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tv   Oral Histories  CSPAN  May 24, 2015 9:30am-11:01am EDT

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>> ♪ glory glory, hallelujah glory, glory hallelujah glory, glory, hallelujah his truth is marching on ♪ [drumming] [trumpets] >> ♪ his truth is marching on ♪ [applause]
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>> in 1945, 70 years ago, allied forces liberated nazi concentration camps. for the next several weeks here on american history tv, we hear holocaust stories from those who lived them. these interviews are part of the oral history collection at the united states holocaust memorial museum in washington, d.c. up next, mayer adler talks about being deported to auschwitz, it with his family. their separation, and his later transfer to a labor concentration camp. he remembers liberation and returning to his childhood home where he searched unsuccessfully for any of his immediate relatives. this oral history is almost 90 minutes. >> tell me where you were born and when? adler: czechoslovakia, october 6, 1929.
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>> i wonder if you would tell me something about your family and your life before the war. adler: we were what i would describe as a typical jewish family in a small town. i had two younger brothers, and my parents. a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins. just as i said, a normal kind of orthodox judaism, every friday for example sort of the world stopped. everyone came home. and we went to services friday afternoon, or friday evening rather. saturday was very peaceful. no labor, no money. none. no commerce of any kind. >> what did your father do? adler: he was a merchant. he was doing several things. we had a lumber business. and farming and things of that
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sort. basically that's what he was really doing. >> do have many recollections of that period? adler: mostly the hardships, and also as things were getting tougher, when i remember -- i guess it was a world depression at the time. there was a lot of famine and hunger during that period. the hardships they came with the war, i remember. i remember seeing the planes going over our town when they were attacking poland when the war started, i believe. and the hardships that -- once we were occupied. >> can you tell us something about that with the detail of your first introduction to the war? the experiences you had?
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adler: i'm not sure what i was, but one time, we were taken over to czechoslovakia as it was taken over by germany. we were given to hungary. so we became part of hungary. and i seem to remember that we had to reestablish citizenship. and that took quite a bit of effort and money. to become hungarian citizens. i am not sure, that might have been 1940. >> do you remember when the war started? you say you heard of the planes -- heard the planes. adler: i remember seeing planes going over to poland. we saw a sky full of planes going over us. the war wasn't in 1939. that had very little effect in concern for the world, i was too young to make much difference. but i remember that scene. leaflets used to drop every so often. but then we were taken over by
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hungary and we became hungarian citizens. life seemed to go on with some difficulty, almost normal. but at one time soon after jewish kids could not go to public school. i could go to parochial school and public school. my father used to have to pay -- hired somebody to give a private lessons. that's what i remember. >> go ahead. tell us what happened as time went on. adler: well, it just seems to have become more difficult as it went along. your rights were taken away, jews could not have any businesses. at some level, i remember that i had to work, we had the lumber business and there were ways to bring lumber down from the mountain. but i was working at that. there was a lumber mill. and in fact my cousin ran the lumber mill.
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but this wasn't the one there. there was a lot of lumber, that was the major business there. was transporting lumber from the mountains to the lumber mill and chopping it up and making lumber out of it and shipping it off. it was a rural area. there were no public transportation, i mean there was no train service. no buses. those are some of the things that i remember. >> then things began to close in and get more difficult? adler: it was getting more difficult, jews were being beaten on by hungarian police. but really, that is what i -- a lot of that is foggy to me. >> how about your own family? what were the impact of the events on your father and mother and brothers and you? adler: my brothers were quite young.
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not that i was an old man. and there was a two-year difference between each of us. so but the family was close, during times of trouble, you seem to get closer. and also we had -- in my hometown, we had -- let's see, one uncle, two -- we had two uncles living in town. some of them were living in surrounding towns. we had a bunch of cousins. the community was quite close to begin with. what happened, everybody was affected by it. >> you were able to live in the same place? adler: we lived in the same home until the end really. we lived in our own. things were getting tougher. we had to spend whatever money we had i think to buy off officials and i remember the thing that it was very difficult, establishing for some
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reason we had to establish on gary and -- hungarian citizenship. i seem to remember that took a lot of money. >> where folks scared -- were your folks scared? was there apprehension? adler: there was some talk we were going to be deported. we didn't know what it was all about. we have heard there were some things going on in poland, they were killing people. those were isolated, nobody really believe them. but for some reason, we were not deported. the whole town, there were several towns, we were not the only one, were left intact. >> did you see the nazis? adler: i did not see any nazis until -- i'm not sure if i saw them before auschwitz. the hungarians were just as bad. >> were there instances of
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hungarians beating people? adler: i remember one guy they arrested for trumped up charges. in all fairness, we were shielded from a lot of it. we were in a small town off the beaten track. it wasn't coming through daily it wasn't the kind of thing you would see daily. >> how long did that state of affairs last? how long until things changed materially? adler: on and off. there were problems coming release the anticipation. but things were getting worse as we went along. however in perhaps the end of 43, and certainly the beginning of 44, that's when things were getting bad. going from bad to worse. >> tell us about that. adler: we sort of -- we knew we were going to be deported. it was a question of trying to
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prepare yourself for that deportation. to our knowledge from what we recall we thought we were going to go as a family to a camp. and be used as labor camps. to labor, physical labor. -- to do labor, physical labor. we had family gatherings and meetings about that as to how we should handle that, how we could handle it. and also you bake and you prepared. my mother made all kinds of things, including small pillows we could take with us so we would have -- it whatever we should carry, if we could have a new home. i remember one of the discussions my mother used to complain to me that i'm not preparing for whatever we're going to be deported. i said don't worry about it, i do not need pillows. i can sleep on the floor and my arm will be the pillow.
