Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Eugene Arden - February 21, 1984

German Civilians

But uh, we were able a bit here and there to talk with people. You didn't, you didn't have to get into very deep philosophical conversations. But your, you know, a little German, they know a little English sometimes, you know. You could make yourself uh, understood. And uh, there was a, there was a kind of a, an amazing insistence that uh, they really didn't know that things were as bad as they were in the camp. They didn't uh, they didn't have any sense of responsibility for what was going on there. It was sort of you know, the government. Uh, you know, "I'm just a little guy, I have a little job and I have my little two-bedroom house there and I uh, my..." You know, woman will tell me, "My son was in the Army and he had to do what he had to do. But he was defending the Fatherland and he you know, we don't know about this political stuff and where--we don't have anything to do with the SS and all of that business..." And uh, um. There was a, an a...and as I say at that time we were very uh, uh, you know, very cynical uh, and uh. It was clear to them that we didn't believe uh, what they were saying. Uh, I wonder now how much--whether it was--I'm a little more troubled about collective guilt now, about the concept of collective guilt than I was then. And I can't sort it all out in my own mind at, but uh, at any rate uh, uh. It was, it was um, uh, interesting to me to, to be able to, to get this you know, we didn't believe them about that. I, I tell you, when--they would ask us some questions also. And I remember one very lengthy conversation with one uh, German family which the man kept saying, how long had we been preparing for this war and for this invasion of Europe. And you know, I pointed out that we were really in, in--woefully unprepared in uh, 19...uh, in 19...uh, '41 when we were attacked by the Japanese and we had to rebuild the whole Navy and we had to turn around the whole uh, the industry of the country and blah, blah, blah, you know. And he'd say, "Oh, no, no, you're, you're, you're you know, you're not uh, you're not really telling me the truth. You must have, you couldn't have built up in a couple of years, from 1941 to 1943--'44, you couldn't have built up that immense armada of uh, uh, uh, tanks and ships and planes and so on. You must have been preparing for this in the United States for years and years." I'd say, "No, no, it, it really isn't true." You know, we made like millions of automobiles. Well, it takes awhile but the same factories that made millions of automobiles then made millions of jeeps and tanks and stuff like that. And he was as unbelieving of my explanation about our industrial turnaround as I was unbelieving about his lack of knowledge about what was, that--the existence of camps and uh, uh, uh, the uh, persecutions and, and all that sort of thing.

Let me ask you a couple of questions uh, to go back a little bit again. The other soldiers from Bridgeport, when, when you went back to your quarters, did you talk with them about what you'd seen?

Yeah. But it was sort of incoherent. We'd say you know, the bastards and we'd cuss the Germans out and we'd say you know, "My God, how are we going you know, ever get these people on their feet again?" And so on. It was un...how should I say it, unphilosophical. It was not deeply compre...comprehending.

Do you remember what your feelings were, this is the first day, the second day?

Anger, anger.

Just anger.

Tremendous anger, yes. I think suffused almost paralyzed with anger. And, and, and uh, a kind of almost something close to a fear because I felt you know, like it almost could b...have happened to me or what if it had happened to me? Um, tremendous--almost paralyzing anger. And um, uh, uh, but um, but we didn't get much beyond that except, except to say, ok, to, to, to respond to their physical needs. ???

Let's stop here for a while...

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