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WWII-7 Page 1
WWII-7 Summary Bernard Mellman
Interviewer: Ben Houston
13 February 2002
Time line of interview.
1924 Mellman born in Columbus, Ohio.
1943 Mellman joins the armed forces.
1945 January. Mellman goes into combat upon arrival in Europe in the Battle of the Bulge.
1945 April. Mellman's combat section enters Dachau Concentration Camp
1945 August. Mellman is being reassigned to Pacific just as atomic bombs dropped on Japan.
2002 Oral history interview.
As a soldier in the American Infantry during WW II, Bernard Mellman experienced Dachau for
only twenty-four hours, but the memories have lasted a lifetime.
Mellman discusses his early years growing up in Columbus, Ohio (pages 1-3). Son of immigrant
Russian Orthodox Jewish parents, he remembers a normal childhood and entered Ohio State
University just as the United States entered World War II. By choosing an ROTC path in college,
he qualified for automatic deferment for military duty. Mellman discusses the impact of the
Depression years on his family. His father, a used car dealer, was forced to rely on a skill learned
in Russia to support his family during these years, that of a tailor. Mellman remembers the
moments he first heard the news of Pearl Harbor which he directly compares to the events of
September 11, 2001.
Despite his ROTC deferment, he enlisted in the armed forces because of personal feelings he
experienced as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 (page 3-5). He reasoned he
would have no future if he did not fight for it, and discusses his personal reasons for engaging in
war. A member of the Jewish community, he was aware of Jewish persecutions in Germany of
the 1930s and discusses his own experiences with anti-Semitism in Columbus, Ohio.
Mellman discusses his placement in the military (page 5-7) with several anecdotes of his
experience, and ended up in the 222nd Infantry, part of the 42nd Rainbow Division and served as a
field lineman. He discusses the history of the 42nd Rainbow Division which was reactivated from
WW I. His unit's duties included both establishing communications and handling
communications among battalions. Mellman details his tour of duty overseas during WW II
through France and Germany, including his participation in the Battle of the Bulge (page 8).
Mellman talks about his feelings concerning actual battle conditions. He describes his horror of
the discovery of Dachau Concentration Camp (page 9-13). After witnessing the conditions at
Dachau his unit was shuffled around Europe and eventually he was called to re deploy to Japan.
He never made it to the Pacific theater of war. He was en route across the Atlantic Ocean when
he heard the news that the atomic bombs had ended the war in Japan. He believes without the
delivery of the Bombs on Japan many thousands of lives would have been spent before the Allied
forces could overcome the Japanese in their homeland (page 13-15).
Mellman takes the position that at Dachau he was less a liberator than a witness (page 16). He
WWII-7 Page 2
addresses the issue of truth of the atrocities of the Concentration Camps in no uncertain terms to
those who question what happened. He discusses more of what he witnessed, including thirty
train boxcars full of dead inmates awaiting incineration but interrupted by the arrival of
American troops. He saw German soldiers who had been killed by the inmates when they
realized the Americans were coming to liberate them. Mellman describes many other
impressions, including how he as a Jew struggled to comprehend the scenes later in life (page 16-
Mellman compares his impressions of the world as it was during the 1940s with that of today. He
gives his opinion of the degree of accountability of the German people. He believes people must
be taught to hate to the extremes demonstrated by the concentration camps of WWII Germany
(page 19). He argues that Dwight Eisenhower purposely sent many troops into the concentration
camps to be witnesses. He further describes his direct experiences with the inmates of Dachau
(page 20-24) and the shocked reactions of his fellow soldiers. Mellman admits his life long
struggle with the memories of that time.
Mellman talks about the accountability of Germans for the events of WW II. He is of the opinion
that the excuse of feeling compelled to follow orders no matter how distasteful can not be
justification for murder (page 26).
Mellman concludes his interview (page 27-29) by emphasizing his intent to document the
existence of the concentration camps for history. He mentions in that at the conclusion of WWII
in 1945 he did not believe such a thing could ever happen again. Today he is not so secure in his
belief, and wants the events never to be forgotten after those of his generation have passed on. He
discusses undeniable instances of atrocity by German soldiers but also heroic deeds on behalf of
Jewish people by ordinary German citizenry.
University of Florida
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
WORLD WAR II PROJECT
Interviewee: Bernard (Bernie) Mellman
Interviewer: Ben Houston
Date of Interview: February 13, 2002
Interviewer Ben Houston
Interviewee Bernard Mellman
[Note to the reader: The book that Mr. Mellman refers to as he recounts his experiences
is Dachau 29 April 1945: The Rainbow Liberation Memoirs (Texas Tech University
H: It is February 13[, 2002]. I am the home of Mr. Bernard Mellman, who has been
gracious enough to meet for this interview concerning his experiences in World
War II. Thanks very much for joining us, Mr. Mellman. Why don't we start off
with where and when you were born, Bernie?
M: I was born September 12, 1924, in Columbus, Ohio.
H: Could you briefly describe your childhood?
M: Yes, I was born of immigrant parents who met in the United States and were
married here. My mother was from Moldavia in [Romania, at that time]. My
father was from near Minsk in Russia, but they didn't know each other over
there, they did meet here. I am really first-generation American as far as my
immediate family. I had a normal childhood, went to the elementary school in
Columbus, Ohio. That's where my father and mother settled, after they were
married they were married in Pittsburgh. Had basically a normal childhood, a
lot of friends. Most of my friends were of the Jewish faith, because I was born of
an Orthodox family. We had a lot of friends. Went to Ohio Avenue School,
Roosevelt Junior High School and then East High School[, all in Columbus].
Then graduated from East High School in June of 1942. I started at Ohio State
[University] in the fall of 1942. The war had been on for a year. I turned
eighteen in September of 1942. I thought, well, [I'll] see how far I [can go prior to
military service]. The war was on and I knew that eventually, I'm at the age,
eighteen, and I will definitely, if the war goes on, go into the service. In the fall
[of 1943] I joined the ROTC, Reserve Officer Training Program, at Ohio State
[University] which gave me an automatic [military] deferment until I graduated
H: Let me just ask you one thing before you get too far into your military career.
What was it like growing up in the Depression?
M: It was very difficult. My father was always self-employed until the war broke out.
He knew automobiles and he had a used-car lot [where] he repaired auto
windshields [and sold auto parts]. Those [were] the cars made in the 20s
and 30s. He basically was in the automotive business during my growing -up
years. It was very difficult [to make a living] during the [Depression] because
there was just no money around. I remember that my father used to bring coal
home by the bushel. In those days, [we] had a chute in the basement, that's
where you kept all the coal. It was so bad, we couldn't afford to buy a ton [and]
Mellman Page 2
have it delivered. [Dad] used to bring a couple of bushels home [at a time]. So
we went through some trying periods during the late 30's. Then, when the
war broke out, [Dad] had a trade [to fall back on] that he learned in Russia, that's
to be a tailor. So he went to work for a [clothing] company that did needed
alterations and he worked for them [to the war's end]. He worked for a
Columbus operation [which] manufactured uniforms, which also included [many
Ohio cities]. They made the police uniforms. [Uniforms] were sent out, didn't fit,
[were] sent back. [Ike Mellman] was a magician with his hands. He could make
that stuff fit. That was basically what he did during the war [and] he worked
[steadily] at the factory.
H: Do you remember your feelings when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
M: I was seventeen years old and I was at some [social] function. [It] was some
youth organization, [and my friends and I] were attending [the] party. It was on a
Sunday night. The word came out about Pearl Harbor. As I get older, I get more
emotional, you'll find out. I'll choke up occasionally during this discussion.
M: I remember about getting very upset. I [heard] Roosevelt give his famous [war]
address. I thought, well, it's still not time for me, but it looks like there's going to
be a war [for the USA]. Actually, all the American people were in a state of
shock, just like 9/11 of 2001 [a reference to the terrorist attacks on American soil
on September 11,2001].
H: How do you feel that the feelings of shock changed as the war went on?
M: I think I can answer that best... I started at Ohio State taking commercial
courses, didn't know what I was going to do, didn't know what I wanted to be yet.
Didn't know whether I wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, merchant, anything. In
most of my classes, this is in January or February of 1943, every day there would
be an empty seat, a new empty seat [in each classroom]. It was somebody that
went to [the military] service. Finally got to me, so sometime in February I went
to the armory at Ohio State, that's where the ROTC headquarters was. I applied
for active duty.
H: Why did it get to you?
M: That was a place I just had to be there, I had to go. [It was my duty and
responsibility.] So I walked in, signed up with my own free will. I was eighteen. I
went home and I told my mother, my father, what I did. They screamed [and]
yell[ed at me, you could be killed!]. They couldn't speak good English, but they
got the words out. March 18th, I went [on] active duty.
Mellman Page 3
H: Did you just feel duty-bound to go?
M: Yes, I felt that this is a war and I have to be there. At that time... this may be
later on in the conversation, but every time the [American] flag passes me, my
heart starts pounding. I had a very strong sense of loyalty to the United States.
H: Where do you think that patriotism came from?
M: I think that was a matter of the times more than anything, and the family. I heard
stories from my parents how tough it was back in Russia, lack of freedom, things
you could not do. This was a good country. I enjoyed my childhood, had a lot of
good friends. Joined organizations, I played baseball, I played basketball,
played touch football. I was too small to play regular football. I was very athletic.
