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Interview with Ernest Miller

Interviewee: 
Miller, Ernest
Interviewer: 
Wood, Catherine
Date of Interview: 
1974-4-03
Identifier: 
OHMI0111
Subjects: 
World War II; Germany; France; Prison Camp; Labor Camp; Forced labor; Holocaust - Jewish 1939-1945; Nazi Persecution; Hitler, Adolph; Prisoners of War; POW; World War, 1939-1945-Campaigns-France-Normandy
Abstract: 
Ernest Miller describes his life in pre-war Germany at the time the Nazis took power. He recounts how he lost his freedom and was placed in a forced labor camp in April of 1945 where he worked preparing the German defenses on the Normandy coast. Mr. Miller escaped from the labor camp a few days after the D-day invasion, but was recaptured.
Coverage: 
Germany, France, 1940s
Collection: 
War Reminiscences
Collection Description: 
Catharine Wood interviewed a variety of people who participated in or lived through World War II in Europe in an attempt to record varied perspectives of this historic event.
Interview Audio: 
Transcript:
CW (Catherine Wood): 1, 2, 3. Our next guest in our quest to find out what the second World War was like from the viewpoint of a German citizen is Mr. Ernest Miller. Ernest has been very kind to grant me an interview and to tell me his story and what he remembers of living in Germany as a young man. And Ernest, were your parents both Jewish?
EM (Ernest Miller): No, they were not. My father was what was called in Germany then, a person of the Aryan you call it the Caucasian race. By religious, by religion religious, er, [pause] belief and creed he was a Lutheran, also known as Protestant. Whereas my mother was Jewish. Under the old laws of Germany, civil marriage allowed people of various confessions {denominations} or religious backgrounds to marry. It was nothing unusual when my parents married in 1906.
CW: Well, how old were you when things started to happen to the Jews in Europe?
EM: When the Nazis come into power in 1933, I was twenty-two years old. [long pause]
CW: What happened?
EM: Conditions, politically in Germany were hectic. On the far right were the radicals, meaning the Nazis and on the far left were other radicals, meaning the Communists. From experience after 1918 civil war, 1933 civil war again people remembered quite well what the left, the Communists were trying to do. The Nazis opposed them and so we had two private armies fighting for power in the streets.
CW: Is this part of the where the Nazis called the brown shirts at this time?
EM: Yes. [pause]
CW: Did you--?
EM: When on, January 30, 1933, the Nazis came to power, they immediately arrested by the thousands and tens of thousands communists, socialists, Jews, and anybody else they didn't like for one reason or another.
CW: Well, what was your father's job at this time? What did, what was his occupation?
EM: My father was in business. He owned and operated a dye house.
CW: He was in textiles.
EM: Yes.
CW: What part of Germany was this in?
EM: That was in Saxony in the city of Chemnitz which meanwhile was renamed to Karl-Marx-Stadt because Chemnitz is in East Germany and Karl Marx, as you know, is one of the fathers of socialism, communism. When the Nazis as I mentioned, imprisoned people by the thousands, they made no secret out of the fact that they instituted concentration camps. They even rationalized this way. It is nothing unusual. The British did so in South Africa during the Boer War.
CW: Did you know about these concentration camps then?
EM: Oh, yes.
CW: I mean, the people, you were aware that this was going on as early as 1933 and 1934?
EM: We knew because the Nazis as I said made no secret of it. It was in the newspaper. It came over the radio that people were put into concentration camps. Now here is the itch {scratch}, the Nazis put in concentration camps whom they considered to be a enemy of the state. Formerly to make people go along with it in a better way. They called those whom they did not like, people's enemies. But the Nazis put these people in concentration camps and called it Schutzhaft {schutz: protection- haft: detention; euphism for protective custody}, which means protective custody. And it was explained this way. These people were put into protective custody to protect them from the wrath of the population of, of the people.
CW: But they were doing the, the, the lashing of the people? Getting them excited and--.
EM: Oh, yes.
CW: Causing their wrath were they not?
EM: Oh, yeah. The Nazis said such and such is a traitor. Or such and such is an enemy of the state.
CW: Did anyone
EM: Or such and such is a communist or a socialist.
CW: try to stop this? Did you ever see anyone try to stop a Nazi?
