- Interview Summary
- Frank Davis (who was a 30-year-old Platoon Sergeant in 1945) and Chester Spencer (who was a 19-year-old soldier in 1945), discuss being assigned to the 2nd Platoon, 2nd Battalion of the 242nd Regiment of the Rainbow Division; being together in battle all through Germany and on the way to Munich; seeing Dachau concentration camp, including the numerous dead bodies in box cars, trenches, and the crematorium; their memories of the smell of the camp which could be detected two miles away; the declaration that Munich was an open city; how Frank found a large Nazi flag in one of the buildings and at war's end, had every member of the Platoon sign in the white part of the flag, while others in the company signed on the red portion [note that the flag is displayed without comment in the first few minutes of the interview]; their return to Dachau for a 50-year reunion of their unit and the mayor of the town who celebrated their reunion; talking to a number of young people in Munich, and being told that in the last day before the US occupation, Germans were shooting Germans in the streets of the town; and how the young people knew the town’s history but did not quite know how to handle or rationalize it. [The last six minutes of the video, without commentary, displays pictures of the Dachau concentration camp, of their reunion and provides an annotated sketched map of the route of the Rainbow Division through Germany and into Austria.]
- Chester Spencer
- Peggy Coster
1995 July 14
- Credit Line
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Survivors and Surviving Generations of the Holocaust
1 videocassette (VHS) : sound, color ; 1/2 in..
Rights & Restrictions
- Conditions on Access
- There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
- Conditions on Use
- No restrictions on use
Keywords & Subjects
- Topical Term
- Concentration camp inmates--Germany. Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) Men--Personal narratives. Reunions. Soldiers--United States--Interviews. World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--Western Front. World War, 1939-1945--Concentration camps--Liberation. World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, American. World War, 1939-1945--Photography. World War, 1939-1945--Veterans--United States.
- Holder of Originals
Survivors and Surviving Generations of the Holocaust
- Legal Status
- Permanent Collection
- The interview with Frank Davis and Chester Spencer was conducted on July 14, 1995, by the Surviving Generations of the Holocaust as part of a project documenting the testimonies of members of the 42nd Rainbow Division whom participated in the liberation of Dachau. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum received a copy of the interview in March 1997.
- Special Collection
The Jeff and Toby Herr Oral History Archive
- Record last modified:
- 2023-11-16 08:41:20
- This page:
Also in 42nd Rainbow Division collection
Oral history interviews with members of the 42nd Rainbow Division
Date: 1995 July 14-1995 July 15
William Donahue discusses being a young soldier in April 1945 and a member of the 42nd Division Artillery; being assigned the duty of serving as one of the bodyguards for General Henning Linden (Brigadier General Linden was the Assistant Commanding General, 42nd Infantry Division); the liberation of the Dachau camp; going with General Linden to see the camp; seeing dead bodies in railway box cars and prisoners with dazed looks; how his memories of what he saw at the camp still affect him emotionally; being ordered to enter the camp to find the Regimental Commander and tell him to get out of the camp as quickly as possible because of potential diseases; being cheered by survivors as they saw in him; the Jewish, Russian, Polish, German prisoners in the camp; seeing members of the Swiss Red Cross as he left the camp; a nearby warehouse with new German uniforms, which was a stark contrast with the rags of the prisoners; attending a 42nd Rainbow Division reunion, held 50 years after the Division had liberated the Dachau concentration camp; meeting former prisoners at the reunion, including one person who had specifically remembered him; finding that some of the local young Germans had never been told of the history of the camp; and his strong belief that people must remember the horrors of the concentration camps to assure that this will never happen again.
