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Armband stamped Jewish Police Schwandorf acquired by a US soldier

Object | Accession Number: 2009.401.3

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    Armband stamped Jewish Police Schwandorf acquired by a US soldier

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    Brief Narrative
    Schwandorf Jewish police armband acquired by Joseph W. Eaton, 26, presumably after the war in Schwandorf displaced persons camp in Germany. Joseph had lived in the United States since November 1934 when his parents sent him away from Berlin, Germany. After joining the Army in 1942, he was trained in military government and psychological warfare at Camp Ritchie. He entered combat six weeks after D-Day, June 4, 1944, as part of the 4th Mobile Broadcasting Unit, Allied Headquarters. He was part of a handpicked Press and Publications Unit responsible for radio and print propaganda for German troops and civilians to break morale and encourage surrender. He interviewed prisoners of war and reported on liberated concentration camps and German towns. Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, and Joseph's unit convinced General Eisenhower of the need to establish a free press throughout Germany. Joseph was editor of the weekly paper in Straubing, providing local news on practical issues like rationing, as well as stories on conditions in liberated concentration camps, DP camps, and the situation of Jewish refugees who did not want repatriated to their native lands. Joseph’s parents, Jacob and Flora, were murdered in Sobibor killing center and his maternal grandmother, Cilli Goldschmidt, died of starvation in Theresienstadt.
    received:  1945 May-1945 September
    received: Schwandorf (Displaced persons camp); Schwandorf (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Joseph W. Eaton
    front, stenciled, blue ink : Jewish Police / Schwandorf
    Subject: Joseph W. Eaton
    Josef Wechsler was born on September 28, 1919, in Nuremberg, Germany, to an Orthodox Jewish couple, Jacob and Flora Goldschmidt Wechsler. Josef had three brothers: Siegfried, born in 1913, Martin, born in 1915, and Herbert, born in 1921. Jacob was born on January 27, 1885, in Furth, to Joseph and Hannah Rosenbaum Wechsler. He had three brothers. Jacob served in the German Army for four years during World War I (1914-1918). Flora was born on December 28, 1890, in Frankfurt, to Isaac and Cilly Hamburger Goldschmidt. Their families had lived in Germany since the 1400’s. Jacob and Flora married in 1912 in Frankfurt. Jacob owned a shaving brush factory in Nuremburg. Josef attended a Jewish grade school. In 1930, the family moved to Berlin when Jacob’s factory went bankrupt as a result of the economic crash. Jacob worked for a company selling shaving brushes.
    In January 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany. An anti-Semitic Nazi dictatorship was established soon after. Jacob lost his job and Josef and his brothers were expelled from school because they were Jewish. Josef attended a Jewish school, the Goldschmidt School. Jacob and Flora looked for ways to emigrate. They could not get visas so they decided to send their children out of the country. On November 14, 1934, 15 year old Josef sailed from Hamburg on the SS President Harding, arriving in New York on November 24. His 13 year old brother Herbert had been sent to New York the previous week. They were sponsored by the German Jewish Children’s Aid, which helped 20,000 Jewish children go to the United States to finish their education. Josef lived in several foster homes in New York. He changed his name to Joseph. In 1935 and 1936, Joseph’s brothers Siegfried and Martin went to Palestine. They changed their names to Shlomo and Moshe. At age 16, Joseph graduated from high school and began college. He received a scholarship to Cornell University and graduated in 1940. In 1940, Joseph began using the last name Eaton. Shlomo and Moshe enlisted in the British army and the brothers decided to all change their last name in case they were captured by the Germans and their parents were punished as traitors.
    On December 8, 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US entered World War II. Joseph attempted to enlist but was rejected because he was classified as an enemy alien. In 1942, Joseph lost communication with his parents. On September 9, 1942, he was drafted into the Army. He was trained to be a medic, then in military government. He was eventually assigned to the 4th Mobile Broadcasting Unit, which operated radio and print communications and was associated with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). He completed his training at Camp Ritchie in Maryland. On June 23, 1943, Joseph became a naturalized American citizen and legally changed his name to Joseph Wechsler Eaton. His unit was shipped to England and landed in Normandy in about July 1944. Joseph reported on the liberated parts of Germany and disseminated accurate news to Germans to break their morale and encourage them to surrender. His unit took over Radio Luxembourg, which had been abandoned by the Germans, and broadcasted news in several languages. They also dropped leaflets and newspapers from planes. In October 1944, Joseph, pretending to be a captain, accepted the surrender of Major General Ernst von Poten, a senior German general, in Trier. Von Poten agreed to urge other Germans to surrender with a speech written by Joseph. However, army command decided not to use it for bureaucratic reasons. For Christmas 1944, Joseph suggested that they broadcast greetings from 1,000 German prisoners-of-war to their families. On April 12, 1945, Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated by American forces. Less than a week later, Joseph went to Buchenwald to report about it. The war ended when Germany surrendered on May 7.
    Joseph remained in Europe as part of the army of occupation for several months. He was stationed in Straubing, where he was editor of the Regensburger Post. He told the Acting Mayor to order former Nazis to clean up the desecrated synagogue. While in Straubing, which was near the Czech border, Joseph unofficially helped the Bricha and allowed Jews fleeing from eastern Europe to stay in his apartment. Joseph visited the Deggendorf and Feldafing displaced persons camps. In Branau, Hitler’s birthplace, he convinced the mayor to set up a small museum. In June 1945, Joseph visited Theresienstadt, hoping to find his relatives. He looked at the camp registry and learned that his maternal grandmother Cilly died of starvation in Theresienstadt on March 17, 1943. She was arrested in Frankfurt in August 1942 and sent to Theresienstadt in September. Joseph met Rabbi Leo Baeck, who gave him a list of survivors. He sent letters from survivors to their relatives in the US and Israel.
    Joseph returned to the US and studied sociology. On July 8, 1947, he married Helen Fay Goodman (b. 1925). In 1948, he completed his PhD at Columbia. He became a sociology professor and author. They settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and had four children. Joseph eventually learned that his parents perished in the Holocaust. They divorced after their children left and fled separately to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Flora was a health aide for elderly people. Jacob worked part time as a dry cleaner. He married Alice Emilie Brenner, who was born on February 1, 1894, in Gleiwitz, Germany (Gliwice, Poland). Jacob and Alice were arrested in 1942 and sent to Westerbork transit camp. On March 17, 1943, they were deported to Sobibor killing center in Poland, where they were killed on March 20. Joseph’s mother Flora was in hiding in a village and was denounced to the Gestapo by a Dutch Nazi. She was arrested and sent to Westerbork on July 17, 1943. On July 20, she was deported to Sobibor, where she killed on July 23. Joseph, age 93, died on October 15, 2012, in Pittsburgh.

    Physical Details

    Identifying Artifacts
    Object Type
    Armbands (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Rectangular, discolored, offwhite cloth armband with blue stenciled English text on the front hemmed and sewn together at the short ends. There is a number handwritten in a traced circle on the back.
    overall: Height: 4.125 inches (10.478 cm) | Width: 7.750 inches (19.685 cm)
    overall : cloth, ink, thread
    back, lower right corner, handwritten, black ink : 12

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The armband was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2009 by Joseph Eaton.
    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:
    2023-08-23 15:22:27
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