June 4, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

June 4, 1945
Somewhere in Germany
No. 37

Dear Folksies,

       Since last writing, numerous things have occurred. I shall attempt to give at least some of these in chronological order. Let’s see, my last was written on the nite of May 25th. Fooled around on the 26th, rounding up a few items needed, trying to find a brewery closer than Munich to get beer for the men, and putting the finishing touches on the Old Man’s trailer.

       As I was scheduled to pick up PX rations in Mannheim on the 28th, and as three of the officers had to go to Strasbourg on the afternoon of the 27th to catch the 6PM train to Paris for their two-day leave there, Dunlap and I decided ‘twould be best to save transportation by combining the trips and consequently I left with Held driving, the PX boy (Klohann) and a friend of his, and Chappie, Schuster and Mitchell in the back of the 2-1/2. We left the area about 9:30 A.M. and by devious routes we arrived in Strasbourg shortly before 3 P.M. We had been undecided as to whether we would stay overnight in Strasbourg or go on to Mannheim and stay where we had stayed the week before.  But since we didn’t have to pick up the PX stuff until after noon on the 28th, and since we didn’t have too much else to do in Mannheim, and also since it kind of gave us all a different feeling being back in France instead of Germany, we voted to remain in Strasbourg if we could find the little hotel at which some of our drivers had stayed before when on similar trips.

       Despite the rather vague instructions and directions we had been given regarding the location of the “Hotel Mutzig,” we managed to find it with a minimum of difficulty.

       After we took Chappie and the other two to the station, and found a French garrison that promised to watch our truck for us during the night, we proceeded back to our hotel for a beer and then headed out looking for a meal. We were successful and had a fair meal, following which we walked around the city until dark.

       One funny incident occurred while we were thus walking around.  As we started to cross one of the canal bridges, a French Colonial soldier, an Arab, came up to our group (complete with flowing Arab soldier uniform — those blankets that cover a multitude of sins) and said, “Me Arab. You Casablanca! Me Arab.  Americans good in Africa.  Me Arab, You Casablanca!  You give me pack of cigarettes!”  That sort of stopped us and was so startling that we didn’t stop to think until later about the whole thing and wondered if that guy just tried that gag on all American soldiers in hope that it would work, particularly the “Casablanca” part, or whether he might actually have recognized one of our group. Anyway, Slota started reaching for some cigarettes to give the guy, and, thinking he was bringing forth the pack which had only two or three cigarettes in it, he brought out the full pack and it was barely visible as it came out of his shirt pocket when it suddenly disappeared out of his hand and under that Arab blanket.  There were profuse thanks and that was that.  We howled for an hour afterwards.

       Strasbourg seems like quite a city.  Unfortunately, it is rather badly wrecked in spots, even in places that were a good distance from the industrial centers, barracks, etc.  The cathedral, however, is virtually untouched.  The windows, of course, had long since been taken out and will no doubt be replaced before too long.  The spire of the cathedral stands out high above everything else in town and actually one can see it for some miles before one reaches the city limits.  We walked thru one of the parks not far from the cathedral and it was beautiful.

       Sleeping in those beds in the hotel was really funny.  We weren’t used to comfortable mattresses in the first place, and on top of that they had those feather comforters over us — they sort of bury you and look terribly heavy when actually they are light — well, “light as a feather.”

       The next A.M. we took off for Mannheim, going through the muchly damaged Karlsruhe on the way.  We surprised ourselves by getting to Manheim in just 3 hrs. We took a short cut home and made it before dark.

       Arrived and was surprised to find that Fadley had already returned. The hospital in Paris had given him a clean bill of health. His lesion was not malignant and had healed up nicely after excision without giving any x-ray.

                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for more of this letter
June 5, 1945


René (second from the left) and some of the gang that went to Strasbourg. (Not sure who the other guys are, because René, uncharacteristically, didn’t add a caption to this photo in his album.”




Hotel Mutzig, Strasbourg



Several views of Strasbourg, including its famous cathedral.






