We’ll be interviewing first Lowell Swentzel and then Johnny Fairchild about
their experience with raiding a concentration camp. Okay, just to get a little background,
Lowell Swentzel knows Harry Kaplan, husband of Executive Director of the
Historical Society, Peggy Kaplan, and apparently has been talking to Harry about
his interest in sharing his story about being involved in liberating a
concentration camp in World War II and wanted to tell his story and said that he
has some pictures. That’s the purpose of this interview. It’s not the same
kind of interview that we’ve generally done in the past about people who talk
about their experience in the Columbus Jewish community. Okay, first we’ll
start with Lowell. Why don’t you just tell us in your own words the things
that you think are important that you would like to share about that experience.

Swentzel: Well we came upon the camp April 12, 1945 and there were 6,000
bodies and only 1,000 of them were still alive and I’m sure they died and they
were mostly French and Polish inmates and they were there because they worked at
a rocket factory which was nearby and there were several thousand there. We went
over to that, to the rocket factory, and they let them starve and the ones, when
they died, they cremated about a hundred a day and so we proceeded to try to
help the ones who were still living which I think was futile, but we naturally
did it and we took all the men in the city that were left, mostly old fellows,
and made them buried. Dug a common grave and buried the bodies.

Interviewer: Okay I want to ask you a couple of questions. Could you tell us
for the record the name of the concentration camp and spell it please?

Swentzel: It was Nordhausen and it was N-O-R-D-H-A-U-S-E-N. It was a sub-camp
of Buchenwald.

Interviewer: Okay.

Swentzel: It was called a sub-camp of Buchenwald.

Interviewer: Okay. You said when you arrived there were roughly 6,000 bodies
of which 1,000 were alive. Usually “bodies” means dead. What was the
condition of the ones who were alive? What were they doing?

Swentzel: They were just laying there dying and the worst of them couldn’t
accept food.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: And there was evidence of beatings and torture.

Interviewer: Okay. First of all can you tell me did any of them talk to you
or any of the other U.S. Army people?

Swentzel: I didn’t talk to any but I, some of the ones that could still
stand on their feet, they questioned them but I have no idea . . . .

Interviewer: Okay.

Swentzel: what happened.

Interviewer: Okay. When you say they couldn’t accept food, say more about

Swentzel: Well they had gone too far. The doctors there with the medical
battalion, they sent a bunch of medics over there, officers and first aid men,
and they even told some of them not to give them food because it would kill
them. They were in such an advanced starved condition and they also had, there
was a lot of diseases like dysentery and this and that.

Interviewer: Was anything, what was done for the ones who were still alive?

Swentzel: Well they took some, lots of them away in ambulances, usually they
came up with ambulances and they tried to just save them was what it amounted

Interviewer: So it was, you’re to see they were going to try to take those
to hospitals.

Swentzel: I’m sure they did, yeah, which would be as . . . .

Interviewer: Before I go on on this, when you say “liberating a
concentration camp,” is there anything other than just taking care of their
needs. What does that mean to you and what was explained to you about what was
expected when you got there?

Swentzel: Well gosh I can hardly answer that. I heard about it and we drove
over there. I went really with two officers and a jeep driver and to see what we
could do.

Interviewer: How many, I’m sorry, go ahead.

Swentzel: Well I really don’t know how to answer that.

Interviewer: Okay. How many other people went over with you?

Swentzel: Oh there was a medical battalion. It was part of our division. It
was called the 329th Medical Battalion. They sent quite a few troops
over there.

Interviewer: At the same time . . . .

Swentzel: With whatever . . . .

Interviewer: Okay. Now when you were driving towards this camp.

Swentzel: Yes I could smell it.

Interviewer: Okay you could smell it and did you know before you even set
foot in the jeep or whatever where you were going and what you were going to do?

Swentzel: Well I did because we had heard rumors and you know, until you see
a concentration camp, it is a rumor. We heard about the concentration camps and
I didn’t really, I was shocked when I saw it but I knew it wasn’t going to
be a picnic, let’s put it that way.

Interviewer: Okay now you mentioned the date, this . . . .

