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Zeiss Z body binoculars found in a concentration camp by US military aid worker

Object | Accession Number: 1988.112.62

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    Zeiss Z body binoculars found in a concentration camp by US military aid worker


    Brief Narrative
    Zeiss, porro prism binoculars found by Lt. Milton Shurr, a Jewish American soldier, at the recently liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in April-May 1945 in Germany. First Lt. He found them in workroom where binoculars were assembled at the camp. Shurr, a member of the Civil Affairs unit, assisted in planning for D-Day, June 6, 1944. He landed on Omaha Beach soon after the invasion to organize supplies, then was placed with the 1st Army Displaced Persons Team. On April 11, 1945, the US Third Army liberated Buchenwald. Command of the camp was transferred to the 1st Army, which was responsible for establishing order, improving camp conditions, and caring for the inmates. Shurr worked 16 hour days trying to find food for 15,000 starving survivors. He later was sent to Bavaria as a health welfare officer to assist with the re-establishment of schools, hospitals, and other social services by the US Military occupation government. In 1949, he declined a permanent position and returned to the US.
    found:  1945 April-1945 May
    found: Buchenwald (Concentration camp); Weimar (Thuringia, Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Milton L. Shurr
    back, left end cap, engraved, white paint : CARL ZEISS / JENA
    back, right end cap, engraved, white paint : Dienstglas / 6 X 30 / 2023933 / H/6400 / blc + [service glass]
    back, eyepieces, metal ring, engraved, white paint : 5 - 0 + 5
    back, pivot end cap, engraved : 70 60 [?]
    Subject: Milton L. Shurr
    Manufacturer: Carl Zeiss (Firm : 1846)
    Milton Shurr was born on January 28, 1911, in Rochester, NY, to Mr and Mrs. Harry Shurr. On June 3, 1941, he married Muriel Friedman, from New York City. That year, motivated by news about the persecution of Jews in Europe, including news from correspondents about the camps, Milton joined the field staff of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Fund. He moved from Minneapolis, MN, to Oklahoma City, OK, to head the Fund. He transitioned from being a program organizer in public health to arranging regional conferences to fundraise and to inform US citizens of what was happening abroad.
    The United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Milton was drafted into the US Army and enrolled in Officer's Candidate School. Corporal Shurr was then sent to military government school to be trained to rebuild postwar Germany. First Lieutenant Shurr and the rest of his class were deployed to Great Britain in February 1944. They assisted in the preparations for Operation Overlord, set for June 6, 1944. He was recruited from the Quartermasters Corp by the Army's Department of Civilian Affairs. Slated to deploy one week after D-Day, their departure was delayed to send more fighting troops. They then landed on Omaha Beach near Isigny. Milton was stationed with the 1st Army. He was assigned to collect medical or other supplies dropped on the beach and then throughout France.

    In October 1944, Milton was placed with the 1st Army Displaced Persons Team in Vervier, Belgium, and was in Malmady during the Battle of the Bulge. He continued to travel widely with a driver searching for supplies. They drove through combat territory and were often bombed. Around January 1945, Milton fell ill with hepatitis and was sent to England to recover. He returned to his unit in Germany the day after Patton's 3rd Army liberated Buchenwald concentration camp on April 11, 1945. Buchenwald was then transferred to the command of the 1st Army, which had the task of creating a stable, orderly environment out of the chaotic conditions found at the camp. Camp conditions were in turmoil; soldiers were looting and corpses were piled everywhere. Milton was faced with the enormous task of caring for the approximately 15,000 surviving prisoners, all men and boys, who were dying at a rate of 300 persons a day. Milton met daily with about fifteen capos who were his eyes and ears in the camp and his main source of information about what the former prisoners needed. He was in charge of supplies and worked with a team of three-four officers, six enlisted men, four-five liaison foreign officers, two Russian women who were the cooks, and an assortment of local assistants and mechanics. He worked 16 hour days trying to find enough food to keep the inmates alive. They scoured the surrounding country for supplies and obtained most of their food supplies by confiscating them from German civilians. Cigarettes were used as currency. The Army had obtained nearly a ton of Turkish cigarettes from German supplies. He paid inmates in cigarettes to load and unload trucks. About forty Polish prisoners were recruited to find him transport. They stole two diesel trucks from German locals, and painted them olive drab, with false ordnance numbers.

    Milton also assisted with the repatriation efforts. Western Europeans were repatriated first. Eastern Europeans were given the choice of returning home or moving to the West. Milton was a liaison with the Red Cross and the Joint Distribution Committee, who organized the repatriation and resettlement of the survivors. There were about 700-1000 boys in the camp and Milton worked with both groups to get them individualized attention. Most were resettled in Palestine. As prisoners left, they were replaced by new ones who wanted to move West. The camp gradually transformed into a displaced persons camp. Horrified by the lack of the value of life in the camp, Milton tried to preserve and collect evidence of the crimes committed there for military investigators. Milton remained at Buchenwald until July 1, 1945, when the camp was transferred to the Soviets, who turned it back into a prison camp. Milton was reclassified as a health welfare officer, part of the military occupation government. He was stationed in Bavaria, where he worked to reopen schools, hospitals, banks, and other social services. In 1949, Milton declined a permanent position with the military in Bavaria as he wished to return to his wife. After demobilization in New Jersey, Milton and his family relocated to Chicago where he worked in health planning. Milton was unable to speak of Buchenwald for many years. Supported by his wife Muriel’s belief that he had a responsibility to share what he had witnessed, after forty years, Milton began to share his experiences. Milton, age 98, died in 2009. His wife Muriel died a month later.

    Physical Details

    Object Type
    Binoculars (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Small binoculars with 2 offset pairs of tubes housed in black painted, silver colored metal triangular casing covered with black leatherette. At the front of each casing, a large, clear glass objective lens is set into the raised, black painted metal end of the front tube. At the back, a small, clear glass ocular lens is set into the end of the back tube. A threaded black plastic eyecup is screwed around the lens. A ridged, black plastic focusing ring with engraved, white painted numbers is set around the back tube. When the ring is turned, the tube extends or retracts. The casings are connected by an adjustable frame with 2 horizontal, curved bridges and a central vertical tube with engraved numbers on the back end. A small, rectangular bracket protrudes from the underside of each casing and a brown leather strap is tied to the casing brackets.
    overall: Height: 2.750 inches (6.985 cm) | Width: 5.500 inches (13.97 cm) | Depth: 4.250 inches (10.795 cm)
    overall : metal, plastic, leather, glass, paint

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The binoculars were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1988 by Milton L. Shurr.
    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 16:30:25
    This page:

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