page 1 of 12

play moviePlay Movie

Introductions & Background in Belgium and Germany

Please report errors to:

We are at the Urban School of San Francisco, it is March 19th [2004] and we are about to interview Charles Newton.

Could you please tell me your name?

Charles M. Newton.

M. Newton is it?

M. Yes.

Where are you from?

Where I am coming from to the United States? From Belgium.

Can you tell us how you came from Belgium to the United States?

By boat, because there were no airplanes yet.

Why did you decide to come to the United States?

First of all there was a war on in Europe. That was the main reason. Secondly, I had never been in America. I wanted to see New York, particularly, and enjoyed it very much from the first day I came. After two years I was asked if I wanted to be in the army. I could have said, no but I didn't want to say no. I was invited to a camp in Maryland, where a colonel was collecting language-speaking people. The name of the colonel was Fuller and I presented myself and he took me to a room and said, "The middle desk is yours." And on this side there was David Rockefeller and on the other side was John Oaks who owned the New York Times. But I spoke better French then they did, so we became French teachers. We remained friends all our lives. The first card at Christmas is always from David Rockefeller.

After two years we went back to Europe by boat, still no planes. There was one plane, the Clipper, that brought mail from Lisbon to New York, that is all that people could use. Compared to today, you can't probably imagine a world without airplanes. But we were quite happy without airplanes. And then I became the interpreter for General Patton. In fact, we were already stationed in England, to prepare the invasion in 1944. However, my lawyer happens to have commended me to some French people who were broadcasting towards Europe and they invited me to come and join them. I applied for a transfer and I was refused, so I was quite annoyed. And I went there and to the personnel officer and I said, "Why is it that I cannot do whatever I want?" He says, "Because General Patton chose you as his interpreter." And that's how before the invasion I knew already that I was going to be an interrogator for prisoners and interpreter for General Patton.

How did you get from Belgium the United States?

By boat.

With your family?

No. All alone I came. My parents didn't want to go to America.

And what year was this?


Where were you born?

In Belgium.

Was your childhood in Belgium?

No, I went to school in Germany from the age of six to twelve. So I saw the first days that Hitler took over. My parents were Belgium and we left back to Belgium.

When did you go back to Belgium after Germany?


That was your entire family that went?


Describe what the experience was like in Germany as a child.

The Germans had lost the First World War. In between the two wars they were quite a nice country, I must say, very clean. You would have the most elegant restaurants. You would have a very nice life, if you had money you could live very well. There was no Hitler and no such thing until 1933 when he took over.

I never really liked it very much because the people were friendly but they were always—for instance the teacher would say to the children, "You know the French are lousy people, they wear dirty underwear." Now dirty underwear for the Germans is the worst thing. That struck me, as a Belgian, very much, we didn't have these kind of opinions on other people. The Germans at that time, because they had lost the war, were carrying a chip on their shoulder. That brought very great dissatisfaction among the people. The Wiemar Republic was sort of a very nice elderly gentlemen who were holding politics. Nobody really expected to have this enormous explosion that happened, mostly because the Germans were really not sure of themselves. They were very unhappy. They knew everybody disliked them in Europe and elsewhere. It was a disagreeable feeling to be there as a stranger in their lives. I was glad to go back to Belgium and stay among my own friends.

How old were you then?

I was twelve.

So you did attend school in Germany?

I attended very good schooling. They took us out into the woods. They showed us the plants. We knew every mushroom, which one was poisonous, which one was not. I was in Latin class. We spoke languages, everybody spoke different languages.

We were not unhappy there. But it was a very tough culture. The climate in Germany is very cold in the winter and not very hot in the summer. And everybody was working, there was very little enjoyment. Mostly people didn't know how to have a good time. Frenchmen went out to eat well, Italians sang, but the Germans were always morose I would say. And under that atmosphere Hitler was able to reach the point where he took over the country. And in 1933 to 1940 it was a cold war. They rattled their sabers. they took one country after the another. Chamberlain in England and Daladier in France were soft on appeasing, and they brought about a situation that everybody was afraid of the Germans, became afraid. And then they took over the Ruhr that they had given up in the First World War. Then they took Austria, then they took Czechoslovakia. In the end there was practically nothing to take anymore. And that is when I left.


previous page next page