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Waltzer, Joel S.,
Joel S. Waltzer oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (24 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (11 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 July 18, 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 World War II veteran Joel S. Waltzer. Waltzer was a member of the 63rd Infantry Division, which liberated Landsberg, Kaufering, and other sub-camps of Dachau. Waltzer, however, was not present at the liberation: having contracted frostbite and dysentery, he spent some time in a hospital in Dijon, then after recovering was transferred to Paris where he was a military policeman. Waltzer enjoyed his time in Paris, although he did face some anti-Semitism from other soldiers. During the Battle of the Bulge, he and his unit spent the night in a former synagogue; the soldiers started to burn pages from the prayer books, which upset Waltzer; he seized the pages and wanted to bury them but did not have the chance.
Waltzer, Joel S.,
Infantry Division, 63rd.
Infantry Division, 63rd
v Personal narratives.
Ardennes, Battle of the, 1944-1945
World War, 1939-1945
Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1939-1945
z United States.
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 Joel Waltzer: By the way, I have an address for everyone in the whole company, if I can find it. I think youd want that.
Michael Hirsh: Okay. First of all, give me your name and spell it for me, please?
JW: Joel, J-o-e-l, S. Waltzer, W-a-l-t-z-e-r.
MH: And your date of birth?
JW: 10-27-25 [October 27, 1925].
MH: And you were with
JW: A Company. 3rd Platoon, A Company, 255th Infantry [Regiment].
MH: In the 63rd Infantry Division.
JW: 63rd Infantry Division.
MH: Okay. When did you go over to Europe?
JW: We went over in November ofthat would be forty-four .
MH: Forty-four . Okay, and you
JW: And we landed in Marseille, and we were camped in Aix-en-Provence for about a week or so, and then we went up in 40 and 8s up Alsace-Lorraine and we joined the 7th Army. I know I was in the hospital in Nancy. I know I was in a town called Achen. I dont remember the names of the towns.
MH: Why were you in the hospital?
JW: I had frozen feet, and dysentery. I lost seventy pounds.
Anyway, one night, we were doing road patrols when we first got up to the line, and they booted us around from one town to the next; sometimes we were in foxholes, sometimes we were in towns. And we were doing road patrols, really not too much combat. And one night, very, very lateprobably one oclock in the morningthey dropped us off in a town, beautiful town, in Alsace-Lorraine. I dont know the name. And they told us, Theres a big building over there. You can see the fires by the building. Theyre putting fires in these big drums, you know. You guys sleep there.
So, we walked over, and there was a giant of a building, and the Germans had used it as a stable. And we had fires going in the big drums, and when I took a careful look at thethere was a cement floor and it had hay, and you could smell the horse manure. And they were burning this wood, and I looked at the wood, and the wood were the chairs or benches from a church or a synagogue. Turned out it was a synagogue. How do I know? The ark was ripped out in the middle of the front of the building, and there were pages all over the floor from the prayer books, from the siddurs. And I just went nuts. I started to collect the papers they were using to start the fires, and I was pulling them out of the guys hands, and I said, I gotta bury these, I gotta bury these. I dont know if you know
JW: In the Jewish religion, you bury an old Torah and siddurs and stuff like that. Theyre buried. And I had tears in my eyes, and I was crazy. Anyway, they pulled us out before sunup. I dont even know the name of the town. It was a gorgeous town, beautiful houses, and this one big building became athe Germans had used it, as I said, as a barn, and they had horses in there. And I guess I was in combat maybe about another month or two when I had frozen feet and dysentery, and I lost seventy pounds in the hospital in Dijon. Then from there, when I got better, they sent me to Paris. I became an MP [military police]. I was doing office work, because they said my feet were too bad for me to walk on.
MH: So, this wouldve beenthis was what, early in the winter of forty-four ?
JW: Im really not sure of the dates.
MH: Was it before the Bulge or after the Bulge?
JW: It wasI think it was about the same time as the Bulge, because we had that Bulge, too, in the 7th Army, and we had the French Army right next to us. They were next to us. I had two years of high school French, and with the little Yiddish I know, I became the interpreter. And that was it.
MH: Had you been drafted or did you volunteer?
JW: No, I volunteered. I graduated high school. I was seventeen.
MH: Whered you grow up?
JW: In New York, in Far Rockaway, New York. You know New York?
MH: Just a little bit. I mean, my kids live up there and work in the city, but they live in New Jersey.
JW: Oh, okay. My parents wanted me to go away to college, and I said, Mom, Im gonna be in the Army in less than a year. I want to stay home, and I went to NYU. I got a year and a half ofI went to summer school, and I had a year and a half of credits, and I volunteered. They called it ASTP [Army Specialized Training Program].
MH: Right. Ive talked to a lot of guys who were in ASTP.
JW: I volunteered for the ASTP, and I went into the Army in the beginning of forty-five  [sic].
MH: Could I ask you to hold on for one second?
JW: Yeah, sure.
MH: Thank you. Hang on just one minute.