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did not go over too well because as i said they were baking cookies that will last a lifetime, those kind of things. those are the things that i remember. just preparing for that day. and having meetings as to what we could do about it. there didn't seem to be much we can do about it. >> when the day came, what happened? adler: several thing happened before the day came. because it was getting closer, when we finally realized what was happening and when, i was becoming more and more vocal in the family saying this seems stupid to sit here and wait to be arrested and taken somewhere. my father used to say that he really doesn't know what we could do, however he felt that we would be better off as a family. at least this way we can help each other and it seems, it would make a lot more sense. i just didn't want to buy it. it just seemed -- i like the
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idea of being a family, but i didn't like being picked up and hauled off. we had several discussions on the subject. and, you know, it might have taken a period of two or three weeks and we'd finally realize d it was going to happen and it was pinned down as to when it was going to happen. i have just been pushing for that. i was going to go to russia. my father never said no, but he didn't say yes. and then when we finally -- the day before, we knew we were going to be picked up by tomorrow. the announcement i think was made that tomorrow, you will have to be home because they are going to come and take us. early that morning, i decided in fact i have told my family that i'm going to go. i had decided i was going to just take off. very early that morning, i got up and left town and started to go to where i thought was going to be russia. my kid brother said he would
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come with me. so we went and i went out of town in the direction towards the russian troops i thought. for russia. and as soon as i got up town some gentile we used to know met me and told us that my father had paid him to take us in the right direction, at least part way so we wouldn't end up german territory. so we went into the mountains and hid out for several days. we had heard what had happened. we were running into because we met several other people who ran away during the turmoil and the chaos when they pick people up. so we ran into several other people in the mountains and we sort of looked up -- hooked up together. two days later we met my father and my brother.
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who also took off at the last minute. we hit out for about 2, 2 and half weeks. we were just hiding, kept on staying in touch with the local areas. somebody used to sneak in a t night to pick up whatever information we could get. at the end of two weeks, the germans had issued an order saying that anybody who was hiding, and was part of the family, in other words ofif they had part of the family in custody and the ones who were missing, if they didn't surrender within 48 hours, they're going to kill the ones they had. so that we had surrendered. >> it was your mother? adler: my mother and my brother, so we surrendered and they did not do anything to us, they took us to the ghetto and we were there for about six weeks in the ghetto.
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which was in a town. after several weeks, they had shipped people out, which turned out to be auschwitz. >> what town was the ghetto in? adler: it was called izza. >> izza? adler: i am not sure if it was izza or iza. >> what was it like there? adler: it was a small town, a farming town really. it was very close to a big city -- a larger city. we were there more in barns, we lived several families in just a plain house we still live in because that was the kind of floors, that's where we lived. everyone's on top of each other no privacy, there was no room. it was just like a barn. i imagine there were houses, but
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i do not remember seeing houses. towards the end, as they shipped people out, they kept making the ghetto smaller. we were the last transport finally shipped out of there to auschwitz. >> were the nazis doing things to people, killing people? in the ghetto? adler: no, i didn't see any of that. they kept things pretty much hidden. i know they shot one person before we were shipped out because he had hidden -- we used to hide -- the women were busy sewing and baking and cooking, whatever. and people were hiding money and gold. they dug out the heels of shoes and money was put in the lapels of your coats and seams, they were hiding money to take with us. some of those things i remember. >> tell us what happened when the day came and they shipped you off, tell us about the trip to auschwitz.
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adler: well, they took us. i remember it was a sunny day. they loaded us into these boxcars. it was very crowded. you were locked in with almost no air, just one window, the door was slightly ajar. it was mostly, you were locked in there. and there were many people come i don't how many there were. there was barely room to sit. on the boxcar. there certainly was no room for anybody to stretch out. in the meantime, all of us had all these dumb suitcases that we packed in baked clothing and food to take with us to our new home. which took up a lot of room. for bathroom facilities, we had a bucket, and that's it. and everybody -- in fact a , couple of people died in our boxcar going there. we were in that for 3.5 days and we traveled, we had no idea where were going. but we did end up at auschwitz. >> what were conditions like in the boxcar?
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adler: it was just, everybody was -- there was no problem. people were just all miserable. sort of like misery loves company. nobody has, i mean, somebody is very sick and somebody dies,. we were all not too far from it. i don't ever being given any food except for the stuff we brought with us. >> what time did you get into auschwitz? adler: we came in i think it was early in the morning, maybe 10:00. i have no idea. i seem to remember it was nearly morning. it was like 10:00-ish. many people could see who were trying to get to the window to see as we were going by different areas. but i remember when we pulled in, the boxcar and the train finally came to a stop. we stopped several times before that, but this looks like a final destination.
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you can hear a racket. the prisoners in auschwitz that i didn't know incidentally, that was auschwitz. but the man who opened up our boxcar door did comment quickly to say, tell the young people if they are 16 years old, they worked in a factory. and you just -- and he just unlocked the car and went on. that was the comment i remember. as we got off, we were told the -- told to the board -- to deboard the train. one of my uncles had collapsed. he was very sick, he was just sitting there. i'm not sure whether he died that day or not. but we had to leave him. on the loudspeaker there were announcing to say men should go here, women with children under 16 to go someplace else. i remember getting my brother saying go with mommy, see you later. we were lining up to go through
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what turned up to be the line, the selection process. whatever it was called. that was what was going on. >> you thought -- you didn't know what was going to happen. adler: i have no idea. i thought, and i imagine everybody thought, that we were going to go through get search. we were told to leave all belongings on the train. they told us you will get it later, just leave it there. separate men and women and small kids to go someplace else. >> did they treat you brutally? or were they -- adler: there was some. they were hitting people if you didn't go, they had people with clubs and they were hitting you if you didn't go where you are supposed to, just to get you quickly off of the train into these lines they wanted to go to. that seemed to go, that seemed to progress quite well. there was commotion, chaos.
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it was a long train, there were quite a few people on the train. because we were not the only town on the train. >> what happened to you? adler: as we were going through -- i don't understand this to this day. we were going through the line and i was not first in line, needless to say i was in last either. but there were people lining up and my experience as a kid, i always used to tail my father . wherever he went, i wanted to go where he went. even when he did not want me to go, i used to sneak behind him. my father was right ahead of me. a cousin of mine who had a club foot who was limping was a little bit ahead of us. as he went through this line, i don't understand really. i've thought about it as to why we do this. because when we came to the head of the line, he sent my cousin to the right, he sent my father to the right. and then he came to me and asked me how old i was.