EM: Oh, yes. There were many people who tried to stop them and they ended up in concentration camp or they were murdered. People were murdered in huge numbers. It is unknown how many were murdered. For reason or for no reason. And when people were in concentration camp, the family did not know where, when, why, for how long. But often the family was notified that, that member of the family which was in the concentration camp died. And the reason given was usually shot in an, in an attempt to flee or shot by a guard in self-defense. Or died from heart stroke.
CW: And in truth they were gassed or murdered in some other way--?
EM: No they were not gassed. At that time they weren't gassed yet.
CW: Oh.
EM: The gassing namely wholesale extermination began to my information in about 1938. With mentally ill, young and old. Later wholesale extermination was, was applied to particularly Jews and to some extent naturally ordered to communists, socialists, Jehovah Witnesses, and other groups whom the Nazis did not like. There were just too many who they did not like because the Nazis were gangsters. Un-adulterous gangsters. And by nature, they hated anyone who had education. Who had something in his head or who had something in his wallet. Which refers to the Jews. Which on an average had more education and brains and wealth than the common people. Except were those who were rich and had brains, if they were members of the Nazi gang, gang themselves.
CW: Well now, Ernest, as relating to yourself, you were twenty-three in 1933. What, what were you doing in Germany at that time when the Nazis came to power yourself?
EM: I had a good position, considering my age, in the textile industry in the town of Chemnitz which I mentioned before.
CW: Um-hum. And then what happened? Did you keep your job for a number of years?
EM: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I kept my job for many years.
CW: Um-hum.
EM: But I had to keep my mouth shut because there were too many examples where people for criticizing even in a mild manner the Nazi regime [pause] or anything pertaining to the Nazi state were taken away, not to prison and not to court, into concentration camps. And naturally as there were so many people who were imprisoned, there was just no way to keep them in all because the number of the imprisoned was swelling all the time. They released many. Of course, people like the top communist by the name of Thaelmann was never released, and many more were never released. But by comparison to those who the Nazis kept in the camps many, many, especially small fry whose sins against the Nazis did not ( ) exclusive ( ) were released.
CW: Oh, they were released and sent back home.
EM: Oh, yes. However, these people did not talk what happened to them; how it was inside those camps. These people were released after they promised or sang that they would not talk about it because of what it was. We let you out now but anytime you talk about it or you commit something you will be in again, and you will not come out the second time. So, the population knew there were concentration camps. Nazis made no secret of it. The population also knew it must have been something dreadful.
CW: Um-hum.
EM: But what it would ( ) it was. People did not know.
CW: We've been studying about Germany and about the fact the northern section, the Prussian section had a different flavor to it. Not only it's government but because of its government and its leadership than the southern part of Germany. Were you in the Prussian part of Germany?
EM: No, in the north. I lived in Saxony which was a federal state of Germany such as Ohio is one of the United States.
CW: Um-hum. It was one of the federates?
EM: Yes.
CW: This was, now this was and this was unified into Germany under Bismarck? Was it a, a federal state before Bismarck? Remember, Ernest?
EM: No. Before Bismarck each state was a country--.
CW: Um-hum.
EM: The was a, a sovereign state
CW: Yes.
EM: by itself.
CW: And then it joined the confederation
EM: The union of the German states occurred in 1871.
CW: Um-hum.
EM: When Bismarck became the chancellor of Germany. After that time he was the prime minister of Prussia. Prussia being the greatest and the leading among the German states, therefore also became the seat of Germany namely the city of Berlin.
CW: Well, what would was your father or were you a member of any type of political party in Germany.
EM: No we are not. In Germany was indeed a great number of political parties due to the constitution every small group could form a party and could, could compete in the national elections. Thus it happened that in the Reichstag, which is the German counterpart to the American House of Representatives, were about thirty parties in the year 1933 when the Nazis came into power.
CW: Were you, was it a poor time? We understand from the history books that Germany was really torn up because of these many parties and because of the poor economic conditions.
