This Material May Only be Used With Permission
From Emory University.
INTERVIEWER: ELIZABETH JACOBS
DATE: JANUARY 24, 1980
thing that we need for the record is if you will state your full name,
A:My full name is Miguel Joe Montesinos.
A:4155 Leslie Drive, College Park, Georgia.
A:February 6, 1915.
your age at the time of liberation?
A:I was about 28, 29, I guess.
prospective profession at the beginning of the war?
A:My prospective profession was Army officer. That's
what I intended to do.
A:My present occupation is an Administrator with
a school of medicine.
unit you were with?
A:T Force working out of 7th Army, which was an
Intelligence Assault Force.
rank at the time of liberation?
A:I was a Major.
which camp did you go to?
A:Just Dachau. Its the only one.
did you first hear about the camps? You said you were in an Intelligence
A:We were not even briefed on Dachau at all. Our
main objective was Munich. And we were moving toward Munich when we ran
into Dachau. We didnt even know the camp was there.
you had not heard any other...?
A:Nothing. Actually, troops in the line are very
ill informed about what's going on. People at home read more in the newspapers
than troops in the line do, so you would not know what was going on up
you remember your specific date of arrival at the camp ?
A:It was the 29th of April, 1945.
do you remember what time of day, by any chance?
A:We got into Dachau in the early morning hour,
around 5 o'clock in the morning. We heard that this camp was there, a
concentration camp is all we knew.
was another unit there already?
A:There were other people already there. There were
other units moving up, and I don't know who all was in there. We were
working at that time with one of the element of the 45th Division, so
we sent people down there just to see what was there, and I went down
too. What we found was just utter chaos, because no one had been assigned
to liberate Dachau, per se. We just bumbled into it.
you give me a description of the camp as you remember it? You said it
was chaos. Any sight, or sound, or smell?
A:No, I came up on the main gate, the gate that
says "Arbeit macht Frei" on it. And I ran into three Dutchmen
coming out, and they were in their pajamas uniform, the striped uniform,
and they stopped me and indicated that they would like to have something
to eat. Of course, we were ill-prepared to feed any of them, because we
were not carrying any rations at all, but we told them that we couldn't
possibly feed them because it would make them sick. They were just emaciated.
And so we talked to them for awhile and asked what was in the camp, and
they told us there were Poles, Dutchmen, Frenchmen, Germans, and even
some Danes that were in there. Of course, I never saw any of the Danes,
but most of the people we saw were actually Dutchmen. We weren't in there
too long, and then we ran up on one of those S.S. guards there and they
showed like they wanted to make a fight, but they got the worst of that.
Can you give us a walking tour of the camp?
A:Well, we started in and then came down along the
canal there, where the dog runs were, and by that time all the inmates
were coming up toward where we were. They were interested in getting out.
All they wanted to do was to get out and go home. And a lot of them did
were just walking through the gates at that point?
A:Yes, that's right. The gates were wide open then,
and a lot of them were confused. They didn't know what to do. Some of
them couldn't walk and they were looking for directions, but there was
no directions we could give them at all. Our job was to move on. We had
to get ourselves together and move, but we talked to as many people as
we could to find out what we could do for them. All we did was notify
our Headquarters of what we found because were not really set up to do
anything at all. Of course, we contacted Bill Quinn. You see his name
in the book [referring to the book Dachau], Colonel Quinn of the 7th Army,
and they had, of course, already heard and they had
C I C Detachments coming up. So we just pulled out of it.
your knowledge, did other units come up and help?
A:Oh yes. They came. As a matter of fact, they were moving in as we were
moving out the next morning, and we pulled on out towards Augburg and
then on to Munich. We got into Munich on the 2nd of May, and the war ended
on, I think it was, the 8th.
else did you see in the camp after you had gone there?
A:We made a fast tour to see what we could see,
and I took those picture that you see there [referring to picture of Dachau
taken by Mr. Montesinos and donated to Project], and outside of that there
wasn't anything else to see except, well, I don't know how you would say
it. You don't know what it's like until you have been there and smelled
it. And it's something you'll never ever forget. Those of us that went
in were not supposed to taking any prisoners from then on out. This is
the way everybody felt, so there's not much you can really say.
know that some of this stuff is painful to remember. Do you remember anything
about the general layout of the camp?
A:No, because we didn't reconnoiter the whole camp.
We went down in where the ovens were and some of the gas chambers were,
and those were set up like shower units. Theyd march people in and
gas them and then haul the bodies out. You could see the bodies were piled
up in rooms.
the inmates show you this?
A:Yes, they were making sure that we saw everything.
