Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Eugene Arden - February 21, 1984

Reaction to Inmates

Did anyone weep?

Oh yeah, yeah. Well, of course, I wept. So they, some of them did too, sure. Uh, as I say, literally, my, my partner, Harold Gaverts from Bridgeport, Connecticut walked in and just, and just and, and turned right around, ran out and threw up. It just--and, and he was uh, he, that was his--I--it was just unbelievably uh, sad. It was just so depressing that uh, you know, I wonder if in a way I wasn't--there's a kind of a shock, uh. I think we were in a state of shock. We were unprepared for this and, and, and were uh, and, and we just didn't--we really didn't cope, you know. Uh, and I think to that extent, we failed some of those people and uh, I--maybe if we had had better you know, preparation for it and, and a, and a better realization. And we were all so young, you know. We were, we were just kids taken off the line. Uh, if there had been more experience there and, and more preparation and better training, we, we would have done--we could have done more for those people than we did. Although I'm glad actually that we were able to do and did what we did do. But uh, uh, we weren't that great.

Do you remember any specific examples, particular individuals?

Well, there was a, a French man and wife that actually--you know, it's an oddity that uh, some of them--like we took this couple with us uh, they wanted to come with us, I mean. He was a cook--he was a chef. And so uh, for a time he, he worked for the unit. I mean, we had uh, we didn't any money, official money, but we--to pay him you know, we couldn't. But uh, they just wanted to stay with us obviously for the security and the food and the like and uh, and uh, we, we occasionally chipped in and, and gave 'em you know, some, some cash. So, here and there. But I you know, I, I'm trying to remember, I think that he was not Jewish but the wife was Jewish. It--you never really knew who was Jewish and who wasn't. Uh, uh, later on, much later on when we--when my unit was returned to military government and uh, we went to the county of Heidelberg. That was the, that was a county that my little unit uh, augmented with two or three additional people uh, uh, governed. Uh, it, it, it, it was amazing. Everybody was at least a quarter Jewish. Especially if they needed um, uh, if they came into military government and needed a, a ration card for gasoline for their truck or something like that. It was amazing. There weren't six million Jews--there were sixty million Jews apparently uh, or part Jews. It was very uh, very you know, it was, it was very easy to become cynical and, and it was very difficult really to know, unless you had an actual concentration camp people. You know, then they would have, they would have had the tattoo, they would have had you know, that's different. But uh, there were uh, uh, it turned out that uh, that Germany had an amazing number of uh, of uh, half a quarter Jews uh, uh, we discovered after the war. It was uh, an extraordinary experience and uh, it embittered our unit uh, in a sense uh. It probably made us um, a very strict military government unit. We really uh, I think, administered our county differently from the way we would have if we had not had that experience. I mean, by our county I mean Heidelberg after the war, after the whole thing was over and, and the like.

Were there any guards there? Did you see any German?

No, they had just about--by the time we got to them, they had either been captured by the Army, army units or they had simply melted into the forest and disappeared and so on. And that was also a kind of a, a, a weird um, weird business. They'd be out in a nearby hillside or forest or something like that and when they needed work, when the Army needed work crews you know, they'd send two or three army guys into the, into the h...you know, into the countryside to capture, "capture" a few dozen uh, either Germans or they had conscripted Hungarian and Romanian troops and so on. They got hungry out there. Eventually they really wanted to be captured. They didn't want to be killed, they wanted to be captured. Um, and uh, it, it uh, so that occasionally there, the uh, there would be a German or uh, cons...conscripted troops um, uh, that were brought in by, by the Army. But we--I myself actually did not ever seek, confront a um, you know, a, an SS guard right there. By the time we got there the Army had either swept them out or I don't know they might have been killed or, or what or they just ran away. Um, so I never had that confrontation.

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