This Material May Only be Used With Permission
From Emory University.
INTERVIEWER: KAETHE SOLOMON
DATE: OCTOBER 12, 1978
right now. I see you have a book here on Dachau, and these pictures
are of Dachau, the pictures that you are showing me now?
A: Right. There was a train that was pulled in
on the siding just outside the camp, and they were trying to burn all
of the evidence, really, and they threw a guard on this train and these
people were shot--the ones that tried to get off. And so they just stayed
there and died. Of course, most of them were very near death when they
were a liberator at Dachau?
A: Right. When you say liberator, I was with a
medical unit, the 54th Field Hospital.
A: It's similar to a M.A:S.H., except we were
A: M.A:S.H. is truly a mobile army hospital unit.
referring to the M.A:S.H. TV series?
A: Yes. But in World War II, it was a smaller
unit and we operated directly with an infantry unit. We were broken
up into three platoons, and each platoon went with an infantry division
and we took only belly and chest wounds, the very severe cases, and
we had surgical teams that came in and operated maybe 6-8 hours average
and 10-12 pints of whole blood. So I was close enough. I was always
within artillery fire but never within small arms, but we moved right
behind the infantry and I was the Supply Officer for the unit.
were the what?
A: The supply officer. And we moved right along
behind these divisions, so I was in a position to see a lot and not
be just isolated to one small areA: I was all over France and Germany
going to medical depots and supply depots and one place and another.
you take these pictures?
A: Yes, I took those myself. We moved into this
area Sunday afternoon and stayed until the next day, and then we pulled
it was one day, a 24 hour exposure.
A: Right. It was liberated in the morning and
we set up...the infantry moves right on through, and then we follow
right along behind the infantry.
you remember the month?
A: Oh, yes. So we set up in a field right outside
of this place. Of course, we weren't equipped, even subsistence-wise,
to do too much; and the war was still going and we were combat troops,
so we moved on. In fact the war was over in eight more days, and I ended
up the war in Innsbruck, AustriA: We went from here [pointing to map],
which is outside of Munich, to Stuttgart and Ulm, crossed the Danube
at Ulm, and then on down to Goeppingen and then on down to Innsbruck
in Austria, and Garmisch.
you remember what date you entered Dachau?
A: Yes, it was the 29th of April.
29th and you left on the 30th then. You said you left the next day and
it was 1945?
A: Yes. Right.
you know that you were going to be going to a concentration camp?
A: Oh, no. See, the Seventh Army was advancing,
of course. We crossed the Rhine at Manheim, and we swung south then
to Heidelburg, and the reason we swung south was the Third Army was
north of us and Patton crossed our whole army front with his armour
and closed the Brenner Pass just outside of Garmisch there, and Innsbruck,
so it was really just a swing then to the right and a mop up sort of
you were coming behind the infantry, as you had mentioned before.
A: Right. With the infantry. But the war was over
for all practical purposes at that point, because it was just strictly
mopping up. They were surrendering to the burgermeisters in the towns
as we came along and turned in their weapons, the Germany Army.
you entered the Dachau area. When you came to these pictures that you've
shown me, what area did you go to first? What do you remember? If you
can take yourself back in time a little. Do you remember what you saw
first in this camp? Was it the entrance way?
A: No, this train.
A: Yes, I came up on first from where we set up
our hospital, and I took pictures of the train and then on into the
in this picture we see, of course, the emaciated corpses, the skeletons,
the dead skeletons. Do you remember what your thoughts were at that
time when you saw this?
A: Well, I couldn't believe it, but I should have
had an inkling, and I'll tell you why. We came through the Siegfried
line with the Third Infantry Division, the particular unit I was following
at that time, and the Sargamien. Sargamund if it's German, Sargamien
was French. Then we went to Zweibruecken. We came on through. Zweibruecken
was really the next large town we got to, and in addition to being a
supply officer, I was the real estate officer--there's army forms for
everything, and we occupied buildings when we could. We went into tents
if we had to, we had tents and all; but if we found a town that had
a school or a large home or something similar to this, we would move
in there and set up our hospital because we had very few patients. From
Omaha Beach in Normandy to Innsbruck in Austria, we had less than 3,000
patients; about a third of them died.
you say that you should have had an idea?
