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Can you tell a story about any interaction you had with General Patton that might give us an idea as to what type of relationship you had with him?
Well my relationship didn't— - you know, General Patton was the general and I was just, there at his service. But I had taken in a secretary, an Austrian Count, a very nice man, and I had taken him out, and every morning I had him wake me up with a record—"The House I Live In" or some of these songs that we had. Sometimes I was outside of the office and the phone rang and the German answered, and when I came back he said to me, “You know what happened," he was trembling like this,"I took the phone, and there was a voice said, 'I'm General Patton.' I hung up." I said, "Thank you very much."
But Patton was a tough guy. We saw again last night the film by chance how a hotel gives you a video and I chose, my wife and I chose to see again the film "General Patton" just to refresh my mind. But you now I had a captain in our group; we were in a table of organization. There was a captain, a first Lieutenant, a sergeant, a corporal and the driver was usually the corporal. They had sub-services screening, or things like that. They were not interrogators but it could—for instance in my case I came last there in that group. So I was the interrogator and I spoke better German than they did. The other... but this captain Houk from Chicago had been an A&P clerk, and went into the army early, because we had no army here in America, so they had to form one. The first soldiers were not exactly students from the university. They were simple people that suddenly became captains, and they didn't behave best like that.
When we went through Rhine, he bought a box of champagne because he wanted to give a gift to is wife; he never had given her a wedding gift, and he wanted to earn a little extra. And he took the champagne, and went to a French cafe and sold at profit the bottles of champagne. The Frenchmen took the note of the jeep - the number of the jeep. Then he sold at exorbitant prices the same champagne to other soldiers who complained. And they went to this Frenchman and they said,"How come that you sold the champagne at this price?" And he said "Well, the American captain came and he sold it to me."
When Patton this story, he broke this poor captain into pieces; he wound up in Fort Leavenworth with every punishment that can possibly be given to somebody because he said "In my army things are not done like that. You don't sell champagne, you are a soldier." This is one story that is not so nice. He did these kind of things, he didn't have any heart when it comes to punishing.
What happened to your family during the war?
Nothing happened. They waited out the war under Swiss protection and then I got them all over here.
When you went to the concentration camp, how did the Germans react to your presence there?
Well, I wasn't the only one, you know. That camp had been taken by the soldiers, by American soldiers. They didn't particularly speak about that to me, there was no reason to.
Were you ever hesitant to follow an order you were given?
Well, we did not get orders, you know. We took information from the prisoners, wrote it up. We had an editing section. The head of my team was the head of the Washington Library of Congress. —He went back to this job after the war. These were people of a high standing, great education. The editing section was writing up;—we didn't have time to put this in the finest of English. So, we made notes and the editing section would edit this. And we had one captain who was designated to bring the report every night to General Patton, so that he gets informed of what the prisoners said. And usually it was very good information that we gave. If the German gave us false information then we would have transmitted the false information. That was our function - interrogation of prisoners.
I had some very strange German prisoners. But some of them were very cooperative and some had to be brought to cooperate. There was no orders given. By whom? We didn't go out and fight, we sat in an office, they brought in a prisoner, I interrogated him, and from me he was sent out. Then I wrote up this, as I've told you, and the editing section prepared the report and that was given to General Patton every day. Nobody received orders from anybody because we knew what we had to do.
We were specialists on units. I was specialist in the 17th SS group, so every time a German soldier said—what they said usually was what they belonged to—in other words we got the information anyhow. So we had signs, "17th SS" and the Germans followed right away. So we didn't have to ask him, "Where did you come from?" and "What did you do?", he was there, standing under the sign, "17th SS." You were supposed to only ask name, rank and serial number. But we didn't ask it, we just made a sign, second “folks venaderes”, and he walked. Like in an airplane, when you assigned the number of a flight or so, they walked right into it; they never hesitated. They weren't smart enough.
Did you have training in how to relate with people you were interrogating and to get them to say what you wanted? What was that training like?
In Ritchie we were given a line of conduct. I mean there are laws that say you can do this and you cannot do that. Mostly it was your own personal relationship to the prisoner. I didn't give cigarettes, but another friend of mine said to the prisoners, "If you say nothing you get no cigarettes. If you say something than you get French smelling cigarettes. But if you tell everything than I will give you an American cigarette." It worked for him. I wasn't able to do that, its not my way of talking. I spoke to them about there higher calling as human beings.
I got some strange answers. Mostly the Germans said, "I followed orders." And following orders there's very little you can say against. I only could say to them, "If you had been an American, you wouldn't have followed the orders. If they tell you to shoot a Jew because he's a Jew you wouldn't have done it," that's all.
In the beginning the Germans, the first prisoners we had, they were a little cocky, in the beginning. I had one guy that I always remembered because it was so flagrant who said to me. "Oh you know in the morning when I get up there's nothing I like better than a little tank battle. I would like to speak to General Patton about the nerve." So I would say, "You know we like to play tennis before we eat breakfast and you want a tank battle. That's our difference." Or I had one guy who came and he said, "Jews and blacks are out. The rest of the world is fine." So I called in a black friend of mine who was outside, one of the guards, and I said to him, "You know this is a guy here who said that you and I are no good, but he is good. Look at him, that piece of nothing there," and right in front of him the guy started to tremble because he had never figured. You know, he shrank away from the black man, he was afraid of him. We left, and I have him a good push with my foot and threw him back with the prisoners.
The interview ended—arrangements were made for a follow-up interview.