I felt that this country had to be protected. We were up against a maniac. The
Japanese started it and then the concentration went over to Europe to what
Hitler was doing. This was around 1933-34 up to 38-39. [Hitler] started
picking on those of the Jewish faith. All the stories were coming out in the
newspapers about what he was doing. I said, I have to add my share [of
responsibility] to it, got to go [to active military]. I can't concentrate on what I'm
going to do in the future if I don't have a future.
H: That's a good lead-in into what I think is an important question. What was the
extent of your knowledge about Hitler and Nazism and specifically, concentration
camps, as the war was beginning and before you went overseas?
M: I had no knowledge of concentration camps. I knew that [Adolf Hitler, Nazi
leader] was very difficult in dealing with the Jewish people. We were exposed to
his lectures. The media published, interpreted his conversations that [the
Germans are] a master race, that he is going to annihilate everybody that is not
part of the German master race people, that he would not let anything stand in
his way. There were some incidents in Germany at that time that we heard
about. One night where they broke in...
H: Kristallnacht [literally, "the night of broken glass," the term for a surge of Nazi-
sponsored violence against Jews on November 9, 1938.]
M: Thank you, Kristallnacht. At that time, [Hitler] got very serious about annihilating
those people of the Jewish faith. It was really so surprising that, [in Germany,]
even though you didn't practice a religion, you were still Jewish [by birth].
H: So you knew there was persecution going on?
M: I knew there was the starting of persecution, but I was not aware of
concentration camps. We were told that he was building a lot of work camps.
Those people that he did not like and that he didn't want any part of would [be
Mellman Page 4
sent] to the work camp. It turns out that the [Dachau] concentration camp was
built in 1934, but it was built as a work camp. Eventually it became a death
camp. That was to the extent of my knowledge. My own interests were to learn
to be a good soldier and to save my own life [and help win the war].
H: What encounters had you had with anti-Semitism in the United States before you
M: I really didn't have it too bad in the United States, because I lived in an area
where a lot of Jewish people [in Columbus] had settled. We kept pretty well [with
our own group of friends], we had our own social organizations. We could do
anything that we wanted to [and with whom]. I did not run into any strong anti-
Semitism during my growing-up periods. The Gentile friends that we had were
all great. We lived right among them, intermingled right with us and we played
with them. We had quite a few play baseball together. I didn't get [strongly]
exposed [to anti-Semitism]. During the growing-up years, I read about it, knew
about it. When I started at Ohio State [again, after my military service], I started
in accounting. I met with the [chair] of the accounting department and he
indicated to me it would be tough for a Jewish boy to make it with one of the Big
Eight firms in accounting. That always struck me [unpleasantly] because I had
made the decision, I'm going to go in and concentrate on accounting. I didn't get
[really] exposed to [anti-Semitism]. My father worked for non-Jewish owners. He
had some good friends. Bobb Chevrolet was right across the street where [Dad]
had a used-car lot. He was over there all the time. They treated him great.
They were always nice to him. He had bought parts there, he had cars fixed
over there that he sold. I [never heard] a lot of [anti-Semitic comments]. I was
exposed to it, but it didn't bother me. It certainly didn't bother me when I decided
to enlist in the service.
H: So you knew it was out there, but it was something of an abstraction.
M: [An abstraction, yes. But never a bitterness on my part.]
H: At this point, you're in ROTC and that gave you a deferment, which you [later]
M: When I started college, I said, I didn't want to be interrupted while I'm in college.
The time, it was 1943 and I thought, well, this is a good way, because I'm not
ready to go into the service yet. But my pride in this country grew as the war
started. I went through that situation. I'm eighteen, I'm healthy, I'm strong, I've
got to go. I am an American. We had one [Jewish] friend who was a couple of
years older. Sanford Shumsky, he was a pilot. He was killed in [early] action. I
just felt that I had to [obey my conscience and the urge to enter active duty].
H: Did you feel that ROTC prepared you when you got overseas?
Mellman Page 5
M: As it turned out, ROTC probably saved my life.
H: How's that?
M: Well, to continue with the story, I have to tell you how it all [went]. I took ROTC
with the [field] artillery. That's what was [offered] at Ohio State. After I took
[artillery] basic training [at Fort Sill, Oklahoma], I was called in one day before
some colonels I wondered [why?!?]. I was told to get dressed up, my best [and
cleanest uniform.] I'm going for an interview. When I got to my turn in line, the
lead colonel [of six colonels seated] said to me, why do you want to become an
officer? I'm eighteen years old [and I] get that question. I thought to myself, what
do I say? I'm going to finish college eventually. But why do I want to be an
officer, be a leader of men at the age of eighteen? I was still immature, I knew
that. But I said, Colonel, I think with proper training (I remember that fast-
thinking) with proper training, I can learn to be a leader of men; I've got that
much confidence. So he said to me, have you heard about the ASTP program?
Army Specialized Training Program? He said, we're starting [to move] in this war
and we need engineers; your grades are good and you've been at Ohio State,
you had some background would you like to go [back] to school [in the military
and] become an engineer? We need people to build bridges. We're going to be
invading Europe eventually. I thought to myself, why not? He compliments me,
tells me that I'm smart enough, why shouldn't I continue? I'll be an engineer. I
said, okay. So I made the program. They sent me from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to
the University of Syracuse, to take engineering courses. I was there about three
or four months, then leave it to the Army to make changes, for which I'll never
know [the reason for]. They shipped me from Syracuse over to the University of
Illinois. I took chemistry and I took physics, I took mathematics all the way
through calculus. That's all [in] a period of about six months. Then one day we
get notice: the [Army has] enough engineers. The requirements have been met,
they don't need any [more] engineers. [The clerk] said, we're going to ship you
out back into the military active duty. I thought, I don't want to go into the
infantry. I made application to become a pilot. I thought, I'll be a pilot, I'll be a
navigator or bombardier. So I ate my carrots, I took the physical, and I passed.
So while I was waiting, the word comes out. They've got enough navigators,
they've got enough pilots. And I passed the physical! I had good eyes, [so I
learned]. [At this time, the Army] had just reactivated the 42nd Infantry Division at
Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. Now the 42nd Rainbow Division had originally been
activated in World War I. Douglas MacArthur, General MacArthur, was one of the
founders of the Rainbow back in World War I. It was called the Rainbow
because at that time, they took a lot of National Guard outfits and brought them
together. They didn't want to send one unit overseas at World War I by itself
and be called for discrimination, picking on the New York outfit, [for instance], to
die for their country. So they took a bunch of National Guards from various
states, brought them together and created [a new division] and they came up
with the name Rainbow. So it was a Rainbow [42nd Infantry] division. They
Mellman Page 6
fought [brilliantly in World War I]. That's the famous 69th Infantry Regiment,
[which] was [part of] the [Rainbow], [and] they made a movie out of it. I joined
the Rainbow which was recently reactivatedd in 1944 as a division. I wound up
in the 222nd Infantry Battalion for training. That's combat infantry. I went through
all the courses, village fighting, learn how to fire, [and so on]. That was for really
true combat. One day, I get a call to go to company headquarters and a
gentleman says to me, go pack up, you're leaving. [I said,] where am I going?
The infantry division is made up of four battalions of artillery. Three of 105s
[howitzers] and one battalion of the 155s [howitzers]. The 155s are the bigger
guns. He said, we just had to send some [artillery soldiers] overseas as
replacements. We need some artillery replacements [for our division] and you've
been selected because of your ROTC training. That's how I got into the artillery.
I was in the 222nd Infantry [regiment in training], [which] suffered a lot of
casualties [when we were shipped to Europe]. That's why I say, they probably
saved my life.
H: Was that in the Battle of the Bulge?
M: That was in the Battle of the Bulge. So I had things happen to me. There are
other things that will come along during this story that [show how] I've been
fortunate. In the artillery, I became a scout corporal, went overseas as a jeep
driver. I'd like to tell you what I did [reading from his official paperwork]: I was
classified as a field lineman, served with the artillery unit for twelve months, laid
wire communications from battery to battalion headquarters to units attached to
headquarters, operated battery post telephones and made minor repairs and
adjustments, recorded for battery (that's what they call the [artillery] group, it's a
battery) recorded for the battery and handled all fire commands over telephone,
observed with [our] officers [the] enemy positions and sent communications back
to the lines. That's what I did during the war. That's my qualification record
which I saved.
H: It must have been pretty frustrating that you went into the army anxious to do all
this and then you kept getting shoved around different states in the United
M: Yes, but you know I expected it. I was not alone. They did it with others. I was
really disappointed I didn't get to be a[n airplane] pilot. I felt that there's
something I wanted to] do. I was physically able to do it, I was mentally strong. I
was disappointed when I wound up in the infantry, but I had no choice, so I might
as well accept it and be good at it. I went into training and they came out at that
time with the new 155 howitzers. Those were the bigger guns for that time.