A: Yes, because in Zweibruecken the town was shot
up some, but I went into the town. Again, the infantry went through
and pushed the Germans on through, or the Germans ran and the infantry
followed them, and I came right into the town behind them. I went to
this large home. It was really an office complex, in front of a small
factory; there was a small factory behind it.
this in Munich?
A: No, this was Zweibruecken. And this small factory -- machines, tools
sort of a thing -- was behind this large building. So I went in this
building, and I said, "We'll set up our hospital here." So I had signs
and I had a driver, Herman Cohen, who spoke the language, who was a
tailor from Chicago. I said, "We'll set up here and put our signs out."
Then we would go back toward the unit, and we'd stick up our signs so
they could follow the signs up to the new location. Sort of like circus
people. But, when I went in this building, it was full of furnishings
-- desks, chairs, what have you -- and furnished sparsley. It was sort
of an office complex with an apartment upstairs; it was a three-story
building. We got in there about dusk, and I told the driver, "We don't
want to be on the road at night; we'll just throw our bed rolls here
and spend the night, and in the morning we'll go back and get the unit."
So we spent the night there. And the next morning we got up and walked
to the back -- we heard some activity there--and looked out the window
in the courtyard down there and there was a well, and there were people
out there washing up. We didn't think too much about it -- thought maybe
that they were Germans -- but they weren't soldiers so there was really
no concern. We'd seen the German people before.
people were well fed?
A: No, not really, but they weren't emaciated
like these people that we see. But I went back and got the unit and
told about the signs and to move on up, and then I came back up to this
place with this driver that I had, Herman Cohen, and when we got back
there it was a wreck. All of the furnishings in the apartment had been
torn up; the office desks and what-have-you had been slashed, so there
was really nothing that we could use in the way of comfort for ourselves.
These people were inside the building at this point. And they spoke
Russian. I don't know whether they were Jewish people or just Russians,
but there was one man that was in charge of the group and there were
men and women; I assumed that the women cooked, maybe for the household,
or maybe even worked in the factory, but there were about 14 of these
people. The man that was in charge of the group, from what we could
get out of him -- he was Russian -- these were slave labor that was
used right in that little complex there, and they lived in a dungeon,
a cavern-type--it was really a wine cellar that was underneath this
there was a factory [unintelligible].
A: Right. And this man that was in charge of the
group had had every finger on both hands broken and none set. They were
going in all different directions, his fingers.
he tell you how it happened?
A: No. We couldn't...
A: ...communicate with him sufficiently to find
you felt that having seen that should have given you some idea?
A: Inkling of what might be going on. But it didn't
register at that point.
your inability to communicate probably had a lot to do with that.
A: Yes, if we could have found out....
there not been a language barrier.
A: We did find out that because he was in charge
of this group that he was forced to make them work more, or something.
Anyway, he had all his fingers broken.
had security there, too; it seems like a man from a slave labor camp
that they were working at. And that was your first, your closest [unintelligible]
before you got to Dachau?
A: Yes. Dachau is maybe 400 miles or more. We're
talking from March... well no, the 29th of April it was at Dachau and
we broke through the Siegfried line about March 15, as I recall, so
within a period of 30 days I was from Zweibruecken to this place, but
it was still unexpected.
unexpected. There was no talk about it among the men in the Army. Do
you know that anybody had seen anything at that point?
A: No. That's the thing. Like I say, I had an
opportunity to visit supply depots and was on the road and asking directions
and different things, and I had a chance to speak with many more folks
than a man carrying a rifle that was just going through an area that
was three miles wide and several hundred long.
with that opportunity, you never told [unintelligible].
A: We still didn't, until we hit this place. In
fact, the civilians in there don't believe it, in the town of Dachau.
you talk to them at all?
A: This driver that I had, Herman Cohen, spoke
with them, and they denied any knowledge of that place, and I just can't
buy that. I can't believe it, because it is just outside of town.
And this was a very large camp. Dachau certainly had its crematoriums.
So as you saw the railroad tracks, you saw the people, you saw these
bodies, were you alone? Were there other men with you when you saw these?
A: No, in those pictures you can see other troops
from the infantry that was going through.
you talk to any of these when you saw them?
