INTERVIEWER: KAETHE SOLOMON
Q. You can
start with your full name
A. Okay. My name is John Frank Dunn. My address
is 147 15th St., N.E., Atlanta, Ga., 30361. I was born in Elk City, Oklahoma.
Q. Say that
Elk City, Oklahoma?
A. Yes, Elk City, Oklahoma
on August 18, 1920.
At the time of liberation, I was 25, in May of 1945. I was a student at
the beginning of the war so I still had not chosen a profession. I did
later on choose a military profession for 51 years and, of course, am
now involved in records management, which was one of the specialties I
learned during military service. I was in the 45th Infantry Division and
in charge of cemeteries, personnel, casualties, this type area
I did have access to a lot of unusual sights and had responsibility for
doing many unpleasant tasks, being in that capacity. I was in the 45th
uh, this division first saw action in Sicily. We
practiced off of Africa and then went into Sicily. Of course, we were
told to kill or be killed, but this was the first time I had come in contact
with many casualties behind walls or along the road
Q. You were
I'm going to ask you to repeat that. You were told to what?
To kill or
A. Yes, uh, Patton and all of the commanders, they
would drill this into the soldiers. When we're talking about killing,
we're talking about the enemy. In other words, they had not seen any action
Q. In other
words, "kill or be killed" is what you said?
A. They were thinking that when they came across
enemy soldiers, they just drilled it into them: kill or be killed, kill
or be killed. that was what they wanted them to have foremost in their
minds, because otherwise, they would have been if they hadn't so
found this very difficult. Initially, you really have to toughen up your
skin, your feelings
and then then next worse thing after that was
Enzio. We had so many casualties sometimes. Sometimes we'd have over 2,000
from dark one evening to daylight the next morning. We had so many of
them, we just had long rows of people backed up waiting, because we couldn't
dig the graves fast enough.
Q. So that
was a common sight for you really, after a while?
can't say you ever get used to it, but it was something that had to be
done, and it was my assigned task, so I did assume responsibility for
it and went ahead and did it. But it certainly was not a pleasant one
and, in the heat of the summer, with no sort of mortuaries of any kind,
it - uh - it, you know, makes people start going, "ohhh, ohhh, what
did I do to deserve this job?" Many of the people, of course, in
graves registration did this, so it takes a lot of fortitude and a lot
of turning real tough on the skin, because it's either that or you'll
go batty and have to be shipped out.
Q. You mentioned
in your television conversation that you were involved in the Dachau area?
Yes, our division did take Munich and, of course, Dachau is near Munich
so our division did uncover
you aware of the existence of the Dachau camp at the time you came on
No, not really. Usually, ah - you know we had been - our staff had been
together about five years and anything unusual along the way, of course,
would be fed into division headquarters where I was. Once we received
word of this, of course, most of us did go right on down because it was
one of those things that you can't believe and, you know, you had to see
Q. You did
receive word of it.
Yes, they sent word back that it had been
Who told you?
the, our _____Battalion had taken the camp, itself
called back into the Division G3 and
Q. The camp
had already been taken?
Yes. And, of course, the division commander and all the senior people,
obviously, would go down to something like this because---it's just one
of those things that nobody who didn't see it would believe.
came back to you and said, "We took this camp
?" How did
Q. By telephone.
How did you get to the camp - personally?
We went in a jeep from our location.
it's just one of those things that you just have to see to believe.
Q. Who told
you that it existed? Was it a close friend of yours, was it just an officer,
All of our staff was very close and any of them would say, "I'm going
down." I don't remember at this time whether I went alone or whether
I went with
I probably went with someone but
Q. And it
was just a trip you make from where you were stationed at that point to
the Dachau camp.
