A US medic tends Germans on the Italian front

By 8:00pm I am in a barn on a mountain ridge. There is no defilade, but at least I have a roof over my head. I wouldn’t stay here if the weather were clear. Visibility today is only about two hundred yards, and if the Krauts want to shoot us up, they must do so by map. I am directly behind our troops, which are once again having a rough time.

 Wounded Yank. Hit by German machine gun fire in the Fifth Army Advance up the Gaeta Peninsula. An American soldier is receiving help from Army aid-men. Signal Corps Photo 20 May 1944 (Italy)
Wounded Yank. Hit by German machine gun fire in the Fifth Army Advance up the Gaeta Peninsula. An American soldier is receiving help from Army aid-men. Signal Corps Photo 20 May 1944 (Italy)
Saving lives at the Italian front!. An infantryman has fallen and a medic is right there to help him. Working swiftly, under the enemy fire, the medic applies an emergency dressing on the soldier wounded in the head.
Saving lives at the Italian front!. An infantryman has fallen and a medic is right there to help him. Working swiftly, under the enemy fire, the medic applies an emergency dressing on the soldier wounded in the head.

As the weather turned wet and miserable again in Italy, the Allies were still slogging it out against the Gothic line. Progress against the prepared defence line was slow and casualties were heavy.

Klaus H. Huebner was a US Army doctor, this is his diary entry for 6 October 1944:

Several Germans are among our congregation of wounded awaiting us. The most seriously wounded is a German who insists that he is a walking case and not badly hurt. He has a hole in his back big enough for me to see parts of his lung expanding with each breath. He states that his company has had a rough night.

When only four men were left, something hit him in the back and he fell. He shouted all night but no one came to his rescue. By morning he saw our medics using this church, so he decided to walk over, give himself up, and be treated. Since he seems to be breathing better with the hole in his chest wide open rather than closed, I cover it only with a very loose dressing and fill him up with sulfadiazine pills. He says his pain is not severe enough to require morphine…

Frequently the narrow road crosses and recrosses the creek over small wooden bridges. These are usually demolished, and we cross the stream on debris strewn around them. I witness the entire battalion cross over one such obstacle, except for the last man, who is unfortunate enough to have his foot blown off by a shoe mine. How 450 men have crossed over the same path and avoided stepping on that mine is almost unbelievable!

By 8:00pm I am in a barn on a mountain ridge. There is no defilade, but at least I have a roof over my head. I wouldn’t stay here if the weather were clear. Visibility today is only about two hundred yards, and if the Krauts want to shoot us up, they must do so by map. I am directly behind our troops, which are once again having a rough time.

Progress is very slow. Sometimes they advance less than two hundred yards all day. Consequently, I remain here for three days. We treat at least fifty casualties per day. The arriving wounded are mud covered and rain soaked. The majority of wounds are gunshot and mortar shrapnel.

Our station is constantly harassed by mortar fire, shells exploding outside both day and night. There are almost as many German wounded as GIs.

One German non-commissioned officer is brought in with a palm-sized hole in his buttock. He had been lying in the woods for forty-eight hours. His wound is filled with leaves, sticks and dirt. What he desires most is a swig of cognac. I offer him my canteen filled with whiskey, and he empties one-half of it without drawing a breath between gulps. I loosely suture his buttock together without any anesthesia. He never says ‘ouch.’

See Klaus H. Huebner: Long Walk through War: A Combat Doctor’s Diary

Saving lives at the Italian front! A wounded Yank needs emergency treatment! Without losing a moment he is rushed to the operating table at the field hospital.
Saving lives at the Italian front! A wounded Yank needs emergency treatment! Without losing a moment he is rushed to the operating table at the field hospital.

Audie Murphy gets second Silver Star in three days

But the Germans are full of surprises. Before night, my company is pinned to a hillside. The krauts, who usually choose elevations for defensive stands, have fooled us in this instance. They have dug in by a dry stream bed at the base of the slope. Trees, cut and arranged in haphazard crisscross patterns, completely conceal their positions. They let us move over the hilltop, and then tear into our ranks with rifle and machine-gun fire. Mist gathers in the lowland, further hindering visibility. Crawling over the slope on our bellies, we try to pry out the enemy locations. But the camouflage is perfect. There is but one thing to do. I borrow a walkie-talkie radio and start maneuvering a patrol down the hill.

A US Army mortar team in Italy, earlier in the war.
A US Army mortar team in Italy, earlier in the war.

Alongside the French troops approaching the Germans in the Vosges region were the US 3rd Infantry Division. Amongst their number were Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, already veterans of Sicily and Italy. In the densely wooded area they were held up by a German strongpoint at L’Omet quarry in the Cleurie river valley.

A publicity shot of Audie Murphy after he began his film career.
A publicity shot of Audie Murphy after he began his film career.

On 2nd October Platoon Sergeant Audie Murphy of had successfully led his patrol in the ambush of a German machine gun post, for which he was awarded the Silver Star. He had already been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry during the Allied landings in southern France on 15th August. He describes the situation that his division faced on 5th October:

The troublesome spot is finally recognized for what it is: a point, consisting of a few acres of ground, so strategically located and fanatically defended that nothing short of a full-scale assault can eliminate it. While we hold the lines, phases of the attack are co-ordinated by tired, worried officials of the division.

Our armor pours five hundred rounds of high explosives into the quarry. At the same time a saturation mortar barrage is laid on the area. When the fire lifts, we drive up the slopes and are again hit hard by the fanatical enemy.

A battalion, heavily supported by artillery, tries a flanking movement while we remain in a blocking position. For a whole afternoon and night, the battle rages. The next day my company gets its orders to jump off. Under a creeping mortar barrage, we scramble up the hill, by-pass the quarry proper, and go over the crest. The ugly job of cleaning out the quarry has been assigned to other units.

But the Germans are full of surprises. Before night, my company is pinned to a hillside. The krauts, who usually choose elevations for defensive stands, have fooled us in this instance. They have dug in by a dry stream bed at the base of the slope. Trees, cut and arranged in haphazard crisscross patterns, completely conceal their positions. They let us move over the hilltop, and then tear into our ranks with rifle and machine-gun fire.

Mist gathers in the lowland, further hindering visibility. Crawling over the slope on our bellies, we try to pry out the enemy locations. But the camouflage is perfect. There is but one thing to do. I borrow a walkie-talkie radio and start maneuvering a patrol down the hill.

A tense silence comes over the area. Phantomlike, we slip through the trees with senses alert for an ambush. Brrrrrp. A man carrying two cases of machine-gun ammo is hit in the side. He lets out a scream and collapses. The metal cases clatter on the rocky ground.

Immediately our position is swept with fire from five machine guns. The bullets zip three feet from the ground. We lie on our backs, seize our trench shovels, and frantically start scooping holes in the stony soil.

The Germans lower their angle of fire. A man is hit in the chest. Pieces of his lungs spatter the ground. His flesh quivers; and he gurgles, “Oh God, oh God.” Two men rip off his shirt. A blast catches them. They sink over the wounded man and are still.

