause there were many of them.
HS: No, I guess that date is right. I just said it was the thirteenth, but Im sureI dont remember now. I just thought it was about that time, because the war didnt last too long after that, cause the war ended, I think, May 8, and of course this was in April.
MH: What were your thoughts as you were walking around that place?
HS: Well, I justI couldnt think. I had never seen nothing like this. And I told somebody, Man, we dont treat dogs like this, and these people were human beings. You know, Ill tell you what itll do: itll sure change your mind about a lot of things in life.
MH: Such as?
HS: Such as not liking blacks, not liking Italians, not liking Jews. You get in your mind a person is a person. I dont care what else about him, hes a person. And thats what it taught me.
MH: But you came back from the war to the South, and that was a time whenI mean, segregation was still in force. There was a lot of hate going on.
HS: Oh, yeah.
MH: How did you fit in?
HS: Well, I didnt fit in. I had to keep my mouth shut. And I never have believed in that, see. I didnt believe in it when it was going on. I dont think one persons better than another person. I dont care what color he is. None of us has had a choice of what we were coming into this world as.
MH: Did you ever get into an argument because of that?
HS: Oh, yeah, I guess I have.
MH: Tell me about it.
HS: Well, I dont remember, but I justback then, a lot of people were just so set in their ways, you know. A black was a black and you didnt mix with white people. But I thought it was wrong back then, but you was white back then, but what you didnt like, you just kept your mouth shut.
MH: Cause opening your mouth could get you killed.
HS: Yeah, thats right. But I never did think that we treated the black people right.
MH: When did you start speaking out about what you had seen in Buchenwald?
HS: Well, right after I come home. People asked me what Id seen and I told them, you know. It wasnt only Jews there at that camp, because this man that took me around could speak, and he was a Lithuanian, but they had all kinds of nationalities there, I reckon.
MH: What did you do when you came home? What was your job?
HS: Well, lets see. First job I had, I think, I went to work at the post office; it around Christmastime. Then that petered out after Christmas, and then I think I went to work for a laundry. Then I went to work at a rayon plant. I had met a girl down here in Nashville, in Old Hickory, when I was here on maneuvers, so I courted her. She still had a year to go of nursing school at St. Thomas, and you couldnt get married back then if you were in nursing till you completed your three years. I didnt want to marry her right then, anyway. But, anyway, afterwe spent
Ruth Snodgrass: (inaudible)
HS: What, Ruth?
RS: After a few years, we got married.
HS: After a few years we did get married, and I was working for a power company in east Tennessee at that time. And her sister that lived down here, she bought this duplex from DuPont at a real cheap price, and she wrote and told us; we were living in Elizabethton, Tennessee. She [RS] was a nurse working in a hospital there, and I was working at a power company. And she wrote and said that if we decided that we wanted to move to middle Tennessee, she would sell us that duplex for just what she paid for it, and it was like between $5,000, $6,000. So, I thought to myself that theres more opportunities in middle Tennessee than there are here in east Tennessee, so I agreed to move down here. So, the first job I had, I went to work for DuPont. They had two plants down here in Old Hickory, a rayon plant and a cellophane plant, and my wife went to work in nursing for DuPont, and thats where we spent more of our time. Then I got a job withwhat was I working at, Ruth? Whered I spent twenty-six years at? Where did I spend twenty-six years working?
HS: Ford Glass Plant in Nashville. I went to work out there in fifty-seven , and I was one of the production workers. Then I got into inspection, and that paid a little more on the hour, and I stayed in inspection till I retired. I had twenty-six years service, and I was sixty years old. I went to work when I was thirty-four years old out there. I live here got a few acres and happy as a lark. Done got old, (laughs) but dont owe nobody nothing.
MH: You got grandkids?
MH: You have kids?
MH: And grandkids?
HS: Have three boys, grandchildren.
MH: Three boys. How many children did you have?
HS: Two boys.
MS: Two boys, okay.
HS: Didnt have any girls.
MH: Did you ever run into Lieutenant Gant after the war?
