Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Eugene Arden - February 21, 1984


This is an interview with Eugene Arden, formerly a member of the American Armed Forces in the Second World War, involved in the liberation of German concentration camps. The interview is conducted at the University of Michigan--Dearborn on February 21, 1984. The interviewer is Sidney Bolkosky.

Can you tell me uh, your name, where you're from and where you were during the war?

Uh, when you said name, it was almost like saying name, rank and serial number. Uh, my name is Eugene Arden. I was a corporal during the war, a second lieutenant for a period of time after the war. Um, uh, I was in military government, partially uh, out of accident and partially because I knew some French and um, a good bit of German at that time. Uh, I was nearly fluent in German. And um, I had had some training in the Army through what was called the Army Specialized Training Program, the ASTP, at Ohio State University. Um, I was with a unit--with a military government unit in England for six--seven months waiting to go in--onto the continent. Uh, eventually we went into France and really my unit did little or nothing by way of military government uh, while in France. We simply followed along after the 7th Army until we got into Germany. Once getting in uh, once we got into Germany uh, my unit, which was very small. Um, I think you get an impression sometimes from uh, motion pictures and television plays that um, the government units that accompanied the Army were uh, large sections of, of very efficient people with secretarial help and file cabinets and so on. It was a uh, uh, very um, I would say disorganized effort um, uh, frequently without adequate direction from uh, the higher ups in, in uh, whatever Army unit we were, we were attached to. Uh, we would go for weeks and weeks for example, without mail. We would be literally lost to the major Army units that we were presumably attached to. Uh, my unit was one of the smaller ones admittedly, but literally had only six people in it. So that um, uh, even the larger units I--that I uh, saw probably did not have more than ten or a dozen at the most. And that small group would be put to work administering say, a whole county which would uh, normally have uh, hundreds of people in regular uh, civilian administration. Uh, we went across Germany stopping at various places uh, to take care either of labor camps that were being uh, destroyed uh, with people dispersed and setting up alternative camps and centers for displaced persons who were simply wandering about the roads uh, frequently having to uh, scrounge around for food or, or in some cases I'm sure that there was a certain amount of uh, illegal activity on their part. Uh, it, it, it was an extraordinary mess. It, it's almost indescribable in, in, in uh, recollection now uh, how much hit or miss and how much accident there was uh, in, in what happened. Uh, there was no one literally trained to work in camps. One would have imagined--as I look back on it now, I have to admit that at that time it did not seem odd to me, but of course I was a nineteen year old kid at that time. Uh, but as I look back on it now, I say to myself, the American government knew that there were camps of all kinds in Germany. They must have known that if the armies progressed to those points that it would become necessary to do some kind of supervision and management of those camps and yet it appears to me that there was no preparation to speak of. Uh, what they did when they realized that indeed they would need some personnel to do that kind of uh, uh, work with displaced persons or concentration camp people is they simply went into the military government units and uh, decided that some of those units would work with--on detached service with the uh, Army units as they conquered various segments of Germany. And so the military government people, while uh, probably the, the best prepared uh, units in the Army to deal with that kind of, of a highly specialized uh, uh, work uh, still had to do a lot of ad hoc-ing and making up as they go along and uh, sort of get the--they gave themselves on the job training uh. We tried things that worked sometimes, we tried other things that didn't work at other times. Uh, I must say that uh, it was the hardest work I ever did, but uh, an awful lot of it was, was not as successful as it could have been and should have been if there had been better forward planning and um, uh, training of personnel and uh, bringing forward of critical supplies. Uh, uh, some of the story obviously is not uh, very pretty. For example uh, almost everyone in these camps uh, uh, was lice ridden. We needed uh, far more DDT powder, which is the only thing we knew to use at that time. Um, we needed uh, uh, uh, medical technicians that know how to administer it, how much to administer. Uh, how to store it, how to--we didn't have any of that. We just scrounged around uh, for DDT powder. Uh, in my unit the mechanic who was in charge of the jeeps was designated as, as, as the assistant medical noncom. It was just catch as can catch, do the best you can and uh, hope that somehow uh, things will work out all right. I don't mean to sound especially negative or bitter or uh, recriminatory or whatever. But the fact of the matter is that we were with--filled with good intention, but I realize now from my vanta...vantage point of more years and more experience and so on uh, terribly unprepared for a, a very serious and very crucial job in uh, in human welfare. Uh, with all of that I have to say that uh, we were a mixed unit. Uh, I'm--of the six of us, it, it turned out--I don't know, obviously this is not the Army average, one of the two officers was Jewish. Uh, myself and uh, one other noncommissioned officer uh, we were Jewish. So that three out of the six in my little unit of six happened to be Jewish. I, I think that there was uh, probably a greater concentration of Jews in most of the other units as well. Not that they knew that they would get into this kind of displaced person or concentration camp work and therefore volunteered for it. It's simply that uh, I think a lot of the Jewish uh, uh, kids in the Army were uh, probably to a greater proportion than was true in the general population pretty well educated. Many of them had a uh, second language and were chosen for military government work out of proportion to their actual numbers. And then when those military government units were scooped up to do this displaced person and concentration camp work, it turned out that there was uh, again a disproportionate number of Jewish kids. I say kids because most of us were you know, obviously nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two years old. Uh, uh, there, there was a disproportionate number of, of uh, of uh, young soldiers uh, that uh, worked, that were Jewish in these, in these military government units.

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