Rudy Pins: Memoirs 1920-1948 (engl.)
Youth in Höxter, the departure (1920-1934)
I was born in Hoexter on April 27, 1920. Not long afterwards (I am not sure which year) we moved to Luedinghausen in the western part of Westphalia where we lived in a very old house on the outskirts of town. Shortly after entering the 1st grade in the local primary school, the family moved back to Hoexter where after the death of my grandfather my mother took over the little store he owned on the Marktstrasse.
In Hoexter I attended the local Catholic school. I don’t remember too much about the school except that apparently my favorite teacher was a Frl Doering who came to visit me when I was home ill with the chicken pox.
The next important (important for me) event were the written and oral examinations to be admitted to the KWG. I remember that at the end of these exams a number of names were called out. My name was not among them and my heart sank thinking that these were the names of students who had passed. I felt a lot better when I found out that the names called out where of those who had unfortunately failed. Gymnasium was in many ways quite a happy time. I liked school and made a number of friends.
Things at home seemed to be fine as well with summer vacations with relatives near the Dutch border, hikes in Solling, Ziegenberg, swimming in the Weser, etc. I had no interest in politics and until 1933, Hitler, the Nazis and such were just words to which I paid little attention. There were occasional marches or demonstrations by the SA, but I paid little attention. Since there were no Jewish boys my age in Hoexter, all of my friends were, of course, non-Jewish. Not once did I hear an unkind word from them because of my religion. This attitude persisted right up to my departure from Hoexter.
Of course, after the “Machtuebernahme”, things changed. Especially with the SA boycott of Jewish businesses early in 1933, the atmosphere changed. Radio addresses by Dr. Goebbels were hateful and I detected considerable concern at home. Still, at school, everything seemed to be more or less the same. There were rumors that some of the teachers were Nazis, but personally I did not experience anything unpleasant——until one day (I think it was spring 1934) when the entire class was to go on a week-end trip, my teacher called me aside and told me that I could not join them. For a 14-year old this was a hard blow.
Not long after the above incident, there was talk in the family about my possible emigration. In the USA, the Roosevelt administration had agreed to issue 1,000 special immigration visas to German jewish children under the Age of 16. My parents decided to apply or me. Then, in the fall of 1934, I traveled by myself to Stuttgart for my physical examination at the American consulate. Not long after returning to Hoexter, my parents were informed that I had been accepted.
I think that I had very mixed feelings—-on one hand this was a great adventure that I was about to embark on; on the other hand there was the sadness of leaving my parents (although we all hoped this would be only a temporary separation), as well as anxiety about the future. My parents, of course, were quite sad. They tried to cheer me up and gave me a lot of advice about how to behave myself in America. When the morning for my departure arrived, my mother could not gather the strength to go with me to the railroad station. My father and I walked slowly. We watched silently as a platoon of Wehrmacht soldiers marched down the Marktstrasse—-my last impression of Hoexter.
The first years in America (1934-1941)
I arrived in New York on Friday, December 7, 1934. We were about 12-15 children, aged 10-16 years old. For the first night we were taken to an orphan asylum. Some children remained in the New York area. Together with others I boarded a west-bound train the next day. After about six hours, we arrived in Cleveland where I was the only one of our group to get off.
Here I was met by a friendly social worker and taken to my foster family who lived in one of the suburbs of Cleveland‚ Cleveland Heights. Here I was welcomed by a pleasant couple and their son who was approximately my age. I spoke practically no English‚ just a few phrases. No problem. They talked to me in what they imagined was German‚ it turned out to be Yiddish which, of course, seemed more like Chinese to me. Still, we managed.
By Tuesday I was in school. At first I only listened, but after about to weeks I was able to participate. The fact that my foster parents did not speak German actually helped, forcing me to speak English both at home and in school. There were many adjustments to make.
After spending all of my life in quiet, rural Hoexter, I found myself in an industrial city of over half a million people. Instead of the Weser, there was Lake Erie. There were streetcars, buses and thousands of automobiles. And the people‚ they seemed to have strange names. Cleveland’s population was predominantly Central European (Polish, Slovenian, Hungarian, Lithuanian) plus Italian and Irish‚ all of whom manned the giant steel and iron factories of the city. Nevertheless, I did adjust.
But there was a problem: the son of my foster parents began to feel neglected and became quiet jealous. After about six months, it was decided that I would be better off with another family. I then moved to another family within the same suburb. There was no son, but a nice long-haired collie (Jessie) and we became best friends.
In the meantime, school seemed to agree with me. I made a number of good friends and my english improved enough that I eventually became editor of our school newspaper. In the meantime the situation in Germany deteriorated and my parents problems became more desperate. As a teenager I wanted to help but was in no position to do so. My foster parents and their friends had suffered severe financial losses during the Depression and were reluctant to make any financial commitments. Nor did they completely [understand] the seriousmess of the situation in Germany.