Of course it was hard to communicate because none of us really were German-speakers,
or even speaking Dutch or anything like that. But a lot of them did speak
English and very well. And they, of course, were happy to see us and it
meant the end for them. The end of this buiness anyway. I really don't
know what happened after we left, because we just broke off completely
have a picture of the S.S. guards. What did you find out about that incident,
about what happened to them?
A:The main body of the administrative people of
that camp had pulled out. And as soon as the German force in that area
had pulled back, they pulled out at the same time. The only guards that
were left were a few of the Waffen S.S., and those who put up a fight
A:No, by us.
the Americans. Was there any actual combat going on while you were there?
A:No, there was just these isolated instances of
the guards getting killed, because there were no big units there at all.
Our own forces were no big units at all. It was just small reconnaissance
units, that sort of thing. We were just moving up.
weren't any organizations, like from the United Nations or any health
A:No, if they came, they had to have come a lot
later. The United Nations wasn't even in existence.
A:The International Red Cross and those people wouldn't
have come for weeks after that, because there was no way to get them up
there. Transportation just wasn't there.
they were allowed to go free in some way. How did your fellow soldiers
react to them? Were you mainly with officers?
A:Well, my outfit was 285 officers and men, and
everybody was horrified at what they saw. Unspeakable brutality is what
they were looking at. They just couldnt believe it, but there it
were their reactions?
A:Revulsion. Their reaction toward the inmates was
to do anything they could to help them. They would even give them the
clothes off their back if they thought it would help them.
they, in some instance, give them what they had?
A:Yes, jackets and cigarettes, candy, anything they
had, but I guess they didn't dare feed them, because hell, you'd kill
'em . Really would.
the officers treat them differently than the rank and file?
A:No, no. Everybody got about the same level of
A:You see, we didn't run into anybody that you could
say was a leader amongst the group. There were just people milling around.
And the leader was mass.. And they all wanted to get out. This was their
main wish to get out and go home, and of course, there was no way to send
them home. We didn't have transports, you couldn't just turn all those
people loose. They'd die. And this is why they brought field hospitals
and that sort of thing in, to rehabilitate them and get them out of there.
You said there were no leaders, but some of them did give you a tour?
A:Well, just one or two. Those that could speak
English and communicate with us indicated that they wanted us to see all
of these things, so we found them. But as far as being leaders in the
community, there weren't any.
you can, tell me anything else specific that you remember about the camps
other than what you have already said about the crematorium and the showes
and the dog runs that you saw. Was there anything else?
A:I didnt get into the barracks at all.
how long were you there?
A:I was only in there for about two or three hours,
at the most 3 hours.
the majority spent touring or talking?
A:Just talking and I guess that tour didn't last
but 15 or 20 minutes that we took, because we were pressed for time and
had to go on.
their conditions make it difficult for you to think of these people a
mean, during the state that you saw them in?
Everybody there had been there a long time.
A:Oh yes. Some had been there longer than others,
and if you notice in these pictures here, and also in Bill Glenn's book,
there are some of them that look pretty fat and healthy and others that
look just like walking skeletons.
why I wondered.
A:No, everybody had not been there the same length
of time; as a matter of fact, they were bringing transports in from all
over Europe, trying to get rid of them as we were advancing.
you see any of the transports near the train tracks?
you know about how many people were there?
A:I have no idea.
say that there were some dead guards there when you reached the camp.
Were there any live ones around?
how did you recognize them? I mean, I know they didn't look like the prisoners.
Did they have any insignias?
A: No, they were wearing a German Wehrmacht uniform.
did they do? Was anybody holding them captive?
A: Yes. Those that surrendered were just being held
captive, and there was one instance where some of the inmates were trying
to get a carbine off of one of my men so that they could shoot one of
these guards. Of course, the men wouldnt give them the rifle to
do it, and Im sure if they had done so they would have gone ahead
and shot the man.
did these prisoners react towards your unit?
A:They were just happy to see us.
German war prisoners?
A:No, the Germans didn't know what was going to
happen. They were scared. And I guess anybody would be in the circumstances,
but we turned all of those people over to the Divisional M P's that were
following us. That was their job, to take care of POW 's. And they evacuated
them out through POW channels. I don't know where they went.
you hear of any instances where there was violence by the prisoners against
said these were S.S. and not Wehrmacht.
A:They were what you call Waffen S.S., which is
a unit of the Wehrmacht --special unit -- and they are not part of the
normal army fighting unit. They were special troops.
did your officers and your soldiers react once they saw the camps and
they saw these people? How did they react towards the prisoners?
A:My people were just absolutely horrified at what
they found and as far as reacting towards the prisoners, all they wanted
to do was to see that they could help them as much as we could and then
we had to go.
about with the German POW's ?
A:We didnt run into any German people that
were in authority.
we talking about the Waffen S.S. that you saw?