They'd sure be obsolete today. They were the big guns, two hundred pound
shells. We could fire those shells eight miles with accuracy. That was a big
thing. As I said, many times when we were at combat, we could see the enemy
in the distance and we knew where to direct the fire. You would radio back to
Mellman Page 7
the battery station, just tell them to move [the cannon] over some degrees [left],
two degrees [right, etc.]. They'd load it, it would take two people to pick up a
shell, two hundred-pound shell on a little carrier. One on each side, pick it up
and the third person would jam it home into the cannon itself. Humorous
incident: one day we're firing at the enemy and the colonel came through from
the artillery [headquarters]. Battalion colonel, second in command. He was
watching us while we're firing. We had a [large] fellow from the coal mines of
Pennsylvania [in the howitzer (cannon) unit]. He took that shell, he picked that
thing up [alone] and he put it in [the howitzer] and he said, okay, ram it home.
He picked it up like I would pick up a twenty-pound bag of something. Colonel
went up to him and said, soldier, you stop that; if you don't want to get court-
martialed, you'll follow the directions written by experts; you'll follow the routine,
one person on each side and they ram it home. We don't want any problems,
otherwise, you'll be out of this and you'll be [court-martialed]. [The colonel left
and we did it by the book.] [The 155 howitzer] was a good artillery piece. In a
story put out by the Rainbow later on...l'll read this to you: this is "You Were
There," this is [published] by the Rainbow Reunion. It says, "on the 14th of
February 1945, the division, this time complete with full artillery support, entered
the line relieving the 45th Division which had been operating in this sector. The
first round of the Rainbow Artillery was fired by Battery B, 542nd Field Artillery
Battalion." That was [our group]. "The first round was the target hit, the Rainbow
artillery was highly praised by the infantry, who got [supporting] fire when and
[where] they needed it and was accurate beyond their fondest hopes." That was
H: That was you guys.
M: Got a lot of pride.
H: What would you say about war to someone like me, a younger person who really
has no conception of the word?
M: I really don't know how to answer that. I don't know how I would feel today,
because today it's an all-volunteer army. Today those people that go into the
service want to be in the service. They have to want to be in the service. It's a
discipline that is not easy to live with. At that time, we had officers that knew less
than I did. They were smart enough, lucky enough, to get into the Officer
Candidate School. They became officers and became the leaders of men. The
fellow that I went into combat with, Lieutenant John Schilling, I remember his
name, I looked him up in Chicago and I couldn't find him, after the war. I wanted
to tell him what I thought about him. He was an usher in the theater [prior to the
war]. He worked at grocery stores and [minor jobs], but he was smart enough to
get into Officer Candidate School and became an officer. He was my leader. I
never had a lot of respect for him. One day I got excited [as we were on forward
observation and] we were firing at the enemy. I said, Schilling, we got them, we
Mellman Page 8
got them on the run! He says, you'll call me Lieutenant Schilling until this war is
over. I never forgot that. That's what we had to live with. [He had found a
home.] Of course, at that time, I was probably in the smartest division ever
produced by the United States Army, because that's when they closed the ASTP
program and they got all the guys who were in colleges all over the country to
come into the 42nd infantry division. So we had some pretty smart guys there.
And [of course] there [were] a lot of the generals who were known for getting the
girls and having the luxurious living, probably even when they went overseas. I
was part of the artillery, so I didn't see what [those] officers were doing. Except
the officers that were with us under fire, in combat. I can't say what I would do
today. I don't think I'd be in a hurry to enlist because it's a specialty war now. If
you want to [be a soldier], go into the Army if that's what appeals to you. There
[are] a lot of [young people] that want to become pilots and [the military is] a
place to go if you want to become a pilot, because they give you fine training and
a good future. Become a pilot with one of the airlines afterwards. I was satisfied
at the time with what I did. I felt that I was doing what I should be doing to free
this country, get it out of the war, win this war. So there would be freedom to do
the things that we had just taken for granted. I still love this country. I still choke
up when I see [an American] flag go by. It's been good to me. I'm still here [and
hopefully for a few years yet].
H: You were in the artillery division and what battles were you engaged in? Where
were you in Europe?
M: We really got in late into the war in Europe. In [late December] of 1944, the
infantry got over there before [the artillery]. The ships landed, they were rushed
into the Battle of the Bulge. We came over in January  and went into the
combat. Then we went into bivouac for about three, four weeks, right in the
heart of the winter. Then we made the move and we moved on until the war
ended. The war ended May 7th, 1945. [Showing a map:] This is the route that we
took. Landed in Marseilles. We came up by tank, by jeep, by truck, and our
artillery pieces were pulled by half-tracks these were tanks with the tops cut off.
We carried personnel in them. We pulled the artillery pieces. We came up
through here [and] through Strassbourg [where the Battle of the Bulge was
fought]. We came up through here, [crossed the Rhine River into Germany],
went through Worms, which is a major city, Wurzburg, a major city, Schweinfurt,
one of the biggest ball-bearing manufacturers in the world, came down through
Schweinfurt into Nuremberg [and Furth]. That's where Hitler had his rallies.
Nuremberg and Furth, the heart of Nazi land. Then we were on our way to
Munich, [where the war against Germany ended].
H: It looks like you made an S-shape through France and then you crossed the
Rhine and then you went east and then south.
M: We were heading our way south on the way, that's how we sidetracked into
Mellman Page 9
Dachau. Then we were right here in Austria, in Innsbruck, right very close to
Innsbruck. The war [had already] ended. That's another story, because it's there
that I was pulled out of my division and sent back. I'm jumping ahead, but I was
sent by the division back to the United States. I was sent back, really on
deployment to the Pacific theatre of operations. Did you look at my uniform? I
had the two patches. I was assigned to the 31st Armored Division. To this day, I
don't know why. I was called upon to serve. I was in the middle of the Atlantic
Ocean when the atomic bombs were dropped.
H: In terms of serving in Europe, it seems like you got there right after the worst of
the Battle of the Bulge was over.
M: Right, yes.
H: At that point, were you just trying to keep up with the advances that were made?
M: There are many strong battles. You know that the Germans, when they're on
their own homeland, are going to fight the hardest. You'll always fight the
hardest when you're protecting your own families. We had some pretty severe
battles in there. We fired thousands of shells in the artillery. The doughboys
[slang term for infrantrymen] in [front of] the artillery, there's some pretty good
stories about some of these boys. Some of the battles I've got here, because
over a period of years in the Rainbow Reunion, they would print a lot of the
stories of what some of the doughboys did. But the infantry boys took the brunt
of it. The artillery, we operated as far back as eight miles behind where the
doughboys were. Many times we caught up with them moving around. The
hardest part, you've got to like... you've got to be a certain type of person to
enjoy fighting in the infantry.
H: Do you think you would have been that kind of person?
M: I would have been [prepared not the enjoyment part]. I went through village
fighting. I went under the machine fire [training] where you were told to come out
of a hole and crawl on your stomach for about thirty, forty yards with machine-
gun fire over your head. If you got your head up too high, you were gone. In
learning combat training, I went through all that, so I was prepared.
H: What kind of person do you think it is that thrives on that?
M: I think it would be somebody... you either have hate in your heart for the enemy
or you've got to like that style of combat fighting. We did that [training] because
we wanted to preserve our lives. We went through village fighting, you learned
how to come into buildings, and how to approach, to come in and be loaded with
your weapon. How I would feel today, I'm seventy-seven years old today. I'd be
lying to tell you I wanted to go in it today. I can't do the things I used to do.
Mellman Page 10
H: Age gives that different perspective, doesn't it?
M: That's correct.
[End of Tape A, Side 1].
H: Could you explain the circumstances that led you to Dachau?
M: I was a jeep driver, and we really had the Germans on the run toward the end of
April in 1945. We were moving down, coming down through here [referring to
the map]. This was the stronghold of Nazism, right in Munich. We were coming
down the autobahn. The autobahn [was] better than a superhighway. This is
back in the 40's while we were still building the turnpikes [not the interstate
highways]. We were just starting [the interstates]. But they had the autobahn,
which is a four- to six-lane road, three in each direction. We were heading down
pulling those half-tracks, coming down the autobahn, heading to Munich.
Munich, actually I don't [remember] if we fired any shots [in] Munich. They were
starting to surrender by the thousands. The German [soldiers] were just lining up
the highway. You've probably seen a lot of pictures, and I can show you pictures
where they were starting to turn themselves in. Heading down the highway, we
get a radio alert. I had the captain of our battery in [my] jeep. I was the lead
jeep. That would be sixteen artillery pieces [trucks and jeeps] and probably four
or five hundred men, down the highway, heading into Munich. Suddenly we got
a radio alert to turn off a certain road and take that road because there was a
problem ahead and we're to be prepared. We don't know what we'ree going to
run into, but be prepared. Being prepared means have a bullet in your chamber.
My carbine, I had a carbine because I was a jeep driver. The doughboys had the
M-1 rifles. We were prepared to start cutting in through woods and boy, we just
didn't know what's in those woods. Suddenly we get to a little town. We see the
town as we approach it and it's called Dachau, which meant nothing to me. I
never heard of Dachau before. Where do we go? The radioman gets on there
and says, we're at this town called Dachau, where do we go? He said, you
follow that road 'til it ends. We drove on and then we come across this big
compound; it was barbed-wire fence around a big tract of land. We decided we
could see barracks inside. I said, what are we doing here? Well, we're ready.