It was at this point that Murphy went forward alone and radioed the co-ordinates of the German positions to the mortar crews further back. He briefly describes this part of the episode in his memoirs – but he maintained this position for over an hour while under continuous direct fire from the Germans. Eventually the mortar fire overcame the German position after fifteen were killed and thirty five wounded.

Murphy was awarded the Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for his Silver Star for this incident. Shortly afterwards he received a battlefield commission. On the 26th October he was wounded by sniper fire and hospitalised – but not before he had shot the sniper between the eyes. This is another episode described in Audie Murphy: To Hell and Back. Although he contracted gangrene in this wound it was still not the end of his war.

US Army mortar team in action.
US Army mortar team in action.

The reality of prostitution in Allied occupied Naples

Here a row of ladies sat at intervals of about a yard with their backs to the wall. These women were dressed in their street clothes, and had the ordinary well-washed respectable shopping and gossiping faces of working-class housewives. By the side of each woman stood a small pile of tins, and it soon became clear that it was possible to make love to any one of them in this very public place by adding another tin to the pile. The women kept absolutely still, they said nothing, and their faces were as empty of expression as graven images.

Cheering crowds great Allied troops as they enter Naples, 1 October 1943. A year later conditions in the city were actually worse for many people.
Cheering crowds great Allied troops as they enter Naples, 1 October 1943. A year later conditions in the city were actually worse for many people.

Italy had had a disastrous war and it wasn’t getting any better. Even after Mussolini had been overthrown and the liberated area of the country re-allied itself with the Allies, the situation got worse. In the occupied north of the country the Germans turned against their former ally with brutal reprisals against those who opposed the Nazis.

In the south of the country, hundreds of miles from the front line, the situation should have been much better. Yet the economy had collapsed and the Allies did not have the resources to do much more than prevent outright starvation and keep order. People became desperate for food and a black market flourished. Norman Lewis, then an intelligence officer with the Allies, accompanied a group of soldiers on leave near Naples on 4th October. In a well known passage, he describes how many ordinary women had turned to prostitution:

Somewhere a few miles short of Naples proper, the road widened into something like a square, dominated by a vast semi-derelict public building, plastered with notices and with every window blown in. Here several trucks had drawn up and our driver pulled in to the kerb and stopped too.

One of the trucks was carrying American Army supplies, and soldiers, immediately joined by several from our truck, were crowding round this and helping themselves to whatever they could lay hands on. Thereafter, crunching through the broken glass that littered the pavement, each of them carrying a tin of rations, they were streaming into the municipal building.

I followed them and found myself in a vast room crowded with jostling soldiery, with much pushing forward and ribald encouragement on the part of those in the rear, but a calmer and more thoughtful atmosphere by the time one reached the front of the crowd.

Here a row of ladies sat at intervals of about a yard with their backs to the wall. These women were dressed in their street clothes, and had the ordinary well-washed respectable shopping and gossiping faces of working-class housewives. By the side of each woman stood a small pile of tins, and it soon became clear that it was possible to make love to any one of them in this very public place by adding another tin to the pile. The women kept absolutely still, they said nothing, and their faces were as empty of expression as graven images.

They might have been selling fish, except that this place lacked the excitement of a fish market. There was no soliciting, no suggestion, no enticement, not even the discreetest and most accidental display of flesh. The boldest of the soldiers had pushed themselves, tins in hand, to the front, but now, faced with these matter-of-fact family-providers driven here by empty larders, they seemed to flag.

Once again reality had betrayed the dream, and the air fell limp. There was some sheepish laughter, jokes that fell flat, and a visible tendency to slip quietly away. One soldier, a little tipsy, and egged on constantly by his friends, finally put down his tin of rations at a woman’s side, unbuttoned‘and lowered himself on her.

Aperfunctory jogging of the haunches began and came quickly to an end. A moment later he was on his feet and buttoning up again. It had been something to get over as soon as possible. He might have been submitting to field punishment rather than the act of love.

Five minutes later we were on our way again. The tins collected by my fellow travellers were thrown to passers by who scrambled wildly after them. None of the soldiers travelling on my truck had felt inclined to join actively in the fun.

See Norman Lewis: Naples ’44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth

An Italian mother thanks Squadron Leader J V Quinn, a Medical Officer serving with No. 232 Wing RAF, after he treated her baby at his mobile surgery in Southern Italy.
An Italian mother thanks Squadron Leader J V Quinn, a Medical Officer serving with No. 232 Wing RAF, after he treated her baby at his mobile surgery in Southern Italy.
A tank and troops of the Allied 5th Army pass cheering civilians by the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, in June 1944.
A tank and troops of the Allied 5th Army pass cheering civilians by the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, in June 1944.

The defence line stiffens on the German border

Shortly before complete darkness, I ordered to pull back and only kept outposts on the clear hills outside the woods, facing north and northwest. A patrol confirmed our concerns from late afternoon. The opponent had practically encircled us; Some houses were in flames in Ramonchamp, situated some five hundred to one thousand meters south of us in the valley. One could clearly hear the bustle of vehicles and voices in the clear night. We were surrounded.

German citizens prepare the defences in the Vosges region, overseen by the Wehrmacht.
German citizens prepare the defences in the Vosges region, overseen by the Wehrmacht.
German Grenadiers in a defence position on the Adriatic front October 1944.
German Grenadiers in a defence position on the Adriatic front October 1944.

In the Vosges mountains, approaching Germany from the south west, the Germans now found themselves facing the French again, this time equipped by the Americans and part of the broad Allied attack. The surviving officers of the German Army were now very experienced, most having been at war for five years. With their home country at their backs, fighting in terrain that did not suit Allied armour or air forces, thy a would be a formidable opponent.

Due to casualties Georg Grossjohann had just taken over command of his regiment. They were trying to establish a defensive line in the thickly wooded countryside – but it was difficult to establish how far the French had penetrated. Grossjohann suddenly saw a man in the bushes ahead taking aim at him – and instantly emptied his magazine in reply:

With more leap I stood next to him. He was a very young officer, not Algerian or Moroccan, but a blond Frenchman. I had hit him in his thigh, close to his torso, and I saw right away that any help would be too late. He still managed to ask me for his morphine needle, which every American – and therefore French — first-aid kit contained.

I stayed with him for a few moments and tried to give him some encouragement, but then I had to go on. In more than four years of war, our souls became callused, although without this protection, we probably could not have endured so much!

The more deeply we moved into the thick forest, the more dispersed our lines became, because we had to secure our western flank at least scantily. Yet, in the end, I had to give up. With barely 150 men, one could not mop up an extremely clever opponent, presumably superior in numbers, in five to six kilometers of thick forest. We also had an uneasy feeling that the Algerians or Moroccans had already passed us in the north, and that it was only a flank guard that we were fighting. This feeling would become an extremely unpleasant reality by the evening.