A:The Waffen S.S.. I didn't see any officers in
that unit at all. The only ones that we saw are the ones we took the pictures
others had already been given to the MPs.
A: They were gone. I noticed in one of these picture
in the book here -- I don't know whose picture it was -- it shows a line-up.
Here are some of your German officials right there, but who captured them
I don't know. This is the sort of thing you were running into. Small groups
of people trying to talk to the soldiers.
were your reactions once you saw the camp? How did you rationalize what
kind of people could have done something like that?
A:I don't really know how to state that, because we had people in our
own country that would do the same thing, really. And you don't have to
go far to find them. People like J. B. Stoner and the Ku Klux Klan, the
two of them, and of course the whole stated purpose of Hitler was to eliminate
the whole Jewish population of Europe if he could. His aim was that the
great Aryan civilization was
going to be the mater race. But nobody really thought that they would
carry on in the manner that they did. But they did.
you ever have any thoughts afterwards about how they could have gotten
away with it?
A:No. I didnt try to philosophize about it
there any German civilians around when you were there?
A:Yes, the whole town was full of them. And the
people in the town of Dachau would tell you that they did not know what
was going on out there in that camp. Of course, you knew they were lying,
how could they not know? They were right next door.
they in the camp touring it or helping to clean it up or anything?
A:No. Of course, if they did, we weren't there if
that happened. We know that after we had left they did bring in German
civilians to clean up and bury the dead and that sort of thing, but we
did not get involved in that.
you feel that they had any responsibility after seeing the camp?
German civilians in the town.
A:Whether they had responsibility or not, I don't
know, but there wasn't much they could do about it. The whole thing was
run by the Gestapo and the S.S., as far as I know. The German civilians
just went along or they would wind up in there too.
you ordered or do you know if anybody had orders to protect the civilians
from the inmates?
do you feel the American military managed to cope with this experience?
Do you think the officer needed some kind of relief after experiencing
something like this?
A:No. I wont go so far as to speak for people
in rear areas or people who followed us, but for your officer who were
constantly engaged in combat, this is something that didn't really bother
them too much because they see death every day.
you think of there being a differentiation?
A:This was just cold calculated murder, if you will,
what we were seeing there. And in combat, it is completely different,
it is impersonal.
you know if anyone wanted to be relieved of duty or had any very strong
reactions after being in the camp?
this because you had seen so much combat and people were used to it by
A:We took it for what it was, and then moved on.
Like I said, we didnt try to rationalize it or philosophize about
it, we just saw it and that's that.
gave you more reasons to fight the Germans.
A:Yes, like I said, we took no prisoners from then
in some way it did motivate you.
you tell anybody about the camp after you saw it? Did you discuss it among
A:Of course, you talked to other units and asked
if they saw it, and a lot of them didn't if they didn't happen to go by
there, and nobody was making a specific trip to go that way. Those that
did happen on it did talk about it, and I presume that the press that
followed later on made the stories about it. But, we didn't read a daily
paper, so we didn't know what was going on.
you feel obligated to tell people about it, to let them know that it had
A:No, because other people were doing that.
Montesinos, You never did dwell on it very much after you came home.
A:No. What for?
mean you showed us the pictures, but I really didn't want to see them.
They are horrible.
A:Well, it's just one of those things. I don't see
any reason to dwell on it. We all know what happened, and there was precious
little that I could do now, or then even, other than at the moment help
was your reaction to the "Holocaust" TV show?
A:My reaction to that was mixed. I don't know in
my own mind whether everything that I saw was fact or fiction. I do know
what I saw, and how they gathered people up and that sort of thing we
don't know. I didn't know about that. I think it is a good thing that
this is brought out, but how much good it is going to do, I don't know
man being what he is.
you still think it is important enough that we should be reminded of it,
just to remember that it happened?
A:Oh yes. Absolutely, because it can happen again.
And it can happen here.
some place it already is.
A: You bet.
there any other general lessons you think people could learn from what
A:I am afraid that we don't learn much from history
ourselves. As you can see, history does repeat itself, and we don't learn
our lessons from history, because we go right through the same thing again
your experience, when you got back to the States, did you have any trouble
with your conscience or nightmares or anything related to the camp experience?
A:None. None whatoever.
you consider yourself a religious person at the time you were in the camp?
A: Not particularly.
you consider yourself more or less?
A:No, I havent changed in that respect at
camp did not change any of your religious attitudes?
A:You see, I came back from Europe and went immediately
out of the States again as a military attaché to a dictatorhip, the Dominican
Republic. You could draw parallels there too with what Trujillo was doing
to his people as to what Hitler was doing to his people.
you ever have any conscious thought about God or religion in relation
to the camps?
didn't question how it could have happened or anything like that.
you experience any changes in political view towards a more liberal side
or change in attitude about the Viet Nam War after having seen it?
whatsoever? I am just trying to get a grip on how it affected you afterward.