June 5, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

June 5, 1945
Somewhere in Germany
No. 37 (continued)

Dear Folksies,

         On the 29th, we arranged all the PX stuff for sale the next day and also did a few odds and ends. May 30th – sold all our goods. May 31st got all the PX goods together to be sold to the gang at our new location, and came down here with the idea of selling our stuff to the bunch, going to Munich and getting a truck-load of beer for the men, and then returning to the Heidenheim area.

         However, when I discovered that it was some sort of Corpus Christi holiday or some such, and the brewery was closed, there was only one thing to do and that was to stay down here overnight.  This we did, and during that evening a new idea was hatched in the Col.’s mind.  He decided to open up a new hospital section at our new location — a Convalescent Hospital, and he asked me if I would come down to run it with Pete Joseph.  Soooo, the next A.M., after getting a truck load of beer started on its way to Heidenheim, I took one of the weapons-carriers from here and went up to get some of my clothes etc., carried a few messages to the other area, etc. and then turned around and came on back here to stay.

         On the way back a strange thing happened.  I was bringing down with me one of the lab boys to replace one of the boys who was already here and who was going to go home on the over-age deal, and who wanted to get to see Paris if possible, before leaving this continent. We were going along the autobahn when we noticed a plane that seemed to be having some sort of trouble and was swooping down and then up in a rather queer manner.

         It was a Piper cub, so we weren’t surprised to see it start to land right on the autobahn a short ways ahead of us.  However, one of the wheels must have locked, for the plane suddenly veered to one side, raised up on its nose with a crash and stayed there.  I speeded up and then stopped by the plane along with numerous other vehicles that were going along there at the same time. The two men in the plane, a Major and a Staff  Sgt. got out without aid, and though the Sgt. wasn’t hurt at all, the Maj. had a small gash on his head and was pretty groggy.  I had quite a time convincing him that he should leave his plane in the hands of the Sgt. until someone sent a guard, and that he should come with me to some dispensary.  Took him to one of the nearby outfits where one of his own medical officers took charge. That was our excitement and delay for the day.

                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for more of this letter
June 6, 1945


The Colonel has asked René and Pete Joseph (above) to run a Convalescent Hospital at their new location.




But first he had to return to Heidenheim.



June 6, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

June 6, 1945
Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
No. 37 (continued)

Dear Folksies,

       ‘Twould be rather difficult to try to describe this place to you or to try and give you an accurate picture of what has been done and what we are now doing.  The camp itself takes in something like 15 square miles, i.e. with the two nearby camps included.  We are living in one of the houses that belonged to the SS officers who ran the camp.  This row of houses along the street before one enters the camp itself reminds me very much of the officers’ row in the Presidio.

       There are about 25 of our men here and seven nurses and Dickie (the dietitian).  There are now 11 of us officers here: the Colonel (the Camp Surgeon), Roy Cohn and Sewell Brown (his two assistants — Roy actually acting as Exec to the Col. and Brown running the Medical end, the shifting of patients, etc.), Bell (the lab, water purification, etc.), Bishop (acting as Medical Supply officer), Schwartz & Malone (running the dispensary) Kuzell & Newsom (running the “Outer Camp Hospital” — Kuzell commanding and Newsom as the consultant for the Polish and German doctors that do the work), and now Pete and myself who have just finished setting up our hospital.

       Ours is really not much of a hospital, for the patients are merely convalescent cases and require little attention.  Our problems are mostly administrative, and supply — getting beds and blankets etc., for them, setting up a mess hall, getting the food, keeping other groups from stealing the equipment that is supposed to be ours, getting prisoner details to work and clean up the place, etc. ad infinitum.  The day we started to work (i.e. the day I came back here) we already had more than a hundred inmates and now it is a few hundred more.

