The Texas Liberator Project with Texas Tech University
Texas Tech University, with the generous support of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, created the Texas Liberator Project as a means of introducing the wider public to the experiences of U.S. soldiers who were witnesses to and actors in the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camps and serve as a portal to furthering Holocaust and genocide awareness and education.
The multi-pronged project includes an educational app; a website that features interactive maps, an Honor Roll of veteran liberators, bibliographies, filmographies, and teacher resources; a traveling exhibit; and a book that has been provided free of charge to every public and private high school in the state of Texas. To access the app and the website, please visit the Texas Liberator Project website.
The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission invites you to view the Texas Liberator: Witness to the Holocaust virtual exhibit. With thanks to Holocaust Museum Houston for generating this online platform, now anyone in the world can view this project.
The Texas Liberator: Witness to the Holocaust is sponsored by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. Original exhibition design produced by the Museum of Texas Tech University.
On August 27-28, 2020, San Antonio's Witte Museum held their virtual conference "Conference on Texas: On Resilience Past, Present, and Future". The conference was presented by Elizabeth Huth Coats Charitable Foundation and invited former THGC commissioner Edward B. Westermann, PhD to moderate a panel entitled "Texas Liberators of the German War Camps 1945". Panelists included: Aliza Wong, PhD, Texas Tech University; Ella Gunn, Alamo Heights High School; and Steven Rosenblatt, MD, San Antonio. This program was sponsored by Wells Fargo -- Veltri and Velasquez.
Among the duties of the Texas Holocaust, Genocide, and Antisemitism Advisory Commission are to compile a list of liberators of concentration camps who have agreed to share their verifiable knowledge and experiences regarding the Holocaust and to gather resources that could be included in or used to support Holocaust and genocide courses of study and awareness programs. With these goals in mind, the former Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission contracted with Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History to create the Texas Liberators Oral History project, chronicling the oral histories of 21 Texans who were involved in the liberation of camps at the end of World War II.
Now complete, the video interviews with 19 liberators are now available through the Commission's YouTube channel. (A twentieth interview is also included, however it was conducted by Holocaust Museum Houston and not with Baylor University's Institute for Oral History.) The THGC also partnered with the Library of Congress to make transcripts of the interviews available through the institution’s Veterans History Project. Excerpts of oral testimonies from five liberator interviews are given below.
It was the fervent hope of the THGC that the oral histories will be viewed by the public and these men remembered for their service and their efforts to free survivors of concentration camps and used by educators to meet TEKS requirements while bringing a human story to the horrific atrocities of the Holocaust. To accompany the testimonies, the THGC developed lesson plans for classroom use. Aligning closely with the TEKS, these lessons provide teachers a way of incorporating media involving Texans into their World War II/Holocaust units for World Geography Studies, World History Studies, and U.S. History Studies Since 1877 classes.
The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) played the leading role in recognizing and teaching about soldiers from Texas who participated in the liberation of camp inmates late in the Holocaust. The THGC funded and provided content in support of relevant initiatives at major universities in the state. On November 9, 2017, the THGC formally recognized these liberators and their families at the Senate Chambers in the Texas State Capitol. View footage of the ceremony.
Liberator Testimony Excerpts
Below are excerpts from four of the nineteen Texas liberators interviewed by Baylor University's Institute for Oral History, as well as one of the two Texas liberators interviewed by Holocaust Museum Houston. Please visit the THGAAC YouTube channel as well as the THGAAC Texas Liberator Project: Oral Testimony playlist to view the extended interviews of the twenty veterans who took part in this project.
"Well, the recruits came to the university. And they encouraged us to enlist, and everybody did. I mean, you know, if you weren't in the--weren't being drafted--I was eighteen--if you weren't drafted, why, you weren't so good. So we had a choice of, you know, coast guard, or marines or navy or air force or army. You could enlist. And we did that, but as I said, with the idea in mind that you would complete your education. People in the navy programs, they general completed their programs. But the people in the army and the air force were pulled out and sent to various camps.
"So it was March 1943, and I went through the normal routine, you know, and wound up in St. Petersburg, Florida, for basic training in the air force. And we had a real rough time. I lived in a hotel that they had taken over as a barracks, but went through all the preliminaries, you know, the marching and all that stuff. And then following that, I was assigned to training as a radar operator. And I spent time doing some instructing and so on, in radar, which was new at the time, and had quite a bit of experience around Bradenton-Sarasota, Florida, and that area, which was very primitive then. Then this business about the ASTP came out."
"It is hard to describe how you can walk into a situation like that. You just walk in, and you really and truly can't imagine what has happened...I mean you had heard that these atrocities were going on, but you are young, you are fighting a war, but you actually walk in and you see it and you smell it. It is just unbelievable.