A: Well, not really. I took these pictures with
a 35 mm camera and I was sure happy that I had it with me. The American
soldier is a fine fighting fellow. My experience in observing them and
working with them is that the German soldier could take commands, but
once a sergeant was shot or the officer, then they didn't get with it
like the American soldier, because with the American soldiers we promoted
right down through the ranks. If a lieutenant was shot, the sergeant
was the lieutenant and the corporal was the sergeant, so everybody could
step in; it was that little American ingenuity that paid dividends at
all levels. But, I'd never seen them really brutal until we went through
never saw the American soldier brutal until you went in here?
A: Now I've seen them shoot a German that came
out with this "comrade" bit after he'd emptied his weapon; I say shoot
them. I've seen them turn them over to the French in France, the free
French, which meant the death warrant, but this soldier had shot at
them until he used up all of his ammo then he had said, "Comrade." Well,
the American soldier generally didn't buy this bit; if he still had
a couple of bullets or even one bullet, this saved him, but they're
not going to let somebody shoot at them until they use up all their
ammo and then say "I'm your comrade" or "I want to surrender." But in
here, they shot...this book indicates...now the G-2 people from Army
came down and made this up and they talked with people, and you'd probably
get more from this because I didn't speak with people, I just observed
it. The Wermacht was there; the SS had gone and just the old German
soldier was there, and everyone they shot they gave a rifle butt right
in the face. His own mother wouldn't recognize him. They just caved
in his face with a rifle butt after they'd shot him. And they shot every
American, after having witnessed this.
A: Yes, after having witnessed this, they shot
them all and gave them all a rifle butt right in the face and caved
it in. I took a picture of a stream there that had a couple of German
bodies in it; I didn't take a picture of a fellow I saw reach down and
pull up a ring finger and cut it off and take the ring and throw it
evoked so much feeling
A: It did, it did. That people would treat other
people like this. I tell you, they were vicious.
did this. Did they talk about it?
A: No, in fact, I was going to say, the troops
all the while were moving on up, and they captured some more Wehrmacht
soldiers. There were two that came right back up during this afternoon.
They were sitting on the front of a jeep with a GI driving it and a
GI sitting on the back with a gun on them. And as they pulled through
this area, these slave laborers pulled these people off that jeep. Crossed
the road and blocked it and pulled them off and beat them. They didn't
kill them, but they beat them on the grass right there, and the GIs
did nothing. Now these really weren't people that had persecuted them,
but they were feeling the same thing that the GI soldier was feeling,
and it's very understandable.
A: Now I walked all through that place, and one
thing that impressed me was that there was a commissary there.
A: At Dachau. And, of course, these people broke
into that . Well, when they broke out they came to where we had set
up our hospital. They ate out of the garbage cans, they ate grass, they
were milling around all over.
did you feel when you saw them?
Oh, this was horrible. See, I'm a mortician in civilian life. I've worked
with the medics all the while in the Army. I was with the medical department;
I didn't want to get in Graves Registration. I only did once and that
was in Korea, about 45 days. But I'm accustomed -- I was at that point
-- to death and dead people, but you'll notice I didn't take any pictures
of the live ones because they were the walking dead and I just couldn't.
At that point I just couldn't take a picture of those emaciated people
that were still on their feet.
you react to them as human beings?
A: Oh, yes. We tried to do everything that we
possibly could for them, and that's what I was mentioning . They went
into this commissary. They were, like I say, milling around all over.
We weren't equipped to handle them and the people that were going through,
but they went into this commissary which was for the Germans, I'm satisfied.
The thing that impressed me was that the floor was littered with little
cigars. They weren't after cigars; they went for the food that was there.
The Germans had cheeses in toothpaste tubes-like, fine cheeses, and
other crackers and other condiments and food. They trampled cigars all
over the floor and when they would pick up one of these they'd heave
it aside; they were looking for food. They could care less for smoking
they try to talk to you at all? Did they try to say anything?
A: Oh, well. My unit was interested only in their
well-being. There was a Dr. Goldblatt from Connecticut and there was
a Dr. Rosencranz from Albuquerque, New Mexico, I believe. But they spoke
with them. But I think they were not interested, really, in having these
people tell them all the bad things, you know. They were more interested
in what can I do for you, how do you feel at this point.
Q: I see.
So these were medical people.