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i told him i was 18 years old, he said did you ever work in a factory, i said yes, three years, and he said go to the right. and i noticed -- >> to the right? adler: to the right. i think that is what he told me. >> did he tell the others to go to the right also? told you to go in the same direction? adler: right. as he told me that, notice these people were lining up behind him on the left. so that i just didn't pay any attention, just went and got in right behind them, turn left and got lined up with those people. in other words i didn't follow my father. >> any thought as to why? adler: no idea. the impression in me was that these people were in their late teens, 19, 20. late teens 20's, maybe in their
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30's. all the people who were lining up, i had friends world that i was. it was a split decision, it took all of one or two seconds. i didn't stop walking through the line, just kept on going. i just turned to go where these people were. >> did you see your father? adler: i saw him go to the other side, i never said goodbye, i never saw them again. i never said goodbye to my brother, either. i just told him go with mommy, i will see you in a while. >> that was the last to sign. then what happened? adler: then we were marched off and taken to the barracks where we were lined up and they were shaving everybody. every hair on your body. i remember really because when it came to me, i had just gotten a haircut. and at that time we used to cut our hair, i had no here at all. -- no here at all.
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--h hair at all. the guy who was shaving me he couldn't find a hair on it. he said what the hell is this kid doing here? i didn't have a hair on my body. he was the prize, no pubic hair anything to shave. he seemed to have a problem with this. but he passed me through. after the shaving we went in and took the shower. we were told take our clothes off before he went in there. it was a shower and got new clothes afterward. like pajamas. and then we were marched into this camp and that's when reality sort of hit. it was the first time i was ever on my own. totally. >> when was this? adler: june, 1944. i think it was june 14. not sure. and, as i said, i found myself in this huge camp.
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dreary, and with no -- i had what was on my back. whatever i had was on my back, when they gave me the pajama uniform. with a million people. i was sort of separated, that wasn't anybody there for my hometown. there were a couple of people, but this was a huge building. and we were just being pushed around and shoved and i had finally met a couple people for my hometown. but most of them come a lot of people are didn't know. we spent several days there. >> what was the day like? can you describe what the days were like? adler: the days were -- you hope d you're going to be in there to get work. what i realized after being
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there, as happened a few hours afterwards. when i realized what was afterwards. when i realized what was happening, i ended up in a building that was mostly kids. guys more my age. that didn't seem right to me for some reason. so i ran away from there and they will let you go, you are in a camp compound, but you can go to the next building, there were several buildings there. i was looking for places where there were more adults. people who were more working because you could see some people working. carrying stones and stuff like that. so that i mixed in with some of those. and i was just going from place to place, for the better part of those weeks. i was trying to find myself someplace where i would end up with more adults. and every time i ended up doing that, they were looking for work details and for some reason they always threw me out. i was too small and the lapel we used to march and be counted
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i was standing half of the time on a stone just so i would appear a little taller. or a brick. when we would march, five people arms locked in, i would ask the guys to lift me up so that i wouldn't be that much shorter. and that's -- it worked pretty much. >> what was eating and sleeping like? adler: sleeping -- we slept in the barracks where i was at. where you sat on the floor and you spread your legs and someone else was right next to you, and that is how we set -- sat in a row. on top of each other. you dozed off as much as you could. but it was people to people. there was a person that was living on me, there was a person
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behind me -- leaning on me there was a person behind me. getting up was almost impossible. you had to disturb everybody if you had to go to the bathroom. or anything like that. in the meantime, they used to come in at night and the barracks had a center, i don't know what you would call it, like a runway. a guidey used to walk with a whip and start hitting people. it seemed to happened every night. sometimes several times a night. just kidding people with a whip. -- hitting people with a whip. in this particular camp, there were a lot of gypsies. they were sort of the authority. they seem to be running the camp. during that period. >> were they helpful or cruel? adler: not really. well, they were not helpful but -- it was mixed. there were some that were more
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sympathetic and helpful. they weren't detrimental, even though there were some of them that were putting on a show, they have to beat you. and they were doing a lot of that. the trick was to try and get some kind of work so you could go on a work detail. and the food they used give us that is what i remember for food. for breakfast they used to give us a coffee. i never drank coffee in my life before that. i used to use that to wash my face with, because it was warm. i don't remember any other thing that we got for breakfast. once in you'd see a small piece of bread. >> you ate very little? adler: very little. >> what about the toilet? adler: there was a building for that purpose that you had to go to. central building just as big as this place. they had umpteen -- what did
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they call it -- wc. that's what it was called. >> what was going on? what were you feeling? adler: very lonesome, very depressed, sort of lost. at that time i didn't have any idea what was going on. but i also knew it wasn't good. you didn't have time to think. you are trying to survive. during that period, i remember i had finally met some people i was running around in these different buildings, in the same compound. i met some people from my hometown. there was this one guy who had a brother, a fellow was my age and he had a brother that was three years older. they were there. we were sort of trying to stick around together. we used to get beaten, wherever you went, you would run into
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somebody who would beat you? >> you were beaten? adler: yes. we decided one day, i suggested that -- it was terrible, they have electric wire fences, we had decided to go in touch it. just so we can die. somebody had done that before us. i saw the guy who done it before. they came in to kick the guy and see if he was dead. i told his other fellow, it's stupid here. they beat you even after you are dead. maybe we ought to try, maybe we will make it. that's what we decided not to commit suicide. to stick it out. we did, and it seemed to be, i remember seeing people going to work and very seldom was i picked for one of these labor details. the way it finally came about after several weeks that i was there.
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i was in one place, it was a workgroup that turned out was over 1000 people. they were carrying rocks. after several hours of work, they counted off a group of people for some reason, and they picked out -- first before they started to count they picked out some people and put them aside. i was one of the ones they picked out. they counted off, which i learned later where 1000 people. there was just a few of us left. they cordoned off those people. the sun was shining. i remember it was a hot day. they were sitting in the sun and waiting. we were being separated and were told to disperse. we were carrying water to these people because they were begging for water and the guards let us get water. i made several trips for these people.
