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Owen Tripp oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (19 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (12 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 5, 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 Owen Tripp. Tripp was an infantryman in the 9th Armored Division, which liberated Falkenau, a sub-camp of Flossenbrg, on May 8, 1945. His unit only spent about half an hour on the camp, but they were there long enough to go through the barracks, which were deserted except for the fleas, with which Tripp soon was covered. He also saw three boxcars in which there were dozens of dead or nearly dead prisoners. Tripp did not see any other camps, but his division did pass by some prisoners on a death march, although they could not stop to help them.
Armored Division, 9th.
Armored Division, 9th
v Personal narratives.
Flossenbrg (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
COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 20 1 0 University of South Florida. All rights, reserved This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrig hted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fo wler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Michael Hirsh: Just so I have your name properly, its Owen, O-w-e-n, Tripp, T-r-i-p-p?
OT: That is true.
MH: And youre at.
OT: Thats true.
OT: Thats correct.
MH: And you were withso far, Im doing good. And you were with Company C, 27th Armored Infantry Battalion, 9th Armored Division that got to Falkenau, which was a subcamp of Flossenbrg. Whats your date of birth, sir?
OT: Its August 21, 1924.
MH: And when did you enter the Army?
OT: When did I enter the Army?
OT: I think it was March of forty-three .
MH: And before I forget, happy birthday.
OT: (laughs) I dont need any more birthdays. And the way Im feeling, I probably wont see many more. Go ahead.
MH: Well, I have to talk fast then, I suppose.
OT: No. (laughs)
MH: So, where were you before you went in the service? What were you doing?
OT: I was a machinist at the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation in Tacoma, Washington.
MH: All right. You were drafted, or you enlisted?
OT: Well, it was a combination: I knew I was going to get drafted, so I volunteered, I guess you might say.
MH: Whered they send you?
OT: Where did they send me?
OT: Well, originally I went to Fort Lewis, which is nearby, and then, lets see. I dont know where I went after that. I moved around, bunked in a lot of different places. I think it was Pittsburg, California, was my next stop.
MH: How long before they sent you overseas?
OT: About two years.
MH: Oh. So, when did you
OT: Just a moment, please.
(to someone else) What is it, Ronnie? (murmurs in background) Yeah, I think so.
Ronnie: Youre giving an awful lot of personal information.
OT: Well, its all right. Its not somethinghes concerned that Im talking to somebody, that Im giving out a lot of personal information.
MH: If youd like me to talk to him and tell him what Im doing, Ill be more than happy to.
OT: Oh, thats all right. You go ahead.
MH: Okay. Umthe, uhnow I got rattled for a second. You went overseas when?
OT: It must have been in January of forty-five . Thats the best I can recall.
MH: So, you went over as a replacement?
OT: Yes, thats true.
MH: And do you know, where did you join the 9th Armored?
OT: Well, it was reallyits a little vague to me, because we were allyou know, a private never knew anything about anything. But my real first recollection of joining a fighting outfit was at the Remagen Bridge in Germany, which is the one
MH: Im familiar with it.
OT: Its become kind of famous, because it was the first opportunity to get across the Rhine [River].
MH: Right. And you were in that battle?
MH: Once you got across, then you moved on into Germany.
OT: Well, we was in reserve at a place called Unkel, Onkel or Unkel. And we kind of recouped things, because there were some losses subsequent to the Remagen Bridgeand later, cause I wasnt in the Bulge, but a lot of the company was, and they lost fellows there. So, they sat in reserve there at Unkel and we still had a lot of hazards of artillery and overhead aircraft and whatnot, but there was very little man-to-man fighting for a few days there. Then we moved out, and I dont know where we went from there. We went along the Rhine for a little ways and then started, I would say, north or northeast, moving up into central Germany.
MH: At what point did you know anything about the concentration camps?
OT: Oh, I was aware of em before I went across.
MH: Okay. That makes you fairly unusual; most of the guys Ive talked to didnt know anything about them at all.
OT: I wasnt too surprised, but I knew about it. I didnt know I was going to run into one or two of em. I think probably one I can specifically remember, and that was the one thats along the railroad siding. And why does it stick in me? I might have seen others, it just doesnt come back. This sticks with me because there were three what they call 40s and 8s, boxcars, and they each were about a third full of bodies, nude bodies. Some, I suspect, maybe were not completely dead, but very close to it.
MH: Andgo ahead.