A: Yes, these were doctors. But we were there
only for an afternoon and part of the next morning and gone.
you got in there, apparently everybody had gone is what you told me.
There were no SS left. The Wehrmact was there.
A: Yes. The Wehrmacht was there and, of course,
as the GIs went through, they shot the Wehrmacht.
And what about the civilians? Had any civilians come to the camp, at
that point, from the town?
A: No, no. Of course, this was a period when there
was firing as we moved through the town and moved through the camp.
Q: I see.
There was still fire. That would have been later on that [unintelligible].
Q: I have
several more questions to ask you, but I do want to be sure that we
get some of these questions for the record on this tape, so I don't
forget. I am going to need your full name. What is your full name?
A: Jesse. J-E-S-S-E H. L-A-F-O-O-N.
A: 6900 Bishop Road, Fairburn, Georgia.
your date of birth?
A: 9 November, 1922.
you were born where?
A: Victoria, VA.
your age at the time that you got into Dachau?
A: Well, I was born in 1922. This was 1945. May
and November, the difference.
At 23 years of age?
A: Almost 23, yes.
your present occupation is?
A: I am a retired army officer.
retired from what? You were a mortician, you say?
A: No, I was with the Medical Department.
your military unit at the time you were with the service?
A: The 54th Field Hospital.
that the whole title because I know there were several...?
A: Yes. That was it. 54th Field Hospital.
your rank at the time of liberation.
A: First lieutenant.
you liberated Dachau only, or you came into Dachau?
A: Dachau. Right.
you did get there, you were not aware that you were going to be there,
A: We were just moving through.
just moved through, so actually you did nothing in terms of the survivors,
the inmates, you didn't handle the bodies or anything of that nature?
A: No. Now, later, I ran into some of these people
that were from Dachau. After the war was over, in Innsbruck, in Austria,
is where we ended up, we moved back to Goeppingen, Germany, and they
had set up a Displaced Persons camp there.
A: UNRAA in Goeppingen. The war was over and there
was a unit of the 36th Infantry Division in town, so we set up a little
station hospital. Where we'd been a field hospital and had taken bellies
and chests, we set up a little station hospital-like and then we took
everything: sore throats, fractures, everything; and this Displaced
Persons Camp was outside of town. The burgermeister or the town mayor
of our town was a major who had served in World War I, and he had been
a town mayor as a sergeant, so he was mayor of our town. And he had
bags of money! I should have known about this. But you're young, and
you don't know. But like I mentioned, we broke through the Siegfried
line with the Third Infantry Division. Now Sargemeins was right there
at the line, so the minute we broke through the line one morning, that
same morning, we were in Sargemeins. The town was only a couple of miles
through the line. When we hit the infantry broke through, and we had
been sitting since December on the other side. So one morning we popped
through the line. When we hit the town the people had all run. In fact,
there was food on the table and there were guns in the corner where
the German soldiers had even run; but the whole town was mined and booby-trapped,
because the Siegfried line really wasn't the thing that Hitler sold
it for. The Maginot line was a four-story deep proposition with machine
rooms, engine rooms, guns, everything, but Hitler had sold that Seigfreid
line as a [unintelligible] when really it was just dragon's teeth and
a few pillboxes. So we got through that in a hurry, and we're right
in this town, and everybody runs, but their buildings are blowing up.
When I came in right behind the infantry to get set up for the hospital,
they had just moved through and then I'm there. The buildings were blowing
up and I thought it was incoming artillery; but I went down to the bank
and there was money all over the floor! We went through the building.
Soldiers will look at the loot a little, you know. You can't carry much.
Anyway, we went down to the bank and there was money everywhere! I picked
out the largest denomination bill I could find and put it in my pocket
as a souvenir. I had to watch my boys so they don't loot or destroy
any property or anything. But, we did pick up a large denomination.
Well, all that money that was printed prior to 1928 was good that was
there; the Germans later said that everything after 1928 wasn't any
good. This man that I spoke of, he joined our unit.
A: Yes. His town was down Goeppingen, south of
Stuttgart, but he hit us about the time we went through the Siegfried,
and he was just one man with 4 or 5 people to run a town. He had to
be with somebody to get something to eat, at this point. But I am satisfied
that others waited until the town was liberated and then went in. But
he joined us at this point, and every time that we went through there
after that, he policed up all this money, and he had duffel bags of
it. So when we got to Goeppingen -- just getting back to my original
story and the Displaced Persons camp -- he was able to hire us people
from the Displaced Persons camp to work in their hospital.
paid for that with that money from the bank?