EM: Oh, yes. One group fought, fought the other group. There was a group of the landlords. There was a group of the tenants. There was a group of the farmers. There was a group of the laborers. There was a group of civil servants. There was a group of the Catholics. There was a group of the Protestants. It was divided and subdivided anyway you can imagine. And with about thirty parties represented in the Reichstag no wonder there were parties with less than ten deputies. So it was extremely difficult to form a government which was workable, which could function. And all of this played into the hands of the radical parties--. Nazis at the right, communists at the left. And the worst things became politically and economically the more the people in the center, in the center of the parties of the spectrum were dissatisfied and thought salvation can, can come only from the by the rebel parties. Those parties became ever stronger in number and in hoodlums who joined them and fought the battles in the streets. So the last resort was that when the small minority of the center parties could not govern anymore, one of the two radical parties had to become the government party and the then president of, of Germany by the name of Hindenburg with the backing of, of the army and with the backing of the veterans' groups and with the backing of the people who considered themselves responsible and decent in otherwise in other words not anarchist like the Russian compound, like Russia comm, the Russia dominated Communist Party opted for the radical right rather than the radical left.
CW: And they were--.
EM: Once the Nazis got into power these, they honestly said and most people didn't understand what this meant what was meant by it, once we are in power we shall never relinquish power again. And following elections proved it to be right, and there was only one way to, to separate them from power and that was losing World War II.
CW: It was the only way it could be done
EM: The only way, because all elections were rigged. Indeed it was a democratic election. Election here means that you can select between more than one, two or three or whatever. But in those elections there was one party. All other parties, political parties were dissolved, all of them. All! They was only the Nazi party. Came election time, time around, it was nothing but the referendum. Namely vote yes or no and people didn't dare to vote no because it was known that the ballot boxes were rigged. Spying was going, was going on.
CW: Big brother was watching all the time.
EM: Yeah. It was a matter of conscience, too. And to me it made no difference whether I should come to the end of my life then or five or ten or twenty or fifty years later, made no difference. But I could not see. I could not vote yes for something which I did not support which I abhorred for something which was true devilish. I voted no.
CW: What happened?
EM: Nothing happened to me.
CW: Then
EM: I was one of the fortunate having cast a no ballot in a box which was nothing.
CW: Did you ever see Hitler?
EM: No. He was never, never in the city of Chemnitz after he came to power. He came to the city of, of Chemnitz several times before he was in power. In, in our election year. Rabble rousing. Of course, I did not go near the place where he was and where, where his hoodlums were. That was another night.
CW: Did, did you have to Sieg Heil {Hail Victory} at anytime? Do, do the Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil that was ?
EM: In, in Germany there was no good morning anymore. There was no good day anymore. Everything was Heil to your employer.
CW: Oh really?
EM: If you entered a store anywhere when you entered the store without saying Heil, sales people didn't, didn't bother.
CW: So that became the common greeting then it didn't just--.
EM: It was a state legislated greeting. And whoever did not was right away a state's enemy, or a people's enemy. [pause]
CW: So they had any kind of excuse.
EM: So you had to say Heil. The number of jokes which is part of our callus.
CW: Well how did you get to this country, Ernest?
EM: Oh. May I go a little farther back?
CW: Yes.
EM: Before I answer this question.
CW: Please do. Yes. That will be alright. [long pause]
EM: I kept the job in which I had and even changed to better job in 1936. The employer for whom I worked then was a free mason, consequently he was hated by the Nazis, just as he hated the Nazis. They were after him. [pause] Before he hired me, I told him this, "Herr ( ), I have to call one thing to your attention because it might be a cause of trouble and concern later on and then I do not want you to feel I've been deceitful. I'm half Jewish. I'm am a pariah in Germany, and I may not be able to work for you as an important work. There are limitations and restrictions. I cannot give these authorities ( )." He said, "It makes no difference to me. I'm a free mason and they hate me just as I hate them." So I worked for him and World War II began in 1939, September 1st. At that time I hadn't been drafted yet into the army, although by law, I was subject to military service in France. Just as by law, I wasn't allowed to marry. I could marry only a Jewish girl but that would have been subsequently our doom. A Christian or so called Aryan girl I could not marry. Could not marry.