All of this, of course, impacted on me considerably. Throughout this time I corresponded regularly with my parents even during the war until December 1941 when all mail between the USA and Germany was suspended.
World War II — POBox 1142 (1941-1946)
When the United States entered World War II on December 7, 1941 I was in my second year at Western Reserve University (today Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland, immediately my status changed to “enemy alien” because, technically, I was still a German citizen. This did not affect me to a great extent. I was supposed to hand over any radios I owned to the government, but the radio I listened to belonged to my foster parents. Also, I was not eligible to enter military service Otherwise my life was not affected. After a year under this status, I received a notification that my situation was changed and I was no longer considered an enemy alien. Within a week I received another notice that I was now eligible to join the military and was ordered to report for military duty in July. In the meantime, of course, all communication with my family in Hoexter had stopped. I had no idea what was happening to my parents. I feared the worst, but, of course, always had hope. Most of my friends were already in the military and I was happy to be able to join them. After three weeks in an army reception center in Ohio, I was shipped for basic training to the northwest of the US in central Oregon. The training camp was located in a volcanic desert in the Cascade mountains. The first part o the 3-month training period was strictly infantry training followed by another 6 weeks of combat engineer (Pionier) training.
This was a complete change for me—physically and otherwise. The physical training was arduous and lasted from early morning until late at night, but I actually began to enjoy it, especially after winning my expert rifle-shooting badge. My fellow trainees were the kind of people I had never met before. They didn’t have much education. Most of them hadn’t even finished high school—some had hardly any education. Ethnically, they were mostly American Indians, Mexican Americans, or “hillbillies” from the Appalachian are of West Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama. Nevertheless, most of them learned quickly and turned into good soldiers. I got along well with them, especially after I helped them with heir letter writing. After another 3-week period of exercises in the mountains where we slept in the snow (it was January) and bv getting along on helmet-full of water per day, we were shipped out either for specialty training or for deployment overseas. I was sent to Virginia for camouflage training
While I was in Virginia, I was called to headquarters. where I was introduced to a major who took me to a private room. He started talking to me, but first I couldn’t understand him and then realized that he was talking German. He explained that he belonged to a special intelligence unit and that they were interested in me. We talked briefly about my background and I was sent back to duty.
After apparently some burocratic wrangling between the Corps of Engineers and the Intelligence Service I was informed one day to pack my bags, get on a bus to the nearest town and call a certain telephone number. I did and was told to stay where I was and that someone would pick me up in a jeep. After about an hour’s jeep ride through the Virginia countryside we arrive at a small guarded gate and entered what was known as Post Office Box 1142—today Fort Hunt—I was received by an old friendly colonel and was then turned over to the master sergeant who explained where I was and what my duties would be.
I learned that POBox 1142 was a special POW camp specifically designed for strategic interrogations. It was not a large camp and held only about 200-250 prisoners. By the time I arrived just about all of the Italian prisoners had left. The German prisoners were mainly Afrikakorps veterans and captured U-Boot crews. We also had one Japanese naval captain who had been captured in Burma after having been severely injured. Most prisoners were housed two or three to a room. Most of them stayed at POBox 1142 between two and six weeks depending on the useful information they possessed. They usually had been processed briefly at the front after capture where a decision was made whether or not they would be of interest to our organization. If they were they were immediately flown to the US and our camp without even a change of clothing. Some, of course, turned out to be of little interest and were transferred to a regular POW camp in the US. The information we were seeking varied and included order-of-battle information, intelligence and counter-intelligence information, technical information, target information for the air force, political information, and information regarding the morale of the Wehrmacht and the civilian information as well economic intelligence, Thus we were interested in prisoners with specialized backgrounds, training, and political and family connections We were also interested in any anti-Nazi activities or information. U-Boot crews were able to furnish us with the latest technical developments in addition to morale and other intelligence.
We obtained our intelligence via direct interrogations as well as electronic means. Most of the prisoners ere quite cooperative and were glad to talk. Our interrogations were more like conversations chatting about their families, background, and battle experiences. Of course, there were always some who didn’t want to talk. Some because of a sense of loyalty. Some because they were convinced Nazis. These latter ones didn’t realize that their cells were “bugged” with electronic devices hidden in the walls. When they returned to their cells they would brag to their cellmates how they had resisted our questions and promptly usually supplied the answers to their cellmates—while we were listening in from another building. At no time did we use any physical force nor did we deprive them of food or sleep. The worst that might happen to some of the “tough cases” were hints that we might be forced to hand over some of the prisoners to the Soviets to assis them in rebuilding Russia. This usually had the proper effect.