       Things now, in the whole camp, are fairly well organized.  It must have been a mess at the start when there were many thousands more inmates than there are now.  How the Peace Conference in San Francisco can get anywhere is beyond the ken of all of us, however, for in a place like this one would think that all groups would be united after all these years and that there would be a minimum of friction between the groups representing the different nationalities.  But, no, the jealousies and squabbles are innumerable.  Thirty-one different nationalities are there — what a conglomeration!  Of course, too, there have been all sorts of committees going through here — senators, Swiss Red Cross, etc.

       The things that went on before this place was liberated have been brought out, no doubt, in most all papers and publications.  The evidence is all here — we’ve seen it, heard it, seen documentary evidence, and about all we can say to you is: Whatever you hear or read about this place and others like it, you can unhesitatingly believe every bit of it and more.  The conditions that existed here were almost beyond imagination, but seeing is believing…the gas-chamber, the incinerators, etc.

       In this place they had everything.  The SSers had the prisoners making all sorts of things — there are all sorts of factories within the area, and darn near any kind of equipment can be found in great quantities.  The most interesting shop is the carpentry shop where the “slave labor” did wonderful work….

       When the Col. and the gang were first brought in here to run things, everything was in a mess. There were two of the new evacs (127 and 116) running separate hospitals within the area and there was another hospital in the inner compound and then the former SS hospital in the outer compound. These latter two were being run by gosh knows whom. Now the inner compound hospital is run under the Col.’s jurisdiction by some officer whom I have not met. There are three other camps nearby, which are being run by other units, Field Hosp. and Provisional units, but it is all under the command of the 59th group.

       The biggest problems initially were to get adequate housing — i.e. not with a hundred per room that was meant for 20; get them fed; and get those in need of hospitalization where they could be cared for.  The deaths at the start were appalling, but now they are at a bare minimum.  Now typhus cases are rare — DDT having been used more than freely in all buildings and on all personnel and patients.  The rate of evacuation of these people back to their own countries has been rapid these last few days and things have dwindled considerably.

       The Typhus Commission (some of the men with whom we had had contact both in Africa and Italy) has done a lot of work here and two of our nurses (Clarkie and Dottie Merrell) have been working with them, taking temperatures regularly, giving the medications, etc.

       When the people were liberated from the compound they just ran helter-skelter through all the workshops and warehouses and consequently equipment is scattered all over the floors and broken up, etc. in those warehouses where formerly the equipment was nicely stacked on shelves.  It ‘twould be hard for you to imagine how this place really looks.

                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for more of this letter
June 7, 1945

In speaking of Dachau, René tells his parents, “Whatever you hear about [Dachau Concentration Camp] and others like it, you can unhesitatingly believe every bit of it and more. The conditions that existed here were almost beyond imagination, but seeing is believing…the gas-chamber, the incinerators, etc.”

Editor’s note: I have included selected photographs of Dachau from René’s album in this and upcoming posts. However, I have reserved the most graphic and disturbing photographs only for those readers who choose to view them by clicking HERE.




Gas chamber with fake showers.




Crematorium (above & below)





Testing for typhus.



June 7, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

June 7, 1945
Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
No. 37 (conclusion)

Dear Folksies,

       Our home, incidentally, consists of two floors. The men live on the ground floor and the officers on the top floor. The kitchen is on the ground floor and the men have a classy dining room right there, while we have a similar one upstairs. Hot and cold running water, etc. The gals live in a similar place right next door, but they have been eating with one of the hospitals, but starting tomorrow they are going to have to eat with us.

       The Col. has his pup “Heida” here with him and tho’ she is a cute and funny looking friendly pup, she seems to still lack manners. Somehow she must think that the room that Brown and I sleep in is the bank, for she hasn’t as yet failed to make daily deposits there.

      The big news for tonight — which the Col. surprised us with at supper — is that for some strange reason the 7th Army is going to award a Plaque and Unit Citation to none other than the 59th Evac.  It doesn’t mean anything as far as points towards going home are concerned, but it’s darned nice to have.  We all get to wear some sort of wreath on our right sleeve (the cuff).