We don't know if there are German [soldiers] in there, we've got to go get them.
As we pulled around, coming from the north, and as we pulled around, going
southwest, we come into an open site. Then we could see the barracks. We
could see a lot of activity in there, still don't know what's happened. We pull
around the front and we see a lot of dead German [soldiers] right toward the gate
in the front. I brought these pictures. I'll show you and I'll let you take it with you.
It gives you an idea of what we were looking at. [Displaying book:] This is what
we saw in the front. What happened, there was an eighteen-year old machine-
gunner right here. After he saw what we saw, he was there first, he was an
infantry boy. The story about him is that he was told to guard [German
Mellman Page 11
prisoners], there were probably about 100 to 150 German soldiers here. The
captain said, we got to go to those towers and get rid of those people up in the
towers. You guard these people, hold them here, you guard them and we'll be
back with many more prisoners. [The infantry boy] had seen what I'm going to
tell you what I saw. And he got trigger-happy and he started pulling it and he
killed all these [soldiers]. See these people? They were all dead by the time we
H: The German [soldiers]? He just mowed them down.
M: They were all [dead] soldiers. Just mowed them down. We went around and we
came around to the east side, which is the entrance. This is the Dachau
concentration camp. We came from the north, came down the [eastern and
southern] side, came around through here, and it was around in here is where
we saw all the dead Germans. Here's the entrance. There's an open field.
Here [are] all the barracks where the inmates were. The people lived there.
They lived and they slept in shifts; there were 30,000 people in there. So we
came up through in here, and we still didn't know what we were looking at. We
saw the dead Germans, we knew that we were in some kind of a camp. It was
probably one of the work camps. At that time, I had heard of concentration
camps. I said, maybe this is it. Turns out it was Dachau Concentration Camp.
We left our vehicles out here in the open [area] and we walked in through the
H: Just as a quick aside, do you know what happened to that eighteen year old?
M: Yes, they court-martialed him and they released him. So nothing really happened
to him. I read that in some publication down the line. They filed charges against
him for murder but they released him because of the emotional problem
involved. [There had to be at least one hundred Germans slaughtered by the
H: So what do you think about that?
M: [I would not have killed them without being threatened.] I don't think I would have
killed 100. I don't think that [was] my nature. But one false move and I would
have shot somebody. I think I'm a different person today than I was back fifty
years ago. We went through orientation before we went overseas, we were
taught to kill. And we would have killed [to protect ourselves]. I can tell you an
incident about when an SS officer got away from me, if you want to hear that
story [later]. This is the opening to the camp. We left our vehicles parked
[outside the camp entrance] and we went through the gates that come into the
camp. There was a lot of confusion. A lot of people, a lot of inmates still floating
around. [Our soldiers] kept telling them, move back. They [couldn't] say it in
German, somehow they told them to go back, go back. Stay there. Let us get
Mellman Page 12
this place organized. [While in the camp, we] went up to the crematorium
[building]. We did a lot of fast walking to see the [building]. [Suddenly the
loudspeaker came on: 542nd field artillery battalion out; get back to your vehicles.
Then we were assigned [to] guard duty and we were assigned guard duty [to a
certain area] because we came [from the south] and the 45th division came in
from [the north entrance to the camp]. We had this side to police for less than
twenty-four hours. Probably was in the afternoon and that evening. The next
morning we got up, and the American [troops] were just pouring into the whole
site] at that time.
H: You were essentially guarding the perimeter.
H: We were guarding the prisoners. We kept them from escaping and leaving
because they were full of dysentery and typhus [and other diseases]. They had
everything wrong with them, they were barely alive. Those 30,000 were the
workers. Back over in here [referring to map] were all the little factories that they
were taken to to work. This is where they were barely kept alive. The worst
scene, I haven't told you yet, is coming. We got back in our vehicles and we
[went to our assigned area.] I don't even remember how. But we were assigned
at a certain [barbed-wire]. Before we got to our assignment, there was a
railroad-siding right in here [referring to map]. The railroad-siding is where the
worst scene of my life [occurred]. This is the railroad-siding and then there's the
troop train. There were about thirty cars in there. Thirty cars in there. [All the car
doors were] open, there were no tops to [these railroad cars] and there were a lot
of bodies laying right around in [each car]. That was what's inside each car.
Now, when I speak to students, and I have spoken to students, those teachers
asked me not to show those pictures. And I agree. I wouldn't show them. Let
their parents show it to them. I don't think I want to be the one and shake them
up a bit. Those were all dead bodies. I mean it stunk and it was terrible. It was
[a] horrible [sight]. I broke down and I got tears in my eyes. A lot of fellows start
crying. Half [of our soldiers] started throwing up. I mean, it stunk to high
heaven. You can't do it justice [with words]. Not to see this scene. This was all
over. Twenty cars, packed [with bodies] on top of each other. Just dead. Some
were shot. When they were told to lay down and keep flat, they didn't. (The
German [soldiers] were usually the S.S. troopers. Incidentally, there were about
3,000 S.S. troopers in that camp and they all took off twenty-four hours ahead of
time. They knew the Americans were coming. So they left. They left about 400
or 500 [soldiers] and these were the Wehrmacht, the poor slobs that were just
the Gl's who were pulled in sixteen-, seventeen-, eighteen-year old kids, pulled
in and [they] just made soldiers out of them.) That was a horrible, horrible scene
and we stood there and we looked at it. You just couldn't believe the [stench
and] atrocity. These people couldn't weigh more than sixty, seventy pounds.
They were bones [with prison garb on]. Human beings, [once upon a time].
H: At this point, you've been through enough war that certainly you had been
Mellman Page 13
acquainted with bodies.
M: We passed dead German [soldiers] all the time. A lot of times we saw it. I
[never saw] bodies stacked. [Earlier] we went through the crematorium. This
was on the side of the room on one side [of the building]. These were the bodies
in the crematorium. What they were doing [there was] they were waiting to be
cremated the next day. When we went on guard duty [at the fence site] and [an
inmate came] up to me. I could speak Yiddish, which has a lot of similarity to
German, so I [soon] became spokesman for the group. There were hundreds
piling around me. The fellow was telling me, he had one arm, he said, I'm
scheduled mrgen ["tomorrow"]. Mrgen. He was scheduled to go to the
crematorium. Smelled, the whole camp smelled. The odor was because people
lived [like animals]. There were no bathrooms in [many barracks]. They had to
go out here someplace to go in there. But the [Germans] didn't feed them very
much, so [the inmates] had [little to eliminate].
H: You said you had a story about an S.S. officer that you wanted to tell me.
M: One night during combat, I had a first sergeant...
H: This is before you got to Dachau.
M: This is before Dachau. It just shows you. Because there is a disagreement
[today]. One [Rainbow soldier] said [my] sergeant killed [a German] soldier. I
said, he didn't, because I was the driver of the jeep. One night we captured an
S.S. trooper. He was an arrogant s.o.b. We were moving along, I don't know
what part of Germany, but we were there. We decided, in our battery, better
take him to battalion headquarters where they can interview him. [We] learned a
lot from where their destinations were. So I was assigned to be the driver. We
were right in the middle of combat, so I drove with no lights on. On top of the
jeep, the jeeps were open, the windshield was down. We had an iron bar that
came up so that, driving like that, if somebody strung a wire across the road, it
wouldn't behead me. We were driving along. This S.S. trooper was holding on to
the bar. The sergeant says to me, let's kill the son of a bitch. I said, sergeant,
our job is to take him in. I'm not a killer. I don't want to be a killer. I'll kill when I
have to kill. I don't have to kill this man. We're to take him in. He said, no, let's
kill him. We [proceeded in the] dark, I knew that the road went to the left. We
slid around to the left of the road. The German soldier slipped off. Sergeant
[stood up]. He started] playing [with his gun]. He had a machine gun and he
didn't have it cocked. The prisoner [stood] up and [took] a look, and he headed]
into the woods. I turned the jeep around, I turned my lights on and I got my car
beams up and I didn't see anything. He escaped into the woods. I'm out there
and there's no way I'm going to go out there by myself and look for him. Not into
those woods. I'm not going to be a dead hero. We went back and reported it.
The sergeant was reprimanded because you're supposed to be prepared.
Mellman Page 14
You're supposed to [be warmed and prepared]. If he had his machine gun
[ready] and put it on him, he would have gotten him. He didn't. So that's one of
the stories. It always comes to mind because it just came up recently with
another G.I. [Somebody told a] fellow that was in my division the story about the
sergeant killing [the prisoner] and the sergeant didn't kill him; he didn't even get a
good shot at him. Anyway, back to the train [on the track at Dachau]. We went
to the train, we saw that and then we went into [a barbed-wire] area that was
assigned to us along a fence. I didn't have a camera; none of us had cameras.
[The Signal Corps] came along [later] and did all the camera work. [Hundreds of
inmates piled up to barbed-wire fence sides to try and communicate with their
liberators, the American soldiers.] [Then] they came up to us, they stuck their
hands from the barbed-wire into the fence and they kept of touching [us],
[saying], Free, free, free, Americans, free. They were liberated. Talked to a few,
but I couldn't speak Polish, I couldn't speak German, [only some Yiddish]. It
seems [that] they could speak a little bit of German, most of them. These were
[the] workers [still] there [and] they were still living. We gave them a few
cigarettes and we stayed by and we spoke to them. To just take their hand and
just hold their hand; they were so happy just to touch an American soldier. We
were in a state of shock yet. The bitterness that we felt to the German soldiers!