OT: Well, I dont think theyd been there any great length of time, as there was no odor or anything of that nature. We didnt spend any more time cause we were pushing through on a spearhead, which is the business of the armored outfit. So, I was only there maybe thirty minutes, but I did look these three cars over just to see if I saw anybody alive, which I did not. But it was suspicious, thats all I can say. And, lets see
MH: How do you react when you see something like that?
OT: I didnt have any particular reaction to it. It was a tragedy, of course; it was evidence of a terrible period. But I was deeply affected by it. I guess Id been prepared for it or something, I dont know. But I did not have anyit was a revolting scene, but it didnt get into me deep, I guess, is the best way I can describe it.
MH: I understand. Were those cars, boxcars, outside a camp?
OT: Yes, they were. They were just outside thewhat I would call the main entrance.
MH: And what did you see inside the camp?
OT: Not much. There was hardly anything left in there that I could see. We did go in and clear the barracks, which I hated with a passion because every time I did, I went into a camp and went through the barracks, I got loaded with fleas, which I did this time, too, as much as I tried to avoid getting contact. And I ran through the middle of some of these barracks, but it wasnt good enough. I still got loaded with fleas.
MH: How do you get rid of them?
OT: Mostly just brush em off, I guess, and I used DDT powder and rubbed that on my legs where they were the biggest problem.
MH: Right. They had, what, squads from your unit going in through the barracks?
OT: Well, I guess some of the fellows in the squad, about five of us, seemed to work together all the time. And thats all I can recall of being there. And then, later, we formed up again, and in this case we got into the half-tracks and took off someplace. It sounds kind of vague, and I agree. I didnt have a map; it wasnt if anybody could tell me where we were, and none of the leadership ever volunteered it. In fact, I saw very little rank all the time I was over there.
MH: What else can you describe to me about this camp? What did it look like? How many buildings did you see?
OT: Well, I would say, just trying to reach out, probably a dozen buildings. They were one-story, flat, simple constructed barracks. The whole place was surrounded in barbed wire and a few guard towers. But there was nobodyI saw only a few people there, and they were local civilians.
MH: So, the prisoners were already gone from the camp.
OT: Whatever was there was gone.
MH: The only thing they left behind were the fleas.
OT: Yeah, well, and the dead people that were in the boxcars.
MH: Were there dead people in the camp as well?
OT: I didnt see any, and when we went through the barrackscourse I didnt go through all the barracks; others went through em. But I saw nothing; there was nothing in the barracks in the form of human matter whatsoever.
MH: Once you left the camp and you continued on down the road, did you ever run into any of the marchers of the prisoners?
OT: Well, let me think. Im sure I did, but I cant specifically recall becausewell, I think we did, but in the armored outfit, we were moving so much all the time. Yes, I can recall we were wavin em back. Thats right. I dont know who captured them; I wasnt in on that. But they were along the road as we went by in our half-track.
MH: Were these, like, inmates who had been in those labor camps, or were these German prisoners?
OT: They were German prisoners, soldiers.
MH: Soldiers going back.
MH: So, this is getting pretty close to the end of the war, then.
OT: Oh, yeah. See, the bridge, the Remagen Bridge, was captured on March 7, and it fell in on March 17, I believe.
OT: It was up about ten days. So, the war in Europe ended on about May 7.
MH: Right. And according to the list that I got from the Army Center for Military History, the camp that your division would have seen, they went through around May 7, right just before the end of the war. Does that make sense?
OT: Lay that on me again, please.
MH: According to the list that I have from the Army, the camp that your division would have seen, the one I think you just described
OT: Oh, the concentration camp.
MH: The concentration camp, you passed it on May 7.
OT: Well, we may have, because it was right toward the end of the war. Now, let me thinkno, I was up in the Sudetenland at the end of the war on May 7. Thats over in part of Czechoslovakia.
MH: Yeah, thats where this camp is. Falkenau, Falknov, is in Czechoslovakia.
The camp was located in Falknov nad Oh, a.k.a. Falkenau an der Eger, which was renamed Sokolov in 1948. There is also a German town called Falkenau, which is in the state of Saxony.
Its a sub-camp of Flossenbrg.
OT: Oh, I never knew that. Cause we was up in the mountains there, and what we did is since things were slowing down and we were in a holding position, we had to take off one day to settle a kind of an uprising in one of the places where the German soldiers were. I cant remember the name; it was inland a ways. I cant recall the name of it. It was a prominent city in Czechoslovakia, Sudetenland. Anyway, we were only there about a day and then we came back. We stayed at a farm and used the upper half of the farmhouse for quartersthe lower half of the farmhouse for our sleeping quarters, and we cooked our meals there and so forth.