Q. You went
by jeep, you indicated. Do you remember what you first saw as you entered
didn't go through the whole camp. The only place we went to was the area
there where they had the ovens
where they were burning. And there,
stacked in front of the ovens were people
and, I don't know
always sort of referred to it
It looked like a stack of posts, the
way they were stacked up, because even though they had been there for
some time, there was no smell or anything because the bodies had just
been starved and sort of shrunk up
or dried out, if you please. Where
there wasn't really anything expect skin and bones, so there really wasn't
was no odor?
there was not.
coming from you, that's an interesting statement because apparently you
were involved in, you said, cemeteries and involved with burials
because at the cemeteries, it was terrible in hot weather when you had
many of the bodies waiting
Q. So, comparatively
speaking, there was not much of an odor there. Ahhh - you did not see
the _____, the entrance way to Dachau?
we would have to have driven into the entrance to get into this place,
but, really, once you see this sight, it causes you to forget about the
others, because a fence or a field or what have you would just be an ordinary,
common thing, which you wouldn't remember after you see something like
Q. Ah -
you've seen a lot of death before. Was this experience in your mind a
separate experience from the other experiences you had with...
it really is
Q. Or did
it become a separate experience in retrospect?
it was at the time, because it's two different things. In war, that's
one thing, you know. Planes fall, guns go off, people are out to shoot
each other - and it's both sides. But this is a case where the ones doing
it did have some control. In other words, this was a forced, I would call
it, killing of people, and it really had nothing to do with the war itself.
It just occurred at the same time, but it is a totally different situation.
Plus the fact that these people, as you saw them lying there, their bodies
were still there. I remember there was one real good looking red-haired
lady, but it - it was like looking at skeletons. In other words, uh
In other words, it's a whole different situation, and it created something
within you that's really separate and apart from the war. It had nothing
to do with it. In other words, because this is something that you can
visualize being carried on in a place outside war - really. Therefore,
uh - it was more than killing. I think the big thing about it was the
fact that the ovens were right behind it where they would burn them. Even
after they went this far--obviously, they were in no position to do any
damage--and I think the other big thing about it is they were actually
starved to death. Really - there are some other important things here
other than killing, itself. Starving a person to death must be a terrible
death - uh, much more so than the casualties in the war.
Do you remember the date you went into the camp?
we occupied - we did have some troops going into Austria - but we stopped
and occupied Munich after it was taken and, uh, I suppose I could go back
through my records, but it was shortly before the end of the war. It was
a matter of a few days.
was May of 1945?
was really the last combat situation we were in. And, of course, there
was no resistance at that time so it wasn't that difficult to take the
Q. I see.
were there any people walking around at all?
At Dachau, that you
wasn't, because the troops had just taken it so, uh
and in that case,
although I didn't see them do it, I think later on, there were some charges
preferred against some of the people, for murder. But Patton, being the
kind of general he was, he certainly would not ever permit any charges
to be filed against anybody for murder in time of war, because that really
isn't murder. Murder was being done at the camps, but not in the war.
So, in those areas, the people I knew and talked to - even though the
SS guards that ran the camp would throw out their hands and say, "Comrade"
- our people went ahead and killed them.
Q. Did you
meet you with any SS guards?
not that I know of. I probably did. We spent an awful lot of time down
through Italy. After Sicily, we went to Salerno. And after Salerno, we
hit Enzio. After Enzio, we hit Southern France
so we hit four enemy
Q. You sure
did. When you were in Munich, was there any time to meet with any of the
I was. They seemed to be very nice people - a couple of families - uh,
whatever little bread they had left, they were willing to share. And,
of course, I am sure it was a great relief to them that the war was over,
so I think it's uh
would be difficult, I think on something like
this, to try and judge it against other German people, because I don't
think that any people in the world - I can't visualize them - the people
as a whole. I think you'll always have a few people who could do this
type thing - perhaps in all countries. But, I couldn't sense any bitterness.
Most of them were just so happy for it to be over, it wasn't funny. We
stayed there quite a while. Of course, we were close by. We had our Division
headquarters, actually in Dachau, which is close. And then, we later on,
moved out on the Enso River, just below Munich, and stayed in some of
the government buildings there.
Q. Did you
meet with any of these German citizens before you went to Dachau?
it was after. You see, we were not supposed to do any fraternization,
I remember, at the time. We were not supposed to have any dealings with
the local people.
