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Paul Wannemacher oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (10 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (6 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 November 1, 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 Paul Wannemacher. Wannemacher was a member of the 90th Infantry Division, which liberated Flossenbrg on April 23, 1945. His company found the camp and immediately took it over, though Wannemacher was not present, being out on reconnaissance. Shortly afterwards, Wannemacher went to the camp to see what was going on, and another soldier pointed out an inmate who was sprinkling water over several bodies in an attempt to keep the stench down. Walking around the camp he saw the crematorium, the barracks, and the gas chambers, outside of which there were piles of glasses and shoes. They did not stay in the camp very long, leaving to continue their pursuit of the Germans. Wannemacher also visited Dachau after the war was over and describes a large map that had the locations of all the different camps.
Infantry Division, 90th.
Infantry Division, 90th
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
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript segment idx 0 time 00:00:0.4 text Michael Hirsh: Just so I have it correctly, could you spell your name and give me your name and address? 1 00:00:4.2 Paul Wannemacher: W-a-n-n-e-m-a-c-h-e-r. 2 00:00:10.0 MH: And your phone number? 3 00:00:12.2 PW: Phone number is 4 00:00:13.2 MH: And when were you born? 5 00:00:14.3 PW: July twenty-five . 6 00:00:18.3 MH: July of 1925. 7 00:00:19.3 PW: Right. 8 00:00:20.0 MH: So, you were with the 712th Tank Battalion. 9 00:00:22.9 PW: Thats correct. 10 00:00:23.9 MH: And it was attached to the 90th Infantry Division? 11 00:00:26.2 PW: At that time, yeah. 12 00:00:27.6 MH: At that time. When you were getting near Flossenbrg, did you know that there was this camp up there? 13 00:00:35.1 PW: Not that we knew, no. 14 00:00:37.7 MH: What was your first clue? 15 00:00:41.4 PW: Well, our company immediately went in and took it over when we found it, you know. But we were in recon; we came up a little bit later just to see what was going on. And we just came to, you know, the fence-enclosed barricades. Huge place; I mean, it wasnt small by any means. And we just went in. 16 00:01:6.3 My first direct indication of what the hell was going on there was kind of from a C Company guy by the name of Gifford, Frank Gifford, but hes dead now. Frank was standing outside of a little building, and he was sort of pointing inside. I noticed there was a guy standing there with a hose, and I couldnt figure out what the hell he was doing with a hose. And I went up and looked in the door, and there mustve been twenty-five or thirty dead bodies there. He was just sprinkling them with the hose, I guess to keep the stench down. 17 00:01:40.3 MH: This was an inmate who was doing this? 18 00:01:42.0 PW: No, no. Oh, yeah. Yeah, it was an inmate that was doing it. And then we walked around areas of the camp, saw the ovens and all that stuff, and of course the gas chambers and piles of glasses and shoes and things that had been piled outside these gas chambers, sort of a circular-type building. They would invite them in to take showers, and of course theyd make them strip and theyd gas them in there. It was not exactly a pretty place to be. 19 00:02:17.5 MH: How do youyou were twenty years old at that time. 20 00:02:22.5 PW: Actually, I was nineteen. 21 00:02:25.3 MH: Nineteen. How do you cope with something like that? 22 00:02:29.4 PW: Well, I dont know, you just do it. I mean, I was in thereI got in there with the 712th. Lets see, it was about the 13th of June I actually joined them. I went over in France in the latter part of June, but it was the 13th of July that I joined the 712th. We had gone all the way across through the hedgerows and Avranches, Le Mans and Mayenne and the Gap, Falaise Gap; and all the way across to Metz and the Saar [River]; and up to the Battle of the Bulge and all over through central Germany; and wound up over in Czechoslovakia. So, you saw a lot of different things as you were going. 23 00:03:12.6 MH: But surely, seeing a place that was made to kill thousands of people 24 00:03:20.4 PW: Well, that was just one of many. 25 00:03:23.5 MH: Right. Had you seen others? 