Maybe you could sum it up more adequately than through the question Im
A:In my lifetime I fought two wars, World War II
and the Korean War, and had I stayed in the service, I would probably
have fought in the Vietnamese War. My whole feeling toward that is as
a professional soldier I am not a politician. That's not my game. My game
would be to fight the war and to win it, and win it in the best way I
can and stay alive. And this was my philosophy as far as wars are concerned.
I didnt concern myelf with the politics of it or the morality of
it. I just did what I had to do to stay alive.
might have been a nice safeguard that you built up for yourself. Did you
see this as primarily a Jewish persecution?
A:Actually, it was a dual thing. It was political
as well as just eliminate the Jewish population, because there were a
lot of people in it who were not Jews. And if they even suspected you
of being one, you would wind up there, but there were more than just Jews
there. I had no way of telling who was what, really.
Montesinos.:You didnt know there were other concentration camps.
for their various accents or languages. After what happened, did it change
your attitude toward the Jewish people at all?
A:No. Because I had come from the Middle East into
the War in Europe, across Africa. I spent 8 months in what was then called
Palestine which is now Israel, and it did not change my feeling toward
them at all.
you think they had more of a right to their own state after you saw what
happened to them?
A:There again I had mixed feelings about the Middle
East. If you have ever been there youll see that the warring armies
have gone up and down that coast from Ladakeya all the way down to Alexandria
and across since time immemorial, and who owns the land? This is what
I question. And even go back to your Old Testament. You'll see where one
tribe -- or nation as they called themselves -- was against the other,
and it wasn't just a matter of running them off. It was to kill every
man woman and child there. Eliminate them. Right now. So my whole feeling
toward that whole area is gee whiz, live and let live. But nobody really
owns it per se, not even since the beginning of time has anybody owned
it. You had it under the Ottoman Turk until World War I and then that
was Lawrence of Arabia who got the Turks out. After that under the Geneva
Convention, you had the Mandate with the French having Lebanon and Syria,
and the British having Palestine and Transjordan, and also Egypt. Even
though Farouk was the King of Egypt, the British ran it. So there again,
the politics of who was running what didnt bother me. Of course,
I sympathize with the guys wanting a homeland, but I don't know. I have
gone over this with lot of people. What is a Jew? Is it a nationality,
is it a religion? Or what? I don't really know. And I wonder if he knows
where the differentiation lies. I don't know but what, I might be one
agree a lot of people have had this land over time. Did you feel that
because they were singled out under Hitler, that the least they deserved
was a homeland?
A:Not only did Hitler single them out, but also
the pogroms in Russia under the Czar they were singled out and persecuted.
And I don't why, everywhere they went they were persecuted.
you think that they deserved Israel because of this or at least a part
A:I don't know whether or not somebody deserves
something because he was persecuted. Actually, as history will show you
it goes to whoever is the strongest occupiers.
hinted a little bit at the answer to this question. I would just like
to get it back down on tape. Did you feel a need to do anything in your
continued service to make sure that something like what you saw at Dachau
never happened again?
A:No. There was precious little that I could do
in my position. If I were a general officer I might have been able to
make an impression, but as a very junior field grade officer, there wasn't
much I could do.
you think that maybe that's what some of the German people said? You're
right, they could have ended up in those camps if they had done it anyway,
but do you think that if they wanted to resist they would have taken that
A:Well, to reit is one thing, the will to reit is
another. A lot of them didn't have the will to resist, they just go along
with the mob.
you think if you were placed in a camp or something like that that you
would have had the will to resist?
A:Absolutely. Getting back to that sort of thing
, my whole philosophy of being in the service was I would never be a captive.
If I were captured, I was going to escape one way or another, but they
would never keep me.
Did you feel any disdain toward the prisoner who didn't resist?
A:No. Because everybody is different. I couldn't
say that everybody should have my philosophy on life. There is no way
that everybody could be the same.
true. Very true. Is there anything else that you remember about the camp
or any other thoughts on your experience that you would like to add?
A:I don't know that I could contribute a whole lot
other than what I have already said.
What you are doing really helps us as far as the historical documentation,
but is there anything else that you wanted to add?
A:What I do want to get across, though, is the fact
that we were not aware of what we were going to run into. And there was
nobody that I know of who was assigned the specific job of going in there
and getting back to a specific camp. We just happened on it.
guess that's generally the way it happened with the rest of them. They
were just along a certain military approach.
A:Thats right. Our objective was Munich. We
were set up to go in on the assault of Munich and that's where we were
going. And this just happened to be a sidelight.
actually participated in the assault of Munich after you left Dachau?
you have definitely done something as far as serving us and history goes.