Q. All right.
Did you ask them whether or not they knew what was happening at Dachau.
Do you remember any such conversations taking place?
I really didn't have that kind of opportunity. I didn't have much contact
at all, because once we cleared the place, then the military government
took over. I did, for the benefit of those that we had wounded in the
hospital. I got a bus, and I did conduct some tours of Munich for our
patients - you know, people that were wounded and in the hospital. Some
of the hospital personnel would also take turns taking a look seeing through
Munich. So we got to see quite a bit of Munich, but to my knowledge, this
was just never talked about or discussed. And, really, not too many people
got to actually see these before they were cleaned up. In other words,
this was kind of Graves Registration Services - we tried to keep it cleaned
up behind us as much as we could. Sometimes, if you have a big battle
or a big break-out, or something, you would have a lot of casualties or
maybe you couldn't get to them for a while. But in a situation like this,
I don't know how long it took, but I'm sure it would have been just a
very few days. Most of the activities were taken over by military government,
once we cleared the area of enemy troops.
Q. You went
into Dachau, you saw these bodies stacked up like logs, so to speak
don't remember whether or not you were alone or with somebody. Did you
share what you saw with anybody? Do you remember talking about it?
I took some pictures, and I related it as we went along. But - I don't
know, it's, ah - I just felt it's the type of thing that I would not have
told my children. It's not the type thing I would have talked about. I
did talk to my assistant about it this morning, after I hung up with you.
we talked on the phone
he seemed very interested, but it's the type of thing that's almost too
gruesome to talk to anyone about it, you know
There's just some things
Q. At the
time that you were there
just some things that
that children, you know
it's just not
one of those things that I think is a good topic to be discussed.
it's even difficult to talk about it yourself, and then to have that as
a topic of conversation takes additional strength, I guess. But at the
time that you were there, and with your fellow soldiers, did you discuss
what you saw? Do you remember?
we didn't do much discussion of it because everybody went
I did take
some pictures while I was there, but those got lifted somewhere along
came through, or
they never came back. I think I loaned them to the chaplain to look at,
and I don't think he ever returned them to me. This was quite a shock
for a lot of the chaplains, of course.
Q. If they
hadn't seen it, certainly
Or if they were unaware of it, it's shocking
to see. Ah
you're married, Mr. Dunn?
you shared this experience with your wife at any time?
I've talked to my wife about it. But I haven't discussed anything with
Q. Did you
see the Holocaust movie?
I saw parts of it.
Q. Did that
bring back any
refresh your memory or give you any additional feelings
in the light of today's political
not really, because I think there would be difficulty of realism
there. You know, movies are so fictional and what have you
the actual thing, plus trying to relate that to a movie, I think, is very
difficult. There are other things I think one could relate, but something
like this - well, there just couldn't be a substitute for me because a
there's no way that a movie could leave an imprint on your
mind like your actually observing it
So, at least for me, there's
a big difference between the two.
Q. Do you
believe that the movie had validity, that certain basic
yes - certainly. There's no question about that.
Q. You have
children, Mr. Dunn. Did they see the movie, do you know? Are they living
we just have the one that's home with us, and she's blind, so she didn't
see it. But she heard it. She can do about as well, hearing - better,
hearing - than most people can, seeing.
extra-sensory - certainly, perception. Did you discuss this movie with
her after she heard it?
just trying to get an idea about how much information you shared. Ummm
reaction to the German people
I think you gave us somewhat an idea
of how you felt, before. We're often told that no one was a Nazi
people you came across, the German citizens
how do you feel?