HS: Yeah. I went to see him up there, and he would stop and see me when he comes to Nashville.
MH: Whats his first name, do you know?
HS: Paul Gant.
MH: Do you know if hes still alive?
MH: Is he still alive?
HS: No, hes dead.
MH: Oh, he died, okay.
HS: He was in gas distribution up there, owned a gas depot or distributor, something like that. Gant Oil Company.
MH: Okay. Anything else you can think of about how that experience might have affected your life?
HS: Well, I cant right offhand, but I think it did, cause the things Ive seenand I wasnt in combat, not like a lot of people, but I was close to it and stuff like that, you know. I think you grow up, and you find out that theres another world out there besides the one you live in. And some of it is not a nice world, but you have to go along. Well, of course, in the army, you do what they told you to do, period, you know. And I never did have any trouble doing my duty in the army and obeying the sergeants and officers and whatnot. I didnt have any trouble like that.
MH: Do you have a photo of yourself from World War II?
HS: Yeah. Yeah, I got a photo of me.
MH: I wonder if its possible, if I sent you an envelope, could you send me that picture and a current picture of yourself and Ill scan them into the computer and send them right back to you.
MH: Okay, so Ill mail you an envelope for that.
HS: All right.
MH: Okay. And if you think of anything else, please dont hesitate to call me.
HS: I was here on maneuvers, now, Tennessee maneuvers; that was in forty-three , and thats when I met my future wife. (laughs) Were still living together.
MH: Is she around? Can I talk to her for one second?
HS: Yeah, just a minute. Ruth?
MH: Hi, your first name is Ruth?
MH: Id like to ask you a couple questions. When did your husband tell you about having seen what he saw in the concentration camps?
RS: Oh, Ill be. This iswe were married thirty years or longer before this ever become an active part of our lives. We didnt have reunions like a lot of thehe didnt, rather, with the company, you know. And so, Harry didnt discuss it.
MH: Do you remember the first time he told you about seeing what he saw at Buchenwald?
RS: Oh. Wait, just a minute; let me ask him about the date he went overseas. Hold on just a minute. (talking to Harry, voices are inaudible) It was after he went overseas for the fortieth anniversary of D-Day.
MH: So, it took that long for him to mention it to you.
MH: What did you think when he told you about it?
RS: Well, I was horrified. And then he also had a lot of pictures. I dont know if he mentioned that.
MH: No, he didnt.
RS: Doctor Gant(laughs) Doctor Gant. Mr. Gant tookHarry didnt know that he had a camera with him that day, and he took a lot of pictures of bodies and the living conditions and things that they were under, you know. Then we saw those. But it couldve been before then, come to think of it, because Harry and I were with Mr. Gant before eighty-three .
MH: Do you still have those pictures that Mr. Gant took?
RS: Oh, yes. Theyre in Nashville at the archives and the state capitol.
MH: Theyre in theso, you dont have copies.
RS: Oh, yeah, yeah.
MH: I wasI told your husband I was going to send him an envelope, because I want to borrow a picture of him from World War II and also a current picture. And then, if you send it to me, Ill scan it into the computer and return them back. But if you could also send a couple of Gants pictures, that would be good.
RS: Well, now, we wont have any pictures from Mr. Gant.
MH: You dont have any copies.
RS: Oh, you mean the ones he made
RS: of the people?
RS: The bodies? Oh, yeah, weve got copies of those.
MH: Okay. Does Mr. Gant have a widow thats still alive?
RS: Of course, he was married, but I dont know. His sons are still active up there, live in McMinnville, but I dont believe Mrs. Gant would be living. But I dont know that.
MH: But his sons are still living?
RS: In McMinnville.
RS: I think they still run that oil company.
RS: You could contact them.
MH: Okay, all right. Yeah, I actually see on the computer theres a Paul H. Gant who lives in McMinnville.
RS: Thats it.
MH: Thats him, okay. All right. Well, I thank you very much for your time, and thank you for your husbands time.
RS: All right.
MH: Okay, take care.