A: Yes! And we could get Germans, we could get
coal, anything we wanted, he had the money for. If it was available,
he could get it. But the thing that impressed me was I think I had a
fine unit. There weren't too many of us. It was a small unit. We had
5 MFC officers and 15 doctors and 15 nurses and then we had about 85
enlisted people. But within that group there were so many trades and
skills that I think that with those 85 people I could have done most
anything, but the thing that impressed me about this Displaced Persons
Camp was if we had some patients and I wanted to give them some entertainment,
I went out there and there were concert pianists out there, engineers,
the Displaced Persons Camp?
A: Sure. I mean, even though they had been slave
laborers, these people were the cream of the crop. They were well-educated
people, in the arts and everything else.
mentioned UNRAAA: Was UNRAA the whole unit that ran the displaced persons
A: Yes, they ran these things all over.
worked with the Displaced Persons camps?
A: No. Just from the standpoint of if I needed
any entertainment or anything from the hospital, I could go out there
and the mayor would pay them, and I could get just the finest entertainers
in the world. The finest engineers were there, the doctors.
these people survivors of concentration camps or labor camps? Or do
A: No. I really wouldn't.
there was a difference between those people that were able to work and
those people that were totally emaciated and survived by some miracle.
Oh. yes. But in this particular camp, from just glancing through here
at the pictures, and seeing the people there, they were at all stages
weren't too many survivors at Dachau.
very few [unintelligible] at Dachau.
A: No. But, this you might want to glance at,
it might raise a question.
is a soft cover book, Dachau and who put this out?
A: The Army. The G-2 people.
people? Oh, I see.
A: They came down and interviewed them. But they
only spent a couple of days too.
163 B Photo Signal Company.
A: They took the pictures.
The 7th Army.
we going to be able to hold onto this book for a while?
A: Oh, yes, I'd like for you to copy it.
it, or would you like to put it in our Archives here at the university?
A: I would like to do that [put it in the Archives]
because most people should see it.
fine. Very fine. It is historical documentation. And what about these
A: You can make copies of those. I would be happy
to let you have those.
you want the originals back, or do you want us to make copies?
A: I would be happy to give you those, with the
would be really wonderful, because we are building up Archives here,
and this is a certain type of original documentation that would be most
valuable in our research. Yes. This, indeed, does have a lot of information
A: Now, they interviewed some of the people there.
interviewed some of the inmates?
other words, the Army interviewed the inmates?
A: Right, right. The G-2. And they have some history
of the.... [End of Side 1 of tape. Conversation resumes as follows on
did talk about the Dachau book and now we're into some more of the questioning.
When you returned from your service, did you share this information
immediately, the experience that you had when you saw Dachau? Did you
write home about it?
A: No. I didn't write any bad news at home. My
folks were elderly. My father was 35 when I was born, and they were
old and I was a young person.
see. So you really shared none of this with them at the time. When you
came home, did you share this information of the camps specifically,
or did you stay away from this specifically and share your other Army
experiences? Do you have any recollection of that at all? Did this make
any more of an impression upon you, or less of an impression, or equal
impression as did your other Army experiences?
A: My Army experiences were pleasant, for the
most part, because, even with the hospital that I was with... I saw
a lot of death. In Normandy, of course, there were many people killed
when we first came in, military and Germans, and even lots of animals
talking about dogs and cats?
A: No, cows, primarily cattle.
interesting that you mentioned that. You are our first interviewer to
mention the death of animals. Were you close to animals? Were you on
A: Well, I started out in the funeral business
when I was 14 years old. A mortuary moved into Martinsville, Virginia,
and I was living there at the time. They bought an old home in my area,
and I had a friend who was older that worked there, and it was six months
before they got a body. And I happened to be there the day they got
a body. I helped them set up when they first moved in, and I visited
often, but my friend hadn't had any experience with death or preparation
of the dead, and he got sick on the first body and I took over his job.