I think most of them, you know
Q. How do
or, what was your experience at the time
or do you
have any feelings?
it was, of course, impossible to determine who was who
in the military,
would never have trusted a person as to whether they were or weren't,
as far as any kind of responsible position or trust them for a personal
matter, as far as that goes. You really don't know under those circumstances
who is and who is not, so
Q. You can't
take a chance?
you really have to treat them all the same.
there any violent incidents that you observed?
mean after the war?
no - not really after the war, but around the Dachau area, or even perhaps
between the soldiers and the citizens. Sort of assessing the soldier's
no, not really. They court martialed several of the guys that were fraternizing
with some of the women, and that grew to be somewhat of a problem. So
some of those that commanded stated that if they wanted to bring them
to the club, they could, and they would have to interrogate them to see
if they were a Czech or a Pole or a Slav, or what. There were tremendous
numbers of displaced people, who were living there, so
Q. Did you
have a chance to take to any of these
I don't know what your language
facility is, but did you have an opportunity to talk to them or discuss.
very little. We moved into the German finance minister's quarters for
our office. This was located just below Munich, and they had very nice
facilities, all the government officials, and we enjoyed those. But the
people they had for maids all seemed to be very nice. They also had a
couple of orchestras. But they were a little nervous, it seemed
Germans in the band, playing. Especially if you would ask for a song that
maybe was written by a German or - you know, they were getting away from
the German songs and the German music
trying to stick strictly to
Q. So your
life style was pretty mice there in the military once you took over the
we were very comfortable. We stayed I guess a couple of months, and we
had to come back and go to Japan.
did you do there in Germany at the time in your particular job?
was in the Division G1, and I left early to come back to Camp Bowie, Texas
as one of the advance party to come back and get the post set up so we
could bring in our replacements and get our training going and then be
re-deployed to the Pacific. Quite a few people stayed a considerably longer
period of time than I did, but I volunteered to come back for re-deployment
to the Pacific. I don't know why.
You don't know why - a real military man. You were involved in cemetery
procedures, you indicated.
that is one of the G1 duties - selecting cemeteries and the collection
of bodies throughout the area that you go through to be sure that they
get picked up and, at the cemetery, properly identified and buried.
Q. Did that
include the bodies found at Dachau?
yes. Ah, not
we were primarily looking for military. We didn't get
involved with civilians. This was a military government function.
Q. I see.
You were not involved with that.
we were strictly sticking with military casualties.
Q. I see
going to talk a little bit about religion. Did you consider yourself a
religious man at the time you had this experience?
Q. And your
there any conscious thoughts about God at the time you viewed Dachau?
I was so young at that time that you see something like that and it sort
of blanks you out
Of course, I think I only went to one funeral from
up to 20 years old, and that scared me to death, so it was
really a traumatic experience for me the first time we come on the beach
and saw all the dead people everywhere. It was rather difficult to
I just didn't know at that time if I was going to be able to do it or
Q. Oh, I
understand. Did you indeed think of asking to be released of your duties?
I didn't. That's where I ended up. I didn't ask for the duty, and it was
just one of those things where I ended up
so I just went ahead and
somehow overcame. I just figured I would have to be a lot braver than
I was before, as far as seeing something like this.
Q. A point
of interest. Since that time, do the funerals, etc. have the same impact
Q. A different
experience. The question here is: did religion have anything to do with
the way you viewed the prisoners at Dachau?
I think it would. I think it all ties in to a person's views because of
your religious teachings about this. Of course, really, war itself is
anti-religious, no matter how you look at it - because still a brother
is a brother, and it, in my view, always has been. When you come down
to the point that the command they gave us is either kill or be killed,
you have to shift gears and get into a different frame of mind
now you have another job to do. That has to be adjusted in your own mind.
Q. Uh huh
- You somehow have to justify it or you can't go. Have you ever wondered
if you would have kept your faith as a prisoner in the camp?
uh, I would have.
your religion have any effect on your attitude towards forgiving the Nazis?
not much choice, really, if a person gets into trouble and goes to prison
- a murderer or what have you - they can only do so much time in prison
or so much repentance. In other words, I think the time does come when
you can't hold something like this against a person all their lives.
Q. Are you
familiar with the statute of limitations?
Q. And how
do you feel about that? Do you think it should be abolished?
I don't know. It seems to me that we're getting pretty well down the road,
now. It can't go on forever. I think there should be a time set, whatever
it might be
whether it's now, ten years from now, twenty years -
and when that time does come, why then, I think it's something that shouldn't
go on. Actually, it's something that happened uh
34 years ago, now.