Swentzel: April 12. They took it at night of April 11 but we didn’t send
people over there till in the morning. Well it . . . .

Interviewer: April 12, 1945?

Swentzel: Forty-five.

Interviewer: Okay now you said “they took it April 11th“.
What do you mean?

Swentzel: On the night attack, they, it wasn’t, we came into the south part
of it and there was a cavalry unit that came in on the north part of it.
Nordhausen is a city, it was a small city.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: And it was a city.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: And our division came in on the south part of it.

Interviewer: Okay. When you said that they took the camp, you were talking
about the infantry . . . .

Swentzel: Oh sure.

Interviewer: went in? Was there any fighting that you know of?

Swentzel: Well I wasn’t in on the fighting but they said that it was token
resistance. They left guards there I guess and, see they were giving one loaf a
bread a day to the inmates for seven people.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: And of course you can’t survive on that forever and that’s the
reason. And then when the German troops retreated, you know, there they are.

Interviewer: Okay. You said they left guards behind and I know this is
second-hand and we’re not presenting this part of it as your first-hand, it’s,
we’re clearly saying this is what was explained to you. It was your
understanding then that the officers were gone but guards were left behind?

Swentzel: Yeah I guess there were. I didn’t see them myself.

Interviewer: Okay. Do you know what happened to the guards?

Swentzel: I have no idea but I don’t know, it’s according to how they
resisted, I’d say.

Interviewer: I see. But . . . .

Swentzel: They’d get killed if they resist, you know.

Interviewer: So were you aware before the camp was taken that it was going to
happen that night?

Swentzel: Well I knew that Nordhausen was going to be attacked.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: That’s all I knew. I’m just an enlisted man.

Interviewer: Yeah. Okay.

Swentzel: We usually know what we’re going to attack.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: You know. There’s always a jump off when that’s the time to
attack and they always, you always knew where you’re going.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: Even a little village, you know the name of it.

Interviewer: Okay. Now was Nordhausen in Germany or Poland?

Swentzel: That was in Germany.

Interviewer: In Germany, okay. And it’s your understanding that that camp
was strictly a concentration camp. They worked, they kept them there.

Swentzel: It was basically a work camp. But they had the striped uniforms on.
They were the slave laborers, in other words.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: That’s what they were, slave laborers.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: And . . . .

Interviewer: Okay.

Swentzel: Basically a work camp.

Interviewer: Okay. Now you said you went to this factory or wherever where
they worked?

Swentzel: Yeah. It was in the mountains, I think in the Harz Mountains,
H-A-R-Z and which they were just hills but they called them the Harz Mountains.
And they had a rocket factory in this, they had a big tunnel in the mountain and
there were forty tunnels running off of that main tunnel in this, and they were
building rocket parts for the B-1 and B-2.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: I didn’t go in. I don’t like to, there were corpses there too.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: They were cremating them.

Interviewer: There was cremation going on when you were there?

Swentzel: No because we had taken the camp. Everything stopped. You know what
I mean?

Interviewer: Right.

Swentzel: We, uh huh.

Interviewer: So you said you were there for one day. Did you do the same
thing all day or different things?

Swentzel: Well I didn’t do much myself. I was with two officers and I had
to go with them and everything. I really didn’t help evacuate anyone but there
were other medics doing it.

Interviewer: Okay but . . . .

Swentzel: But it wasn’t because I wouldn’t have. It just, they didn’t
send me, you know.

Interviewer: Okay. So tell me what you described the condition of the people
that, dead bodies and people near death.

Swentzel: Oh God, rotten. They were just rotting.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: Yeah, the smell. You could smell it long before you got there.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: You knew you were going into something.

Interviewer: And what else did you see members of your unit doing? You saw
some of them evacuating . . . .

Swentzel: Oh yeah.

Interviewer: bodies and people to hospitals? What else did you see them doing
in . . . .

Swentzel: Well they went inside there and there were a lot of bodies under
the steps. There were, it looked like a parking garage.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: Like a cement parking garage and it had the, of course, the cement
steps. There were bodies just stacked underneath the steps a lot of times.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: And once in a while they’d dig out a, they were taking the bodies
out and there’d be maybe one that was still alive but he was so weak he couldn’t
get out.