So as a 14 year old I worked at that funeral home and then I worked
in the funeral business, off and on, until I finished high school and
came into the military. But in the military, I wanted to get with the
medical department; I figured that I would enjoy this more. Because
I liked to help people, that's what I'm saying. I always have. I enjoy
people and like to help people and I got a lot of satisfaction out of
the funeral business because I could take a body that looked ghastly
and make it look fine.
And in terms of your animal experience, you had no farm experience,
because you mentioned the death of the animals?
A: Well, my grandparents did, and I have always
had animals. I have animals at home now.
it was a part of your life.
A: Yes. So I grew up with animals, and I like
people and I like animals. But when I came back home from the service,
I went back into the funeral business and then I went to the Cincinnati
College of Embalming and I got my licenses in Virginia. I showed these
photos to the people that I worked with there, in this brochure, and
also at the Cincinatti College of Embalming.
was their reaction?
A: There were some military people there that
could see that this thing could happen based on the attitudes of Hitler
and his total control of the situation over there, but most of them
were younger people then that were just coming out of high school and
going into their father's business or going into the mortuary business.
I am satisfied that it didn't have the impact on them that it did the
soldiers. This was my observation.
so you were really able to take this material immediately and your experience
with it. Did you really apply what you saw since you were in the mortuary
business and you had this experience seeing the emaciated bodies? Was
there ever any relationship between your working in a mortuary and having
any of the visions of these bodies at the time? Did you ever feel that
you were working with just natural death, as opposed to unnatural death?
A: It did hit me a couple of times in that regard.
I hadn't thought of this ever, really, but, an emaciated person that
has it happen to them over, we'll say, a month's hospitalization, I
can restore that person in the funeral home. I can bring back the fullness
to the cheeks and what have you with fluids and osmosis, but with these
people if it happens over a long period of time, no, you can't.
A: Yes. So those people could never approximate
the appearance of what they once were.
Q: I would
like to get into some of the questions that we have here that have to
do with the religious aspect of our interviewers, in relation to your
experience at the camp. One of our questions is: do you consider yourself
a religious person, or did you consider yourself a religious person
at that time? Did you follow any religion?
A: I'd been brought up in the Baptist Church and
I had, since I can remember, believed in a Supreme Being; but I've always
respected everyone else's religion. In the funeral business we handled
Catholics, the Jewish people, Polish, all nationalities, Chinese, and
so I have always respected everyone's religion and religious customs.
there any conscious thoughts about God or religion at the time, or perhaps
shortly after you were exposed to this type of an experience? Do you
remember any thoughts of that nature?
A: I can only remember one. I've got a pretty
good memory, but the one thought that I had was that I grew up poor;
I was from a working class family, not poor because we were a family
and a close family, but my father had been in the construction business
and in the crash he lost everything. During the time that I was about
10 and can recall, in the 1930's there was a depression, and one of
my first thoughts was golly, if Roosevelt had been the type personality
that Hitler was, we could have had one of these same situations. He
could have been a dictator, if he had wanted to, I believe, because
at that point, in the country, we had the depression and all the related
things that the Germans had.
historical background at the time led to that type of situation; that's
very interesting that you should remember that type of a feeling at
the time. Very interesting.
A: Yes. Well, we may have discussed it there that,
gosh, this same thing might have happened to us.
say you discussed it with your fellow Army people.
your religion have anything to do with the way you viewed these inmates,
these prisoners? Do you have any memory of that?
A: No. I've always had a desire to help people
and that's the reason I really wouldn't have been satisfied in any other
service other than the medical. We tried to help.
right. What about your feelings about the civilians then? What was your
reaction to these people?
A: I didn't see any of those in that particular
saw civilians perhaps in other towns.
A: Oh, yes.
your experience at Dachau, after having witnessed what you witnessed
there, when you looked at the civilians did you ever get the feeling
of "who is responsible for this" or was there a feeling of apathy for
these civilians? Do you remember having any reaction at all?
A: I met many good Germans. I had the driver,
Herman Cohen, and I was interested in real estate.
he try to influence you one way or the other?