We stayed on guard duty there that night. Pitched our tents and just stayed
down there. Got up in the morning and we were on our orders to continue on to
Munich. The story is that the Americans on a higher level heard that Hitler was
going to destroy those camps. We got [to] the crematoriums and we saw the
bodies there. [Hitler] wanted to set everything on fire. He wanted to burn those
camps down [so] people [couldn't] prove [anything]. He [would say] it was a work
camp [and] it caught on fire. But the Americans got there too soon. We got
there so they didn't have a chance. These [inmates] were all expecting to die
eventually. The next morning, [we] picked up our tents, got back to the
autobahn, the way we came in and went on to Munich. In Munich, we stayed
about four or five days there and then, [as the war officially ended on May 7,
1945], we were assigned into Austria. [We] went [east] to Austria. Pitched our
tents in Austria and about three days later, that's when I got the call to come in
[to Battery Headquarters], get my bag [together] because I'm leaving. Didn't
know why, didn't know where. They couldn't even tell me where. The truck
picked me up from my battery. They picked up about 150 other fellows from the
42nd infantry division and [drove] us [to] some schoolyard near Kufstein, Austria.
We stayed there overnight. Didn't know a thing, didn't know what was
happening. Just wondering, why are we here? No officers, nobody could
answer it. The next morning the trucks came by, picked us up, took us to an
open field and here comes a railroad [train] backing up along [the] one siding.
The colonel gets in the back of the train and he yells out men, he says, there's
a few things we want to tell you before we start back to God's country. The chill
that came through my body! We're going home! Didn't know why, but we're
going home. We're selected. Then we [found] out later as we boarded the train
that we were on re-deployment to the Pacific theater of operations, we're going
Mellman Page 15
to fight the Japanese. Took a train ride back through France. Took us about
four or five days. We landed in [Paris at some camp], stayed there a few days
until the ships came in, and took us home triple-loaded. We slept in shifts. But
we got home, I got home on V-J day; the war was over for me.
H: You heard about the atomic bomb while you're at sea?
M: Yes, I was just about in the middle of the [Atlantic] Ocean, about five days on this
ship [when the Americans] dropped the atomic bomb. They announced it over
the loudspeaker about this strange bomb that exploded. [It was] Hiroshima. [The
speaker] said, a big bomb had exploded and must have killed thousands and
thousands of people at Hiroshima. Two days later, they hit Nagasaki. By the
time we got home, the Japanese had surrendered. So I had too many points to
go back overseas. There was an interesting story, in attending my [annual army]
reunion. They had the pilot for the airplane that flew the Nagasaki trip [speak].
He had an interesting story that they were loaded and they couldn't get to their
destination where [they were] to drop the bomb as it was cloudy. They didn't
want to waste that bomb. They went on to another place that was bad, [then]
they decided to go back to the first spot, which was Nagasaki, and they dropped
the bomb there. They just barely got away because of the heat it generated. He
said, we just barely got back. Wherever they were heading, they had a short trip,
because they were so low on fuel. Many times they've asked me, how do you
feel about using the bomb? I said, if you believe in God, thank God He had them
do it or I wouldn't be here today. I would have gone to Japan. That would have
been a messy war. That would have been messy, messy, messy. We would
have lost thousands of soldiers. We would have won because we had the
equipment and factories were [geared] up and the guns we had. [Our] Air Force
[was] destroying those factories left and right back in Germany. I used to watch
the planes go over at night while we were in Germany. They'd go over in groups
of sixteen, four, four, four, and four. We'd watch them go over at night. You
would count them, there were sixteen. A half an hour later, here comes those
planes again. You look up in the sky and you see, there's three over here,
there's four, there's three over here and there's three here. The Germans were
shooting back and knocked out some of those big bombers. But thank God for
H: Did you feel differently about the Japanese than you did about the Germans?
M: I did, I never came in contact with the Japanese. All I know is what I read about,
I would have felt like anybody else. They were good fighters. It's the type of
government that they had. I guess we are all human, to this extent, that we can
be emotionally aroused. And Hitler did a hell of a job with the German people.
He was a killer. He had killer instinct and [when] he got going, all those people
around him [developed] the same instinct. [For] a lot of them it was the glory that
made them what they were. It reminds me of my own lieutenant who worked in a
Mellman Page 16
supermarket [prior to the military]. I wonder what kind of a guy he would have
turned out to be if he were given the same power. I guess [there's] a little bit in
all of us. The Japanese, a lot of them, can you imagine flying a plane and
actually taking your plane into a battleship? Giving your life up? I don't think I
ever felt that way. I am always one to protect myself, but I don't think I could
give my life for the country without having to. And [suicide bombers are] doing it
[to] Israel today.
H: I'd like to go back to Dachau. I know that one thing that you've said is that you
were less a liberator than a witness to Dachau. Perhaps you'd like to explain
what you mean by that?
M: I'd like to do that. I've given my presentation, prepared presentation, several
times. I always end it basically with a story. This is really a story of man's
inhumanity to man. How can you kill somebody? How can you shoot
somebody? They didn't do anything to you, they're not killers. When you see
those camps and those people who were taken from their homes human
beings, they didn't do anything. Everything that I've read [and survivors that I've
talked to], they were taken and they were put in the trains. You go to the left and
you go to the right. A lot of them were decided upon [by the German soldiers]
they were going to be killed or else were put into work camps. This is man's
inhumanity to man. And they did it. They took those people and then [later] we
see bodies, human bodies, not given a chance to live. How grateful I am that my
parents came to this country when they did. Or I wouldn't be here today. I'd
probably [have] been in one of those cattle cars. So I say to the people, I'm not
a hero. It's the American Army and the Navy and the Marines who are the
heroes. We fought [the war and] we fought as teams. Occasionally there were
some unusual heroic scenes. We all had a tendency to do that when the
opportunity comes along, but I'm a witness. I was there. God put me there, for
what reason, [only] He knows. That I saw it. When you hear the people say, oh
you doctored the pictures you didn't doctor this thing. I've been introduced
[as] this is one of the few people that we know are still survivors, are still the
liberators, and they're still living. [The speaker would say], one of these days we
won't have them to turn to. This is true. When I'm gone, you'll have the facts
from what I told you. That this did happen. This really happened. I was there, I
saw it. There is something in this book, there's a line here that I wanted to read:
"The Rainbow soldiers and the others who made their way into the
concentration camp Dachau on the 29th day of April did not actually see
Dachau. Oh yes, they saw the death, the despair, the misery, the
unspeakable degradation. But in witnessing these things, they saw only
the end products of Dachau. They did not see, indeed how could they,
Dachau in operation. The sadistic murderer's routine that ground away or
suddenly shattered uncounted thousands of lives. Most of what the
Rainbow soldiers knew about Dachau was what was there on arrival.
Mellman Page 17
Obviously, the place was hell. Like Dante's inferno, there are a number of
rings, divisions, subdivisions. While none of the inmates had an easy
time of it in Dachau, some had it much worse than others. All were there
because they committed crimes against the state. For the Jews, the
crime consisted of being born. Some were common criminals..."
... and so forth. I was there and I know that it happened.
H: What were your impressions of the German soldiers who were at Dachau?
M: Didn't talk to any. They were all dead. You said the German soldiers? Soldiers
were all killed, all of them. [The S.S. troopers had already escaped.]
H: Even the Wehrmacht?
M: The Wehrmacht were dead. If any lived, they were removed before I got there.
They were removed. I didn't see any. The only soldiers that I saw were dead.
Like you said, I had seen death and that didn't bother me. They didn't bother
me, because it was kill-or-be-killed.
H: But the death in the camps was something entirely else.
M: The death in the camps was just...this is a picture of those people they removed
from the cars. This is after I left. They were all given decent burials. What the
American troops [did], they went into the Dachau [city]. Dachau is a little town,
it's a city, a nice little town. They went, they rounded up all the male people in
Dachau and brought them back over [to the camp] and had them start digging
graves. Each one of these [deceased inmates] got a decent burial.
H: Did you get a sense, either first-hand or through your own impressions, about
what sort of personal resources it took for these prisoners to survive?
M: I think in many cases, when you don't eat, you get hungry and when you get
hungry, you get weak. Some people are just more determined. Some people
just threw the towel in and said, I might as well die. And yet a lot of them were
still strong enough that they could live with [less] food. I find [that] out in myself.
I was up to 182, 185 pounds. I'm down to 165. I lost weight and it's because I
got used to not eating [as much]. I cut out [quantity], which is why it probably
helps me to stay here today. The will to live. [Of] those [inmates], probably some
people were favored. The Germans picked out favorites and they got them food
and got them more food. I guess if you were a good factory worker, worked in
those plants, you got a little more nourishment. That's why there were 30,000
people still living there. There were dead German [soldiers] all over the place in
Dachau camp]. A lot of what the inmates did, when they knew the Americans
were there, they ran and they grabbed the German's guns. They shot them.