CW: You couldn't who, did the Nazis pass this law
EM: Yes. In 1935, the so-called Nuremberg Laws. [pause] So, although I had not been drafted yet I was subject to military service. And because I was subject to military service I was not allowed to emigrate from Germany as I wanted to. I could not go to another country. I was a prisoner in the Third Reich. World War II began very successfully for the Germans. Or for the Nazis. Consequently a few months after the beginning of the World War II, all those like me, meaning of part Jewish descent who already had been in the Army were kicked out. Of course there are always some exceptions. [pause] German Air Force. A General by the name of Milch, M-I-L-C-H, because he was a buddy or a friend of Berlin was Jewish. He kept his rank. He was not kicked out, and the Nazis said it is we who determine who is a Jew. I was not a General Milch. I was just a little small fry. And I couldn't get out of Germany. [long pause] The war machine had to work intensively and the company for which I worked building before the war textile finishing machinery, also had to join the war effort, otherwise they wouldn't have gotten war materials. They wouldn't have been able to keep their labor. And they would have lost their machinery to such power factories that this machinery was in short supply. So in connection with that company switching from textile machinery to dyes and tablets for other factories where tanks and anti-aircraft was built and that connection my employer had more clout to put me from military service. I would have been drafted in 1940, '41. But Herr ( ) tried hard and successfully to keep me out of it. He needed me as a key man to run the factory. The situation in Germany became desperate 1942, 1943, 1944. Rapidly it was a world war turned, all forces turned against the Nazis. At that time, I am speaking now of early 1944 along the Normandy coast, along the British channel, launching platforms for the bus bombs so called V-1's were built ( ). Our man power was short. So there was a time I lost my freedom. Well, I together with others would be shipped where we did not know. We had to report some morning to the railroad station.
CW: And you just had to go to the railroad station and
EM: Yes.
CW: You didn't know where you
EM: Yes.
CW: were to be taken or anything.
EM: Yes. I went there because I knew if I would not then the Secret Police would get me and it would be worse.
CW: Did you have to wear a star on your arm?
EM: No.
CW: No?
EM: No. [pause] That applied to Jews. They had to wear the yellow star. I went to the railroad station there I saw a number of men, different ages say from twenty to, from twenty to seventy. They were put in a railroad car, a coach, and shipped to places about forty miles to the East. It was a bad sign because I knew in the East it would be cold. Where Aushwitz, Majdanek, (Simone) extermination camp were.
CW: Had you known anyone at this time that had gone there, had been sent there?
EM: Yes. Yes. I knew.
CW: How was your mother at this time, Ernest?
EM: My mother I must say fortunately died in 1941 at home before she was taken away to the camps. My mother was sick for many years, she died before she could be taken away. But she was not allowed to be committed or buried like other people because she, in the eyes of the Nazis, was a Jewish, although she married my father, a Christian man in 1906. And since then my mother hasn't been a member of any Jewish congregation. It made it difficult to deal with the Nazis, to them to the so-called German law she was racially biologically Jew. She was not proud to live anymore, she only was ( ) Miller.
CW: Is that what they ( ).
EM: Oh, yes. She always
CW: And she was not allowed to have a proper--?
EM: No. No, her first name was Emma. Under the Nuremberg laws from 1935 she had to call herself Emma Sara Miller. Every Jewish woman had to mark herself by the added first name, Sara, and every Jewish man had to accept the additional first name, Israel.
CW: Sara and Israel
EM: Yes, and they--.
CW: Are the English translations?
EM: Yes. Whenever they had to sign their name for any purpose, anywhere, even if it was only a receipt for ration stamps, food ration stamps, they had to sign, my mother for instance, Emma Sara Miller. Although her name from birth times was Emma Riegma and once she married her name was Emma Miller. Under the Nazi regime she suddenly was, Emma Sara Miller. So everybody nicked {nick named}, given for any reason their name had to be honest about that, if some Jewish man did not say his name was say Albert Israel Einstein but would have said only Albert Einstein that was a crime against the laws of Nazi Germany.
CW: Oh.
EM: Anyway, we were shipped to Dresden. In Dresden we had many, many, many more ( ) laborers. A few hours later we were loaded again in coaches and we went on. Of course we didn't know to where.
CW: Did you have a suitcase? Were you allowed to bring belongings, clothes?
EM: Yes. Yes. I brought a few pounds of, of underwear and toothbrush, a comb, a safety razor and such things. [pause] Then the train went to Leipzig that was North and then West, West, West into France. And suddenly we were in Paris. In Paris, we were unloaded and marched by uniformed Nazis to buses or trucks, I do not remember exactly, and hauled to military barracks ( ) I think ( ) was the name of these barracks. The outskirts of Paris. And after two hours we were shipped again in remote coaches to Valonges in northern Normandy in the Cotentin channel peninsula, which is about five miles inside of Cherbourg. We had to clean out a camp which was dirty, filthy beyond description. Nothing had been at the camp for weeks or months that we know of. But later we learned that originally that was a girls school. [pause] A what do you call it, the comrade schools, where the girls were getting an education and where they also lived. Educated by a whole ( ) predominately at that time. Anyways, the camp was filthy dirty beyond description. We had to clean it out and next day was Easter Sunday and we still cleaned and cleaned and scrubbed and [pause] and and tried to make some order but we didn't know what for. Monday morning we were put on trucks and shipped to the building grounds, which was launching platforms for V-1. We had been told it was there but later we learned what it was.