It was, therefore, not feasible to advance any further. It also appeared to me to be extremely risky to leave my thin line of defense in this dense forest during the night. My aide-de-camp and I noticed at dusk how clever and dangerous the opponent was.

For some time, there had been total silence and we had a short exchange of thoughts as we were standing in a clearing. Suddenly, a shot was fired, and a messenger who had come with us stood for a second as if frozen, then fell to the ground. Upon my rather frightened call, “Fiege, what’s the matter?” he answered in clearly understandable words, “I am dead, Herr Major!” Seconds later, that’s what he really was. One could move only with the most extreme caution. Comrades carried the dead back as usual, wrapped in his ground sheet.

During the long war I had experienced many things, but a messenger reporting his own death was one of the more macabre.

Shortly before complete darkness, I ordered to pull back and only kept outposts on the clear hills outside the woods, facing north and northwest. A patrol confirmed our concerns from late afternoon. The opponent had practically encircled us; Some houses were in flames in Ramonchamp, situated some five hundred to one thousand meters south of us in the valley. One could clearly hear the bustle of vehicles and voices in the clear night. We were surrounded.

After my return to the command post, I heard the rattle of shovels in the dark. When I questioned what they were doing there, they answered, “We’re digging a hole for Fiege!” Exhausted and depressed as I was, I just could not control myself anymore and yelled, “This is not a hole, you idiots, this is a grave!” Right away, I regretted my outburst, since the poor guys were at least as depressed and worn out as I was. Their irreverent expression was only a kind of cover for their stress. , This nocturnal episode was always one of those especially deep impressions I had of the war.

SeeGeorg Grossjohann: Five Years, Four Fronts: A German Officer’s World War II Combat Memoir

German troops ended in a counter attack near Memel on the eastern front, October 1944.
German troops ended in a counter attack near Memel on the eastern front, October 1944.
'Nothing should be allowed to fall into Soviet hands' - livestock is driven back to German held territory in the east. October 1944.
‘Nothing should be allowed to fall into Soviet hands’ – livestock is driven back to German held territory in the east. October 1944.

Warsaw combatants treated as prisoners of war

We arrived at a transit camp, where we were taken on stretchers into a large barracks and laid with other wounded men in rows on the floor. It was there that we learned for the first time that both the northern suburb of Zoliborz and the city centre had surrendered, and the Uprising was over. I don’t think any of us expected it to end like this, and I remember none of us wanted to talk about it. I think we were quite numbed by the news: all that effort, all that sacrifice.

Wounded members of the Polish home Army after the surrender.
Wounded members of the Polish Home Army after the surrender.
eopleof Wola district leaving the city after the failed Uprising, while Polish nuns distribute water. Photo takes from the corner of Staszica and Wolska Streets looking East on Wolska street.
People of Wola district leaving the city after the failed Uprising, while Polish nuns distribute water. Photo takes from the corner of Staszica and Wolska Streets looking East on Wolska street.

The early stages of the Warsaw Uprising had seen appalling savagery on the part of the SS and their auxiliary troops. As more regular troops from the Wehrmacht became involved in the conflict attitudes had adjusted somewhat – even though the Polish Home Army had been fighting in improvised uniforms, much of it taken from the Germans, they began to be treated as regular combatants when they were taken prisoner.

When surrender came to be negotiated the treatment of prisoners was a key consideration. Andew Borowiec describes the agreement that was eventually reached:

Most surprisingly of all, SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski had also agreed that our guards would be the German Wehrmacht. There was to be no question of us falling into the hands of the Ukrainian, Cossack and other non-German renegades who had been recruited as SS auxiliaries.

Von dem Bach praised our bravery and related how he had personally persuaded Hitler to treat us as soldiers rather than terrorists. Presumably he had convinced his Fuhrer that it would otherwise take weeks to winkle the last of us out of the ruins of Warsaw, and this might somehow tempt the Russians into making a crossing.

The treatment of prisoners nevertheless varied greatly. Undoubtedly it was a great deal better than would have been the case had the SS taken direct charge.

Hitler’s vengeance had only just been contained. He wanted the whole of Warsaw razed to the ground and the remaining civilian population, some half a million people, were evicted to allow this to take place. Significant numbers were sent to concentration camps or sent as forced labour to the Reich but most were left to find new homes elsewhere in Poland.

For Andew Borowiec, who had been captured on the 27th September, his treatment as a wounded combatant was relatively good, even before the formal surrender was signed:

The treatment of Home Army prisoners being transported to various Stalags varied greatly and often depended on the whim of quite junior ofiicers. Some were pummelled with rifle butts as they were packed, Without food or water, into cattle trucks with standing room only and not even a bucket for bodily functions.

My own treatment, together with the other wounded combatants from Mokotow, was very different. First we were taken by rail to Skierniewice, a town some forty kilometres west of Warsaw, once famous for a railway station that was supposed to be one of the gems of the old Warsaw—Vienna line. The German 9th Army’s headquarters had been there for the last three months, ever since the Red Army had pushed them back to the Vistula.

We arrived at a transit camp, where we were taken on stretchers into a large barracks and laid with other wounded men in rows on the floor. It was there that we learned for the first time that both the northern suburb of Zoliborz and the city centre had surrendered, and the Uprising was over. I don’t think any of us expected it to end like this, and I remember none of us wanted to talk about it. I think we were quite numbed by the news: all that effort, all that sacrifice.

Prisoner-of-war doctors, mostly Russian and French, examined our wounds in a somewhat cursory fashion before we were loaded into freight wagons equipped with wooden cots and lavatories. Our Wehrmacht guards did not prevent Polish civilians reaching the train and handing us baskets filled with food. There was one guard to each wagon; as well as carrying rifles they each had a couple of stick grenades thrust into their belts.

At the royal and ancient Polish city of Poznan, which had been annexed by the Third Reich, our wagons were shunted into a siding when another ambulance train, replete with red crosses, drew up alongside us. We could see bandaged German soldiers inside, and they could see us, because the walking wounded, like myself, had been allowed to gather at the open door to get a breath of fresh air.

For a while we examined each other with evident curiosity, perhaps more on their part than on ours because, in the main, we were wearing an odd assortment of civilian clothes.

Then one of the Germans asked where we were from. ‘Aus Warschau,’ we said. ‘ Wir sind auch aus Warschau ’ So now it was established. They were also from Warsaw, and we were each living proof of the other’s combat skills.

There was some fraternization. ‘Czerniakéw?’ they asked. ‘ Und die Altstadt,’ some of us replied. The Germans threw a couple of packs of cigarettes and what appeared to be a small bottle of schnapps over to us. Then their train started to pull out. Some of us wished each other goodbye and good luck, and then they were gone.

See Warsaw Boy

Even if they had not been wounded most surviving members of the Home Army were in a bad way.
Even if they had not been wounded most surviving members of the Home Army were in a bad way.
The remaining civilian population was evicted as Hitler ordered the systematic destruction of the city.
The remaining civilian population was evicted as Hitler ordered the systematic destruction of the city.