By the way, (laughs) they had five late teenager and early twenties daughters there.
OT: And that old man, Im telling you, he locked em up tight every night. (MH laughs) We never molested them, we never attempted to; we just spoke pleasantly to em and that was it. We were pretty good gentlemen.
MH: But he still locked up his daughters.
OT: Yes, he did.
MH: [I] dont blame the man.
OT: Well, I dont either. (MH laughs) Some of those women were pretty aggressive, too. But anyway, now Ive carried you away, and Im sorry.
MH: Thats okay. So, when the war ended, how long before you got back to the U.S.?
OT: Well, I started, I gotoh, I thinkbefore I got back to the U.S.I got back to the U.S., on August 14, 1945.
MH: Okay. And came home to Washington?
OT: No, my home was in North Dakota at the time. Now, the reason I remember that is that we were on our way to join not the 9th Armored, but the 9th Infantry Division in the Pacific, and it turned out we were scheduled to do a landing at Tokyo Bay. However, somewhere in that process, August 14 became the unofficial end of the war in the Pacific, kind of a V-J Day. So, we were unloaded on that day in New York Harbor. I actually went back in the United States August 14, 1945, rather than going on to the Pacific.
MH: Right. What did you do after you came home? What was the rest of your life like?
OT: Well, it was pretty good. Unfortunately, we were sent to Camp McCoy, a good number of us, to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. Andexcuse me a minute.
OT: Im trying to beat a very deep chest cold.
MH: Oh, Im sorry.
OT: Now, lets see, what was your question again?
MH: I was asking whatyou went to Camp McCoy. When did you finally get out of the Army?
OT: Oh, thats right. I went to Camp McCoy and they held us there for about a month to see how things were settling out in the Pacific, and then they sent us home for a month. So, I went home for a month and then we had to come back, expecting to be discharged. But for some reason, those camp administrators, they look for their own problems and not anybody else. So, I was stuck in permanent party there until January of forty-six . And the only reason we got out, I and a couple hundred other guys got out, was that we got together and learned that the Inspector General was going to be there on a certain day. So, we went to see him on that day, about fifty of us. And that was a Friday afternoon, colder than blazes; thats the only reason I remember, I guess. Anyway, Monday morning at ten oclock, we were all discharged.
MH: And then you went home.
MH: What did youyou eventually got married?
OT: Oh, yeah, but that was 1950.
MH: Okay, and had children?
OT: Oh, yeah, five of em.
MH: Okay. And what business did you go into?
OT: I went to school on the G.I. Bill to become aand I didan engineer, and I designed various things from heating and air conditioning systems to machinery until I retired from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in eighty-five . Then, I worked part time with a local consulting organization for about seven years.
MH: Did you ever have occasion to tell people what you saw in those boxcars?
OT: Well, Ive been asked it before, because other book writers have got a hold of me somehow, and asked me. But I dont have any real filling stories to say: its just we had some battles; I had bullet holes in my pant legs and all that. But thats notits exciting to me, but not many other people.
MH: Were you wounded?
OT: No. Well, thatsnot officially.
MH: Okay. I understand.
OT: I got some shrapnel in my back, but it was never part of an official finding.
MH: And so, youve never spoken about your experiences in there, especially at that camp.
OT: Not particularly. Theres a young lady from someplace in California got a hold of me and asked me some questions about it. But I couldnt tell her much more than what Ive told you. I didnt know where I was or anything else. And I had no map, so Im kind of a dead end. Sorry, wish I
MH: No, thats okay.
OT: Itd be better if Iall the fellows I fought with are all dead. They cant help either, see.
MH: Right, I keep going through this list hoping to find people. But I thank you very much for your time.
OT: Youre welcome. Im glad people are interested in these things, because theyre a pretty good part of the United States history. But I fell flat: I should have kept a diary, but I didnt do that. Really, for an infantryman in an armored outfit, that doesnt make much sense, because hes living on his own; there isnt any formal organization as far as sitting down and having a place to write.
MH: Right. Okay, well, thank you very much, sir. I appreciate it. Do you have an e-mail address?
OT: An e-mail?
OT: I do, but I would rather not give it out.
MH: Okay. I was just going to send you some information about the book, but I can drop you a letter.
OT: Well, if you would, please, Id be interested.
MH: Ill be happy to do that.
OT: All right.
MH: Thank you very much, sir.
OT: Youre welcome.
MH: I appreciate it. Okay, bye-bye.