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we found some dirty bottles and containers and gave them water to drink. in the meantime these two , fellows that i told you about, the fellow who was my age and the older brother -- the older brother was in the grip that was cordoned off and we were not. the two brothers wanted to stay together. every time i hand them water, we made a couple of comments. i told him they would like to stay together. he said they would definitely like to get them together. after making several trips with the water bottles, we had prearranged that next time we come in with the water, we will make it look like he needs water. i will stay and he will go with his brother. the older brother came to stay with the younger one. when i made that final trip, he had changed sides to appear that he was giving me the water. and i left. -- and i ended up with the water and he left.
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>> why did you do that? adler: they want to stay together and i wanted to get out of there. >> this group, you knew -- adler: they all looked healthy. i assumed that they are going to go someplace as a workforce. after that, an hour or so later, we were being loaded on trains. they took us on a two or three day trip. we went from there to germany. we came in the middle of the night to a place which was one of the satellite camps of dachau. i remember, this was scary. we got off the train, it was late at night. we walked to the satellite can't. we had to walk between the railroad tracks. it was not mountains, it was two hilly areas. i thought they were taking us to be shot. that was the first thing i thought -- the first time i thought we were going to be
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killed. thought. they marched us to this camp and that's where i ended up being stationed for several months. >> tell us about that. adler: this was a camp where life was sort of normal to some extent. we had a field and they put up cardboard huts. made out of compressed or very heavy cardboard. in the rainstorms, they would bend. they had a little straw on the floor. we slept on the floor and if it rained, water came in. we put dirt around it a little bit. we were getting food. a regular ration certainly was not normal. most of the food was soup, very seldom was there meat in it. once in a while we got a little piece of bread. sometimes we would get liverwurst. stuff like that. we were doing normal, all kinds
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of building, construction. we built factories. i remember they built a factory. our job was to what do you call it -- not soil, but we were putting sod on top of it. we had to carry, physically, sod and put it in the area so it did not look like a building. it looks like a hill. >> you were a small boy at that point. did you have trouble doing that? adler: no. i was doing it. i was small. i remember the camp commander had complained bitterly when he looked the next morning he came into camp. he said all these kids are on this transport. we had several youngsters. but the camp was run -- i mean we worked long hours. , we were doing all kinds of stuff. there was some food.
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there were beatings on and off if you did your job there was , not too much beating. >> were you beaten? adler: there was another guy who beat me every time i saw him. i used to run away from him. there was another guy who helped me. this camp, we were true laborers. i remember, because of the fact that i spoke, i was able to understand german. in this camp are about 2200 of us. most of them, i think in excess of 2000 were hungarian jews. they were very idealistic. these people did not speak any jewish. we were outcasts to them. there were about 100 of us assorted nationalities, all jews, but from all different countries. some poles, stragglers here and there.
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i used to be able to go and do interpreting. a german what ask for a detail. a farmer would deliver something and pick something up, i used to be part of the detail because i was able to communicate a little better. there was an austrian not in the army. he was in the work -- i am trying to remember what they were called. the work details, in charge. he was an engineer. he was the one who had us build all the projects. he did a lot of things for me that were very helpful. he used to go to his kitchen at lunchtime. we would go one place and the germans would go somewhere else. he would get seconds. he would take two bites and say, go and wash my dish out. it was full of food. it was the greatest thing he could do for me.
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there were some that were helpful. we worked long hours. rain, sun, it did not make a difference. another thing that made an impression on me at the time, we became sort of religious. not to the extent that we were religious, but we had services. we would have a minyan every morning and every night when they were waiting for people to come countless -- count us. a german came by and you shut up, but you are praying by memory. we did that quite a bit. >> did that help? adler: i don't know what helpe d. i guess it helped. we were existing day-to-day. what did happen, there were people who did give up. there were suicides. people used to go to the latrine and hang themselves. that was one of the most dangerous places to go to because people were falling.
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then it happened, i remember we used to look forward to the day when the daylight bombing started. i call it daylight bombing now which i did not know at the time, but at 10:30 the planes would go over and we used to get a break from work. we used to love those things. stretch out on the grass and rest. when the sirens went off, they had us stop work. i was one of the fellows -- when munich was first bombed, they destroyed a railroad station. i was taken there, one of the guys went to work to try to put the train station back to some sort of work order. that is where we had to go on the train a long time and come back. during that period we worked long hours. between work and on the train to and from munich took a long
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time. as i said, many projects. i remember laying railroad tracks. laying railroad tracks in the wintertime with no gloves. your hands used to stick to the tracks. you had to shake it to get it off, it was so cold. people used to haul things. you had to all things. you had to pull stuff. they would whip you like a horse. pull, pull, pull. on several occasions i was able to get myself some jobs that were helpful. i used to clean out offices. that gave me benefit because in trash cans and ashtrays i used to find cigarette butts. that was like gold. it was more like diamonds. for every butt you could get
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you could get a ration of bread. people would trade back away. -- that away. those things were helpful. we were very cold because we had the same clothing. striped pajama uniforms. it was just like a shirt and a pair of pajama pants. what i did in the winter was we used cement bags as liners. we emptied the bags of cement and put them in our clothing. the shoes fell apart. in fact, i froze off my toenail. the toe on one of my feet was frozen. the bottoms of my feet were frozen. i have had problems with that. i remember being extremely cold and the work conditions were atrocious. >> how long did that last? adler: that lasted pretty much until the end.
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it lasted until -- i came there in august when i got to germany, through i remember christmas eve december. being moved from that camp to a -- another camp where we were building a new camp. that was where my troubles were. life was sort of normal from the period of august through december in this camp. you worked long hours but it was more normal. when we were shipped to the other camp, we had no news of what was going on. i remember seeing one fellow -- we knew that they made selections every so often of people who were not fit to work and took them away. one romanian doctor told us he was going to volunteer for that. we were telling him that this is not the thing to do. his comment was he could not take it.