US 82nd Airborne seizes prisoners for intelligence

I didn’t think my German was that bad, so other more persuasive means had to be used to make him talk. This was not a time for German arrogance. In the heat of battle I was locked in mortal combat and in a struggle for my life. I would just as soon have slit his throat except for the fact that I needed information, and division wanted him for the same purpose. I knocked him to the ground and, lying next to him, began choking him. Then I repeated my question. I got the same response.

The 82nd had arrived in Holland as part of Operation Market Garden. Men and supplies drop from transport 'planes above Nijmegen.
The 82nd had arrived in Holland as part of Operation Market Garden. Men and supplies drop from transport ‘planes above Nijmegen.

The US 82nd Airborne Division were still in Holland, holding on to the salient that Market Garden had opened up. They were now in defensive positions close to the German border.

Anticipating a German counter-attack in strength the Division was anxious for intelligence. Lieutenant James ‘Maggie’ Magellas was personally selected to lead a patrol on the night of 30th September/1st October to seize some prisoners. He later wrote a graphic account of the events that followed:

I led the patrol on a course parallel to Wyler Meer for some distance before checking the depth and the bottom to determine if it was fordable. After checking several times, I decided that the best avenue of approach to the German MLR would be to cross Wyler Meer at the footbridge. I realized that the Germans would also know this avenue of approach and might be prepared to deny its use as a crossing. We moved cautiously, expecting an outburst of enemy fire as we neared the bridge.

When we were about forty to fifty yards from it, we halted and hit the ground. I approached the bridge alone, and when I was within fifteen feet I hit the dirt and started crawling on my stomach. Using the index and second finger of my right hand in a scissorlike action, I probed for trip wires that might lead to mines. I was surprised to find that the bridge approach was not mined. The Germans had strung barbed accordion wire across the bridge.

I decided to cross over and reconnoiter the other side, but I became tangled in the wire and ripped my trousers. I was so disgusted that I used profane language, causing a couple of Germans to pop their heads out of their foxhole, making it evident that the enemy was entrenched on the other side of the bridge. I freed myself quickly and hit the ground.

I was alone confronting a German outpost line guarding the footbridge. It was dark and I was separated from my platoon by fifty yards. I crawled to the foxhole where I saw the first German helmet pop up and in my broken German called for the German to come out: “Kommen sie hier mit der hands hoch. ”

When I didn’t get a response, I pulled the pin on a hand grenade and tossed it into the foxhole. The sound created by the concussion caused two more Germans to rise up from their hole to see what was going on. They were manning a light machine gun.

I crawled next to their hole and repeated my previous command in German. When they didn’t come out, I rolled another grenade in on them and their machine gun. I spotted another head popping out of a hole a short distance away. I crawled to that hole and repeated my German command. This man also chose to remain in his hole, so I raised up on one knee and fired a quick burst from my gun into the hole.

To this day I do not know why the Germans did not fire on me when I was hung up on the barbed wire, or why they remained in their fox- holes while I was rolling grenades in on them. Apparently they were waiting to be relieved by another squad and I caught them by surprise. It was one of those incidents that happen in combat where you can never rationalize the behavior of the enemy. This was also true sometimes of our own forces.

On my solitary quest I killed four Germans and knocked out a machine gun, but I was still without a prisoner. The burst from my tommy gun must have gotten some attention, because it brought one German out of his foxhole with his hands held high.

All this while I had been on my stomach crawling from one hole to the next without exposing myself. But when the German came out, I jumped up behind him and put my left arm around his neck and my tommy gun in his back, using him as a shield. My adrenaline was flowing at a record pace in that hectic moment. I wasn’t certain that one of the Germans wouldn’t rise up and shoot us both.

Although the prisoner I now held was the fifth German I had accounted for, I had no way of knowing how many more there were in that outpost. So I tightened my hold around his neck, dug my tommy gun deeper into his back, and in my broken German asked: “Wieviel Deutsch soldat hier?” (How many German soldiers here?) The response was, “Ich verstehe nicht. ” (I don’t understand.)

I didn’t think my German was that bad, so other more persuasive means had to be used to make him talk. This was not a time for German arrogance. In the heat of battle I was locked in mortal combat and in a struggle for my life. I would just as soon have slit his throat except for the fact that I needed information, and division wanted him for the same purpose. I knocked him to the ground and, lying next to him, began choking him. Then I repeated my question. I got the same response.

I’d about had it with him. If he wouldn’t cooperate, there was no way he’d make it back to a prison camp. I got so exasperated that I whacked him across the mouth with the butt of my tommy gun. I hit him so hard that I broke some teeth and probably his jaw. I then asked again, “Wieviel Deutsch soldat hier?” This time I get a positive response. Spitting out blood and teeth, he said in English, “There are ten German soldiers here.”

I stood him up and, with my tommy gun still dug in his back, said, “Call your comrades to come out and surrender.” With that he began calling his buddies by their first names. One more surrendered, raising the count to four dead and two prisoners.

At that point I called out for the platoon sergeant to bring up the patrol, which had been waiting for my order to move out. They covered the entire length of what appeared to be the outpost position. Four more Germans were accounted for, two prisoners and two KIA. The prisoner was correct; there were ten German soldiers in that outpost. Now all were accounted for. The score on our first encounter was “bad guys,” six dead, four prisoners; “good guys,” no casualties.

It was for this action that Magellas was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, contributing to his position as the 82nd Airborne’s most decorated officer by the end of the war. See James Megellas: All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe.

Robert Capa's image of the 82nd fighting in Normandy.
Robert Capa’s image of the 82nd fighting in Normandy.

Warsaw Uprising – surrender ends the bitter struggle


30 September 1944: Warsaw Uprising – surrender ends the bitter struggle

I took a position in the ruins opposite a large Tiger tank, and my first missile hit the right tread of the tank, immobilizing it. I saw the huge gun slowly turning, finally pointing straight at me. I knew I had to get him this time. The second shell blew a large hole in the center, and flames shot from the tank. The hatch opened, and a black-uniformed crew started to jump out. The first man was cut down by our machine-gun fire. The second was killed as he was at-tempting to leave through the hatch. As he fell back, he grabbed the open hatch door, closing it. Nobody else left the steel trap.

Germans shelling Town Hall and Blank Palace from 7.5-cm-Pak 40.
Germans shelling Town Hall and Blank Palace from 7.5-cm-Pak 40.
 Firing of 32-35 cm ammunition into Wurfgerät 42 "Nebelwerfer". Photo of 201st Stellungswerfer Regiment bombing Old Town and North Śródmieście district from Żelazna and Żytnia street intersection.
Firing of 32-35 cm ammunition into Wurfgerät 42 “Nebelwerfer”. Photo of 201st Stellungswerfer Regiment bombing Old Town and North Śródmieście district from Żelazna and Żytnia street intersection.
In the occupied areas of Warsaw, German soldiers set all buildings on fire to decrease the chances of the AK (Home Army) using them in the future.
In the occupied areas of Warsaw, German soldiers set all buildings on fire to decrease the chances of the AK (Home Army) using them in the future.