(on other phone) Michael Hirsh. Hi. Let me call you back in about five minutes, Im sorry. Okay, bye.
Hi, Im sorry.
JW: After the war, we had a lot of meetings; we got together, the whole company, because so many of the fellows were from New York and New Jersey. I got that list of addresses someplace. Ive got the whole company.
MH: Were these guysany of these guys that you know got to any of the camps?
JW: I dont know. I really dont know. I never remember anybody saying that. I know that my guys ended up inoh, whats the college town in Germany? On the river, on the Rhine, whats the famous old college?
MH: Im not sure.
JW: I know the guy I shared a foxhole with was killed there. But
MH: Some of the people from the 63rd, I believe, got to a place called Thekla.
JW: That I dont know. I dont know Thekla at all. As I said, I was just fighting a few months from the time we landed till February or March, and the reason for that was that I had such bad dysentery that I was, like, out of it. I lost seventy pounds. I wish I could lose seventy pounds now.
MH: I know that feeling.
MH: Okay. Well, if youre able to find that list, I sure would appreciate it.
JW: All right.
JW: There is a guy that lives near me; we get together. His name is PatPasquale? Oh, whats his last name? I have his phone number, if you want; that I can give you right away. My lieutenant is dead, my sergeant is dead. We had a few Jewish guys in our platoon. One was Leo Eaker. He lived in Newark. He was a pharmacist. He was a sergeant, and he won a battlefield commission later on, I know that. But its been years since Ive beenhmm.
MH: Im curious: When you were going nuts in the shul there, with the siddurs being used to start a fire, what was the reaction of the other guys in your unit?
JW: They thought I was crazy. Do you know what the tempyou know that winter was one of the coldest winters on record in Europe?
JW: Thats where I got the frozen feet from. I get disability. I used to get 20 percent; they cut me down to 10 percent, but thank God I dont need their money. But we were a bunch of young guys. Hold on a second, Ill get you Pats phone number.
(to someone else) My friend Pat, you know, from the Army.
Unknown Woman: Yeah.
JW: (inaudible) Im talking to somebody from the Army. (footsteps)
His name was Pat Scorzelli. Okay? Thats the guy whose phone number Im gonna give you.
MH: Scorzelli, okay.
JW: He went all the way through, so if you ask him, he might be able tohe might have been, although he never told me about that.
MH: Okay. Some people just never talked about it.
JW: Oh, if I was there, I wouldve talked about it. Hold on a second. Ive got to turn the light on. (long pause) Yeah, Im still here, but my eyes are not as good as they used to be. Scorzelli, yeah, Pat Scorzelli; his wifes name is Beryl. He married a British girl after the war was over. How do you like this? I dont have a phonewait, yes I do. The area code is. Hes a retired postman. He travels; he and his wife could be in England. I know they goIll give you his address, too. All right, Im gonna go on a hunt for those
MH: Okay. I appreciate it. Thank you very much for taking the time to call.
JW: I hope you get all the information you need.
MH: Im working on it.
JW: I dont know if this will fit into your story
MH: It may or may not.
JW: But its just part of my experience
MH: Did you run into much anti-Semitism in the Army?
JW: No. When I didyeah, yeah, I did. I stuck a knife once, a mess kit knife. Well, Ill give you the story. Let me tell you the story.
MH: Go ahead.
JW: When I got out of the hospital, they sent me to an MP outfit. It was a National Guard MP battalion from South Boston. You know anything about South Boston? Thats the low Irish. Drinking water was unheard of. They only drank alcohol. The first day that I got there, they sent us over to the mess to get food, and we had our mess kits, and we ate. We ate very good. And then I stood on line to wash my mess kit; there was a line of guys going in. And a drunk walks up, and he says to a Jewish guy by the name of LipschitzI forget his first name, but Ill never forget his last name; he was from Brooklyn. He said, You fucking Jew bastard, you get off that fucking line. Get out of my way. I went over to him, I took my mess kit knife, and I stuck it in his neck. I drew a little blood. I said, Would you like to say that again, please?
JW: Please, say it once again. He sobered up, like, immediately.
MH: This is over in Europe.
JW: This was in Paris.
MH: In Paris, okay.
JW: In Paris. These guys were living the life of Riley, anyway, and there was someI had some anti-Semitism there. And I took a guys .45 and I put it in his mouth. I was crazy.
MH: I was gonna say, you got some anger issues there.
JW: I wouldnt take it from anybody, and they got to know it. And in fact, Ill give you an idea of what happened. They got to know I was a tough guy, and my fists would fly if anybody ever said anything to me. They had a Jewish doctor. He was Major Hymanwhat the hell, Hymanoh, I forget his name. His name will come to me.