A: Well, I'm satisfied that he did, because his
grandmother was lost in a similar situation in Holland. She was from
Holland. But I know that when we took over homes, we went to the burgermeister's
office and checked for the Nazis in the area. We usually ended up with
a dentist's home or a doctor's home or someone in that category. Of
course, we were interested in nice homes first off. I had occasion a
number of times after that to go into Innsbruck and then back to Goeppingen
where we set up, and I know in Goeppingen I went to the burgermeister's
office, this major that I knew, and we got the homes of the Nazis. At
this point the war was over, and when we got back to Goeppingen we could
relax some and we set up a little club for our officers. I went to the
burgermeister's office and I said, "Give me the list of the Nazis,"
and I went to those homes and when they said, "When am I going to get
my chair back or my sofa or this particular piece of furniture?", I
said "Paint your name underneath it on the bottom. We occupied this
country for 20 years after the last war and that wasn't sufficient evidently.
You can expect it back after 20 years."
in other words, Herman was a Jewish man, and he must have shared some
experience or reaction of his with you. What was his reaction, and how
did you react to how he felt?
A: I think what I just said may have been a reaction
to what he said, how he felt.
was out to get every last Nazi.
A: He was bitter that people could do this to
he ever influence your feelings about...?
A: I am satisfied that with this housing experience
he did, but it probably didn't take much influence, based on what I
had witnessed. I just couldn't see how educated people could condone
is a difficult thing to justify, isn't it?
A: It is.
kind of persecution did you see this as, in terms of the camps, or have
you ever thought about it? The method of persecuting these people and
making these people the inmates of the state. How did you see this?
Did you ever think about the Nazi methodology?
A: At the time that we happened upon this, I wasn't
familiar with all of the political and economic implications of the
thing, the big picture, but the thing that I recall that impressed me
was why starve these people to death? Why feed them water with a couple
of potatoes in it? If you're going to work them, feed them. I am from
the South. My family didn't have slaves, but my grandfather and great
grandfather had tobacco farms, Bright Tobacco Farm, 50 odd acres. They
always had enough children to maintain it, so we weren't in cotton and
didn't require slaves, but I disagree with a lot of people now when
they try to tell me about how we treated the people in the South. I
say, "Golly, what you are saying just isn't logical, because when land
is selling for 10 cents to a $1.00 an acre and I have to pay $1300 for
a slave, am I'm going to abuse him? " That's just like saying that I
would buy a Cadillac car and run it through my woods down here on my
farm. It's ridiculous. But I'm sure there are instances.
couldn't understand the logic of starvation if you're going to have
people working for you.
said that you had shared this material, on and off, with several groups
and different people.
A: With Jewish groups here in the Atlanta area,
in the 1950's.
that right? What was the reaction at that time, in the 1950s?
A: I really couldn't say, because I loaned this
to an individual who took it to these groups, and he always brought
it back. Fantastic!
You're fortunate. They knew that you had the material and they wanted
it for a project. Is that it?
A: About the time of the Jewish holidays, I might
be tempted to look that up or somebody might mention it, and like in
1948 when they were establishing a country. I've been 200% for them
since then in all their fights. I think they're the best fighters in
the world, probably; and this is the thing that I offer people for an
example. I say back during the Civil War there were twenty million Yankees
and there were six million Southerners, and we gave them a good fight.
And I relate this to the Korean thing; there were twenty million south
Koreans and six million north Koreans, and you mean to tell me that
if the north Koreans invade their homeland that they can't protect themselves,
that we have to be there with a presence? And I go back to the Israelies
and their numbers and how they could whip a lot of people. So I've always
been for them. And I don't know whether that is a result of my experience
here or not.
interesting. Yes, it would be difficult for you to know whether or not
it was a result of your experience. Do you have children?
you ever share the experience with the children?
A: I've mentioned it a number of times.
they seen the photographs?
A: A lot of people don't tell war stories, but
I tell war stories. I tell pleasant war stories, situations that have
happened to me that are comical.
your children seen these pictures?
A: Yes they have.
you know whether or not they have shared this type of information with
their children, as a matter of history, sociology, to be aware of what
has happened, what could happen again. Are you aware of any of this?
A: No, I only have two children that have children.
were just wondering how much education...?
A: They're small and I really couldn't say what
impact this had on my children, but I will say that they've been exposed
to it and my comments that it shouldn't have happened and it should
never happen again.
you see "The Holocaust"?