After the invasion of France, the floodgates opened, and a steady stream of POWs arrived directly from the front in France.
Who were all these prisoners? They ran the whole gamut from privates to generals-0 They were from the army, Luftwaffe, SS, navy-and they were from all over including quite a few from the Caucasus who had enlisted in the German army as well as others from occupied areas who had enlisted in their own SS units. Or who had been drafted as Volksdeutsche. We also had a couple of spies including a Hungarian who managed to work for the Germans, British, and Hungarians and who was caught in Turkey where he was quietly pushed across the border into Syria and placed in our hands. Speaking of Hungarians we also had a Hungarian with the interesting title of General der Wasserstromtruppen. As the war came to an end we had even more interesting prisoners. On a submarine which surrendered in May 1945 we captured a 3-star Luftwaffe general who was on his way to Tokyo where he was take up hos duties as Luftwaffe attache at the German embassy. Also on this submarine way a navy Fregattenkapitaen, Kay Nieschling, who was on his way to Tokyo to become the German navy judge advocate for the entire Pacific area. An “NS Fuehrungsoffizier”, Niesachling waas ands remained a fanatic Nazi. Two Japanese naval officers who were taking blueprints of the new Messerschmitt jets to Japan committed hara-kiri before capture. At the end we also “welcomed” General Reinhard Gehlen of the Fremde Heere Ost and his entire staff of German and Russian Vlassov officers. Of course later he became head of German intelligence. On4 of the most interesting prisoners was Botschaftsrat Gustav O. Hilger who had served at the German embassy from 1918 until the invasion of the USSR in 1941. He was considered at that time one of the West’s most knowledgeable individuals as far as the USSR was concerned. He had met and known just about anyone who had been of any importance in the USSR. He and his wife, Maria, the daughter of German merchants in Moscow, spoke flawless Russian. I got to know both of them very well over the next few years, while they were living in Washington as consultants to the US government. Another group of considerable interest was the Japanese ambassador to Berlin, General Hiroshi Oshima who arrived with his senior staff after his capture near Bad Aussee. Since we were still at war with Japan be was treated as an interned diplomat. His military attache, General Konematsu brought with him a very heavy suitcase. When we opened it we discovered that it was filled with British ands Swiss currency as well as a great number of gold Swiss watches. General Oshima was one of the main architects of German-Italian-Japanese Tri-Partite Agreement, spoke no English, but excellent German. At this time we also received a number if regular Japanese POWs and for this purpose our ranks were augmented by a number of young Japanese-American interrogators
Around June or July 1945 we experienced the arrival of German scientists and technicians under the “Operation Paperclip” program. The most prominent of them was Wernher von Braun and Colonel Dornberger. These scientists were gathered in Germany in a race with the Russians who also were eager to bring as many of them to the USSR. These individuals were treated more as internees rather than prisoners with a lot more freedom and privileges. Eventually a number of them joined von Braun and Dornberger as valuable contributors to the US space program. However, the majority turned out to be of limited interest to the US and were quietly returned to Germany. Not too long after the end of World War II the camp was closed and turned over to the National Parks Department.
My fellow interrogators were generally a very pleasant and agreeable group. The atmosphere was relaxed. Their ages ranged from their late teens to the mid-forties, Like me some ol them were refugees from Nazi Germany, others were from German-American or Austrian-American backgrounds and even a few who had immigrated from Switzerland, or had specialized in German language and history at their universities.
In early 1946 as I was close to being discharged, I was approached by someone in the Pentagon, asking if I would be interested in joining the prosecution team in Nuremberg as an interrogator. After some discussion I agreed to postpone my university education to go to Nuremberg United States Army.
Nuremberg — 1946-1948
After receiving my discharge from the US Army in late May 1946 I returned to Cleveland, Ohio to wait or the burocracy to issue my passport and travel orders to Nuremberg. These finally arrived in August and by early September I found myself on board the USS Henry Gibbins, a somewhat tired passenger liner which after an uneventful Atlantic crossing docked in Bremerhaven. The passengers on the Henry Gibbins were a mix of army personnel, civilians like myself assigned to various occupation tasks and a number of army dependents—i.e. wives and families of soldiers assigned to occupation duty.