CW: Um-hum.
EM: It was only about two months later. You see after the invasion which took place in June 6, 1944 and wouldn't ( ) that April. ( ) Nazis begin to shoot their new V-1 bus bombs across the Channel to the north, good many of these bombs, which were ( ) came back for ( )went down in the Channel. It was blind war, blind terror war.
CW: It was what? What was that
EM: Blind terror war. They had. Anyway, we had to work six days a week. It amounted to about eleven, twelve hours a day. Behind us were the Nazis who drove us to work ( ) and work more, work harder, and above us were the British and American airplanes, which kept dropping bombs on those construction sites. Lest those constructions get finished. Because they knew quite well that the Nazis had the V-1 and the V-2 bombs on the way. [long pause] On June 6, the invasion took place. On June 7th, the inmates of that camp were ( ) marched back lest we be liberated by British or American army. Before I go on with the liberation of the inmates by the Nazis lest be liberated by the Allies, let me tell you who was in that camp. In that camp were people like myself of part this, and part Jewish descent. There were Christian or as the Nazis preferred to call it Aryan men who had refused divorce from their Jewish wives and that was reason enough for the Nazis to put these men in these, in these labor camps, labor camps. In these camps also were Jehovah's Witnesses, whom the Nazis hated because they refused military service. A Jehovah's Witness would rather be shot than bear arms for the Nazis. Moreover in those camps were Counterfeiters, Communists, Socialists, Free Masons, intellectual people. There were Italians who were taken prisoners by the Nazis because they were in the army com, com, commandeered by, by (Dalau) in the that's the Italian Army which fought whatever was was leftover of the Mussolini Army. In that camp also were Algerians, Morrocans, French. There were men and boys from the Baltic States between Estonia, Latvia, because international and there was the whole spectrum of the [pause] the human race, you see.
CW: All men.
EM: All men at that time in that camp. Our guards were Nazis of the so called Organization Tot. Which came into being in 1933 with the beginning of the building of the super highways in Germany for big state appointed building projects organization, Organization Tot was in command for manpower and for pushing and moving people. Now, at that time Organization Tot and those who were the guards in the camps in which I was were such Nazis who were unacceptable even to the German Army. They were gangsters. They were counterfeiters themselves. They were murderers. They were homosexuals, and anything which was no good and barred from German military service. There was a measure of, of honor in the German Army at that time. They didn't want anybody. So those gangsters were the guards of the camp in which I was. They took us from camp to building site from building site to camp. And this order that we moved and did not know. So I told you--.
CW: Were you mistreated to the degree of whipped or--?
EM: No.
CW: Or bodily harmed?
EM: No. I was mistreated so far as I had to put in six, twelve hour days.
CW: Yes.
EM: And I was mistreated so far as I had to eat like all others, garbage. What it was I do not know in detail, but I believe it was garbage. You can be sure in that the so-called food was prepared those who did, did not wash their hands. You can be sure if they had to sneeze, they didn't turn their head around. Whether the meat was horse or beef or man or anything else, I do not know. But if man is hungry enough, man eats.
CW: You worked a twelve hour day, you were hungry.
EM: I was young. I was in good health. I could work as much or so much that I did not get caught as a loafer. But I saw many others who did not want to work or who were not able to work to the amount they were expected to. They were kicked and beaten, and even shot. Or taken away for a day or two days to another camp. And when they came back we saw from their bruises what they had been through. And when we asked them what happened, they didn't tell us because ( ) in the camps you don't tell, tell what is going in this camp, or else. They were frightened so much that they did not tell.
CW: So the real horror stories never did reach the people until after the war.
EM: That's right.
CW: So there is some, some reason for some--,
EM: People knew.
CW: for some innocence.
EM: People knew. People knew that there were concentration camps. But they did not know in detail of anything and many who did not know at all what was going in these camps.
CW: Um-hum. How long were you there, in the north of France at this ( )?
