Oral history interview with Louise Birch
Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.
- Ms. Louise Birch
- Neenah Ellis
1995 July 15
3 sound cassettes (90 min.).
Louise Birch, born June 21, 1921 in Cleveland, Ohio, describes becoming a nurse; getting secretly married to her boyfriend, who was part of the 82nd Airborne Division, and how he died during the war; going into the service in early 1944; going to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where the 131st Evacuation Hospital was being started; the training she went through; being assigned to be an orthopedic surgical nurse; army regulations for bandaging and seeing how this broke down when casualties from the Battle of the Bulge came through when she was in England; boarding the RMS Queen Elizabeth; segregation by ranking on the ship and entertainment from the units; spending Christmas in England and buying gifts for the enlisted soldiers; how many of the enlisted men were from Oklahoma; her experiences in the operating room in England when they were seeing the wounded from the Battle of the Bulge; how they did a dry run setting up their tents in France and did not have any patients; going to Germany in April 1945, where they received patients; her experiences in the operating room in Germany; her feelings about the Germans at the time; her reaction to Roosevelt’s death; celebrating V-E Day; their relationship with the 34th Evacuation Hospital; how the men in their unit went on without them then came back later to get them; the journey to Linz, Austria and seeing a concentration camp for the first time; how the commanding officer, Colonel Dale Friend, said that her unit had not been sent to do this work so he would not force them and how all the nurses agreed to treat the concentration camp survivors; how they saw patients from camp Gusen and Mauthausen; how the patients were all deloused before the nurses arrived; how the wards were filled with 100 to 140 people; how they were not allowed to have physical contact with the patients and only gave them medication; not keeping records and not knowing the patients’ names; learning names after a while through interpreters; writing to relatives of the patients in the U.S.; being sprayed every day with DDT; the conditions of the patients; the quarry at Mauthausen; leaving Gusen in June 1945; the train journey to France; sailing to Boston; the dropping of the bomb in Japan; being discharged in December 1945; the Japanese dentist in her unit, who told her about the American internment camps for Japanese-Americans and how his family had been put in one; and the lessons she learned from her experiences during the war.
Record last modified: 2018-01-22 10:40:03
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn513373
Also in 131st Evacuation Hospital Nurses oral history collection
Oral history interviews with nurses from the 131st Evacuation Hospital
Date: 1995 July 14-1995 July 15
Elizabeth A. Feldhusen, born in Brooklyn, New York on April 21, 1918, describes why she became a nurse; joining the army July 1, 1943; being at Fort DuPont, Delaware for over a year; joining the 131st Evacuation Hospital in South Carolina; sailing on the RMS Queen Elizabeth and how the ship had to turn every seven minutes in order to avoid the submarines; landing in Greenock, Scotland; crossing the English Channel to Le Havre, France; how they were not allowed to keep diaries; how they had celebrated Christmas of 1944 in England; going through Germany to Austria; how their accompanying military unit left them at one point; being given the choice to go to the Gusen concentration camp and how all of her unit agreed to go; how she had not heard about concentration camps before; taking care of a ward, which was a barracks full of the sickest people; giving out sulfanilamide; how eventually they had young German prisoners of war help as ward men; the physical conditions of the camp survivors; being sprayed with DDT powder before going into the ward and how she wonders if it caused her to have cancer later on; activities when she was off duty and a story about bird watching in Germany; speaking with a female German civilian; hearing about Hitler’s suicide; how a woman drowned while trying to cross the Danube river one evening; how the French came to take all the French survivors and other national representatives came too; how they gave the best care they could under the circumstances; how the nurses bonded and still keep in touch; how her experiences during the war affected her life; one of her close friends, who is Jewish and was stationed in Burma; and her interactions with German prisoners of war in Austria and Fort DuPont.