It seems to me like
while there's certainly no excuse for it
uh - I'm not sure anything would be gained by punishing a person for an
act that was committed 34 years ago. Maybe there would. I don't know.
This is not an easy question.
Q. No, it
takes thought in terms of forming an answer.
think it would be according to the degree. If you did know that a person
really was responsible, personally - and they could have said yes or no
to a whole camp [of] people that way - and they were responsible for it,
then, of course, I don't think that person should escape punishment, as
long as they live. Certainly, there are some gray areas there, but in
that type situation, I don't care what it is. I don't care how old they
are or even if they are sick. But as far as some of the others where,
you know, the gray areas - then, I'm not so sure.
talking about Adolph Eichmann, Heinrich Himmler
people who wee in a position of responsibility and could have done something
about it. Yes, I don't think there ever should be any mercy for those.
they did it before, they'll do it again.
your experience change your political view in any way
in the area
of civil rights, the Vietnam War, the Middle East?
no, not really - but it makes you think that, uh
we certainly, even
though we have elected officials, we certainly have an obligation, both
to ourselves, our people and our country that, if we see somebody getting
that far out of line, action needs to be taken
uh, even people taking
it into their own hands to not permit such a situation to develop to the
point where people can, in fact, not do anything about it. So I think
that's the lesson I learned from it is that you can sit blindly by and
let something like this come to pass. It's one of those things that grows
a little at a time and people, I don't think, realize exactly what's happening.
the resurgence of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, how do you feel
about that being permitted to continue, develop
freedom of expression?
I'm really hoping that this is just a little flare-up for publicity as
sort of the dying call. I really can't believe that this is resurging
in earnest and that the people who are doing it really have earnest feelings
in mind that this is a good move and that it should come back in and spread
and take back over. I just don't see how it could possibly do it
Q. Do you
think we should take steps to combat their liberty of their expression?
not now. But if this starts catching hold, and you start seeing the organization
in several states, and they do actually start causing casualties
you see it is the movement that can cause this
then, yes - I think
they should be moved in on. I think something should be done about it.
Q. Do you
think the Church should take on responsibility in terms of
Q. And also,
in terms of education about the Holocaust
Do you think the Church
has a responsibility in education?
is right down the alley, yes. There's no way the Church, I think, can
push this off to someone else. They have to assume their rightful place
.they play an important role
Q. How do
you see yourself in educating to see that
to prevent this from ever
by sharing this with us now, you have done a wonderful
think that when the history is written
I think that what has happened
since World War II today
I think that, as we look back on it, historically
you know, with the Arabs and the Jews having their problems,
but the great step that Sadat has taken - you go back all the way from
Biblical times up to date, and I think he's very sincere
like this could ever have happened. There is a great interchange
if you look here, we have blacks marrying whites - look at what has happened
between the blacks and the whites, over the last twenty years
in the last twenty years. And I think that probably the communications
of today, the television where they see all of these
An example would
be to take a youngster that grows up in these times and a youngster that
grows up in my times - and you sat them down side by side, and you start
asking them these questions about their views on this, you are going to
find a whole different situation. So I think that tremendous strides surely
have been taken in so short a period. Look back and see that none if these
things happened. So many things that you wonder what happened
many things. You wonder what happened from the beginning of time clear
up to, let's say, 1940 or '50
in all of our fields of endeavor
education, television, in the people's rights, regardless or color or
place. You don't hear any harping about all these changes, but there have
been tremendous changes and even religion
I remember my father was
very anti-Catholic. In fact, my older brother wanted to marry a Catholic,
and he just put his foot down and stopped it, broke it up. He said that,
absolutely, there was going to be none
because this was sort of against
our teaching. You know, this person figured that the priest was playing
God and people doing these things
and they were really very much
anti. With the coming of the automobile, the movement of people, television,
radio - all of these things, that all came within our time, then his children
I guess two of his grandchildren in both families have married Catholics.