Sid Shafner, an American Jewish soldier, discusses being a member of an intelligence and reconnaissance (I&R) platoon in support of the 20th Armored Division during WWII; being reconnoitered on a road to Munich, Germany when he came upon two 15-year-old youths in what he thought were carnival garb, who reported that the Germans were killing nearby camp inmates; relaying this information to his superiors and thereby initiating the storming of the Dachau concentration camp; his memories of the inmates being given too much food which their shrunken stomachs could not manage and thereby caused some to die; a German Jewish refugee named Oscar Wells, who became a US soldier and lined up former camp guards and shot them; the Swiss Red Cross demanding a trial of Mr. Wells, and the subsequent court martial under General Patton's auspices which found him not guilty; the military government personnel who took over the administration of the camp as the platoon moved on; the unit adopting the two young Jewish youths and bringing them along to Vienna, Austria, as the war ended; the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee sending one of the youths, Marcel Levy, to Israel and settling the other in Vienna; making contact with the Vienna Rothchild Center, which housed Jewish refugees; bringing food to the refugees and helping them find relatives by using his military mail; staying in contact over a period of 50 years with Marcel Levy (Marcel married, had two daughters, and several grandchildren); and their families meeting when one grandchild from each family celebrated their Bat Mitzvah in Jerusalem.
Anthony (Tony) Cardinale (who was a 19-year-old Private First Class radio operator assigned to Headquarters Company of the 222nd Regiment in 1945), and William (Bill) Clayton (who was a rifleman In Company E, of the 2nd Battalion in the same unit which was part of the 42nd Rainbow Division during WWII), discuss their involvement in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp; reporting their sighting of 25-30 box cars full of dead bodies, presumably of former inmates of the Buchenwald concentration camp; finding one person alive amidst all those bodies and evacuating him to a hospital; the initial quiet in the camp until the prisoners were able to determine that they were liberated; the pandemonium that broke out as the former inmates thanked the Americans; a few SS soldiers who tried to evade capture by posing as prisoners but were pointed out by the former inmates; seeing stacked-up bodies at the crematorium; and their urging that children be told the truth about the camps to preclude the acceptance of revisionist history.
Harold Healy discusses his experiences during WWII; being a 23-year-old Captain in 1945 assigned as the Operations Officer in a Light Field Artillery Battalion of the 42nd Rainbow Division, which had chased the German Army into Austria; writing a letter at the end of the war to his parents and brother describing his experience when he visited the Dachau concentration camp about a week after its capture; he remembers how the smell of dead bodies confined in 50 railway cars still permeated the area; the experience proving to be unforgettable and fortifying his belief in the righteousness of the involvement of the US in World War II; and remaining in Austria, where he was involved with occupation duties, until his return to the US in August 1946.
James Dorris, an infantry soldier during World War II, discusses being assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division; arriving in Europe just before the Battle of the Bulge; going towards Munich, Germany; participating in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp; how this experience affected his subsequent views on life; being unprepared for this mission; his memories of the approach to the camp and the smell of the dead bodies from the crematorium which permeated the air and proved unforgettable; the 40 railway cars full of starved and machine-gunned bodies with but one survivor; the other prisoners in the camp and his interaction with one of them, which filled him with awe about the goodness in midst of all the evil of mankind; his views on following orders and preventing war; and the happenings at the liberation’s 50th anniversary.
Vern Smith, a 20-year-old American soldier in Europe in 1945, discusses being drafted in September 1943; becoming a squad leader of a machine-gun platoon that was part of the 222 Regiment of the 42nd Rainbow Division; arriving in France in November 1944; details on some difficult moments during the Battle of the Bulge; going through Germany with his unit towards Munich; participating in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, which to him, was an unexpected encounter; how the camp was surrounded by fencing but the gate was wide open; seeing railway cars full of dead bodies and people in prison garb in the camp; seeing survivors who were still able to walk around, although they obviously had been without care for a prolonged period; being unable to communicate with them since they did not speak German but rather seemed to be from Eastern Europe; lacking a mission in the camp and being anxious to get away from that scene; being relieved to move on into the town of Dachau and then into Munich; and the positive experiences he had meeting with former comrades in a veterans’ organization that had been formed for the former 42nd Division soldiers.