Interviewer: Did you see both men and women there or was it strictly men?

Swentzel: There were some women but there were mostly men.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: Yeah.

Interviewer: Did your unit prepare you for psychol—, you try to be . . . .

Swentzel: Counsels, no.

Interviewer: psychologically for what you’d be encountering or, I mean, I
don’t know how you’d be prepared.

Swentzel: Well they’d said it’s a concentration camp and of course you
don’t know what to expect. That’s about what it amounts to. I knew I was
going to run into something but what, I didn’t know.

Interviewer: Okay. How long would you say you were there? What time did you
get there in the morning and when did you leave?

Swentzel: Oh I don’t know. It’s fifty-some years ago.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Swentzel: I was there a good part of the day.

Interviewer: When you left did it look like everybody, all the bodies were
removed and all the sick people were . . . .

Swentzel: No not when I left. There was 5,000 of them dead.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: You can’t do that in one day.

Interviewer: Uh huh. So you’re saying that somebody dug mass graves to bury
them . . . .

Swentzel: They made the men that were left in the town dig the graves and
bury the bodies. They’d just stack them down there. They’d throw the bodies
down there and then there was even guys down in the common grave. They’d throw
them, you know.

Interviewer: When you say “men in the camp,” you’re talking about
citizens not starved?

Swentzel: These were German citizens of Nordhausen.

Interviewer: I see.

Swentzel: And they went into town and got them.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: And they said they didn’t know what was going on.

Interviewer: Did they give anybody a hard time, to your knowledge, about
doing that?

Swentzel: No way. They knew that they’d, PEWWW, then knew they’d get it.
They were heating their toenails up but they did what we told them.

Interviewer: Uh huh. So you observed them doing this?

Swentzel: Oh yeah.

Interviewer: Uh huh. What else would you like to say about this?

Swentzel: Well I wish I had run into it earlier in the war and I’ve had
given the Germans a harder way to go. How about that?

Interviewer: Uh huh. Did you have combat experience in the war?

Swentzel: Oh yeah, yeah.

Interviewer: Yes, okay.

Swentzel: . . . .

Interviewer: Okay. Well I mean that’s not the main purpose . . . .

Swentzel: No I know that.

Interviewer: of today but so you’re, I want to get down in your combat . .
. .

Swentzel: Oh yes.

Interviewer: you know. Okay. Anything else you would like to share?

Swentzel: Well, gosh, I just, right offhand I can’t think of anything. I’ll
just answer anything you say.

Interviewer: Okay.

Swentzel: That’s about the best I can do.

Interviewer: Okay. Well I also understand that you have some pictures that
you know of that experience. Can you tell us about those pictures?

Swentzel: Well I have eleven left. I had about twenty and I’ve given some
away and I’m getting them reproduced now . . . .

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: negatives.

Interviewer: Okay and then the plan is to . . . .

Swentzel: To give them to the museum.

Interviewer: Okay. So tell me what you told me last night about what you’re
having done and the cost and what you’re going to do.

Swentzel: Well total cost is $44 but they go to two sources.

Interviewer: So you’re saying you got a good deal and you’re asking for
$22 to cover your cost for making the copies then?

Swentzel: It’s okay isn’t it?

Interviewer: I suppose so. I suppose so. You know, that’s fine.

Swentzel: Or I can give them to you if it, you know, makes you feel better.

Interviewer: Well no, it’s not me.

Swentzel: . . . .

Interviewer: It’s, no it has nothing to do with me personally.

Swentzel: . . . .

Interviewer: You know we were intending to cover expenses but I think we
thought they were going to be photocopied on a color copier. But we’ll let you
know if there’s any problem. It’s not my decision to make.

Swentzel: I’m getting two sets of negatives and one set of prints.

Interviewer: Uh huh. And you’re planning that that amount of money would
cover one set of negatives and one set of prints?

Swentzel: Uh huh.

Interviewer: Okay. All right. What are the pictures of?

Swentzel: Bodies.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Swentzel: Like you saw here, right?

Interviewer: Like in that book.

Swentzel: Uh huh, that’s . . . .