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he was a big fellow. he had volunteered. he wanted to go on one of those those transports. >> he knew he would die. adler: wie felt that. when they started to take us on train projects to work people used to jump in front of the train. when the train was coming into the station, people would jump in front of it. you saw things like that. >> what happened when you got to the other camp? adler: it was very cold. we marched all night. we came there and there was no place to stay. we had to build a makeshift building. i was starting to deteriorate. soon afterwards there were a lot of people that got very sick. that would have been in january or february. people were getting sicker and sicker. they started where there was one building put up.
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in fact we moved to another camp because it was terrible. when we got there, more and people -- it seemed like the whole camp was sick. they had buildings that had people that were just sick. >> where were they sick? adler: i did not know at the time but they had typhoid fever. i found out afterwards. >> what did you observe? adler: they could not move. they were just terrible. i remember i went through a period there, and i don't remember how came about, but i was thrown into one of the buildings with these very sick people. every morning, i remember, -- that is how it started. that is what i did. the people slept on, it was not a bed, but a platform. next to each other, you slept in rows. we used to go in the morning and pick up the dead bodies and haul -- they would come and haul them off. after a while i was put in one
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of those buildings to stay. that is where -- i was down -- >> were you sick yourself? adler: i was starting to have some sickness, but -- i certainly did not have i developed typhoid fever when i was there. i was still working. i was able to go on. most of the people could not do anything. >> what did you weigh at that point? adler: i don't know, but when i was literally i was about 30 , kilograms, which about 64 pounds. i had sores because i was nothing but skin and bones. i had huge sores on my backside. i also remember one period when i did not go to the bathroom for 13 weeks. it was the most painful thing i did try. we were being pulled back.
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as march and april came we were being consolidated, pulled back, which i did not know for what reason or where. life seemed to improve slightly. then at the end of april we were being taken by train. we've gone together in an area and being loaded on trains. >> you are no longer in dachau? adler: this is still in the same general vicinity. dachau was a major camp with a lot of satellite camps. i guess what they were doing is pulling all the people back to what turned out to be dachau. we loaded on this train. i remember it was april 27 when we finally got on the train. we pulled into the train station where we parked. the train was all open boxcars. next was was a antiaircraft gun
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train. the planes came over that morning, looked at us and saw us in open boxcars and took off. as they took off the antiaircraft opened fire and they shot down several of those planes. >> and the antiaircraft was -- adler: right behind us. i would imagine they should have been able to see them in the air. it was an open train station. that day, the planes kept coming back and bombing the hell out of us. during that period, when the shooting had stopped people got , out of the boxcars and climbing over and germans were disappearing. this was april 27. we were roaming around and we had not eaten. we had not eaten for quite a while. i saw a lot of bread on the german train.
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i climbed under my train and up to the german and asked them to please give me some bread. he started to hand me to loaves of bread. when he did that one of my guards came over and put the butt of his rifle to my head and pushed me across the track and told the german not to give to me. he pushed me physically across the track. as soon as he did that, another prisoner did exactly the same thing i did. he ran for the bread and the guard shot him on the spot. killed him right there. >> one of the guards. adler: yes. he did not say one word to him. go figure. as the day went on, we thought maybe we were liberated because we looked around and there were no germans left. we got into the woods and it seemed to quiet down. the germans rounded us up again
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and put us back on the train and took us to dachau. i remember getting there, the people that guarded us at dachau the new prison guards that were there, the rifles were bigger than they were. they were little kids. they marched us into dachau. prior to that, what happened during the chaos, i saw the , train with food and i took what i could. we had very loose uniforms and i would stuff it with food. all kinds of food. that evening, some prisoners and came and took it all away from me. whatever i had. they missed a package of butter that i noticed later because i felt that sticking to my body and it started to melt. when no one was looking i put my hand in my shirt and broke off a piece of butter. i ate the whole package of water
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-- butter. if you want to know what happened after that i became , deathly sick. it was terrible. i was dehydrated to begin with. i had diarrhea from that. it was absolutely a disaster. i was waiting to die. i was just lying there. i remember in dachau because i was lying in the barracks and somebody came and told me and said hang on it won't be long , now. i told them it will not make any difference to me, i do not have long. but on april 29 we were liberated. >> can you tell us about the liberation, what you saw of that? adler: as i tell you, i was very sick. i did not get out of bed. i heard commotion and did not pay any attention. i saw little of it. fortunately for me, as it turned out, when they came in and they saw what was going on -- i was close to the gate.
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i was taken by military personnel to a military hospital. by americans. american soldiers. american doctors were treating me. >> how did they react when they saw what was going on? adler: they seemed to be -- they were very disturbed. around me you can see these corpses, or people who look like corpses. there were quite a few people who died after liberation from illnesses or dehydration. my first food i recall that the americans gave me seemed like charcoal. it tasted like ground up charcoal. believe me, i had tasted food. in the camp, we had not been for several days. people were eating grass. i tried that. the dirty grass was terrible. i said i would just as soon die if i have to eat this.
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i did not eat it again. i used to go behind the kitchen and steel the rubbish because potato peelings were a great food. anything the kitchen threw out. remembering stuff like that. for example, prisoners who used to work in the kitchen, it was a good job. they knew you fished through the garbage, mostly warm liquid. sometimes a potato. i do not recall ever seeing a piece of meat. it was basically potato soup kind of. more soup than potato. they treated me quite well. i remember more of a reaction when a german nurse came in to see me. >> where did the americans take you? adler: same vicinity. it was someplace in the dachau
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area, a hospital. i was being treated. i remember when this german woman came in. she was very young and when she saw me, she collapsed. she fainted. i remember having a discussion with somebody because they claimed they did not know what was going on. my question was how can you not know what is going on there when you see, day after day, trains of people coming in and then going back to empty? after this goes on for several months of years, you would have millions of people there. something had to be going on. i was also told afterwards that i was supposed to go to dachau and that we were being taken there to be killed. we did not make it. we were delayed on the trip. they got everyone together at the end of the war. i was liberated april 29 and the war was over a few days later, may 8. it was not much.