Anyway, a bunch of guys came in. There was a guy from Brooklyn by the name of Murphy, who was a prince of a man. Hed fought through Africa and up Italy, and he was wounded eleven times and they finally put him on a limited assignment. Anyway, we all went for physicals, and when we came in and he looked at my feet, he said, Youre not doing any duty until I get you regular shoes to wear, and you cant wear boots, and you cant wear any of the rubber boots. We called them boot packs. And he says, I will notify your first sergeant, and when the shoes come in, you can go on duty. Next morning, Im laying in bed, and they called Fall out, and I said, I dont have to fall out, because I dont have to do anything. Next thing I know, the first sergeant is pulling me out of bed, calling me a Jew bastard. There was a baseball bat in the room. I picked it up and I got him off of me, and they put me under arrest and brought me in front of the company commander, and, Youre gonna be
In the meantime, there was a guyhis name was Seymour Cohenfrom Philadelphia. He was about 64, and he was their first baseman and the best hitter on their baseball team. So, I told one of the guys I came in with, I said, You tell Seymour Cohen to go over to Major HymanI cant remember his name, a real Jewish nameand you tell him what happened. So, I was standing in the company room, and the company commander was beating my ass, and I told him why. I said, The doctor said Im on limited assignment, I cant do anything, and not to fall out and not to wear any shoes because my feet were in bad shape. We dont care, youre gonna be court-martialed, bah, bah, bah. You cant swing with a baseball bat, thats a deadly weapon. You know, gave me the wholeread my
And in walks Major Hyman. Whats going on? Oh, they all saluted because hes a major, and they stand up. At ease, at ease, and he says, Whats going on here? This man attacked the first sergeant. He says, Why did he attack the first sergeant? What happened? He gets the whole story. He says, You have my papers. The first sergeant knows hes not supposed to fall out for anything. I sent them over bright and early yesterday, around lunchtime, and it was all forgotten. But they all had it in for me. EventuallyI mean, I had a good deal there. I ended up working in the opera house, in a French police station. Do you know Paris?
MH: Ive been there.
JW: You know Rue Scribe and the Grand Htel [Htel Scribe]? Know where the Grand Opra is?
JW: Well, I worked in that building, right on Rue Scribe; the back of the building was the entrance to a French police station. We had an MP station there, and thats where I worked. It was a good deal. I had to be there at one oclock in the afternoon and I was done at five oclock. That was all the work I had to do. And I had a lot of friends. The first night I was there, I met a Jewish girl, a couple of girls. I was standing in front of the building under the light post with the guard on duty, and three young girls drove up, and one of them had a nameplate on her, Emilie Gaplin. And they handed us notebooks: they were studying English, and they want to know some idioms. These are the idioms we know, and could you? Well, go think of an idiom when somebody asks you for an idiom.
Anyway, when I saw her name, I said something in Yiddish. She said to me, I dont speak that, but my parents do. I live around the corner. Would you like to meet my parents? I met her parents the next night. I brought them cigarettes and food, whatever I could. The mother was a medical doctor, and the father was an engineer. They lived in a very exclusive neighborhood. Thats where we lived. In fact, I think the houses that we were living in were owned by the Rothschilds. Anyway, they told me that they lived in the apartment house in the cellar all during the war and that their neighbors brought them food. Thats how they survived.
And then, I met dancers in Paris at the (inaudible), and there were girls wearing Jewish stars. My mother has a restaurant, come eat; youll have some chicken soup. (laughs) I used to go eat there about once a week, and that was
MH: Not bad duty, considering.
JW: Yeah, and Paris was wonderful for me. I really enjoyed it, and I had a good time. I made a lot of friends who Im still in contact with.
MH: Whatd you do when you came home? What business did you go into?
JW: I went back to college. I ended up with a degree in accounting. I got a job when I graduated in 1948, $25 a week as a junior accountant, and they promised me a $5 raise at the end of the year; this was June when I graduated. Promised a $5 raise, and when it came the end of the year, I said, Wheres my raise? We cant afford it. I said, What do you mean you cant afford it? Who are you bullshitting? I go out every day. I chargeI earn at least $50 a day and some days more. That was a charge; it was a monthly audit that they charged $50 in those days. Today its a couple thousand.
But anyway, he says to me, We cant afford it. I said, Well, if youre not going to keep your promise, Im quitting. He says, You cant do that. This is tax season! Â Just give me the $5 raise. My father was a dress manufacturer, and I told my father, and my father said, Well, so? You dont need the money. My family was comfortable. I had my own car and I had money in my pocket. It was not the idea of money; it was the idea of the principle. And I quit, and I went to work for my father. Eventually, I went into my own business, and I did okay. I did pretty good. Ive been retired forI really dont know. Lets see, 1995, so what is that, thirteen years? Thats it. And I have a very nice family and a lovely wife, and we keep going, thats all.
MH: Okay. Well, thank you again for calling.
JW: If you can call Pat, just tell him I gave him your phone number. I will try and hunt down that list. I moved into a retirement community, and I got things that I dont know whereI used to have my little office in the house, and I dont have that anymore, so Im gonna have to dig deep.
All right, nice talking to you.
MH: Thank you very much.
JW: I hope I helped.
MH: Okay. Bye-bye.
JW: Good luck with your book.
MH: Thank you, I appreciate that.
JW: Thank you.
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