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Oral history interview with Charles Olsen

Oral History | Accession Number: 2014.51.94 | RG Number: RG-50.759.0094

Charles Olson discusses his experiences during WWII when, in 1945, he was a 31-year-old 1st Lieutenant, assigned to the Headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division as an Intelligence Officer; moving towards the Elbe River near the end of the war, when the unit was advised that there was a concentration camp ahead; hearing about concentration camp before seeing one; finding the camp’s gate open and seeing five or six buildings; looking into the first two buildings and seeing rows of bunks with five levels filled with corpses; not being able to enter the third building because of the corpses blocking the way; the 20 to 25 emaciated men who were still alive, most in prison uniforms, some walking in the yard with corpses all around; not being able to converse with them since he did not speak their language; the German guards having fled before the Americans arrived; how the sight was shocking, but he was not that shocked after having seen months of warfare; taking pictures of what he saw; not seeing any crematoriums or gas chambers in the camp; proceeding to the nearby town and having the mayor round up men with shovels and had him designate a burial place where individual graves were dug to accommodate the approximately 200 corpses; the gathering of the town’s people and making them see the camp; assessing their response and determining that the camp was shocking to them; some locals denying that they knew what was going on in the camp, but the smell alone should have provided a clue; a write-up by a Chaplain who reported on the burial [Mr. Olson provided this document during the interview]; the performance of the burial by clergy with crosses at the graves and Jewish prayers, as appropriate; initially trying to forget what he had seen; not talking about what he witnessed when he returned from the war, thinking no one should hear about it; later determining that people should hear about the camp; and speaking with other veterans years later which proved quite emotional.

Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.
Charles Olsen
Mary Cook
Nita Howton
interview:  1994 September 17
1 sound cassette : analog.
Credit Line
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Mary Cook and Nita Howton
Record last modified: 2021-02-09 13:47:08
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