Interviewer: So we’re talking about a book about his unit’s experience
that he’s talking about right now? Is that correct?

Swentzel: Uh huh.

Interviewer: Okay. All right. Well . . . .

Swentzel: There’s one of them right there. That’s Nordhausen.

Interviewer: Okay. He’s showing me a picture in his book. Very sad picture.

Swentzel: Yes it is.

Interviewer: Okay. If there’s nothing else you want to say, we’ll
conclude this part and go on to talk to Johnny Fairchild, Lowell’s friend who
has a similar experience to relate. Thank you very much.

Swentzel: Thank you.

Interviewer: Okay this is part two of this interviewer. Now Johnny Fairchild,
got the benefit of knowing this man, is known by his friends as Johnny and if I’m
interviewing him I get to call him Johnny whether he likes it or not.

Fairchild: That makes my day.

Interviewer: Well okay, all right. Johnny, how about you telling us for
posterity about your experience in World War II in terms of liberating a
concentration camp?

Fairchild: Well as I told you prior to our taping, my experience was not as
lengthy as Lowell’s. I was in a task force in the 103rd Infantry
Division heading towards the Brenner Pass and then they had us break left and go
to Landsberg, Germany where incidentally Hitler was incarcerated in 1932 and
that’s where he wrote Mein Kampf and I did visit his cell there in the
brief time I was there, where he had been imprisoned, this son of a . . . . no I
can’t say that. Anyway when we did reach Landsberg, we didn’t, I certainly
didn’t know that there was a concentration, in fact there were six
concentration camps there and thousands of people had been gassed. I don’t
know if they were gassed or just starved to death. I haven’t, I don’t recall
having seen any gas chambers.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: But there were hundreds of bodies just laying on the ground,
skeletons, just completely naked and horrible, the conditions, some people were
still alive but I did talk to a medical officer that they brought up, a captain,
and he told me, “We can’t save these poor babies, I don’t even think we
could save,” poor devils he called them. “I don’t think we can save
them intravenously, they’re so far gone.” And they cautioned us against
feeding any of them anything if they were to come near us.

Interviewer: Because?

Fairchild: Because they would instantly die because they were so far gone. In
fact, in the book I have, it said they weighed about 50 or 60 pounds, most of

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: Those that were still around.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: You could ask Lowell what happened to some of the guards that were
left and I read in my little book here, and I want to read this to you.

Interviewer: Okay.

Fairchild: It said: “An act of poetic justice at one camp came about when one Frenchman who had contrived to stay alive for years by stealing food from a kitchen where he worked, met a brutal S.S. man who had been his guard. The husky S.S. man was panic stricken when the Frenchman approached him with a lead pipe and pounced. He bashed in the S. S. man’s
skull and beat him to a pulp.”

So apparently he flat-out killed him.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: Which was poetic justice.

Interviewer: Ummm. I’m going to ask you some of the questions I also asked
Lowell. Did you know where you were going and what you were going to be doing .
. . .

Fairchild: No, absolutely not.

Interviewer: before you went?

Fairchild: No.

Interviewer: What was the date or approximately?

Fairchild: Well it would have been the middle or the latter part of April,

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: I don’t remember the exact date 3 or 4 years later, whenever
it was.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: I just don’t recall.

Interviewer: And I didn’t ask Lowell, what actually was the date that the
war was over?

Fairchild: May 8th.

Interviewer: Okay.

Fairchild: Yeah, ’cause the . . . . said three days earlier.

Interviewer: Okay.

Fairchild: In the Brenner Pass.

Interviewer: So you didn’t know where you were going or what you would

Fairchild: No.

Interviewer: Okay.

Fairchild: They didn’t keep, they didn’t, machine-gunner infantry boys
didn’t, weren’t told too much. We were just there and we’re heading in
this direction and whatever you ran across, why then you spread out and fought.

Interviewer: So you got to this concentration camp and were you specifically
assigned to do anything in particular?

Fairchild: No. In fact we were passing through but I did take some time to
take a side trip like I told you, to this prison.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: At the time when I went in there I just went into the building to
flush it. But “flushing” doesn’t mean a toilet.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: That means to see if there’s anybody in there that were hostile.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: And that’s when I found out that’s where Hitler had written Mein Kampf. I didn’t know it otherwise.