EM: It was only a short time. From early April, 1944 until two three days after the invasion when now I can't remember but we were liberated. Soon after beginning evacuation, an air attack by a British or American planes took place where we marched in the road. Everybody jumped off the road in the bushes. Prisoners as well as our guards. And I too. When the planes had vanished people went back to the road and guards too. Except I--. [long pause]
CW: You stayed in the bushes.
EM: Yes. I stayed in the bushes. I did not want to join the convoy of prisoners because I said to myself that the Allies must be here in the matter of hours or literally a few days and I shall be free. I stayed in the bushes. And after an hour or so when I thought they were far away, I walked myself to the nearest village. Now in the camp only the French who were prisoners in the same camp told me when we talked we can hear when you talk that you are not of these parts. But we would never think that you are German. That's the way my French was in those days.
CW: Your French was good enough to pass as a Frenchman.
EM: My French was then better than my English is now. And that encouraged me to join the prisoners again but to wait it out for an hour and then go to the French. Well, I went to the nearest village, I went to the farm, to the farmer to whom I told what is what. Said, "Entre," and he kept me on his farm. For safety sake's he kept me in the hayloft.
CW: I've always heard of that but I never knew anyone who stayed in a hayloft.
EM: And I stayed in the hayloft for about one week. He was regularly food morning, noon, and given to me. And also told me that even his family doesn't know so I should be careful and not come out so that nobody sees me even his family wasn't told by him that he was hiding me there.
CW: Did he know you were a German?
EM: He knew I was German. And he knew that I had fled from the group. And he also was praying that the liberators, either the British or Americans, would be here soon.
CW: At this time, did you have any difference of feeling about American or British? Was there any feeling as to which one would liberate you? Or was it they were just considered the Allies so to speak?
EM: The first prisoners which I saw in the camp where we were, were Americans who were marched in hands up, hands above their heads. They were one of or some of the first paratroopers who landed there in the night of June 6. The night of Monday or Tuesday about two or three o'clock. ( ). On that June 6 in the morning about seven, eight o'clock, naturally we were not hauled on, on, on trucks to the building site but we were taken ( ) very very safe and then you also passed prisoners-of-war who came in and this was when we had saw these were Americans not British because their helmets are different shape. The British helmets being more flat where as the American helmet was more deep.
CW: Did you have a chance to speak with them?
EM: Oh, no.
CW: They were in another section.
EM: Oh, no. Yes they were kept under guard in another part of the yard. So the farmer kept me, kept me hidden and fed me. I heard the artillery all day and night. And was waiting until the liberators would come. Suddenly on Sunday evening, Nazis came to that farm to requisition hay for their horses. The German army was not one hundred percent mechanized. There still were horse drawn carts. The Nazis came to the hayloft to request hay. [long pause] Hands up and they marched me out with a gun against my head. Because I was believed to be an American paratrooper hidden by the farmer and put in civilian clothing, in old work clothes. I told them I'm German and I was lost during an air raid by my work patrol. I was under no ( ) to tell you a story why I was lost. ( ) German. Naturally they didn't believe it because they knew quite well there were American who speaks German as well I because they were born in Germany and had emigrated some time after in the United States and therefore, you cannot go by what somebody thinks. They put me in a pig sty, in a real pig sty with no other man. And naturally the way they talked among themselves about me thinking I would not stand it. Americanische ( ) it was American gangster, and all those kinds of things. But they still didn't beat and kick me because they still believed I am an American. And they still had some measure of respect for the Geneva convention, which was signed by Germany as by the American. I believe ( ) Geneva convention.
CW: And this is to do with the treatment of prisoners?
EM: Yes. Yes. So I was led from one interrogatory to another and they still didn't believe my story. They still believed it was an attempt, that I was American gangster who was sent here by the French farmer. And they told me that meanwhile the French farmer's farm was burnt down. I don't know whether that is true. Maybe that was also only a threat to make me talk. So finally, I landed I, I was taken to still another place for another interro--, ga--, ga--, tor-- interrogatory and the questions this man made towards me was that he was of, from my hometown of Chemnitz. Where I lived where I worked, which way I went from home to work. And similar things which had to do with the geography of the city of Chemnitz. I must have answered all these questions as well as he knew himself. And then he must have decided that I am not an American gangster, but really a German fugitive. And they gave me another verdict. I'm to be sent to such and such German auxiliary unit to carry ammunition from the ammunition truck to the guns to the Howitzers.