Mary M. Wood, born September 5, 1917 in Alexandria Bay, New York, describes going to nurse’s training in Syracuse, New York at Krause Irvy Memorial Hospital; joining the army on July 8, 1942; not going to basic training; being in Algeria with the Third Army as a part of the 32nd Station Hospital from January to November 1943; joining the 131st Evacuation Hospital in November 1944; going to England, France, Austria, and Germany; her memories of Mauthausen; working in the operating room and helping to repair the damage that the Nazi doctors had done experimenting on different people; a typical day for her; being sprayed with DDT; being discharged December 12, 1945; how she had cared for people from Gusen concentration camp; how the camp survivors killed a German SS guard; the conditions of the survivors; her experience with Holocaust denial later in life; the effects her experience has had on her; and speaking with her sons about her experience.
Ruth Eberly Kirby, born Glen Ridge, NJ, describes growing up in West Hallwell, NJ and her reasons for becoming a nurse; graduating from nurse train in 1943; being motivated by the Pearl Harbor attack to join the Army and being inducted in 1944; sailing on the RMS Queen Elizabeth; arriving in Southampton, England; nursing the American soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge; being a part of the 131st Evacuation Hospital, a semi-mobile unit, and eventually joining General Patton’s army (Third Army); crossing the English channel to France in March of 1945; going to Germany; how the unit was comprised of 40 nurses and 40 officers, who were mainly were from the eastern seaboard, and about 206 enlisted men, who were primarily from Oklahoma; going from Germany to Austria after the war had ended and seeing all the white flags in the villages; going to a concentration camp outside of Linz, Austria (Mauthausen concentration camp); smelling the camp before arriving; covering their hair and being sprayed with DDT before entering the camp; the conditions of the male camp survivors; treating the survivors with sulfa drugs, which many of the patients could not swallow; how many of the patients died; seeing mass graves; writing to her mother about her experiences and how she still has the letters; how her experience effected her; and telling her children about her experience.
Phyllis A. Law, born in Lakewin, Pennsylvania on July 5, 1922, describes graduating from nurse’s training at Saint Luke’s Hospital Nursing School in 1943; why she decided to become a nurse; her experiences at basic training in Atlantic City, NJ and how everyone got sick after being inoculated; being assigned to different places until she joined the 131st Evacuation Hospital; receiving training in South Carolina; her experiences sailing on RMS Queen Elizabeth; landing in Greenock, Scotland; going to Altrincham, England; how her unit was in quarantine while in England; being sent to a hospital near Chester, England, where she treated American soldiers with penicillin; crossing the channel in March on the Sobiesky; going to Paris, France then Sedan, France, where they performed some drills; going through Germany, where they set up the hospital to take care of wounded American soldiers; being in the post-op ward; giving the soldiers baths using their helmets; taking care of a young wounded German; going to Bamberg, Germany, where they joined General Patton’s army and helped with another, already establish hospital; waiting for their unit’s infantry men to return from liberating a camp; how the colonel told them they did not have to go to Gusen concentration camp; sustaining a march fracture; being assigned to the C ward; being treated with DDT; treating patients with sulfadiazine; seeing the camp survivors; being in a car accident; traveling by train back through France; sailing on a U.S. Navy ship, the Bliss, to Boston, MA; how the Austrian civilians claimed not to know anything about the camps; how her experience changed her; her grandmother’s refusal to believe the Holocaust happened; and how the car accident she was in was never documented by the army.
Ellen Bonnie Marchese, born in Brooklyn, NY in November 29, 1917, describes her Italian immigrant family; graduating high school in 1933; being trained as a nurse at King’s County Hospital; working at several hospitals and medical offices before joining the army in 1944; her experiences in basic training in Atlantic City, NJ; the journey to England on the RMS Queen Elizabeth; conditions in England; going to a hospital in the south of England and treating wounded American soldiers; meeting Garson Kanin while crossing the channel; setting up the tents in Sedan, France; being a psychiatric nurse and treating post traumatic stress; how nobody in her unit was forced to work in the concentration camp and they all did it anyway; how she hates to remember what she saw in Gusen concentration camp; how the camp was filled with Poles, Roma, political prisoners, and Jews; meeting her future husband, Mike, who was an infantry man who helped liberate the camp; treating the survivors by giving out medication and applying new dressings; their Austrian maid; feeling contempt towards the locals; the former inmates she conversed with, including an artist who drew portraits; celebrating V-E day with onion sandwiches; going to France and being infected with scabies; being dusted with DDT; liaisons between the men and women in her unit; getting out of the service around the end of 1945; doing industrial nursing; and her reflections on the Holocaust and present day conflicts.