And there's a tremendous interchange, and you don't hear that any more
in any of those families. So I think that the generation after
the generation after us, you're going to see even more of this so-called
togetherness - respecting each other's rights. I am really glad that
Q. I detect
a note of approval of the change and the opening of communications between
I think it's a total package. And it's not only just here - it's all over
the world. Everybody can share in this experience, and we can learn more
about each other
tremendous social changes here. I think, if there
is as much progress made in the next 25 years as there has been made in
the last 25, I think that the chances of things like this happening are
going to be more and more remote. I hope they are. But I think there have
been tremendous strides
I really do.
certainly have been many very, very drastic and rapid changes.
So there might be some slow downs with the Ku Kluxers coming back to show
off, or the Nazis getting publicity in Chicago, but I don't think a little
handful of people
maybe something like that might be even good to
bring back a few memories. People can say, "Look at what can happen.
This is how those things start." So this could be a helpful effect.
negative having a positive effect
You indicated before that this
is not something you would share with your child. How do you feel that
sharing it with a child, perhaps, could be very advantageous in terms
suppose it could, uh, when they get older
if they [could] be old
enough to understand. I don't think that this type thing is something
you could share with a child. I don't think they could understand or comprehend
it. You could tell them, but I think that would be about it. I know a
lot of my father's hardships, when he made the run to Oklahoma, back when
they opened the plant - uh, he, I guess
well, let's see, he
was along about in '55 and he was born in '80, so 55, 65, 75. I guess
he was about 75 when he shared some of their experiences
For example, they had to live together in one room, two or three sisters
and his mother. His mother died in 1905 - that would have made him 25
- from diphtheria, and his sisters were sick, and he would into the little
town and there would be drinking and gambling
and he would go see
the doctor and tell him she was sick, and the doctor would ask him the
symptoms and say, "Well, there's no need for me to come. They're
going to die, anyway." And they had to put their foot down on you
on the ground to hold you down and take pliers to pull your teeth
all these kinds of things. Just imagine the pain
they had no gas,
they had no anesthesia, none of these things. And I suppose that these
things left a real imprint in his mind. I don't know if he talked to the
other children or not. I didn't ask him
Q. It left
an impression on you, too.
was old enough where I would understand it, and that it wouldn't bother
me. And I think that this other thing is even more than that. It's something
that I think is very deep and hard to understand. It's a
it's a very
difficult thing to talk about, really. I think you talk to a stranger
more about it than you can to your own children. I think it's more difficult
to talk to your children.
Q. The fear
of uh, you know, should my child ever have to go through something like
is a fear we have within us.
I suppose that's one of your inner feelings. I really don't know why there
is a hesitancy to talk about those things, but - I think there is a hesitancy
on people's part to talk about the real gruesome things, and that's what
we're talking about there.
Q. I think
we can almost visualize ourselves as possibly going through something
Q. Is there
something I haven't covered that you would like to share with us in this
area of your experience?
I think that's about it. I notice that the only other thing that we had
happen that bothered us was in taking the city of Schockenburg (sp?) there
in Germany. There was a Major Frank, who was commandant of the city, and
he did have it well fortified, but he didn't have too many troops. We
had a terrible time taking that thing. We would encircle it, we would
try, and then we would have to back up, and then we would bomb it and
try again. We couldn't get in, so we'd go back up and bomb it and throw
artillery. We finally took it, but he had a lot of six, seven, eight year
olds manning guns and, of they didn't hold the line and fire, he'd hang
them. We saw several of them hanging when we went in. Of course, he was
the SS type, but I think it was another example of the same thing. This
is getting down on the cruel side, too, when you start taking children
and murdering them for not standing up and defending the city.
Q. Did you
meet up with him personally?
he was killed, but he sure held on to the last.
Q. You saw
them hanging at designated areas?
but it wouldn't make any difference. He just wanted to make examples of
them, I guess, so the other kids would get the message that they were
not to let the enemy come in. They were, at all costs, to kill the enemy
right up to the last person.
Q. And this
was at Schockenburg?
I think he was a good example of the SS troops.
Q. I want
to thank you very much for sharing this with us
and yes, indeed,
you are doing your job in educating others because you have shared this
and I do thank you.