Mellman Page 18
When I got there, probably 100 Germans inside the camp were all dead, shot.
I'll say this: the Americans got in there fast. Medical trucks were just piling in
when we left, just coming in. There's a real sad story that I have [in my
possession]. It was written by an American soldier. It's a story about being in
the concentration camp after I had left. I don't want to read it to you, but I'd like
you to read it. He did it on a German typewriter [that he] liberated. He described
some of the hell that you've been reading about in the newspapers. He was
there as a medic after I left. He had to face that day in and day out. [Reading
from this account:]
"When [I] got there, there were about 13,000 dead bodies to greet us. I
mean, dead people all over. What the [German soldiers] would do is
[have them picked] up every morning and put them in a line down
someplace and move them over to the crematorium. The death rate was
200 a day until we got things under control. Now it is about 1 or 2 a day."
This was written May 31st, 1945. Americans got in there and they took over the
kitchen. Kitchens were really off to the right where we made the turn to come
into the camp. All the administrative buildings were back in the campsite.
[Dachau camp had] a whole complex of buildings all around it. It was a work
camp and that's what they did. The [inmates] probably stayed in their barracks
and went out to the workshop, whatever they did, for many years. To take the
human being away from your home, for no reason at all, with the law that was
set by a certain group of people, and sent to a camp and if you died [or] you
were weak enough to die, it was probably a blessing rather than have to live like
an animal and beg and borrow or steal just to stay alive. There were many
camps. There was Buchenwald. Buchenwald and Dachau were the two camps
in Germany. When Hitler got to Poland and he saw the thousands...he really
picked on the Jewish people there. He picked on those people inhumanlyy].
Gypsies, he picked on [too]. But he really picked on the Jewish people. Six
million Jews. That's a lot of people. In my own life, I've never been able to
[comprehend] that. I go [to synagogue] and I say my prayers and I feel good
about saying prayers because I know there is a super being, a spirit someplace
that guides us. I don't know why He permitted that to happen. At least,
according to history, there's never been anything like that. With 9/11, 2001,
there [were] about 3,000 people that lost their lives suddenly. But six million?
H: It seems like such a conflict in the sense that you have a strong awareness of
God watching over you personally, with being in artillery and being on a ship
when the war in Japan is over, yet it's the same God that is opening your eyes to
all the other untold death that is occurring elsewhere. How do you manage that
M: I haven't. I can't manage it. I don't understand it. I was born Jewish. My dad's
father was a teacher. He taught me how to read Hebrew. I don't read it very well
Mellman Page 19
today. When I went into the service, that was the end of my active participation
in a religion for three years. I haven't been able to reconcile my own mind today.
I feel comfortable when I go to [religious] services. I do feel good because I'm
getting something from within me and I know that God creates the human body.
He certainly... there is somebody. Whether you call him Allah or whether you
call him God or whether you call him Jesus, whatever you want to call him, there
is somebody there in the spirits which creates the heavens and the earth.
Maybe we'll know when we're not here anymore. I just don't understand why He
allowed six million to be [slaughtered]. But He also permitted the American
people to develop the atomic bomb. I'll tell you how I feel. It probably won't be
in my generation, hopefully it's not in yours. The way we're headed as a society
is that we're getting, developing, these new modern weapons. Sure, we're
developing a lot of ways to keep life going. You can have a new heart, you can
transplant, you're developing medications that will take care of your medical
problems. I take six pills a day. I'm here, so the pills are working. I've got a little
problem with my heart, I've got diverticulitis, I've got a little diabetes, but I plug
away, take all the pills. The way we're headed, I don't know what's going to
happen 100 years from today, but I won't be around to see it. They're
developing those bombs. Those bombs will destroy and what will happen if we
act like Enron [Houston-based energy company that went bankrupt]? The greed,
the greed of a multi-billion dollar corporation. The greed on the top of that thing,
what [the management did]. That's part of life. There [are] people in this country
[that are "anti" everything]. That has to be from parents to children to teach anti-
Semitism. To be racist, to be anti-black, [to be anti-Semitic]. We're taught that.
You're taught to step on an ant because the ant is worthless. You take a little
animal, you have a dog, you have a pet, you enjoy it. You can do that. These
people are taught to hate. I have fear for the atomic bomb. That's what I have
fear. I don't think it will [be used] in my time. That's why I do agree with
[President George W.] Bush and his philosophy. You've got to go where this
hate is. With Iraq and Iran, [the USA has] got to work on it. They [should]
continue to work on it until something good happens. I'm pro-Israel, but I don't
really know what to do. I don't know if I agree with their present policy. It's tooth-
for-tooth. You kill, we kill. Your turn to kill. So peace is not in the world. I
thought when we came home, I thought, that's the end. There's going to be no
more wars. The American people, American soldiers rose to the occasion and
we defeated the enemy and we treated them fairly and squarely at the end. The
Germans are our friends now. We didn't hate and go after them [after World
War II]. We took care of them. But they're aggressive people. They're bright
people, truly a very bright people. They [were] taken over by a madman and
[Hitler] was a madman. He had that certain emotion that was given to him; when
he spoke [to his people], you vibrated [with pride]. When I went overseas, I was
exposed to Hitler. They showed his movies when I went over. We were taught
to hate [the German people] ourselves. The reason we're going overseas is to
go after this enemy. We've got to free [the world] ourselves. If you get a
chance, go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington [D.C.].
Mellman Page 20
H: It's incredible.
M: It's incredible. Have you been there?
H: Yes, I was going to ask you what you thought about it.
M: Well, I got a lot of pride when I was there. They had the Rainbow flag there.
They did a good job. The [USA] took movies that [I] didn't know existed.
Showed the parades. The parades worked for me and sure gave me pride in my
country. Every Saturday we had a parade for awhile when the Rainbow division
[trained]. [Every] Saturday morning, first thing, we had a parade.
H: How was their coverage of the concentration camps? Did that square with your
M: [Yes], the concentration camp has always been a very sensitive situation. I was
one of thousands. Eisenhower sent as many soldiers into that area as he could
to be witnesses. There were parts of our division. We were the 222nd, 232nd
242nd [regiments in the Rainbow]. [Not everyone] got to get to Dachau.
Everybody [in the Rainbow was going] toward Munich. [Our] whole division went
into Munich [along with two other Army divisions] because Munich is a big city
there. A lot of [our soldiers] didn't get into Dachau. I happened to be on the
autobahn. I repeat, I [was] there as a witness. To see that scene, the thing I
can't [forget], because I know it got to me I was so nauseous, but I didn't throw
up like some of them did was the stench and the smell. Sometimes you come
into a room that is stinking for some reason. Imagine the feces and the 30,000
[inmates]. They lived like animals. So it was the strong that survived. I wasn't
really there long enough to get the feeling of what they were going through. I'm
going to give you this to read, if you would, before you leave. That will get to
[End of Side 2, Tape A]
[Note to the reader: After a short break, the conversation resumed.]
[H: Describe what it was like as you interacted with the Dachau prisoners.]
M: This is after we [left] the train. You would see these [inmates at the fence] still
living. They'd reach, they just want to touch you. Well, I guess I felt like a movie
actor. I felt good that we're here and we got some people [free at last]. At least
we saved somebody's life.
H: Looking for that bit of hope.
M: Just to touch us and to say we're free. [Mimicking the prisoners:]
Mellman Page 21
"Americankansha soldier, good good, frie, ["free"], frie." [Quoting from his
presentation notes:] "My story is not one of heroes, but a story as a witness to
one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the world."
H: You were talking about, when you were at the crematorium, how overwhelming it
was because you saw the bodies. But what about the crematorium itself?
M: The crematorium was empty. It was probably cut off a couple of days before
because the S.S. troopers [left]. Somebody said the ovens were still a little warm
yet, but we weren't in there long enough. I got in to take a look at it. There were
no bodies in that [oven] room. There were about eight ovens in there. Another
story got out that they ran out of gas. They couldn't gas them up, they were
burning [inmates] so fast. But then you walk in this other room and it's just worse
than the trains. The trains only held so many, but there's a whole room stacked
up. Probably could have been 400 or 500 people in there, just laying there
[dead]. Bodies, human beings. Just waiting to be destroyed.
H: At the Holocaust museum, they do a lot of visual tricks to get your mind to grasp
the enormity of what happened, but for me, it was walking into that train that they
have at the museum.
M: The one train.
H: Just being inside of it.
M: That one scene. There's a book that was written and that's where I copied
pictures out of a book. Here's where they would lay them outside. It's a picture,
just laying bodies out waiting to be picked up. This is an interesting scene.
That's what they do with the bodies, when they're through with them. Piles of
clothing [and piles of shoes].
H: Do you remember some of the reactions that some of the fellows in your unit
M: I think the biggest reaction for the soldiers was a state of shock. We were
hardened soldiers, we were taught to kill. But we were in a state of shock
because we [just] stood there. And I remember that, just standing there and
looking and looking with that stench and the smell and [our] people grabbing
their handkerchiefs and all that. It was a strange sensation to look at hundreds
and hundreds of dead bodies. How many people get to do that? When we
finally came [to], the captain came around and said, okay, men, line up; we've
got to get on duty to the fences. We left there and it was quiet. How could they
do that? How can you treat human beings like that? You know what I think it
was? We're glad we're alive. [With] self-preservation, we were glad that we were
alive. Because you asked me, would I have pulled the trigger on that guy? I
Mellman Page 22
don't know. I don't know. They were already dead, so I wasn't put to a test. But
the rest of the soldiers were standing there and just watching. This guy had a
machine gun and he just mowed them down. Being a doughboy is a tough job.
