Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Inglorious Bastards"

Eric Hamburg:

I was a Jewish boy fighting against an enemy I knew, an enemy that was responsible for arresting, deporting and killing my people. Refugee soldiers who were drafted or volunteered fought against the Nazis with fervor, because they were our hated enemy and were responsible for us losing our friends and relatives in concentration camps, through terror and beatings long before the ovens came. I still had vivid memories of Kristallnacht a few years earlier in 1938 and the pleasure most Germans got out of burning synagogues and businesses, dragging Jews through the streets. Fighting the Germans was very deep for me; I wasn't going to give an inch ...

But one story that is not so pleasant for me to tell occurred when we were attached to an outfit comprising some real fuck-ups. One night two Germans came out of nowhere with their hands up and surrendered to me. I was on guard duty at the time and couldn't leave my post. So GIs from this unit said, "Hey, you got two 'Heines' there? Don't worry, we'll take them back for you." So, they took them back under guard, but five minutes later I heard two shoots and saw the same GIs walking back toward me with smiles on their faces. "Sorry, they tried to escape and we had to kill 'em". That really bothered me.

Karl Goldsmith:

Once when we were all the way at the Mosel River facing a very tough SS outfit, my IPW was attached to Patton's Third Army. We were at division HQ when Patton had a meeting of his noncoms. He stood on top of a tank, and among other things, he said to pep the guys up over there: "and as far as those damn interrogators are concerned, don't take prisoners! Shoot the bastards!" I'll never forget that. It was typical Patton.

For the most part, prisoners were in shock. One moment they were surrounded by their buddies, the next moment, they would be hit in the head, or stabbed, or a bullet would strike them in the leg and they'd fall down. Now what?

One story that never leaves me is when I knelt down to a POW who had a piece of shrapnel in his partially shattered leg. It must have been horrendously painful for him, and he muttered a few words to me: "Comerade, gib mir Deine Hand" (Give me your hand, Comrade). I gave him my hand, he did his best to muster a grin and I could just feel that by holding his hand I had helped. And that was wonderful in itself. He did his duty. He tried to fight for Adolf Hitler, and it didn't quite work out.

For the most part I was gratified to see captured Germans. I've always said there is no one who rules as harshly and no one who crawls so low as the Germans in victory and defeat. But I didn't have rage. I just felt that they had stolen my country away from me, they had forced my father to go to some crazy place called Palestine, and I knew we couldn't let these people run the world, that's for damn sure....

One day, we were expecting a truck load of about fifty POWS from Lieutenant Michael's group. More than an hour later, there was no truck and no prisoners. I took one of the CIC fellows with me in the jeep to trace the route. About halfway, two hundred or so feet from the road, I saw an awful sight- fifteen dead POWs obviously all shot with machine guns. Some of them were even stray civilians. That happened sometimes when soldiers rounded up POWs an suspected that certain young types had thrown away their uniforms and picked up civilian cloths. Unless we cleared them, they were treated as prisoners But what on earth had happened here?

Apparently a bunch of new soldiers who had never seen combat were to guard the POWs on their route from the collection point to our camp. Apparently they "borrowed" the submachine guns from our three guys down there and just decided to kill these Germans. In a pocket of one of the dead men, I found a letter to his wife about how happy he was that this mess was over and soon he would be home. My God, what a horror that was. That was not war, it was murder. We decided that something should be done. We had the names of the soldiers who did it and the guns, and we forwarded a full report. In short, the judgment came through as case dismissed because of insufficient evidence. What they were really saying was that the 13th Armored Division was ready to go home and this would unnecessarily delay their departure.

Harold Baum:

...The 88s were terrifying German weapons because they were used point blank on us, instead of on airplanes. Seeing a kids next to you fall, wounded, or killed was a terrifying experience. I cannot begin to explain the rage I had when seeing German soldiers come out with white flags after an ambush. Needless to say, there were times when we did not take prisoners...

I had a unique experience in Solingen where a German lady came to our command post and told us that a German general was hiding out. The captain said," Lieutenant Winsam, Sergeant Miller, Baum, go and get him." We surrounded the house. There was this middle-aged man, and I started questioning him. In an almost defiant, arrogant manner, without getting up, he said "Ich bin General Gustav von Zongen."

Without delay I told him, "Hand Hoch", pointed my rifle at the son of a bitch, and he turned ashen white. Then I told him, "Ich bin ein Deutcher Jude." ( I'm a German Jew), and this man was in an absolute state of terror. He could not believe that one little yid should get him out of five million GIs. A rifle pointed at an arrogant officer becomes a powerful persuader. It was a good feeling...

After the completion of the Ruhr campaign, we were sent to southern Germany and started moving in the direction of Czechoslovakia. We encountered a concentration camp called Flossenberg and liberated one of the smaller camps of that facility. We saw scores of dying, starving prisoners. It was terrible, and the stench and odor of death, I will never forget.

There were also well-fed prisoners who had on the same inmate uniforms. I unsuccessfully tried to communicate with them in German; one kid in my company spoke Russian and Polish to them and they did not understand that either. We could not figure it out. My captain decided to strip them down and discovered that they had their blood type tattooed under their arm, which was customary practice among SS troops. They went into the mass graves and helped dispose of all the corpses, but they did not last to face a war criminal trial. The justification for their demise was that they switched uniforms, which under the Geneva Convention is a punishable offense. They remained in the pits with the corpses.