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i stayed in the hospital for several months. >> when you transferred from auschwitz to dachau, your family was not with you, what did you think had happened to them? when did you realize that you were alone, without them? what happened? adler: i really did not know until after the war that they are probably dead. >> you got out of auschwitz, what you think? adler: at that time, all i want to do -- when i was in auschwitz i just wanted to get out. out of there. i was told the people in the , prison say we are being taken to a labor camp were going to work. that is what we were trying to -- again, we were all being taken. it was cold. that was one of the problems
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even on that train. the nights were called -- c old, we were moving constantly, we stopped in vienna. somebody recognized it was vienna we were moving through. we were just trying to survive really. we did not think too much. i assumed it that time they were just in a different camp, that they were also someplace working. there was no question in my mind. i had no idea that they were dead or were about to be dead. i think i assumed and most people assumed they were in a different camp. we were told there were of a lot of camps. >> when you were in the hospital after dachau, how long were you there? adler: the end of april to maybe two or months. threei had trouble walking. i was very weak.
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they tried to build me caps on. they released me, it must have been at least two months. because they took us on trucks to czechoslovakia, to prague. we were calling on the truck. i remember getting out of the truck and i had to walk up steps and i had trouble walking the steps. my legs hurt. it was very difficult. i did not have the strength. i had gained back some strength by that time already. after kicking off a few days there -- they were taking you back to the general vicinity. we used to ride the trains because we did not bother with tickets. it was pretty much a free for all. trains were moving or they did not move. the train would move and it would stop and stay stopped for two days sometimes. the russian troops -- czechoslovakia was in the russian hands. i used to look up and go back to my hometown. the best way to travel was to hook up with a russian military
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train going in the vicinity. it took me a long time to get home. "washington journal -- >> after you got the proud? adler: i was trying to go back to my hometown. the guys who were old, more able physically, rumor mills, this is how you can go here. we were going back. after several weeks, it was a very tedious and long trip. you were moving and i train could stop for no reason and you stay there. the best trained was -- the next train was passing so we hopped from train to train. >> how about the people in the countryside? how did they treat you? adler: most of them sort of ignored us. there were some people -- they
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were not hostile, but i certainly would not say friendly. the most memorable thing i remember from that whole journey is when i finally got into my hometown -- and this took several weeks because i had stopped in bigger cities. i stayed there. when i finally decided to get into my own town, i will never forget getting off a bus and there were three of us they got off the bus. there were some there was a gentile kids standing on the corner. i heard the comment, look, there are three more jews hitler did not kill. >> you got back to your hometown. after this arduous journey. what did you see when you got there? adler: everything was pretty much the way we left it. nothing was destroyed, really. many yards were overgrown. they looked wild. in our house there happens to be
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a caretaker that used to help us who would come in on shabbos and put wood on the fire. and was living in it. the town was deserted. all the jewish population was gone. there were only a handful of people who came back. even most of those did not settle there. >> was it a jewish town? adler: no, it was mixed but but there were a lot of jews in there. it was probably more gentile but there were a lot of jews in there. >> when you got to your home tell us about that. adler: people were nice to me and put me up. they did what they could for me. i would not say they resented that i came back. i just did not feel comfortable there. our neighbor, a friend of the
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family, wanted to buy the house. >> before we get into that, were you able to find out anything about the state of your family? adler: not there. i had already found out pieces and things did not look promising. it took me several weeks and we were talking to other people. >> in prague? adler: not prague, as much, much but it was a several week journey. when i came back, there were people in a bigger town that was a jewish community. i went there and learned already who came back and did not. i was one of those. because of the fact that i was in the hospital i was one of the , later ones to come back. plus, many people were liberated earlier. some were in camps that were liberated as early as january of 1945.
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you picked up all kinds of pieces. >> what did you find out? adler: seems to be that i had cousins. i have heard of some cousins saw a couple. no immediate family, aunts or uncles, nobody. no parents. after being there for a while you know, you sort of had a feeling. you were keeping your fingers crossed and helping. in romania they had a place that everyone was gravitating to. as i said, we were moving by the seat of your pants. you got on the trained you moved. if somebody bug you for a ticket , if it was a hungarian, you threw them off the train. i saw people get thrown off the trains, conductors bugging us for tickets.
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we ended up going to romania. >> after the war. when you got home, you were telling us that someone wanted to buy your house. adler: right. this fellow won a two by the house. i just felt, i don't know why i , did not want to sell. number i hoped someone survived. one, i did not want money from it. it did not feel right for me to take money from it. i said he had my permission to stay in the house as long as he wants to. or if any other member of my family comes back, they can decide to do whatever they want. he asked me to give that to him in writing and i did. i signed a piece of paper that someone wrote up for him that gives him full possession of this property that we had. we had other property by the house and he could stay there. there was one stipulation.
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any other member of my family can void that. he gave me two sandwiches. the next day i left town. >> two sandwiches. did you ever see it again? adler: that was it. never saw it again. i am not sure that i have the desire to. >> you went on to tell romania? adler: we were told that people were gathering. everyone seems to be gravitating they have more records there and you can find out. i went to romania. it took maybe a week to get there. you look and there were all kinds of refugees there. people in my position mostly , young people, older than i. >> you are about 16? adler: i was about 16 at the time. they were mingling. what town are you from? do you know so-and-so? who did you see? after being there for -- i don't
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know how many days i was there -- i learned nothing. that is when i went back to czechoslovakia, but not my home area. >> this time -- adler: i'll tell you what else happened. i ran into one of my older cousins. he had survived with his sister. he said, where are you going? i don't know where i'm going. he said we do not know either. why don't you come with us? wherever we go. he was older. so i ended up going with him. it made sense. and we stayed together until 1946 or 1947. they ended up leaving and going to germany. >> you realized that everybody was gone -- adler: i tell you, i was not unique. i'm not sure i really know
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exactly how i felt when i felt. you had hoped, i hope at that time still. i am not sure to what level i decided everyone is gone. even today, sometimes, i hope, i think maybe. , everyone was in the same boat. you are no different. you sort of thought -- without looking back -- after doing searching, as i said i feel bad about it today. i had said i have hopes i would run into one of my brothers. >> do you ever dream about them? adler: i used to, at one time, a lot. i used to blame myself. >> you blamed yourself? adler: yeah.