CW: And Germany at this time was in need of manpower?
EM: Oh, yes. There was not enough soldiers. So he needed anyone who to do any work which was heavy, dangerous, and dirty. So they marched me to the auxiliary army unit and after an hour or so the commander of that unit had time to see me. And he again have all these questions. And then he said, "Well there would be a half soldier together with my soldiers that's not a good egg. It's better you go back to your labor patrol." So with army messengers, on the rear seat of a motorcycle I was sent from one village to the next town to the next town to the next village on, and on and on. Until I finally was turned over in Paris and in that barracks which I mentioned earlier, to that group.
CW: The same group you started out with.
EM: No, that group wasn't there anymore. That group meanwhile was sent somebody else. So I then was attached to another group and in which a few days later was shipped to Beauvais. Beauvais ( ) Paris ( ) and Beauvais has a huge railroad marshalling yard. The battle of Normandy to the West of Beauvais was in full range and better supplies for the German Army which was fighting in Normandy, which was trapped in Normandy, went through Beauvais. Consequently the Allies were not lazy and kept bombing this railroad the marshalling yards, switches and tracks all the time, day and night. And as this destruction went on for that manner, so rebuilding had to be hurried, too, all the time. Otherwise, no supplies going through to the German Army which was fighting for their life in Normandy. It was hell. In August, dirty, dirty, heavy work. The Nazis behind us and the Allied airplanes above us.
CW: Hum.
EM: Nobody was ever sure of the next five minutes.
CW: And you were rebuilding all the time that there was a bombing?
EM: We tried to rebuild.
CW: Oh, yeah.
EM: It was never finished. The more building was done the more bombs came. Because the Allies were not stupid. They did not ( ) they did not bomb ( ). They had eyes to see, and it was all because they had to prevent the rebuilding of this railroad installations lest more materials would get through to the German Army. After the Battle of Normandy was lost, the Nazis recreated us again. Out of France into Germany. At about the River Rhine, in a little town not too far from Bonn, we came to a halt. For work assignment, what I do not know. [long pause] Because a few hours after I ran away. In those days it was a chaos in Germany, all kinds of bombing, the population, the people against the Germans, as well as countless displaced persons who had been caught by the Nazis from East and West and North and South parts of Germany for working war machine. Everything was moving in all directions. Now it was such chaos there was not time for ( ), as before. That's why I took the ( ) to run away ( ). Due to studies in education I was well enough to makeup the geography of Germany without having a map. I would know on which train to which direction. And after a few days without money it was, there were too many people who had no money. You went to the train and asked for passage. The train people treated, considered these people as refugees, I was one of the refugees. I did that because ( ) details, did I not? So after a few days I arrived in Chemnitz, my hometown, because I knew that company from which I worked is still working and they had no other choice for the German war effort. They made dyes and templates. And I knew that my employer as before would protect me. So he took me on right away as a common laborer. And I worked on a lathe. Do you know what a lathe is?
CW: Yes.
EM: So I worked there for about six weeks operating that lathe, lathe.
CW: And nobody knew? No one reported you back off of a--?
EM: I reported myself back or else. You had to under the law. And also because I was reporting myself back, you do not eat, because you wouldn't get food rationing coupons.
CW: They didn't make you go back to the labor camp then. How--?
EM: Not the first day. I reported myself back at the labor exchange.
CW: Yes.
EM: And said that I am working now at such and such company operating a lathe. About six weeks later I was transferred again. And I was sent to Miltitz a little town a few miles to west of Meissen. You may have heard of Meissen for famous china. It was about twenty miles north of Dresden the capital of Saxony. There the camp was even more varied as the one which I described from France. In as much as there were able-bodied males but also females. And the women having come chiefly from Prussia. In Miltitz was formerly the limestone mine. It was an underground mine. This mine was pumped out. The mine had been constantly pumped is ( ) full of water. So this mine was pumped out and the installation of, of machinery and installations for the manufacture of synthetic gasoline made of coal was to be done there underground in the former mine in order to be better protected against air raids. The installation in Germany for the manufacture of gasoline from coal which were above ground had been destroyed by Allied air raids. Now the Nazi's had moved this underground mine, which is time consuming. Anyway there it was again a six day week and an eleven or twelve hour day and we ate garbage again. [long pause] That lasted from November '44 till late April 1945. At the moment the Russian armies arrived at the east side of the Elba River whatever was left over of the mighty German army was incapable to prevent the Russians from crossing the Elba River and blasted the bridge which at Meissen crosses the Elba River I mention Meissen because it was close to the camp where I was. So the Russians came west at the west side of the Elba River now listen to this carefully. [long pause] At this moment the guards of the camp threw away their uniforms and donned civilian clothes and disappeared. Where there's no guard at the gate you are free to walk out, are you not?