Fred Fields:

It felt damn good to interrogate Nazis, especially when we had a pistol (usually one of their Lugers) in a holster on us. We knew that the average German soldier just followed orders, so getting information out of them wasn't difficult. Name, rank and serial number didn't mean much to them, so if we could put them at ease, it usually worked to our advantage. With SS and officers, however, it was drastically different; we had to be rough with them, psychologically (and sometimes physically) and threaten them with everything under the sun. One more than one occasion we would say, "If you don't talk, we are going to put a bullet in your head." With one guy, we had him dig his own grave, measure it, and then made him lie in it before bringing him back to the interrogation table. During one interrogation, I let my anger fly when I knocked a Sturmhauptfuhrer's teeth out. I was stupid for not wearing a glove, because I hurt my hand.


  1. Walter Reed

    In the first few years after 1933, the most disturbing anti-Jewish events were the constant nationwide vilification of Jews as criminals, bloodsuckers, inferior racial beings, and other propaganda. By 1935 racial laws, boycotts of Jewish businesses, and similar actions began to make life miserable, even in small villages like ours. Many other towns vowed to become Judenrein (free of Jews). This was true of Uehlfeld, and it saved my relatives lives by making them speed up their emigration.

    Much of the Nazi movement was based on evil, but skillfully manipulative and continuous, propaganda. Thus even young children were aware of the hassling of Jews or the concepts of the "master race" and the drive to conquer the world under the scheme of the Third Reich. With radio as the main mass medium, Hitler and his principal cohorts were constantly shouting and preaching their skewed ideology on radio programs, and there were innumerable parades and festivities, always draped in the Nazi and national flag. Sadly, the whole folderol of the 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign, with its attacks, lies, and emotional hullaballoo (on both sides), is strangely reminiscent of the never-ceasing Nazi propaganda machine- and it truly worked!

  2. The most fantastic account in this book is the last, that of Manfred Gans who escaped from Germany in 1938, eventually became a Royal Marine Commando, landed on Gold Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944 and fought on the front lines til the end of the war. At that point he heard from an uncle in America that a family friend in Switzerland had heard that his parents were still alive in the Theresianstadt concentration camp just outside of Prague. He got a jeep and a driver, drove 150 miles through unconquered Germany and liberated them. If a book has ever brought you to the point of tears, this story must also do so.

  3. I'm thinking that J.D. Salinger, who died this month at the age of ninety-one, was a real life "inglorious bastard". His father was a Polish Jew who sent him to Vienna in 1936 to learn the meat-packing business, he served in intelligence units in W.W. II. It's a shame that his story was not collected for this book.

    After leaving Vienna in 1938, just before Hitler invaded, "Salinger tried and failed to publish stories in The New Yorker (one reject I nominate for posthumous publication was called “I Went to School with Adolf Hitler”)".

    Here follows some more excerpts from the obituaries that appeared in the press during the week following his death.

    "You know Catcher in the Rye" was 6 or 7 years before Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, 5 or 6 years before Elvis Presley and the notion of Rock and Roll."

    After Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to film his story "Uncle Wriggly in Connecticut" and filmed it as My Foolish Heart, a dreadful heap of romantic slush, Salinger never again allowed film adaptations to be made from his work – though he was approached by, among others, Billy Wilder, Elia Kazan, Harvey Weinstein and Steven Spielberg.- The Independent

    Salinger loved movies, and he was more fun than anyone to discuss them with. He enjoyed watching actors work, and he enjoyed knowing them. (He loved Anne Bancroft, hated Audrey Hepburn, and said that he had seen “Grand Illusion” ten times.) Brigitte Bardot once wanted to buy the rights to “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” and he said that it was uplifting news. “I mean it,” he told me. “She’s a cute, talented, lost enfante, and I’m tempted to accommodate her, pour le sport.”

    in Cavendish, Vermont, where Alexander Solzhenitsyn lived, townsfolk kept a sign in the general store that said, “No Directions to the Solzhenitsyn Home.” But in Cornish no one even acknowledged that they’d heard of Salinger, much less had him as a neighbor. You got a withering look if you mentioned his name.-Virginia Heffernan

    Emerson was a touchstone, and Salinger often quoted him in letters. For instance, “A man must have aunts and cousins, must buy carrots and turnips, must have barn and woodshed, must go to market and to the blacksmith’s shop, must saunter and sleep and be inferior and silly.” Writers, he thought, had trouble abiding by that, and he referred to Flaubert and Kafka as “two other born non-buyers of carrots and turnips.”

    Roger Lathbury, who screwed up a publishing deal with Salinger has never considered publishing their correspondence. "The letters are infectious and delightful and loving," Lathbury said, his voice trailing off. "But I haven't pulled those letters in years. It has caused me such pain."

    “I stand around and talk about schools with the other crummy parents, the summer parents,” he wrote in a letter to me. Getting back to work, he said, was “the only way I’ve ever been able to take the awful conventional world. I think I despise every school and college in the world, but the ones with the best reputation first.”- Lillian Ross, a friend of fifty years

    "24 years ago We played golf on the nine-hole course in Windsor, Vermont, and he wouldn’t let us keep score. He played with bamboo clubs and cursed like a sailor when he hit a bad shot, which was often.."- John Seabrook

    " he sat for hours in an orgone box." -Joyce Maynard.

  4. "His literary executors, whoever they are, now become the most famous and probably consequential literary heirs of our time."- Jeff Simon, Buffalo News

    "I seem to be alone in finding [Salinger] no more than the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school."-Norman Mailer

    I think this rather sour post has really been occasioned not by the death of Salinger but by the death of another author, Louis Auchincloss- Micheal Ruse

    “Yeah!! Thank God he’s finally dead. I’ve been waiting for this day for-fucking-ever. Party tonight!!!”-Bret Ellis on Twitter

    "He was not in any pain before or at the time of his death.’’- his literary agent