      The men who have not been working up at the other area have been having trips around the country, primarily to Innsbruck and the Brenner Pass. Westdahl arranged for overnight spots for two truck-loads of men and they’ve had a marvelous time. Would like to get down there myself, but know not if any of us here will get the chance, at least for a while. For when we are finished here, which ought to be in a matter of days, we may be setting up on a small scale in an area back up the line further. But, we shall see….

      As for the “going home” business, we speculate and keep ourselves sort of worked up over the whole thing, but no one knows what the score is as yet.  We feel rather sure that we will go home all right, but since “the medics are essential” anything can happen after that.  Whether we will go home in small groups or whether it will be the whole unit together, we know not.  All hope it will be the latter.  When it will be, of course, is still another question, but most of us are looking forward to seeing that old gal with the torch in the air much before Xmas.  Let’s hope we are pessimistic on that estimation.

                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
June 11, 1945

Dachau Concentration Camp…







The garden of the building where René and the other officers are living at Dachau.



June 10, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

The telegram that René sent to his parents on June 10, 1945…

He dispatched the telegram as soon as he received the following note from Jeanne Salomons, Yvette‘s aunt, dated May 30: “Dearest René, Just two words to tell you that Yvette just arrived and she is in good condition. We are so, so happy! I did not want to wait to advise you. Hoping to see you soon. Lots of love, Jeanne.”

 

.

Watch for my next letter
June 11, 1945


Jeanne Neuburger Salomons — René Sr.’s first cousin and Yvette Baumann Bernard’s aunt.




Yvette Baumann Bernard was in a concentration camp in Leimeritz, Czechoslovakia when it was liberated by Soviet troops on May 11, 1945. She returned to Paris on May 30, 1945.




No news about Yvette’s husband, Jean-Guy Bernard, whose last known whereabouts was on a train from Drancy Prison on its way to Auschwitz Concentration Camp.



June 11, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

June 11, 1945
Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
No. 38

Dear Folksies,

           We’re still the “Dachau Bosses” but are, for the most part, relinquishing our control today and tomorrow. The two Bills [Newsom and Kuzell] are turning over their hospital to the new men today, and Pete and I this morning took a couple of officers around our place to show them the ropes, for they are taking over our jobs tomorrow. The man taking Roy’s place as Exec has arrived, but as yet, we do not know anything about any new “Post Surgeon”. The Old Man isn’t here today, being at the other area at Heidenheim, so we know not just when we are getting out.

            Again, I have been very bad as far as keeping you informed, and have let a whole week slip by without getting any espistles off to you. Have really been pretty busy, however, and have spent evenings in relaxation, reading or talking in our very comfortable den.

        Now, to go back to where I left off and sort of bring you up to date on my activities. On the 5th, 6th, and 7th, Pete and I continued to get things at our hospital in order and we daily found more things that needed doing, more problems to be settled, and, in general, beaucoup to keep us occupied.  We set up a mess for our own hospital, got the personnel for it, set up a system for running it, and devised meal tickets so that our mess wouldn’t be feeding the D.P.s (displaced personnel) from all the other sections of the camp.

            You see, besides the hospitals set up in this camp, there are innumerable barracks in the camp which house those who are not ill.  Most of these are organized by the various nationality groups involved, and they either have their own mess or they draw their rations and do their own cooking — either out in the open or on some of the scattered kitchen stoves that one finds in strange places throughout the camp.

            As I started to say, however, the need for some sort of control by mess tickets was apparent, otherwise D.P.s who did not belong to our hospital would be coming in to the mess after they had eaten at their regular eating place.

            One of the amazing things I found for the mess, and which I had never seen before, was a potato peeler. It will peel a bushel or two of potatoes at a crack. All it consists of is a big bin with a motor driven wheel inside. The wheel goes round and round and consists of an emery-like surface, as do the sides of the container which I chose to call a “bin”. It actually wears the skin off the potatoes and is an amazing time-saver.