Clarice MacLeod, born in Philadelphia, New York (a village in Jefferson County) in 1917, describes her childhood; her decision to become a nurse; going to nurse training at House of the Samaritan in Watertown, NY in 1935; going to basic training in Atlantic City, NJ; being sent to South Carolina then sailing overseas; arriving in Greenock, Scotland on December 22; the journey across and how she stayed with 18 other girls in a stateroom in the RMS Queen Elizabeth; going to Alteringham, England (possibly Altrincham, England) then France, Belgium, and Germany with the 131st Evacuation Hospital; treating the wounded from the battle field in Germany; working in the operating room as an anesthetist; her work in the operating room and other roles she had had in hospitals prior to the war; off duty activities; how the colonel told them they did not have to go to the concentration camp and everyone but one person went; her first impressions of camp Gusen; the burials for the dead prisoners; staying in houses; how some of the prisoners left upon liberation; seeing the Mauthausen quarry; the mental and physical conditions of the prisoners and their tendency to hoard food; being separated from the army in October 1945 and being recalled in 1951; her reflections on the Holocaust; and how she has not encountered any Holocaust deniers.
Mary Rita Bergquist (née Hannan), born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1923, describes her family and early life; graduating from high school in 1940; beginning her nurse’s training in September 1940 at Saint Vincent’s in New York City; becoming a nurse because her aunt was one during WWI; enlisting in the army in 1943; getting basic training in Atlantic City, NJ; joining the 131st Evacuation Hospital; sailing on the RMS Queen Elizabeth; arriving in Greenock, Scotland and going to Alteringham, England (possibly Altrincham, England), where they lived in private homes; being assigned to a general hospital; taking care of wounded American soldiers; going to Sedan, France; the names of their tents; her experiences treating the wounded from the war front; talking to the patients; living in homes in Austria; smelling the camp before they arrived; seeing mass graves; treating the camp survivors: changing dressings and helping them walk; treating only male patients; seeing the crematorium burned down; her experience with Holocaust denial; not having much contact with Austrian civilians; being told they would be deployed in the Pacific; returning to the U.S. on the General Bliss; being home on leave when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; not being sent to the Pacific; being discharged; her reflections on her experience during the war; and keeping in touch with the nurses from her unit.
Dorothy Maroon, born in Kingston, New York in 1921, describes how her parents did not want her to be a nurse; how she did her training at Metropolitan Hospital in New York City; how she had to convince her parents to let her join the service; joining the army in August 1944; going to Europe with the 131st Evacuation Hospital, which consisted of 40 nurses, 40 doctors, and numerous enlisted men; being attached to the 8th Army, 15th Army, and the 3rd Army; the role of the enlisted men to the unit; working in some of the general hospitals in England, where they cared for U.S. service men; crossing the channel and dealing with the depth charges; being in Germany on V-E Day; being given the choice to go to the concentration camp and how all of her unit agreed to go; conditions at Gusen concentration camp; providing the survivors with pills, food, and plasma; how after the patients were all gone, the barracks were burned; how she worked mainly with the male patients and was unable to communicate with most of them; not having much physical contact with the patients because of the diseases; how the unit’s soldiers made Austrian civilians come to the camp and help; being sent back to the U.S. and being home in Kingston on V-J Day; being reassigned to Texas and getting out shortly after; getting her bachelor’s degree and working with her brothers, who were doctors; teaching practical nursing; the impact of her experience on her life; hearing stories about how the camp inmates killed a commander after liberation; staying in the SS troop barracks; going to the church one night in Linz, Austria; and how the nurses in her unit have kept in touch over the years and how they can account for 17 still living.