The Warsaw Uprising had been planned as a brief insurgency by the underground Polish Home Army, intended to last for a few days before the Red Army Army joined them in sweeping the Germans out of Poland. It had turned out very differently. The Poles were on their own, Stalin did not want to help them, content to see independent Polish spirit and leadership wiped out before he imposed a communist regime. The battle had not been confined to the Home Army but had included all the residents of the city, thousands of whom had died in the struggle – either murdered out of hand or killed in the relentless bombing and shelling.

Despite holding greatly superior forces for two months the ground held by the Poles had been slowly whittled down as their circumstances became ever more desperate. Julian Kulski was one of the combatants, a 15 year old boy, he was eventually able to record the final hours of the Uprising:

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30

It is now Saturday. At nine o’clock this morning the enemy managed to set the second and third floors of our building on fire. We had to stand at our posts, deafened by exploding shells, our eyes smarting from the smoke.

It was so dark that none of us knew what was happening, and the groans of the wounded were making us more and more despondent. It was now clearly impossible to hold Zoliborz any longer, and shortly after ten o’clock Colonel ‘Zywiciel’ ordered the companies to withdraw in the direction of the Vistula. We were to cross the river at night and join the Russians.

Our company, which by that time was reduced to less than half its full strength, was again to be the last one to leave its position. The Commandos were always first to attack and last to leave. That was our job. However, at noon the order came from Lieutenant ‘Szeliga,’ and under cover of smoke we started to withdraw. Creeping through ruined houses, we reached a building on Mickiewicz Street. The remnants of our division gathered here while the Germans found themselves at last in possession of almost the whole of Zoliborz.

The rows of tanks standing on Wilson Square and lining Slowacki Street fired a stream of shells at us. The Germans had thrown an entire armored division into an area the size of a postage stamp. The Fire Brigade Building was blown to smithereens by an attack from Goliath robot tanks.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, AFTERNOON

We had hoped to remain here until nightfall and then, after breaking through the German positions by the river, to reach the Russian boats that were supposed to be waiting for us.

The tanks were causing heavy damage, and I received an order to fire at them from my PIAT antitank missile thrower. It was now almost beyond my strength even to lift it; the fever had made me so weak that I was falling down every few meters. In order to ready the PIAT for action, I had to lie on my back to pull its spring.

I took a position in the ruins opposite a large Tiger tank, and my first missile hit the right tread of the tank, immobilizing it. I saw the huge gun slowly turning, finally pointing straight at me. I knew I had to get him this time. The second shell blew a large hole in the center, and flames shot from the tank. The hatch opened, and a black-uniformed crew started to jump out. The first man was cut down by our machine-gun fire. The second was killed as he was attempting to leave through the hatch. As he fell back, he grabbed the open hatch door, closing it. Nobody else left the steel trap.

My PIAT hit several tanks as we moved among the ruins. For once, there was an ample supply of missiles, and they were being handed to me one by one. Finally, I could no longer pull the spring and collapsed, utterly exhausted.

The holes in the walls and roof made an awful impression on me and the thought nagged at my mind, Where is Marysia now? Is she still alive?

I lurched back down the stairs like a lunatic and met my startled companions. One of them shouted, “What the hell are you doing wandering around these ruins? Are you mad?”

I sank down on the steps near my fellow soldiers. The whole situation looked quite hopeless. We had to face a fact we had always known – had always known, even if not admitting it – that at some time we would have to be prepared for capture or death.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, NIGHT

The news came through, striking like lightning. The message was starkly brief. Surrender! The word itself brought forth a furious barrage of oaths from all sides: “Lies!” “Impossible!” Still, all the companies were ordered to line up. We did so, not yet able to believe what was happening.

Lieutenant ‘Szeliga’ stood before our company. I had to struggle to stand to attention and to concentrate as he took a paper from his breast pocket and began to read aloud the order from Colonel ‘Zywiciel’:

Soldiers!
I thank you, my dear comrades, for everything you have accomplished during these two months of fighting with the enemy, for your efforts, pain, and courage.

I am proud that I had the honor to command such soldiers as you. Remain such in the future and show the world what a Polish soldier is, he who will sacrifice every-thing for his country.

Soldiers!
An hour ago, as ordered by the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, General Bor-Komorowski, I signed the surrender document of our group. . . . We are surrendering to the Wehrmacht as a regular army, and we will be treated according to the Geneva Convention.

I thank you once more for everything. God be with you!

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, MIDNIGHT

After that, everything went like a nightmarish dream. Hardly realizing it, we began to fall into military formation. It was nearly midnight as we started our slow march uphill from the Glass House along Mickiewicz Street toward Wilson Square.

We all made one last effort and marched in an even, measured step, as on parade, our rifles on our shoulders. We had to remind the Germans what kind of soldiers they had been fighting during the last two months.

With officers at our flanks, we advanced toward Wilson Square, solidly lined with tanks, where the Germans were waiting for us. When we were about ten meters from a gate leading into the courtyard of a large building, the command came: “Kompania Stoj!” (Company Halt!). Our commander exchanged words in German with the officer-in-charge. Then we entered the courtyard.

A thrill of terror shook me as I saw the faces and uniforms of the hated enemy at such close range. The Germans at once surrounded us and confiscated our short arms, field glasses, and so on. Then we marched in company formation through the courtyard; passing the tanks standing at the entrance to Slowacki Street, we found ourselves in the middle of Wilson Square, illuminated by the flames of burning Zoliborz. Here, we had to lay down the rest of our weapons.

I had nothing left to give up.

See Julian Engeniusz Kulski: Dying, we live: The personal chronicle of a young freedom fighter in Warsaw (1939-1945). YouTube has a short interview with Julian E. Kulski, now a U.S. citizen, on his views on the importance of the Uprising.

Polish POWs on Opaczewska Street at the intersection with Grójecka Street. Judging by the uniforms the prisoners are likely to be from one of the units of General Berling Army which crossed the Vistula river and joined the Uprising.
Polish POWs on Opaczewska Street at the intersection with Grójecka Street. Judging by the uniforms the prisoners are likely to be from one of the units of General Berling Army which crossed the Vistula river and joined the Uprising.
Sick and starved people emerge from basements and sewers in Warsaw, two months after the start of the Warsaw Uprising against the occupying German forces. As a result, thousands of the city's inhabitants were killed or sent to concentration camps, and the city destroyed.
Sick and starved people emerge from basements and sewers in Warsaw, two months after the start of the Warsaw Uprising against the occupying German forces. As a result, thousands of the city’s inhabitants were killed or sent to concentration camps, and the city destroyed.

One man’s valiant attack wins the battle


29 September 1944: One man’s valiant attack wins the battle

Still completely ignoring the heavy spandau and mortar fire which was sweeping the area, once again he crossed the wall alone to find out whether it was possible for his platoon to wade the dyke which lay beyond. He found the dyke too deep and wide to cross, and once again he came back across the wall, and received orders to try and establish his platoon on the enemy side of it. All this time the area was subject to intense cross machine-gun fire and mortaring.