            You should listen to Pete and myself trying to find out things from our workers, or trying to tell them something.  They are mostly Polish — most speak German, but there are those who do not and our Chef is one of the “do nots.”  We have one fellow, a Pole, who is the assistant to the “Block Meister,” who speaks French.  Consequently, when we cannot understand or cannot make ourselves understood, we get him to interpret into French, and so far we’ve made out O.K       

             I believe I told you that at the outset we had about 100 patients in our Convalescent Hospital.  Well, it has gradually grown so that today we had more than 650 patients.

                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for more of this letter
June 15, 1945


René and Pete Joseph are running a Convalescent Hospital on the Dachau grounds. This is Typhus Ward at Dachau.




René explains that providing food for patients, as well as for those who are not ill, is a major priority and challenge.





June 15, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

June 15, 1945
Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
No. 38 (continued)

Dear Folksies,

            On June 8th, as Brown, Bell and Chuck Schwartz took off in the Mercedes for a tour around the country, Roy gave me the job of seeing that the hospital run by Capt. Sugranes was evacuated to the other hospitals, so that Sugranes’ hospital could be closed down.  Sugranes actually had two hospitals in this area – they weren’t hospitals like the one Kuzell has had (the latter was the SS hospital before), and gosh knows how many thousands were there originally. One unit was the so-called “Aryan Hospital” and the other the “Jewish Hospital”. However, when I went there I found that there was actually quite a mixture in the “Aryan” one, for many from the “Jewish Hospital” had come over to the Aryan one because it was a better installation.

          According to Sugranes’s last census report that Roy had, he had some 400 in his hospitals. However, in going around with him to evacuate them all, we found that a great number were just convalescents that were not in need of any hospital care, but were staying in the hospital because it was the best place to stay and they got hospital rations rather than D.P. rations (not much difference but a little more bread and milk means a lot to them.) Anyway, when we got thru evacuating, we found that there had only been 225 actually considered hospital patients.

            It took all day (9A.M. to 4P.M. with time-out for lunch) to move all those patients over to the main area. That hospital and compound was actually about 6-7 km from here – outside the town of “Allach” and was considered the “Allach Concentration Camp” tho’ apart from the Dachau Area Camp. We moved all those patients to the 127th, the Tuberculosis Hospital, or Kuzell’s hospital – both of which are right here at Dachau. I put a few patients in the 10th Field (where Bam is) as Roy wanted them to take all cases who still have typhus. Actually that amounted to only about 20 cases from that section.

             The whole procedure took so long because of various reasons.  One was that we had only 7 ambulances to use and since a number of the patients were litter cases, that meant that an ambulance load consisted of only 4 patients, and shuttling back and forth thus was rather slow.  However, when we moved the walkers, they were all so thin that we were able to put 11 in an ambulance that normally holds 8.

            Also, since so many patients were actually not hospital patients, and yet were on Sugrane’s list of patients, we practically had to see every patient with the doctors of the various sections (i.e. Polish, Hungarian, etc.) and decide if they should be hospital cases, or whether they should go back to the regular non-hospital barrack, preparatory to being shipped to their own countries as fast as the various national groups could arrange for transportation.

            Then, too, we had every man sprayed before allowing him in the ambulance – i.e. sprayed with DDT.  I had myself sprayed twice during that day after being around those barracks and those poor people all day.

            That afternoon, when at the 10th Field to deliver a message to their Col., I saw Bambi and talked to her for a while. She had just returned from leave at the Riviera and was soon going on her second leave to Paree. When I heard that, I well understood what Gen’l Fredericks meant about his not having felt sorry for that gang, as they had never really worked. Bam substantiated that view, as far as the Medical Officers were concerned, tho’ she says the nurses have really worked at times. She also substantiated what Roy had to say when I told him about Fredericks. Roy had said that no Gen’l goes in to appease an outfit as F. was doing, unless he had some galfriend in the unit. Roy’s diagnosis was true.

                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for more of this letter
June 19, 1945


Tuberculosis Ward




Spraying with DDT to kill Typhus-carrying lice.