Interviewer: Were there . . . .

Fairchild: I would not have known it.

Interviewer: Oh I’m sorry. Were there people in your group who were trying
to minister to the sick?

Fairchild: Not in our group. No. We were combat infantry and they did bring
up people. And I could read from my book again if I may . . . .

Interviewer: Sure.

Fairchild: Let’s see, it said: “Military doctors prescribed a diet and military government officers scoured the countryside for supplies: 1,000 loaves of bread, 1,000 quarts of milk, 750 pounds of fresh meat a day plus all the Wehrmacht stocks in the city (Wehrmacht being German soldiers).”

Interviewer: Would you spell that so the typist will be able to get that?

Fairchild: W-E-H-R-M-A-C-H-T, Wehrmacht.

Interviewer: Okay.

Fairchild: That was a soldier, German soldiers.

Interviewer: Okay.

Fairchild: “Stocks of their foodstuffs in the vicinity, in an almost
futile attempt to save the lives of these 50- and 60-pound remnants of human beings.”

Interviewer: Okay now was this a work camp? What kind of camp was it?

Fairchild: I really don’t know. Like I say, . . . .

Interviewer: Okay.

Fairchild: I don’t know many details about what went on here.

Interviewer: How long were you there, about?

Fairchild: Oh gosh.

Interviewer: A few hours?

Fairchild: No I would say maybe an hour tops.

Interviewer: Okay. Were there medical people there when you got there or do
you think they . . . .

Fairchild: No.

Interviewer: came after?

Fairchild: They came after, well as I say they did bring up, I remember, a
captain because I asked him about the people and that’s when he told me about
not even being able to save them intravenously.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: I know I talked to a medical captain.

Interviewer: Did you talk to any of the prisoners or the concentration camp

Fairchild: No.

Interviewer: Okay, okay. Is there anything else . . . .

Fairchild: There was, I was, at one point I was sitting on the back of the
tailgate of a German truck that was powered by charcoal and I was wanting to eat
a C Ration that I got off a tank outfit and this one liberated prisoner was
walking behind with his arms up at me pleading for me to give him part of this C
Ration and then he just fell over in a ditch and of course I had been told not
to feed them and the C Ration at best could kill a well man let alone somebody
not very well off.

Interviewer: What else might you like to say? Is there something else about
your experience?

Fairchild: Well it was horrifying to see that I must say and anybody who
could see it and not be horrified would be weird I must say.

Interviewer: And did you think about it often after that?

Fairchild: . . . . many times I think about it.

Interviewer: Did you, and I didn’t ask this to Lowell so this will be a
little different but did you have trouble sleeping or any of those other things
that sometimes you hear?

Fairchild: No I don’t think so. I don’t recall having that problem.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: No I would say no.

Interviewer: How long after this experience did you get to go home?

Fairchild: Well I didn’t get home till March of 1946, a year, almost a year

Interviewer: I see. What were you doing between, in that year, that eleven
months or so?

Fairchild: Well I was in the infantry when the war ended. They put me into a
4.2 Mortar outfit, 86th Chemical Mortar Battalion . . . .

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: and that was to go to the South Pacific . . . .

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: to fight again. And then the war ended in Japan and I was put in
Military Government.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: And I was in Military Government in Austria for the rest of the
time until I came home with an Ordinance outfit.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Fairchild: They just transferred me there to come home. But I was in Military
Government in Austria for several months.

Interviewer: Okay. Anything else you would like to share?

Fairchild: Uh hum. I don’t know what it would be.

Interviewer: Well I just want to give you the chance if you do.

Fairchild: Okay, yeah.

Interviewer: Okay well I thank you also very much.

Fairchild: Thank you.

Interviewer: All right. This concludes the second part of the interview with,
this time with Johnny Fairchild, December 3, 1997.

* * *

Interviewer: Carol Shkolnik

* * *

Transcribed by Honey Abramson

Edited by Peggy Kaplan

Proofread by Marvin Bonowitz