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i used to blame myself. pushing him, go with mommy in auschwitz. he wanted to come with me. and i said, no, you are too young, go with mommy. i will see you afterwards. i felt that if he had come with me, maybe i could have pulled him through. that was the problem that i had. that was after the war. i thought about that many a time. i used to have nightmares, things like that. >> for a long time? adler: i don't know how you describe loan. certainly several months, maybe a year or two.
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>> when you got back to prague with your cousins, what happened? adler: we settled in a town. it was easy to get quarters because there were a lot of germans that were deported or had left. we moved into a nice residence from a former german. you lived there free. they finally decided that we were going to leave. go back to germany to try to go to israel. it was very difficult to do. i was on several transports going. after trying and trying, the
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-- we got stopped every time. the same cousin of mine said stick together. we will see what happens. as i was going, then there was a chance i had a chance to come to , this country. i wanted to go to israel in the worst way. my cousin -- my cousin told me on several occasions that we should go together but when it was so difficult to go to israel, he said it looks like our opportunity came to come to america. i did not want to go and he convinced me. he said, don't be a fool. go to america. get an education. then israel can use you more with some education than they can today. there are enough people like you. we do not need anymore. that is how i ended up registering for this it was
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, called the u.s. children's committee. it was an organization called the u.s. children's committee. it was sponsored, i was told, by eleanor roosevelt. at that time, if you are under 18 and had no immediate family in europe or america, they would bring you here. i lived in a children's home for a while. this is 1947, i think. the end of 1947, october, papers cleared and i came to this country on the 10th of november, 1947. >> where did you go? adler: they took us off the boat in new york and they took us to some kind of, i don't know if it was a home or a hotel. we settled in. in fact it was very interesting. , i was there no more than half an hour and someone was paging me. it can't be.
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nobody knows me i don't know , anyone in new york. how can this be? someone said this is for meyer adler. i went to the phone and it was a cousin of mine, a second cousin who lived in america. they saw in the newspaper the list of names and towns of people coming. who lived in new york and came to see me. the whole point was for people who sponsored us was to farm us out and get us out of new york. they are trying to encourage you to go anyplace but stay in new york. i had a friend of mine who came before me who ended up settling in cleveland. somebody suggested towns. anyplace. i knew nothing about america. absolutely nothing.
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i said, fine cleveland is a good , place to go to. the interesting thing for me was i was going to cleveland and they put us on the train. somebody met us from the family service -- what was it called, jewish children's organization. i was going on the train to cleveland. i did not know if i was going to cleveland, ohio or ohio cleveland. that is how much i knew about where i was going to. i arrived in cleveland and they put us in an orphanage. the orphanage had problems with us because basically most of us were about 18, 19, thereabouts and we were all very old people and they were trying to -- it was an orphanage with kids mostly under 15 or 16. they would try and treat us like kids. that did not go over too well. they decided they were trying to , find homes for us. some people had family they could go and live with. i was one of the last ones out
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of there. >> did the family take you on? adler: finally, one of my teachers had requested i come live with him. that is what i ended up doing. i lived with him for a while. >> what has happened to you? what has happened to you since that time? adler: first, the class i attended, the teacher was teaching the class at temple. it was for people like myself who spoke very little english who were being taught english and whatever else could be taught. there were all boys and girls my age. it was a relatively small group. they were going here and living in the orphanage. then they were farming out. let's see, that was november.
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for several months, finally, i moved out of there. i want to get a job. the teacher talked me into it and i entered public school. i had a problem because my english was far from what they wanted. they gave me some tests and they said they could put me in seventh grade. i told them forget it. i'm not interested to go into seventh grade. they gave me further testing and took me on probation into high school, 10th grade. if i could cut it i could stay there. if not, they would have to kick me out. i said that is fine. other subjects i could qualify on. english was the big problem. i entered high school. in a year and a half plus summer
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school, i finished high school. they were very nice to me because they helped with english and i had to take accelerated courses. for example i was very good at , math. one semester, i took algebra, geometry and trigonometry in the same semester. i came to trigonometry and the teacher would tell me they would do homework and after class they would tell me what was going on because i did not know what was going on. >> it had not gotten in the way of making an adjustment? adler: every now and again you fell down. there were other people like myself. i had to go on with life. there were people that felt sorry for themselves and i worked with those people and never saw any sense for it. nobody owes you anything. you can't blame people. there are people even now that blame their problems today on
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what happened to them. >> you have made an ok life for yourself? adler: i think i did well. i have done financially ok. i have a good family, a couple of sons and a wife. they seem to be self-sufficient. everyone seems to be ok. i don't think i have anything, you know, to feel bad about. i did go through periods that i remember early, after i had been in the country for some time. people came to me. people were applying for, i don't remember what year it was, but they were applying to germany for restitution. i did not want any part of that. i still don't know why. i felt at the time and i still really feel that i did not want
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to get paid for it. whatever happened, happened. i would not want it to happen again but i sure would not want to get paid for it. it would sort of make it -- it is like buying a piece of paper. -- it is like buying a piece and paying for it. i'm not holding anyone responsible but getting paid for it did not seem right. that was one of the problems. >> that is a good point. we will stop there unless there is something us you want to tell us. adler: nothing really. >> there was one other area. you were in the army in germany? adler: first of all, let me backtrack a little bit. there is a point i remember, for example. i was with people in the camp. people are being killed. i kid about this because i was
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with people -- if you are going to get killed, you see they're shooting people, so don't go there. i remember going to a place where there were killing people and you could see it. i told guys, don't be stupid. they said, what are you going to do? i said, let them shoot you here. at least where i want. i could not convince anybody to follow me. i walked away from that and i am still here to say that i survived. i tried to talk to people. you could look for a chance. if you hear a guy shoot 50 yards from where you are, try not to go there. i had a problem convincing a lot of people to do that. you could do it one at a time. i just got up and walked away. nobody stopped me. if someone had seen me, i would have been shot. hell, i was going to get shot anyhow. that was -- just interesting how