Men of the King's Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) moving up, Holland, 19 September 1944.
Men of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) moving up, Holland, 19 September 1944.
A member of the PAN (Partisan Action Netherlands) guides British troops to German positions near Valkenswaard, 25 September 1944.
A member of the PAN (Partisan Action Netherlands) guides British troops to German positions near Valkenswaard, 25 September 1944.

As the Allies came to terms with the failure of Market Garden to provide a dramatic new breakthrough, the men in the field had to come to terms with a relentless war with no swift end now in sight. After the rapid advances after Normandy they now came across a much stiffer German defence line. Robert Woollcombe with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers sums up the mood at the end of September:

The heavy grey days passed. Days of local infiltration and counter-attack; perpetual stand—to; and artillery fire churning along drear tree—lines. Godforsaken tracks that led nowhere or anywhere. The snarl of the hidden spandau in a fir plantation.

The strange voice in German sounding through a wood where the Divisional I.O. broadcast propaganda, and R.A.F. Typhoons circling in the sky. And lonely, derelict farms, and more dull names. . . . Gasthuishof. . . . Fratershof. . . . and some benighted buildings through the woods called Olland: for these names were now the work of the devil. And thoughts turned with persistence to when the relief might come.

For moral fatigue was on everyone. The strength was low. Replacements were not catching us up. There were not enough officers, nor enough N.C.O.s, and not enough jocks. We had come a long way. There were many enemies. There had been no proper respite or refit since leaving England and it was so throughout the Division. In three months its casualties had reached a total of 7000 killed, wounded and missing.

It was so throughout the Army, and men were beginning to talk about the Army now. Caen to Arnhem had been the road, and the Army, men were saying, not without peculiar pride, was “played out”.

But the Americans in their great numbers were spreading over the West, and soon it was being rumoured that still another United States Army was concentrating behind the Front, to carry the last phase of the war into Germany. Which did not work out quite like that.

September went out and the war carried on. It was Nicht Kaput.

See Robert Woollcombe: Lion Rampant: The Memoirs of an Infantry Officer from D-Day to the Rhineland

Yet even if men were tired of the war, the war went on. Elsewhere on the British front they were coming to terms with a completely new terrain, a land of polders and dykes. It was to prove to be a miserable place to fight the war as winter approached. In places the line was as fiercely fought over as ever:

Corporal Harper VC
Corporal Harper VC

In North-West Europe, on 29th September, 1944, the Hallamshires attacked the Depot de Mendicite, a natural defensive position surrounded by an earthen wall and then a dyke, strongly held by the enemy.

Cpl. Harper was commanding the leading section in the assault, with his objective a length of the wall. The enemy was dug in on both sides and had a perfect field of fire across 300 yards of completely flat and exposed country.

With superb disregard for the hail of mortar bombs and small arms fire which the enemy brought to bear on this open ground, Cpl. Harper led his section straight up to the wall and killed or captured the enemy holding the near side.

During this operation the platoon commander was seriously wounded. Cpl. Harper at once took control of the platoon. He reorganized it. The enemy on the far side of the wall were at this time throwing grenades over the top. Cpl. Harper at once climbed over the wall, himself throwing grenades, and in the face of heavy close range small arms fire personally routed the Germans directly opposing him. He took four prisoners and shot several of the remainder of the enemy as they ran. The prisoners he brought back across the wall.

Still completely ignoring the heavy spandau and mortar fire which was sweeping the area, once again he crossed the wall alone to find out whether it was possible for his platoon to wade the dyke which lay beyond. He found the dyke too deep and wide to cross, and once again he came back across the wall, and received orders to try and establish his platoon on the enemy side of it. All this time the area was subject to intense cross machine-gun fire and mortaring.

For the third time he climbed over alone, found some empty German weapon pits and himself providing the covering fire urged and encouraged his section to scale the wall and dash for cover to those trenches. By this action he was able to bring down sufficient covering fire to enable the rest of the company to cross the open ground and surmount the wall for the loss of only one man.

Cpl. Harper then left his platoon in charge of his section commander and once more walked alone along the banks of the dyke in the face of heavy spandau fire to find a crossing place. Eventually, he made contact with the battalion attacking on his right and found that they had located a ford.

Back he came across the open ground and, while directing his company commander to the ford he was struck by a bullet which fatally wounded him and he died where he was hit, on the bank of the dyke.

The operation was more difficult than expected due to the Battalion on the right, which was doing the main attack, crossing the start line very late, with the result that at the time of the platoon attack all enemy weapons were concentrated on it.

The area attacked was very heavily defended and from this area 93 prisoners were eventually taken and some 30 dead Germans counted. The success of the Battalion in driving the enemy from the wall and back across the dyke must be ascribed to the superb self-sacrifice and inspiring gallantry of Cpl. Harper. His magnificent courage, fearlessness and devotion to duty throughout the battle set an example to his men rarely equalled.

Such conduct in the face of direct close range enemy fire could have but one result. But before he was killed, Cpl. Harper by his heroism had ensured success for his Battalion in a most important action.

His action, moreover, enabled the main objective to be reached by the battalion on the right who, together with another battalion, were completely checked on other parts of the front. The success of the attack on the Depot de Mendicite can thus fairly be attributed to the outstanding bravery of Cpl. Harper.

Men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment rest in a Dutch village, 24 September 1944.
Men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment rest in a Dutch village, 24 September 1944.
A Vickers machine-gun team of 7th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, 59th (Staffordshire) Division in position in a field of corn at Someren in Holland, 21 September 1944.
A Vickers machine-gun team of 7th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, 59th (Staffordshire) Division in position in a field of corn at Someren in Holland, 21 September 1944.

Italy – hilltop attack and room to room fighting


28 September 1944: Italy – hilltop attack and room to room fighting

I called to one of my soldiers, “Give me your Tommy gun!” I put that over the top and tried to make sure that I’d finished him off. He fell partly behind the door, so I then had to fire the Tommy gun through this rather thick door. A rather brave German soldier, only just visible around the doorway, dragged the officer away out of sight, and so that was that. That was how close the contact was there.

The three Humber armoured cars of 8th Army Tac HQ's Defence Company, 27 September 1944.
The three Humber armoured cars of 8th Army Tac HQ’s Defence Company, 27 September 1944.
Sherman tanks of 26th Armoured Brigade, 6th Armoured Division, lined up on the road north of San Benedetto, in preparation for the final push to Forli, 27 September 1944.
Sherman tanks of 26th Armoured Brigade, 6th Armoured Division, lined up on the road north of San Benedetto, in preparation for the final push to Forli, 27 September 1944.

In Italy the assault on the Gothic Line continued. It was a process familiar to most involved in this campaign – attacks on prepared German positions on higher ground. Sometimes the terrain offered the chance to bring up tanks in support but often it did not.