26 00:03:25.2 PW: No. Well, I went to Dachau; that was after the war, though. Of course, you walk into Dachau, into the administrative building, as they called it, and the first thing you see is this huge map on the wall in front of you with different towns marked on them: of course, they were the locations of the different camps. What we didnt know at the time, and I found this out when I got there, was that camps like Flossenbrg, for example, were like the headquarters camp, and then they would have satellite camps surrounding it, like maybehell, fifteen, twenty different towns thatd be like little satellite operations of it. And each of these camps were identified on this map. 27 00:04:14.0 In front of the townin other words, it was like a rectangular box on the wall, and it would have in big letters the name of a town. And then directly in front of the big letters, there would be another little box with a three-letter symbol on it: all those that were connected with Flossenbrg, for example, had FLO on the front of the camp. So, you could look at the map and see exactly which towns were reporting to which camp. They had them for Dachau and Bergen-Belsen and all the different camps around, and so forth. But it was quite a network. 28 00:04:57.2 MH: Yeah. What else did you see inside the camp at Flossenbrg? 29 00:05:1.3 PW: Oh, well, there was mass confusion, of course. Poor devils, they didnt know what the hell was going on. They were completely ecstatic, but they hadnt eaten, they were starving and veryit was terrible, I mean, from that standpoint. But there wasnt anything you could do about it right then and there. They were stuffed in barracks that looked like chicken coops today and so forth. But no, it was justI mean, it was there, and you had to try to get it organized and coped with and so forth. We werent there that long, because we took off and we were still chasing them, you know. 30 00:05:46.0 MH: Right, which almost seems strange, if you dont consider the circumstances that a war was actually going on. You found this horrible place and really cant stay there to help. 31 00:06:1.1 PW: Well, there were people there to help. They brought inthey would bring in different types of troops to come in and take of the administration and set up the camp: medical people and all kinds of quartermaster people to try to get some clothing on them or something of that nature. You know, just to get them back to humanity, I guess you might say. But it was not just something you just turned a switch and did it overnight. 32 00:06:33.0 We were more or less on the hunt. We wound up over in Czechoslovakia, and we were over there within about two weeks after we hit Flossenbrg. So, you know, there was a lot that went on after we got out of there that we dont have any idea about. But Im sure theres plenty in the history books that you can find out about it. 33 00:06:55.0 MH: Did you also see the place at Flossenbrg where they were dumping, apparently, the ashes of the people theyd cremated? 34 00:07:6.0 PW: If I did, I didntthe thing that got me was those damned shoes and glasses and stuff outside the gas chambers. In fact, I have pictures of the damn thing. I dont know why that stuck, but maybe its because I was wearing glasses as a kid, you know. But heres this huge pile of shoes and glasses and things of that nature that were just parked out. And of course, if you didnt know what was going onI mean, these things were just round buildings, and they looked like a community shower-type thing. And they would put them in there, gas them, and haul them out. 35 00:07:52.6 MH: Did you take a lot of pictures there? 36 00:07:54.0 PW: Not a lot, no. 37 00:07:56.8 MH: Do you still have the pictures you took of the? 38 00:07:58.6 PW: I got a couple of them around here, but nothing worthy of Nobel Prize consideration, lets put it that way. (laughs) 39 00:08:5.1 MH: Oh, well. But, I mean, are they pretty good pictures of what you just described? 40 00:08:11.8 PW: I guess. Theyre small, you know; we didnt have the big Leicas or the digital cameras at that time. 41 00:08:21.9 MH: Of course. 42 00:08:23.1 PW: Some of them are pretty small. But yeah, I got some around here. 43 00:08:28.3 MH: If youre able to find them, what Id like is to borrow them and be able to scan them into the computer, and then I could possibly 44 00:08:38.3 PW: Well, let me see what I can find. 45 00:08:40.3 MH: Okay. 46 00:08:41.8 PW: I think I got your address downstairs. Where are you located? 47 00:08:47.2 MH: Im in Punta Gorda. 48 00:08:49.7 PW: Where? 49 00:08:50.3 MH: Punta Gorda, Florida. 50 00:08:51.1 PW: Punta Gorda. Just a minute, Im putting the phone down. 51 00:08:53.1 MH: Okay. 52 00:08:56.4 PW: (to wife) Annie? Wheres Punta Gorda, Florida? 53 00:08:59.1 Annie Wannemacher: Its on the Gulf, isnt it? 54 00:09:6.1 PW: Is that on the Gulf? 55 00:09:6.8 MH: Yeah, its on the Gulf. Were about forty-five minutes south of Sarasota. 56 00:09:11.1 PW: Forty-five south of Sarasota? 57 00:09:12.8 MH: Right. 58 00:09:13.4 PW: Oh, okay. 59 00:09:14.0 MH: You have a place in Silver Springs? 60 00:09:15.3 PW: Yeah. Well, not Silver Springs, a little bit east of there, the forest we go to. But our mailing address is Silver Springs. 61 00:09:24.7 MH: Silver Springs. 62 00:09:27.5 PW: Whats your address there? 63 00:09:28.7 MH: My address is.
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