After a short processing and briefing we boarded the old Rheingold Express which was waiting for us dockside. Contrary to the usual army confusion, they had efficiently gone out of their way to make our train trip pleasant with serving excellent food and delivering people to their destinations. After an overnight stay in Frankfurt, those of us assigned to Nuremberg proceeded there the next day. The army reverted to type when upon our arrival they had no idea what to do with us and where we should stay. It was a weekend and everyone was gone. In the confusion we were taken to something called Camp Lucky Strike which turned out to be a DP camp. We didn’t feel so lucky. On Monday we tried again. The army had recovered from its weekend and remembered that those of us assigned to the Nuremberg were supposed to be housed at the Grand Hotel. Compared to Camp Lucky Strike this was quite a pleasant change. Certainly not luxurious, it was, nevertheless quite comfortable. The hotel had been exclusively reserved for IMT (International Military Tribunal) personnel and even the lobby was off limits to all others including non-MIT US army personnel.
The next morning I reported for work at the Palace of Justice where I met my new co-workers including a few I had worked with when I was assigned to POBox 1142. Almost all the employees were Americans. The Russians were in the process of leaving, but there were a number of Allied personnel including French, British, Belgians, Norwegians, and Czechs.
My first assignment was to translate and summarize interrogations that others of some of the defendants and witnesses. The Palace of Justice crawled with a huge number of young attorneys who had been assigned to the trials. Most of them did not speak German so that it was necessary to translate all interrogations. This assignment lasted about 10 days after which I accompanied experienced interrogators to sit in on the interrogations. By this time the trial of the major defendants—Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop, etc—was coming to an end. All of the defendants were accompanied by their attorneys. In addition a German stenographer attended each session. These stenographers were young ladies who were extremely efficient. I don’t recall ever seeing any mistakes in the transcripts. One of the first interrogations I attended was one of Herrmann Goering conducted by our chief interrogator Dr. Robert Kempner. Sitting across the table from a man who had recently been one of the most powerful men in the Third Reich aroused mixed emotions in me. Here was a man responsible for so much misery—my own as well as that of millions of others—a man who strutted on the world stage bedecked and bemedalled in his uniforms. Yet, there he was—wearing a plain tunic, no medals and his main concern at the moment was that we share our cigarettes with him. Yet he certainly was not browbeaten. He was full of self-confidence and looked to be in good health having lost a lot of weight in jail. Eventually I got to attend and even participate in the interrogation of most of the other major defendants except Hess, Streicher, Fritzsche, Funck, and Raeder.
As the major trials were coming to an end, I was assigned as an interrogator the so-called subsequent trials of which there were fourteen. Mine was the so-called Ministry Case where my specialty was the Foreign Office as well the Ministry of the Interior. It was up to me to assist the prosecuting attorneys in extracting information from the defendants and witnesses which would show the ministries’ complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity such as the forced deportation of Jews from other countries to the extermination camps, helping to enforce the “Nacht & Nebel” orders, the taking and execution of hostages, etc. I interrogated most of the officials of these ministries including SS liaison officers whose job it was to urge and prod governments like Rumania, Slovakia, Greece and others to cooperate in the deportation of Jews. A special target was a rather unsavory character by the name of Dr. Edmund Veesenmayer, a shadowy character who had been busy suborning the Yugoslav government. In 1944 he had the job of Botschafter und Bevollmaechtiger des Fuehrers in Ungarn and as such arranged the removal and arrest of the Hungarian Regent, Admiral Horthy. After that he worked diligently hand in hand with Eichmanns people to facilitate the deportation of Hungarian Jews. He, of course, kept denying everything. But after visiting Admiral Horthy at his home in Bavaria (he was under light house arrest and traveling to Hungary to interrogate the former SS & Police Leader for Hungary, Berger in the Budapest jail as well as Eichmanns #2 man Dieter Wisliceny in his cell in Bratislava, I had just about all the evidence I needed. Another rather unpleasant person was Wilhelm Stuckart who was Undersecretary (Staatssekretaer) in the Interior Ministry and author of the infamous Nuremberg Laws. He also was responsible for various punitive laws specifically designed for the occupied areas including administering the racial laws as well as matters dealing spoliation. He was also the representative of the Ministry of Interior at the notorious Wannsee Conference..
All this work kept me quite busy, but I tried to see as much of the area as possible. Nuremberg which had been completely destroyed during the war was trying to come back but it was an uphill battle for a long time. I tried to relax with a little skiing near Berchtesgaden or on the Bavarian lakes whenever possible or to go sightseeing in Austria. In the winter of 1947 I was offered a ride north and took the opportunity to visit Hoexter. I filled a large bag with coffee, cigarettes, chocolates, etc for friends in Hoexter. Late in the afternoon we made a stop in Kassel. When we returned to the car, the bag was gone which left me practically empty handed upon my arrival in Hoexter In Hoexter, I visited the KWG as well as with Dr. & Mrs. Bender who had been good friends to my parents.
After almost 18 months in Germany, I decided that it was time for me to go back to school and finish my studies. It had been a very interesting experience.