On 28th September A Company, 16th Durham Light Infantry were ordered to attack a group of farm buildings just below the Casa Ricci ridge. They were supported by tanks, although the infantry were ambivalent about their value, they were difficult to communicate with and changed the way they might otherwise have approached an assault.

When the Captain commanding the Company fell injured it fell to a young Lieutenant to take charge of the attack, Lieutenant Russell Collins:

I was told to take over. The assault was launched by then and we had to get on with it. The idea was that the tanks would fire smoke canisters and put down the smoke screen to protect us as we actually charged the buildings. Now as we faced the two buildings, we were approaching the one to the right of the road, in fact the whole of our force was. So perhaps we were coming in by the right flank a little bit.

I led the men right through this smoke area but the tanks were still firing these smoke canisters. They were things weighing about five or six pounds and dropping on you from perhaps a hundred feet in the air — it could have been very nasty. But I mean there was nothing for it but to press on, luckily nobody was hit by them.

We burst through and got into the right-hand farm house. The enemy had gone into the rear rooms, but we were able to get into the rooms nearer to us and I secured the first, the nearer building.

… [the tanks that were supporting them were driven off after coming under German 88mm gunfire]

We put around such defences as we could, but the right tactic would be to exploit beyond the objective to anticipate the counter attack. Although we had gained the objective, we were really very insecure there. They were massive buildings and they weren’t on the very top of the hill.

Obviously the Germans hadn’t given it up, they’d just withdrawn to re-group. There was a sense of foreboding, that the Germans were going to counter-attack again, they hadn’t given up, they hadn’t withdrawn and we were very exposed there.

I put out such machine gun posts as I could and observation posts. Our gunner OP was a chap called David Purnell, he had the whole thing under observation, he controlled the battery and he did it extremely well. But I remember him coming up on the blower to me, we had reasonable radio contact then. He was asking what protection we had because he was planning supporting fire. “How close could our shells fall? Were we sufficiently protected?” I just had to use my judgement about that, but he actually made the calculations and directed the fire.

When the Germans did counter-attack they just arrived in numbers, mainly from the left hand side as we looked forward beyond the building which we’d evacuated, so they got back into there.

Then they actually got into the building that I was in and the Italian family were still there in the building. There was an ordinary standard doorway about eight feet high and a kitchen dresser blocking across it.

I became aware suddenly of a great excited conversation going on on the other side — I could hear an Italian woman’s voice and a German man’s voice. So I got hold of a chair and got up on it. I looked over the top of the dresser and there, about eight feet away, was this very large German officer, with his steel helmet, haranguing this poor woman as to where the British Were.

So it was a question of what to do. I had no option really, I wasn’t going to draw attention to my presence. I drew my pistol and fired at him. You always have to aim a little low, I tried to fire at his head but I got him in the throat actually. He fell like a sack of coal, the woman screamed and they hid under the table.

I called to one of my soldiers, “Give me your Tommy gun!” I put that over the top and tried to make sure that I’d finished him off. He fell partly behind the door, so I then had to fire the Tommy gun through this rather thick door. A rather brave German soldier, only just visible around the doorway, dragged the officer away out of sight, and so that was that. That was how close the contact was there.

But in fact as their numbers were coming up, David Purnell brought down this divisional concentration of fire all around us. Really it was very good infantry and artillery co-operation, because I knew exactly what our situation was and was able to convey it to him.

Anyway the attack was repulsed and the main thing that broke it up was the artillery fire. We were really hanging on quite honestly by the skin of our teeth and were really pretty insecure.

See Peter Hart: The Heat of Battle: The 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, 1943-45

A Churchill IV (NA 75) tank of 25th Tank Brigade passes through the narrow streets of Montefiore, 11 September 1944. NA 75 versions of the Churchill were fitted with 75mm guns from salvaged Sherman tanks.
A Churchill IV (NA 75) tank of 25th Tank Brigade passes through the narrow streets of Montefiore, 11 September 1944. NA 75 versions of the Churchill were fitted with 75mm guns from salvaged Sherman tanks.
The Grant tank of 8th Army Tac HQ's Defence Company, 27 September 1944. This was General Montgomery's command tank at El Alamein and was a permanent feature of 8th Army Tac HQ.
The Grant tank of 8th Army Tac HQ’s Defence Company, 27 September 1944. This was General Montgomery’s command tank at El Alamein and was a permanent feature of 8th Army Tac HQ.

Yom Kippur – Dr Mengele selects young boys for gassing


27 September 1944: Yom Kippur – Dr Mengele selects young boys for gassing

No, no, there was no other explanation; it was one hundred per cent clear to everyone why this was being done. All of us began stretching ourselves, each one wanted to be another centimetre higher, another half-centimetre. I also tried to stretch myself a little but I soon gave up in despair, for I saw that even boys taller than I was, failed to reach the required height – their heads did not touch the plank.

The Auschwitz II-Birkenau main guard house and rail entrance.
The Auschwitz II-Birkenau main guard house and rail entrance.

In the summer of 1944 approximately three thousand boys and aged between fourteen and sixteen were kept in a separate part of the camp at Auschwitz, not being used for forced labour. They were separated from their families when they arrived at the ramp after getting off the trains.

On September 17 1944: the Jewish festival of Rosh HaShanah began at sunset. On that day 1000 of the Jewish boys kept in Auschwitz were selected for the gas chambers. There was then a break while a number of transports arriving from Theresienstadt were dealt with.

On September 26 1944, Yom Kippur began at sunset – and this was the excuse for another ‘selection’. Joseph Zalman Kleinman described the process that followed during the trial of Adolf Eichman. He was fourteen years old in 1944, he and his brother had been separated from their father, mother and younger sister when they arrived at Auschwitz – they never saw them again:

What happened on Yom Kippur?

A. There were about two thousand youths left. We thought that perhaps that would be the end of the matter. Then, the day before Yom Kippur – I remember – in the morning the news spread around that they were going to distribute an additional ration of bread. Usually they would hand out a quarter or a fifth of a loaf of bread; that day they brought to our hut a ration of a quarter, a third of a loaf of bread, together with additions of cheese and other items. There had never been anything like that in Auschwitz. We were very glad that we would be able to fast the next day.

Q. That means, you thought that you would be able to eat more on the eve of Yom Kippur in order to fast the following day?

A. Yes. All day the boys spoke about this sudden generosity. And we were happy that we would be able to fast the following day. But we still did not know what was in store for us that day. During the afternoon, roughly at three o’clock, suddenly there was an order for a curfew. There was shouting in the street. We had hardly managed to get inside the barracks when a new order was given – all the boys were to go to the football field. There was a football field in the camp which evidently was intended for the Gypsies who had previously been in this camp and who were put to death a few weeks before. Each hut commander brought his boys to the football field.

A lot was happening there. The chief official, all the camp officials, every Kapo and the hut commanders were assembled on the field and arranged us in groups of hundreds. Someone started the rumour that they were going to take us to gather the potato harvest from the environs of Auschwitz. They formed us into groups – we were two thousand youths. Suddenly a shudder passed over the entire ground as if we had been struck by a electric shock. The “Angel of Death” appeared.