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people are. when i finished high school -- first of all, the same teacher who worked very hard with me who was taking me, helping me, had wanted me to go on to college. it was very difficult. number six months before one, graduation of high school i wanted to quit because was very difficult. i was working part-time, studying a lot, doing accelerated courses, extra courses so i could graduate sooner. i kept skipping grades. i was fed up. friends who were in the same boat as i did not go to school were making good money. here i had no money and working hard and it was difficult. prior to that, i planned to
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go to college. it was getting very impossible. this teacher had me promise that for her sake i would graduate high school. after i got out of high school, i could not get a job at all. there were just no jobs. i ended up at jewish vocational services, they got me a job at a company that i hated from day one. i was not going to stay, it was just temporary. that was 1950. while i was there the korean war broke out. i said i might as will stay before get drafted. i stayed there until i got in the army. i did not want to go, but i ended up in the army. during the war they shipped , everyone to korea. i applied to the intelligence service because of my languages. i was accepted but i was shipped
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off to germany. in fact the whole battalion i trained with, most of them went to korea. 4 of us in the intelligence service were tripped to desk shipped to new jersey to go to europe. in new jersey they only take two of us and i was one of the two shipped to europe. >> how did you feel about being in germany? adler: i did not particularly want to go to korea, so it did not bother me. i had no problem going back to germany. some of the things i had to do for ultimately a little more difficult. when i got in, this was a good job. when i got back to germany for the first six months, i was in seventh army headquarters and they did not need me. i had nothing to do. i used to go on payday and ask are you sure my name is on the paid roster? we were exempt from duties.
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i used to just get up in time for meals and go and do things. >> i understand that you ended up in the intelligence service. can you tell us about that and talking to germans? adler: finally, i got an assignment. it was to gather information. we were doing interpreting. i was dealing with germans. not mostly, 99%. i was set up at a place, in a home where they had rented a huge mansion. this intelligence outpost. we were gathering intelligence on russia and subversion and all kinds of things. then, i think it was in 1952. we decided we needed to have the
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best german army because east germany had formed their own army. the united states decided we wanted one of those. my job was to go and select officers for the army. >> selecting german -- adler: talking to people -- i had done a lot of things with germans. i had a good job because i could pass as a german. i spoke fluent german at the time. there were all kinds of things i did for the army. i had a good life. i lived with maid service. no army crap of any kind. this one job, as i said, i had to go out and dig up officers who on paper were supposed to be wehrmacht, not nazis, and
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try to decide who you could trust. i remember writing a report and saying i had a problem. if i had a german army for my friends, my allies behind me, or had the russians in front of me, my enemies, i'm not sure what to look first at. >> did you detect any nazi background? adler: yeah, there was a lot of it but not all of them were nazi. all the socialites, really. i had to socialize with a lot of germans too. , a fellow who had my job before me did not succeed and he was a seasoned army person. only because he did not know how to -- he could not get along with germans. it was important to do what i did.
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to do what i did, you have to get along with them. the army didn't care about my background. >> in a conflict about that? adler: not really. i did what i had to do. i did not do anything to hurt anybody to the extent that i do not want to talk about it. i did not do anything that treated somebody unfairly. it was an interesting part of education for me. it was a good experience. i was comfortable with what i did. it was difficult to do many times. some parts of it were very difficult. i enjoyed the freedom. i like to do what i do -- as long as whatever i have to do, i have no restrictions i can do a , good job. i don't like to follow rules. >> it's a good thing you did not follow rules. you would not be here today.
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thank you very much. adler: ok. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] >> monday night at 10:00 p.m. eastern, an nbc news special "communist saigon." it details events in the weeks following the end of the vietnam war. an nbc news special report on american history tv on c-span3. >> each week, american history tv brings you archival films that help tell the story of the 20th century. 35 years ago on may 18, 1980 an earthquake the need for mount saint helens -- beneath mount saint helens caused an earthquake that killed 57 people and destroyed almost 157 miles of forest.
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>> mount saint helens, a 9677 foot sleeping volcano. in the wild abundance of a national forest in southwest washington. ♪ on march 20, 1980, mount saint helens begin to show telltale signs that her slumber was ending. >> we are directly over mount saint helens. no question that the volcanic activity has begun. you can see smoke and ash pouring from the top of the mountain, especially on the north side. >> a concern for public safety prompted the closure of the gifford pincher national forest. the eruption of mount saint helens before the end of the century had begun. the morning of may 18 1980.
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it was like any other sunday morning for a forest service planning crew on the lower southern flank of the mountain. until 8:32 a.m. [rumbling] [radio chatter[ [explosions] >> it seemed to happen in an instant. a cubic mile, tons of ash, rock
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and ice were rocketed into the stratosphere. the cloud reached nearly 14 miles into the sky. >> monday night on "the communicators," acting executive director of first met, tj kennedy on the creation of a network for first responders. mr. kennedy: a data and broadband network for first responders who are responding to the incident and on the scene when the network is up and running would have the ability to have video being sent to incoming responders. do have pictures from the scene. to have situational awareness data on where everybody is on that scene. today not everybody would have the ability to see where the other and -- ambulances
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are staged. in casualty situation, you would leverage it for triage. today there is technology like that but -- fitibit, what if that was done for emergency services where they could place that on a patient and be able to get vital signs? think of the innovation that could happen. you would know where all of your patients are. you would be able to track their vital signs and send them to hospitals and make sure they are handed off and there is continuity of care and you are able to adjust to a changing situation. >> monday night on "the communicators: on c-span two. >> we are live for the chicago


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