CW: Um-hum.
EM: OK. Who, who can hold you back if there's no guard? If the gate is open? Now all the Russians which on the camp did not wait for their liberators I mean the Russian Army to arrive, but they walked out of the camp west. They also knew that not too far away to the west must be the British and the Americans.
CW: And they preferred them to the Russians
EM: Yes.
CW: Why
EM: The Russian prisoners in Chemnitz did not wait for the Russian liberators but they walked away from them. They were afraid of them. Now which way the Russians were indoctrinated back home before they were deported to Germany I do not know. But the mere fact that these poor Russians had worked for the Nazis and had revolted, made them criminals in the eyes of their Russian masters.
CW: I see.
EM: Because had they revolted they wouldn't be alive anymore. They would have been shot wholesale or with machine gun by the Nazis. But since they were there at least they did work for the Germans, at least for the German war machine.
CW: So they had committed treason to Russia?
EM: So they were so afraid. That's right. And walked west. [pause] Now this was all in Chemnitz. No, in Saxony with the ( ) of which I was very, very welcome and I walked with two other inmates from the East front to the West front. That sounds like a big undertaking, does it not?
CW: Yes.
EM: But they marched from the East front where the Russians were to the West front where the Americans were was a matter of I would say twenty to thirty miles. It was end of April 1945 and close to the end of the war. We waited for three days. We circled, we walked around the city of Chemnitz which was in the hands of some German substitute army it was called ( ). It wasn't regular army. Naturally Gestapo and police who were the real power. Therefore we walked around Chemnitz and after three days we arrived near ( ) at the, at the, American lines.
CW: What happened?
EM: And I will speak for my two comrades and myself in English to the Americans, and I did so. And he said, you may pass. And very gladly did we pass. [laughter] And then I was free.
CW: Oh.
EM: And then I was home. And about, about from one to two weeks later thereafter the war was officially finished, ended. May the 8th with the surrender of what was left over from German High Command in some former schoolhouse in ( ) in France as you call it ( ).
CW: Yeah. Well how long was it before you got to this county after 1945?
EM: Well it was very short. It was a short time. I arrived in September 1945 here. That was a bit fortunate for several reasons. When you see Americans left Saxony in the winter and turned those territories over to the Russians on the political Yalta agreement. I asked the Americans I would like to come along West, didn't want to stay here. [pause] I relate to you my reason was this. I had no home in Chemnitz anymore. Chemnitz was obliterated ( ) by air raids. I had lived for twelve years under a red dictatorship. Under a brown dictatorship, Nazis. I didn't want to live from then on under red dictatorship. Because I knew quite well where the Russians are the communists, the German communists would be in power in the new government. I wasn't looking forward to that. And moreover the Russians in the ( ) camp in which I was moved away from their own people gave me another lesson what it would be. I asked the Americans, "I would like to come West with you. Give me the opportunity." He said, "Alright." And they put me on one of their trucks as a driver because there was ( ) driving an American army truck I got to Bavaria. And from then on I hitch-hiked being provided with a, with a pass given to me by the American army I hitch hiked to Stutgardt where I had friends, and wanted to find employment where I was experienced in the textile industry. But things worked slightly different. It didn't take much time and I was hired by the American military government to work in their special branch as an investigator. They provided me with getting in touch with my relatives in Philadelphia. In December 1945 Congress passed a law for admittance to this country for victims of fascism and Nazism. And [pause] having worked for the special branch of the American military government in Stutgardt until August '45 I sailed from ( ) Harbor on Septermber 6, '45. And arrived in New York in September 16, 1945 and there was a new world, and I was in a free world. I am glad to be here.
CW: Well, we're glad you made it. Thank you for everything, incredible story.
EM: OK.
CW: I appreciate you sharing that with us. And I hope that the rest of your days in your adopted country are peaceful and free, too. Thank you Ernest again.
EM: You're welcome.
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