Josef Mengele
Josef Mengele

Q. Who was that?

A. Dr. Mengele appeared, riding his bicycle; someone approached him, took the bicycle from him and placed it near the hut. I was standing near the road with my group. Dr. Mengele folded his hands behind his back, he was tight- lipped as usual, he went onto the field, lifted his hand so that his gaze could take in the entire field. Then his glance fell on a small boy, about fifteen years old, possibly fourteen, something like that, who was standing not far from me in the front row; he was a boy from the Lodz Ghetto, I remember his face very well, he was blond, thin and very sunburnt. His face was covered in freckles. He stood in the front row, Mengele came up to him and asked him: “How old are you?” The boy was shaking and said: “I am eighteen years old.” I saw immediately that Dr. Mengele was very angry and he began shouting: “I’ll show you!” Then he started shouting: Bring me a hammer, nails and a “Leiste” – a sort of narrow plank.

Somebody ran off right away and we stood there, looking at him in absolute silence. The silence of death prevailed on the field; he was standing in the middle and all of us were looking at him. Meanwhile this man came back with the tools, and as soon as he approached, Dr. Mengele went up to one of the boys, standing in the front row; he had a round face and looked fine. Dr. Mengele went up to him, grabbed him by the shoulder and took him to the goal-post on the football field. There were two goal-posts for a game of football. He led him by the shoulder, and the man with the tools walked with him. He stood him against one of the goal- posts and gave orders to knock this plank in at a height above the boy’s head so that he formed a kind of inverted “L.” And then Dr. Mengele gave orders for the first group to pass underneath this plank. The first group began walking in single file.

Q. Did he say what was going to happen to you?

A. He did not have to tell us any longer – we understood.

Q. What did you understand?

A. We already understood that the smaller ones, whose height did not reach the plank, were destined to die.

Q. Did you think there could also be another explanation?

A. No, no, there was no other explanation; it was one hundred per cent clear to everyone why this was being done. All of us began stretching ourselves, each one wanted to be another centimetre higher, another half-centimetre. I also tried to stretch myself a little but I soon gave up in despair, for I saw that even boys taller than I was, failed to reach the required height – their heads did not touch the plank.

Presiding Judge: That means that all of them passed under the plank?

Witness Kleinman: Yes. All of them passed through in single file. And each one whose head did not touch this plank went to the other side of the field, together with the little ones who were doomed to die.

Attorney General: Did your brother succeed in touching the plank?

Witness Kleinman: Yes. My brother was standing next to me. In general I was so preoccupied with myself that I scarcely worried about him, for he was one of the taller boys – he was sixteen years old; by chance, that was his sixteenth birthday.

Q. Did he manage to touch the plank?

A. Yes. I stood there in total despair. I thought to myself “My life is ending here.” Suddenly my brother whispered to me, saying: “Don’t you want to live? Do something!” I woke up, as from a dream, and began searching for a way of saving myself. My mind worked rapidly. Suddenly I caught sight of pebbles scattered around me. I thought that perhaps I could be saved in this way. We were all standing in line, at attention. I bent down without being noticed and seized some handfuls of pebbles. I untied the laces of my shoes and began stuffing pebbles into my shoes. I was wearing shoes which were larger than my size. I filled my shoes with pebbles under my heels and I gained two centimetres. I thought that, perhaps, this would be sufficient.

Meanwhile I felt that I was unable to remain standing at attention with the pebbles in my shoes. It wasn’t easy. I told my brother I was going to throw the stones away. My brother said to me: “Don’t throw them away, I’ll give you something.” He gave me a hat. I tore the hat into two pieces and I began inserting the rags made from the hat into my shoes, so that it would be softer for me.

Q. Perhaps we could make it briefer, Mr. Kleinman. Did you pass the test?

Presiding Judge: But, nevertheless, let us hear how he got through.

Witness Kleinman: I stood for ten minutes with the stones and the rags inside my shoes. I thought that perhaps I might reach the required height. Meanwhile all the boys went on passing that spot. Two would reach the necessary height and two would not. I stood where I was. Ultimately my brother looked at me and said: “That is not high enough.” Then I began to fear, perhaps I would fail because of nervousness lest, when I began walking, they would realize that I had something in my shoes. I asked my brother and someone else, who could look around better, that they should estimate what my height was. Both of them said that I had no chance of reaching the desired height.

So I then began looking around for a way to escape and get to the taller ones who had already passed the plank, the selection. They were drawn up in ranks of hundreds, on the opposite side, and the shorter ones who had not reached the plank and the required height were lined up on the other side of the field. The shorter ones were trying to force their way into the second group. I also stole my way into the taller ones. For a short while I thought that I had already saved myself. Then one other boy tried to steal into the group of the taller ones.

Dr. Mengele noticed what was happening. He began shouting at the guards and at the Kapos: “What are do doing here – sabotage?” And he gave orders for the whole group to pass once again under the plank. On the way to the plank I again got away to the place where I had formerly been standing. There was a narrow passage, guards walked in front of each one and another behind; nevertheless I stole into my former group.

Attorney General: Those who passed under the plank?

Witness Kleinman: No, the ones who had not yet passed through. I thought it was worthwhile to live even for half- an-hour under an illusion. From there, a quarter of an hour later, I again stole my way into the taller ones – nobody noticed me. Thus the selection ended. About one thousand out of the two thousand did not reach the required height.

Q. What happened to them?

A. When this selection of the thousand ended, the thousand who reached the required height, that was not enough for Dr. Mengele. He examined our bodies. We had to undress to the waist.

Q. My question is: What happened to those who did not reach the required height?

A. Those who did not reach the required height were locked into Huts 25 and 26. Darkness was falling.

Q. What happened to them eventually?

A. They kept them locked up in the two huts until two days after Yom Kippur.

Q. And after that, what happened?

A. They were transferred to the gas chambers – they were exterminated in the gas chambers. There were a thousand of us who remained. Then we knew that this was the system.

Q. Did you see any connection between Yom Kippur and this method of selection?

A. We gained the impression that Mengele wanted to show us – there it was written in the prayer “He causes his flock to pass beneath his rod” – and he wanted to show the Jews of Auschwitz that he was the one who was causing us to pass, and no-one else.

Presiding Judge: Was Dr. Mengele so well-informed in such matters?

Witness Kleinman: Apparently he was well-informed in such matters, for there had never been such a selection in Auschwitz.

Attorney General: Did he want to prove that he was causing his flock to pass under his rod?

A. Yes. In this way one thousand boys remained. We realized that this was a method of exterminating on Festival days.

Read the whole of the evidence of Joseph Zalman Kleinman at the Trial of Adolf Eichmann

Jewish twins kept alive to be used in Mengele's medical experiments. These children were liberated from Auschwitz by the Red Army in January 1945.
Jewish twins kept alive to be used in Mengele’s medical experiments. These children were liberated from Auschwitz by the Red Army in January 1945.