|AN INCIDENT AT AMPFING|
By MICHAEL B. SHIMKIN
On May 3, 1945, the Third Corps For-
ward Headquarters found itself in Dorfen, a sleepy little town fifty kilometers
almost due east of Munich. For the
Third Corps the war was over. The
Corps on the flanks had pinched off its
zone of operations, which on the trans-
parent overlay of the situation map
came to a sharp end point around the
Austrian border. The staff was not
entirely pleased. "It's a darn shame,"
murmured a Corps Artillery major as
he shook his head at the map. "And
just when the war was almost getting to
Public Health Team Number Two,
Third Army, had been attached to the
Third Corps for ten days. Public
Health Teams are not to be found in the
Army Table of Organization, especially
when they consist of two officers of the
United States Public Health Service,
an UNRRA nurse in a British uniform,
and one private, AUS, driving a spring-
less reconnaissance-and-command car to
which is attached a trailer filled with a
half-ton of DDT powder. It was a unit
dreamed up by the Third Army and
accepted by the Corps because it promised to fulfill a need.
In the past ten days our team had
surveyed six towns, reorganized public
health departments and hospitals, had
been in a dozen camps for displaced per-
sons, deloused several thousand people,
and, of course, had written many official-
sounding reports. During the same
period we had come down from Frank-
furt, had driven two or more hours each
day over roads of every description, and
had set up our meager equipment and
personal belongings in three towns in
order to keep up with the Corps.
Omar C. Hopkins, Senior Sanitary
Engineer of the Public Health Service
and Lieutenant Colonel to the Army,
was gray-templed, soft-spoken; an ex-
pert on sanitation from Oklahoma. I
was the medical officer, and the guild
rules of medicine placed me in charge
of the team despite my lower rank.
"Hop," as he was known to everyone,
and I were now veterans of many a
waterless, foodless camp for displaced
persons. We had been sent overseas
post-haste when it looked as if the Ger-
mans would collapse in September of
1944 and then had sat gnawing our
fingernails in the UNNRA office in Lon-
don for six weeks. A deal was finally
made between the Public Health Service
and the Army, and we were transferred
to General Elsenhower's G5, the branch
that had been established for military
government and civil affairs. We flew to
Versailles and from there were passed
down on paper and bodily to the Twelfth
Army Group, through the European
Civil Affairs Division, and thence to the
Third Army. We started to operate the
day after we reported to its Public Health Branch.
In the beginning we were almost com-
pletely on our own, thumbing rides on
courier jeeps and trucks and carrying
our few supplies. Three medical officers
and two sanitary engineers were supposed to cover the civilian public health
activities in the ever-shifting Third
Army area. We were attached, de-
tached, transferred, and just sent to
more units than we will ever remember.
Most of the time all we could do was inspect, evaluate, and report and tackle
only the most pressing emergencies. The
hospitals and other medical facilities of
the Army had their hands too full with
their own problems to have much time
for civilians, either allied or enemy.
The understaffed, undersupplied G5
eventually turned over its medical headaches to the Surgeon.
Now the medical
department could support us and ex-
tend some of its seemingly limitless sup-
plies of equipment and personnel to
our problems. No one knew definitely
"under" whom our team operated-G5
or the Surgeon-so we reported as the
spirit moved us and where we thought
we could get the most effective action,
This loose arrangement had several
merits: it allowed most lenient move-
ment and definition of our own problems
without too much regard for official
channels; and we wrote our own Stand-
ard Operational Procedures as we went
along. Every morning and evening we
visited both G5 and the Surgeon, with
the query, "Any problems today ?"
There always were.
The evening of May 3 we returned to
Headquarters after an inspection of the
large allied prisoners-of-war-camp at
Moosberg. Mike, our nearsighted driver,
navigated our battle-reconditioned ve-
hicle safely into the parking area once
more. Outside Headquarters the side-
walk was crowded with liberated French
prisoners waiting for the trucks that
would take them to the next center on
their journey home. We walked along
the dusty cobblestone street past the row
of Corps houses and neat little gardens
surrounded by grilled iron fences. The
invariable first item of business upon
return to HQ was to ask for mail. Hop
and I made for the house set aside for
the Surgeon and his staff, and, since the
mailroom never could decide whether we
were with G5 or the Surgeon, Doris
Gray, the UNRRA nurse, went to cover
G5. She was in high favor with the
German-accented sergeant who was the
factotum of that office.
There had been considerable speculation about Doris when she arrived in the
Army zone a few weeks before. Rumor
had it that the red globe on her British
cap was some sort of Soviet insigne and
that the letters UNRRA on the red patch
on her left shoulder were a capricious
Russian way of writing USSR. Regard-
less of nationality and affiliation, however, she was a welcome addition to the
Corps, especially since the Red Cross
girls were usually relegated to Rear
Headquarters. Aside from her professional aspects, she was most helpful when
we had to deal with full colonels, supply
sergeants, and other absolute authorities
who were susceptible to the charms of a
Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Vanderear, chief of the preventive medical
section, was our liaison with the Sur-
geon's office. When we came in, Van was
carefully polishing a six-inch Luger, his
prize souvenir and the envy of the Headquarters staff. He heard our brief report on Moosberg, put away his Luger,
and led us to a map. "Tomorrow you
better get over to Ampfing," he said.
"Reports from Fourteenth Armored say
there is a camp there that is worse than
I dismissed that as an exaggeration. I
had been at Buchenwald concentration
camp three weeks before, and its incinerators, torture chambers, tanned
human skin for lampshades, emaciated
corpses piled like cordwood, and the
starved, diseased, still living specimens
of human degradation were fresh in my
We located Ampfing just west of Miihl-
dorf and traced the thin curve of road
leading east from Denting. Then we all
walked over to the mess with Van. The
rness was on the first floor of the hotel
in which we were quartered along with
French liaison officers, visiting firemen
below the dignity of being entertained
by the General, and other personnel that
attached itself loosely to the Corps. The
hotel had been cleared of its German
residents, but they were always coming
back to get potatoes and other food they
had secreted under the beds and bureaus.
The next morning, the four of us
started out early in a car loaded with
DDT, a few K-rations, a map and ten
hand-operated powder guns. Our military appearance was appreciably reduced by a total lack of weapons and
the presence of a nurse who doggedly
continued to wear skirts and who did not
possess a helmet. I carried a silly
leather ridinp crop inherits from a
Nazi bipwip. Its snap had a salutary
effect on the reactions of Germans and
improved their comprehension of my
hundred-word German vocabulary. Hop
carried nothing but a notebook. Mike
was the only one who had a frayed, dirty
red cross on his left sleeve to denote our
It was a beautiful spring morning;
the ground mist was lifting, and the
snow-capped Alps were dimly visible on
our right. By nine o'clock we were in
Ampfing. The war had passed over
Ampfing without leaving its usual ugly
imprints. Even the warehouses beside
the small railroad station appeared in-
tact. Such structures nearly always had
raping holes from artillery fire or
showed evidence of looting. We were
constantly on the lockout for large build-
ings that could serve as centers for dis-
placed persons, but there were none in
We knew that there was no military
government officer in the town, but it
was always possible that some tactical
unit had set up an office to net in this
capacity. Our battalion and company
commanders thought it was interesting
work, and it made impressive reading
back home when you could tell the folks
you were now mayor of a town. The
offices would abruptly terminate their
functions, however, when hungry displaced persons, interrupted public utili-
ties, and sick and demoralized Germans
revealed other, less pleasant, aspects of
civil administration during war.
We pulled up to the first intelligent-
looking civilian, "Come here!" I
prowled. He came up to the car; if he
was apprehensive he certainly did not
show it. I asked him where the Militärregierung was and what about the Bürgermeister.
The German did not know
about military government, but the
baker was the mayor. He waved his
arms to indicate the directions. I asked
him where the camps were, labor camps,
concentration camps. "In the woods,?"
said the German, "by the factories, all
around." Attempts to elicit more specific information with my vocabulary
"O.K., Mike," I said, "let's find the
bakery." Following directions, we soon
came to it. