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Handmade American flag created by former concentration camp inmates and given to a U.S. liberator

Object | Accession Number: 2015.450.1

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    Handmade American flag created by former concentration camp inmates and given to a U.S. liberator

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Handmade American flag given to U.S. Sergeant Donald Hall following the liberation of the Langenstein concentration camp in the spring of 1945. The flag was hand painted on a simple weave cloth, and given to Donald by grateful prisoners of the camp. Hall was drafted in August 1943 and served as a supply truck driver for the 331st Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. In the weeks following the D-Day invasion in June 1944, the 83rd landed at Omaha Beach and fought in the Battle of the Bulge that December. In March 1945, they crossed Germany’s Rhine River and proceeded towards the Elbe River, earning the nickname of the “Rag-Tag Circus.” During this campaign, the 83rd and the 399th Battalion of the 8th Armored Division liberated Langenstein concentration camp, a subcamp of Buchenwald, on April 11, 1945. The troops found over 1,000 emaciated inmates that had been forced to work sixteen-hour days and were dying at a rate of 25-30 people per day. Hall was honorably discharged from the Army with the rank of Sergeant on December 16, 1945 as part of the demobilization of forces from Europe. He earned the “Ruptured Duck” Honorable Service Lapel Button in addition to the EAME theater ribbon with five bronze stars (one for each campaign), Good Conduct Ribbon, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Unit Award, and Victory Medal.
    Date
    received:  1945 April 11
    Geography
    creation: Langenstein (Concentration camp); Langenstein (Halberstadt, Germany)
    received: Langenstein (Concentration camp); Langenstein (Halberstadt, Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of the family of Donald J. Hall
    Contributor
    Subject: Donald J. Hall
    Biography
    Donald Hall (1925-1987) was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Clara Rohns (1902-1974) and James Hall. He had a younger brother, Charles (1927-1928), who died of pneumonia shortly before his first birthday. Clara and James divorced the following year, and she moved with Donald into her mother’s home. As a child, Donald was an excellent student and built balsa model planes, some as large as six feet in wingspan.

    On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on the United States on December 11, pulling the U.S. into World War II. In August 1943, Donald was drafted by the Army, specialized as an auto mechanic, and qualified as a combat infantryman and rifle sharpshooter. He was assigned to the Service Company of the 331st Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division, and drove a truck carrying ammunition and supplies. In the weeks following the D-Day invasion in June 1944, the 83rd landed at Omaha Beach and fought in the Battle of the Bulge that December. The 83rd took control of the German city of Neuss on the Rhine River on March 1, 1945. They crossed the Rhine and proceeded towards the Elbe River, covering 280 miles in 13 days. Along the way, they earned the nickname of the “Rag-Tag Circus,” adding an assortment of captured German vehicles to their caravan. Supply trucks drove an average of 300 miles per day between the troops and the west bank of the Rhine in order to keep the soldiers supplied with rations. In mid-April, the 83rd established a bridgehead for the Allies over the Elbe.

    During the campaign, the 83rd and 399th Battalions of the 8th Armored Division liberated Langenstein concentration camp, a subcamp of Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. The troops found over 1,000 emaciated inmates abandoned in the camp. The prisoners had been forced to work sixteen-hour days and were dying at a rate of 25-30 people per day upon liberation. Two days prior, SS guards had forced another 3,000 prisoners on a death march.

    Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945. Overall, the 83rd took part in the Normandy, Brittany, Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Europe campaigns. Donald returned to the United States on December 8, 1945, and was honorably discharged from the Army with the rank of Sergeant on December 16 as part of the demobilization of forces from Europe. He earned the “Ruptured Duck” Honorable Service Lapel Button in addition to the European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (EAME) theater ribbon with five bronze stars (one for each campaign), Good Conduct Ribbon, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Unit Award, and Victory Medal.

    Following the war, Donald worked for Owens Corning as an industrial engineer and married Marjorie Bartlett (c.1928-2014) in Detroit in 1948. The couple moved to Louisville, Kentucky and raised 11 children. He rarely talked about the war with his children, only occasionally sharing stories such as backing his truck into a French farmhouse, or how large the uniform fit on his 5-foot 4-inch frame.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Identifying Artifacts
    Category
    Flags
    Object Type
    Flags (lcsh)
    Genre/Form
    Flags.
    Physical Description
    Handmade, rectangular, tan canvas flag sketched out in pencil and ink and hand-painted on both sides. The field has 13 alternating red and white horizontal stripes. The top 6 stripes are truncated by a bright blue rectangular canton in the upper left corner that is stamped with 48 white, 5-pointed stars arranged in 6 rows of 8. The corners of the flag have rectangular cutouts, the edges are frayed, and there are pinholes along the edges. The right edge has a self-fabric fringe, made by removing the weft thread from the weave of the fabric. The flag is creased and there is significant water damage and black staining on the fringe end. The paint is cracked and abraded with paint loss and bleeding in areas.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 25.500 inches (64.77 cm) | Width: 42.250 inches (107.315 cm)
    Materials
    overall : canvas, paint, ink, pencil

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The flag was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2015 by the family of Donald J. Hall
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-25 17:22:56
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn186501

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