You take a kid out of school. Remember, we were kids. We're not thirty-four
year old people. How old are you?
M: You're a young fellow and I was younger than that. I was still a kid. We had to
go through this. But we had to become killers. I was blessed with good health.
Always sort of fine, had no [real] problems. When I got back home, I was so
happy to be home on that troop train. We were on a troop train coming back to
Camp Attabury, Indiana. We went through some city in Pennsylvania and the
people were at the railroad station just standing there waving flags. It was V-J
day. The Japanese had surrendered. I felt like a hero. Probably the closest I felt
like a hero. I [was] home before a lot of the other guys got here. I was on my
way, but I still didn't know about the Japanese [orders]. I still had orders to
report. I got home and told my mother and my father [of my experiences] and
my sister was living at the house, [as] her husband was [with] the 80th Blue Devil
Division, [still in] Italy. I got home before he did. He was overseas two and a
half years. A few friends came over in the next few days [when I was home].
One fellow was in the Airborne division, 82nd Airborne Division. He lost two
fingers. He was sent out to draw enemy fire [and he did]. He landed before D-
Day. Marty Freedman. We met a few times. He came over to visit me. I was
home that day. We shared some of [our] experiences. Then I decided to get out
of the service, I went back to school, became an accountant. I got so involved,
and that's good. My mind got off of it, except when I started thinking about it, [I
would] get the chills. I knew [I had] to get over it. Your life has to go on; we
knew that. I got my degree and I got a job. I got myself involved in accounting. I
worked up, I was [appointed to] the accountancy board [of] the state of Ohio in
1990. Thirty thousand licensed accountants in Ohio and I got up into there. To
sit on the board. But then we went to Israel, Bev [Mr. Mellman's wife] and I and
our [oldest] daughter [Leslie]. (The [other] daughter was [still home], single at
the time.) We [all] went to Israel [and] went to Yad-Vashem [Israel's Holocaust
memorial site]. That was the first time that I thought about it in probably a few
years. I cried, worse than I'm doing now. I cried. Everything came back into
H: You said a few minutes ago [off-tape] that even now you have nightmares?
M: Yes. I get on the subject of thinking about how lucky I've been and I think about
that day at the camp. It's remarkable or is it amazing? That my [memory] is not
good [now]. My current memory is weak. But when I [relive] that scene [of being
in Dachau], I can remember that vividly, just like it happened yesterday. So it's
indelible. But I go to bed, I got other things to worry about. [Today,] I've got
Mellman Page 23
myself involved with SCORE, Service Corps of Retired Executives [in
Gainesville]. I was invited to participate in that. It's keeping my mind sharp with
accounting. I retired in 1990 because... I have to tell you this, it got to my point in
life. I worked hard, I worked as an accountant, I had my own practice and I put
in 50-60 hours a week. That leaves you less time [to] do a lot of dreaming. That
was a tough profession. At that time, we didn't have all the computers we have
now. I used to do tax returns until [my fingers] got swollen from doing tax
returns. Writing out tax returns and thinking, you know, your brain gets tired. I
used to go to bed at night after taking a little bit of whiskey to relax me, because I
worked on tax returns all day long. So I put in the time and I served on the
[Accountancy Board of Ohio], I served on the Public Accountants [Society] of
Ohio, was the state president. Got myself involved. I've done a lot of volunteer
work and I guess I'm back with it here [in Gainesville]. It's been keeping me
good [and occupied]. This is a realistic scene and I [usually] don't think about it.
I'm not used to getting tears in my eyes anymore.
H: The thing that amazes me is how you were able that day to maintain focus on
your military duties when confronted with the sight before you.
M: Well, I was trained as a soldier and we were [not] told to expect those things. I
wasn't told to expect that train. We did a lot of firing on the enemy. Saw a lot of
dead German [soldiers] and we were moving [on]. I was wondering, what day is
it going to happen to me? I'm in the artillery and chances are the artillery may
lose one in a thousand. In the infantry, you lose one in a hundred, maybe five in
hundred. So I had my break and I knew that. So somebody was looking after
me. The realistic [part] of that scene is to put this into context. That there were
30,000 [inmates at Dachau]. There's Buchenwald, which probably had another
20-25,000. Then there's Auschwitz, which was a murder scene from the go.
Auschwitz was built as a concentration camp. The Russians captured that one.
That was in their area. When you multiply this scene times hundreds, a least a
hundred concentration camps, smaller ones. It's just amazing now to think of the
recovery, that a couple generations have gone by and now we're good friends
with Germany. Bev and I were [on] the Baltic Sea [recently] on a cruise with
some friends from Dayton. We stopped at Germany and we took the train that's
right by the Baltic Sea, an hour and a half train [ride] into Berlin. Nice city,
people were friendly there. These were our enemies [in the 1940s].
H: I'd like to ask you maybe some broader questions now, just to wrap up the
interview. You started to allude to this, but how did your Jewish background
affect the fact that you witnessed these experiences?
M: My Jewish background probably made me more sensitive to the Holocaust
scene because I knew there were a lot of Jews there. I didn't know how many.
These couple hundred that came up to the fence, I asked them, du bein judem?
Du bein judem? ["Are you Jewish"?] No, nic bein udem. ["No, I'm not," they
Mellman Page 24
were] Polish or German. There were about 500 women at that camp and [I know
for a fact] there were a lot of Jewish people there [somewhere]. The group that
came to my fence at that part of the [fence], I didn't run into any. But I know that
there were a lot of... the word got around that there were millions of Jews that
were slaughtered. We got the Stars and Stripes [Armed Forces newspaper], we
knew what was going on. Some questions that many of us had about Roosevelt.
A good president. My dad was always Democratic, voted for him. I liked
Roosevelt. Many of us cried [when he died], not me. [I thought,] how are we
going to get home? He was like the leader, the God of our country. How were
we going to get home? It was that chill I had. I had a bigger chill when they told
me I'm going home than when Roosevelt died. He did a pretty fair job providing
the spirit for this country. Often wondered about the planes that went overhead,
why they didn't blast the concentration camps. They knew the concentration
camps were there. Why didn't they bust the railroad tracks? Where I was at
[Dachau], there was a train five miles behind loaded with dead bodies. [Hitler]
couldn't get them out of there fast enough. Sure, he was going to burn the place
down. Why didn't he? There was a ship that was sent to this country loaded
with Jewish people.
H: The St. Louis.
M: Yes, I think you're right. They wouldn't let the people off and they sent the ship
back to Europe. [Why?] I don't know whether that would happen today. They
picked the people that come from Cuba [today], they give them [residency]. This
is what [the Jewish people] were subject to. Boy, I tell you, whoever that spirit is
above there, that my mother and father came here in the early 20s ... I was
born in 1924, my sister was born in 1919, so it was before that that they came
over. They had the foresight to come over to a wonderful country. Because this
is a wonderful country. With all of the things that are wrong with it, and with all
the greed, and there's so much greed [today] in this country. That Enron is all
greed, politicians are [full of] greed today. I used to respect the congressmen in
those days, the Republicans and the Democrats always were against each other,
but they were always [good] people in their own way, they gave you their
[honest] thoughts. There's a lot of greed in Congress today. They're not going
to pass any bills that are going to limit their ability to get elected [Mr. Mellman
refers to the contemporary debates on campaign-finance reform.]. But there's
nobody in second place, except maybe England. [The USA is] still a good
country. You and I can sit and talk here. I don't care what you do with this.
What I'm telling you is the truth. I had a fellow tell me one time, he said, if I tell
the truth, I never have to worry about it. Otherwise if I tell a lie, I've got to
remember what I said.
H: Do you consider the Nazis evil?
M: The Nazis, yes, I considered them evil, because so many of them turned out to
Mellman Page 25
be killers.If you're going to be a killer and kill people for no reason at all and I
can't buy the story that "they told me to do it, they told me to do it." Usually you
kill somebody when there's survival at stake. To go out and kill human beings.
Those people who worked those camps had to be evil people. Those were the
S.S. troopers. Those were the people that were made by Hitler to be great
[Germans]. They believed in their own philosophy that [they] are the best
people, the best human race. And they were evil. I had this problem. I hired a
girl to work for me. [My client] married a German war bride. He was in the Air
Force and he met this girl this is in Dayton, Ohio, and he brought her back to
this country and he married her. One day he came in to see me and he said,
Heidi's bored at home, got three kids, twin girls. She's bored. Could you use her
maybe during tax season? She could run your copy machine for you. It turned
out I could and I brought Heidi in. She turned out to be a fabulous human being.
She was around twenty, in her twenties. When the job opened, I need a
receptionist. I had about eight people working for me. I asked her if she would
be the receptionist. She always had a smile on her face. Any time I needed
something: Heidi, would you get [it for] me? Yes, don't move, don't move, I'll get
it. She was great. Well, God took her young in life. She got cancer of the colon
and she went to the doctor and he said, it's nothing. A year later, she got pains
down in there and within ninety days she was gone. I remember I went to
hospice services, her husband had hospice for the funeral. [I'll never forget] the
words that the minister used at that time. He said, you're here because you love
this woman or you wouldn't be here for the funeral. I thought of Heidi she was
a wonderful gal and she was German. But she was a little kid [during the war].
When I was in my s she was [ten years old]. She's [from] another
generation. Her parents came over for a trip and she invited me to stop over that
evening and meet them. I was anticipating: what do I say? He's a little bit
younger than me, but he's German. I didn't know what to expect for the evening.
I certainly don't want to talk about the German army, whether they're at fault or
not. But they came, they were there, we went over and we had a delightful
evening. We didn't discuss anything about Germany, except he told me what
they were trying to do. He was from West Germany. Germans did a beautiful job
of recovery. You could tell the difference in the architecture between East
Germany [Russia] and West Germany [U.S.]. We got along very nicely that
night. We didn't talk military. I felt it's over. Why would I even bring it up? He
had a fantastic daughter in Heidi. The Germans had a lot of evil people. Yet
there are a lot of Germans who hid the Jews where they could, "the righteous
Gentiles." It's nice that they're honored.
H: It's just interesting because you were saying that you reject this idea that people
were just following orders and yet you yourself have that iron-clad sense of duty
and patriotism and military discipline. Someone of your generation in Germany
[feeling those things] would take them along a very different path.
M: That's true, but I think that anybody who kills another one...you ask me about this
Mellman Page 26
guy [the eighteen-year-old American soldier at Dachau]. They stood by and
watched him, but they didn't pull the trigger, they didn't pull their guns. He did it,
he shot them all down. In a case of what that scene was, that scene of that train
and seeing those dead ones, these are the ones that did it [to the young soldier].
I know that I never felt at any time that I could shoot somebody in cold blood
without being shot at or having my life threatened. I don't think I could have. I
was never put to that type of test. There [were] a lot of Germans that did. How
[could] you work in those concentration camps? How [could] you not befriend
some of those people? What was that movie, Schindler's List. Sure, some of
those Germans befriended some of those people that were inmates, took a liking
H: Are you familiar with Hannah Arendt? She was an author who covered the
[Adolf] Eichmann [Nazi leader] trial in the early 60's. She wrote that the problem
with Nazism is not that they were these sort of monsters, but that, at least in the
figure of Eichmann, he was just an everyday human being. He was what she
called the banality of evil.
M: He was an average human being? When you say he's the banality of evil, you
mean that was just his nature? I mean, I don't know how to interpret that.
H: I think the fact that he was an everyday kind of colorless guy who through
circumstances and "luck" had the power over many people's lives, but that he
was not bloodthirsty.
M: Of course, there's a difference. He had others pull the trigger, not himself. He
was still an evil person to even think that way. I think there's a little good in most
of us. Some of it takes a little longer to bring out. I never felt that I could
become a killer. We were taught to kill, but we were going after an enemy that
was going to kill us. The only way to destroy the enemy is to go after them. We
shot enough artillery pieces that we must have killed thousands of Germans. I
don't have a smug feeling on that, because that was war and we were engaged
to reduce that enemy, to get the war over with.
H: What do you want people to take from your story, from your witnessing?
M: The most important thing I think is that there were over six million people that lost
their lives needlessly, inhumanely, treated like animals, got stepped on like flies
and it really happened. It really happened. Don't want to get into the war
[discussion], because we got there with the best and the most, fortunately for us
that we did that. This country came together in that war and we did a good job. I
think that all children of every generation have to be exposed to this story to
know that it happened. That it really happened. There are enough witnesses to
the 9/11, 2001, with the pictures and the video and all showing that. Showing
those planes flying up. That will always be around. We get down and we tend to
Mellman Page 27
forget. [Dachau] happened fifty-seven years ago and I still remember it. But the
kids today? They should know it's a part of history. In the Jewish religion, every
week [in the synagogues] they read a portion of the Torah, of all the law, of all
the life from the time God created Adam all the way through the current... I don't
know how current it goes. It goes before the end of the Bible. What is the
second, it goes before Jesus Christ. That's in the second writings. There's
nothing in there to discuss the Holocaust. Those people [in the future] are going
to practice [their] religion, they'll read that Torah all night, but they won't know
about the Holocaust if they're not exposed to it and see it and see how it really
happened. To see about man's inhumanity to man. And it is and it can happen
again. We've seen it. Even since I wrote my notes in 1990. I started doing a
little bit of [explaining my experiences], we didn't have what's happened today.
Things that have happened today [including 9/11, 2001]..
H: Have you told your children and your grandchildren about what you witnessed?
M: I went through a whole interview and they have it on tape. They have it all. I
made a tape for all of them. They all have it. They all know about my past. It
was back in Dayton, had the whole family together, they were all circled around
[me]. My daughter Karen, who lives in Chicago, had most of the questions just
like your [interviewer], she had most of the questions down. My son-in-law who
lives here, Josh Hellstrom, is not Jewish, [and] he's been a fantastic husband to
Leslie. He videoed my response. So it's a part of my [memoirs]. They gave
[people like me the] name of "liberator." That part does bother me. When they
start talking to me, are you a liberator? A survivor is a one-on-one, usually. A
liberator? I was one of thousands. They brought in as many people as they can
[to witness] and it was involuntary. In the [twenty-four] hours that I was over
there, I saw, I came, I saw, and I left. A lot of this reading I did afterwards.
H: There's been a lot of talk about the Greatest Generation. How do you feel about
all that publicity?
M: I read it, I read the book. He did a very good job with that. I agree. It was a
good generation because there was a lot of flag-waving and I think that this
country came together. Maybe it will come together again. We'll see. We'll see.
H: This project is being done in connection with the production of The Diary of Anne
Frank. Does that show speak to you?
M: I give the girl credit. She had to be a very unusual girl to keep a diary of all the
things and what they went through to stay out of sight, to be hidden. It's a
shame that time ran out. That she had to lose her life in a concentration camp.
That's to be expected. Anybody who was caught or taken from their house, you
feel for them. It's hard when you use the word six million, it's hard to visualize
what six million means. That means bodies and bodies and bodies and bodies
Mellman Page 28
and children and children. Those that are the survivors are the fortunate ones.
Some were blessed with the ability to work. The German [prisoner-worker], the
German soldier took to them and made good use of them, kept them alive.
Those were the survivors that are around today.
H: What do you say to those people who refuse to believe that the Holocaust
M: I don't know an answer to that. I don't know an answer. It's something that
follows the racist, anti-this, anti-that. Anybody who is taught from father and
mother to son, to daughter, is taught that and has not allowed themselves to be
exposed to the information that's available today. I don't know. It should be
compulsory that we do get to see [the museums]. Of course, they blame that...
we have the ability to take all the scenes and redo them. And what they can do
at the movies, we can do it. I think the country itself has done a pretty good job
with the museums to show what really happened. If it didn't happen to you,
okay, but it did happen. But I feel it, I feel that there are still a lot of [hate] and I
feel that [a Holocaust] could happen again. In 1945, I didn't think it would ever
happen again, but I sure feel it today.
H: Is there anything that I have neglected to ask you that you would like to share?
M: No. I think that probably if I were a little wiser, I could have responded a little
better. I've never been a student of the Holocaust, I've read several books. I
just feel I guess in reality that there [have] been good things that have happened
to me, more good than bad. I've lived through this era, I'm still here today. I
have to be one of the last ones, I'm seventy-seven. I was eighteen, nineteen,
twenty, but those people get up to the eighties, they're going [to be passing on
soon]. I belong to the 42nd infantry division, RVDA, Rainbow Veterans
Organization. And they publish the [deceased] list [of] the members. [Of] those
people that are members, a lot of them are dying out every year. I'll be another
number. It happens that they activated the New York [National Guard] and a
couple other state [National Guard] units and they [reactivated] a Rainbow
[Division] again. The Rainbow division. The Rainbow division is probably going
to be participating, if they're not already, in this 9/11 situation. Otherwise, we
were scheduled to disband in 2010 because we've got a memorial fund which
we've contributed to, they've got a million dollars or so already to provide
assistance to college kids [related to Rainbow veterans] for the Rainbow
scholarships. So I don't know what they're going to do [with the new Rainbow
Division]. They don't have to disband anymore. We're just dying off and the
new kids are taking over. I was surprised, reading in the paper, the Gainesville
Sun, that the head of the American Legion here in Gainesville is a woman.
[Things have changed.]
Mellman Page 29
M: Yes, her picture is in the paper. She served in the military. American Legion,
you don't have to go overseas anymore, but she served in the military. She's got
to be in her early 20s [or 30s]. She's out of the service. The old-timers like me
are ["passing over the rainbow," one thousand per day or so the papers say.]
H: Different generation taking over, huh?
M: Yes, the old ones have died off. [Military organizations] were formed for [political
and] social activities, camaraderie ] and beer-guzzling and all that. I never got into
H: Well, if there's nothing else, I want to thank you for your time and for sharing the
M: If you think of anything else that you missed, you can call me.
H: Okay, thank you. This concludes the interview.
[End of interview]