"...Well, I saw people without clothes on, dead, stacked up. The odor was just -- you can't imagine human beings living or being treated that way. I mean it is hard to visualize how anybody, anybody -- I mean you possibly think that beasts live like that, but it is utterly impossible in your mind to think that one human being would do that to another human being. It is just something that -- I don't know how to explain it.
"...That was the way they were treating the people. It is just hard to describe how they – at that point in time I remember I went back to our camp that night for a couple of days, two or three days. I don’t remember a time. Time had just – I know I couldn’t eat. I don’t think I ate anything for weeks. Every time I saw food, I got nauseated. I think that’s when I wrote the rabbi, Rabbi Lefkowitz, a letter."
Oral testimony transcript courtesy of Holocaust Museum Houston
"So we was down the road, there. I don't know what we was attached--or who we was attached to. Probably the Rainbow Division or the other division, I don't know which one we was attached to. But we went down the road and set up our guns. There was no planes to shoot at or nothing. And we got word that there was a prison camp up there, up the road there. Well, all them boys wanted to get in on it, you know, my gun section and all. They wanted to go up there and see about this prison camp. So we all went up there to see what was going on. So the infantry had already taken over the camp just a few hours before we got there.
"But you know how GIs are. They want to help out. They want to get in on it. So we went up there to see. So Phineas Wagner, a buddy of mine, first thing he did is lower the dang flag, German flag, and rolled it up. He kept it. Another boy from Oklahoma, the first thing he got was keys to the place, and he put them in his pocket. I wasn’t looking for souvenirs, I just seen what he had. And so they asked—I guess they asked the infantry there, they wanted to take over and guard. So a bunch of them had taken over and guarded the prisoners there: the guards. Helping the infantry. I don’t know whether the infantry even asked them or not. They just—the 838 boys, they really didn’t have no business being up there, but they wanted to see what’s going on."
"And he says, 'Could you do something for us?' And I said, 'Well, I’ll do my best if I can help you.' And he said, 'First of all, I’d like to take you through some parts of the camp here.' And I didn’t know what that meant because I didn’t go there for any formal take-through. They didn’t have any formal take-through. Those had not developed as yet. But I went through the main entrance, I remember that well, and walked in. And as you’ve heard the expression dead men walking, that’s the way the—the—I don’t like to use the word inmate. I don’t like to use the word residents. That’s where the people who were in the concentration camp looked. I went to several of them, some who could speak English, and I could talk a little bit with them. I planned a worship service for them. A chaplain had many different ways to put things together, so I planned a Jewish worship service for those in the Buchenwald death camp who wanted to come.
"So many of them had—wanted nothing to do with religion, but those who were genuine in their faith enjoyed the opportunity to come to a worship service, they came. And I met with them several times for services, but I remember the first time. We got our carry-alls, those big trucks, and put the people who could be carried in those things to a place where we could have a worship service. They had to be lifted on. They had to be carried on, crying. They never thought they’d be alive. Many of them had been there, not knowing too much about their past, because they’d always been under some kind of incarceration—concentration. But we got them in the carry-alls and took them to the place of worship. And I was in charge of the worship service.
"We had some little prayer books—I wish I had mine now—that were distributed among those that wanted them. And on one side of it was Hebrew, Hebrew prayers. Other side was English. So as they went through the service in Hebrew, then I could follow along in English itself. They cried. They shouted. When they got through, they were just raising hands, sort of like our Pentecostals today raise theirs. They were just raising their hands in joy and appreciation. They didn’t think they’d ever see that again. They didn’t think they’d be alive, but that was it. And I didn’t think much about doing that, because that’s regular work of a chaplain. You were trained and equipped to do certain things. But I did them, got through, went back to my outfit, kept on going in the chaplaincy with what I was doing."
"In other words, by the time we got a hundred miles—or sixty miles into Germany, there was hardly any resistance. And people had been told by the military government by phone, the phone lines were intact, if they were, they would call ahead and say, The division of So-and-So, Eleventh Armored Division, Combat Command A is headed your way. And by this time we had ninety millimeters, as opposed to seventy-five, but the war was winding down. If you hang out your sheets, white sheets, and—you’ll not be bothered. We’ll run right through your city, and keep going. And our object was to get to—General Patton’s object was to get to Linz, Austria before the Russians. Because the Russians were told by political dealings that they could have all the way to the Danube, but not on the German side. How that got twisted, I don’t know. Since we all know, they had—no, they had part of Berlin.
"Okay, the Russians were a little bit late getting there, so we were ahead of our objective. Our mission that particular day that we took off was to liberate Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Prior to our leaving, a day before, I’ll back up, on the sixth of May the Eleventh Armored Division, Combat Command A cavalry, armored cavalry, got there first. And I didn’t think—I was of the opinion there wasn’t anybody there, any Germans there. Well, in uniform anyway, or armed. That’s the way I was told, anyway. But the war still hadn’t ended, but the cavalry sent out help—asking for medical help immediately. And, of course, the purification would be our job, which we didn’t get until the next day, on the seventh of May."