A: I did. And I hadn't thought of this material
for a number of years. I called my local newspaper up here and I asked
them if they would be interested in writing anything. I told them I
had this material. And they came out and spoke with me, and that's one
reason that I can recall possibly a lot of this now that you are asking
about; normally, I wouldn't be able to just recall it this well.
had several reviews.
A: I have because I spoke with them and they ran
a couple of pictures. That was one thing, with "The Holocaust" and with
them, and I can understand why. They didn't show any pictures. They
showed pictures of the crematorium and they showed one other picture.
Two pictures and a nice article but it didn't have any of the gruesome
facts, details, or pictures, and I could see that that would be overkill.
But it doesn't bother me that it would be overkill.
overkill because it's so terribly unbelievable.
A: Yes. The Holocaust. It wasn't an overkill proposition.
was an overkill.
A: Yes, but they didn't bring out all the gruesome....
A: Yes. That's what I mean.
gently done in order to have a viewing public, perhaps.
A: And they didn't want overkill.
you know if your children saw the movie, "The Holocaust"?
Q: I think
we've just about covered most of the material that we have on our questionnaire
here. One other thing. I did ask you whether or not you had shared your
experiences with your co-Army personnel, and from what you told me,
very little was talked about after you saw Dachau. The men shared very
little of what they saw.
A: Yes. Well, we witnessed it.
witnessed it, but you didn't talk about it among each other.
A: The war was over in eight days, and this was
a relief to everyone, but as I recall, we really didn't go into this
thing in detail. I think everybody was just so horrified that they had
rather not discuss it.
wife---she knows that you are here today?
have shared this with her?
obviously have shared this many times. Your reason for sharing it, I
think you have indicated, is that you just don't feel you want it to
happen again. This is your way of preventing it from reoccurring, which
is really admirable. I am just reviewing here to be sure that I have
covered just about all the information with you. One more question in
terms of coping with this experience. You were close to death at 14
years of age--you indicated that you were working with dead bodies on
and off, so you really had almost an "insulation" for yourself in terms
of what death was and viewing death. Do you think that that had any
softening impact in relation to your viewing death in the Army per se,
or specifically this type of....
A: No. I would say no. I have embalmed nine bodies
in a single day. It always bothered me. It bothered me more if it were
a younger person--I hated to work on children, babies in particular,
but an older person that had died of natural causes at a ripe old age,
this didn't affect me as much, and so I had not been hardened to death.
And this bothered me lots because these people were of all nationalities.
They were not old people. They didn't die of natural causes.
Q: I thank
you very, very much Mr. Lafoon. I have some material here that I'd like
you to sign for us.
[Tape is turned off and conversation ends. Conversation resumes as follows]
going to put this back on tape again because we're interested in it.
You returned to Dachau in 1961 with your wife and your children.
A: Of course, the crematorium....
you think about what you had seen and then what you were seeing in 1961?
A: Right. The crematorium was there like it was.
wasn't changed yet.
A: The crematorium is there just about like it
was, and the monuments are there, and the prison camp is gone. There
is grass, and what-have-you.
I heard that Dachau looked like some sort of chalet, at this point.
And I don't know if it was reconstructed that way in 1961 yet; it may
have been a little bit later, where they really made it look fairly
attractive. I don't know if you had that experience.
A: No. I didn't go anyplace except the crematorium
and the several monuments that are there where supposedly the ashes
at the time that you returned did you share the story with your family
when they were there with you?
A: Yes. I showed them where I stood to take those
pictures. The stench was so great that....
you remember the odor when you were there?
A: ...that I just went up to the window and snapped
the picture and got out as fast as I could. Some of them were taken
in those rooms and those stacks of bodies were taken from a window and
you remember the odor at the time when you went there the first time?
Do you remember any odor at Dachau when you went there?
A: Oh, yes, I remember the odor.
stench of the bodies and so forth.
A: But there wasn't as much considering the numbers
of people there as you would expect. The thing that got me was that
there wasn't any blood and all. Of course, these people just died and
all of their arteries were intact. One of the pictures I have there
is of a German guard that was killed the dav we came through, and he
bled; he's on top of the stack and there's blood. You can see blood
there. I noticed how fat he was and how much he bled. I took a picture
you were really able to relate to your family, when you returned there,
what you saw the first time as opposed to what you were seeing then.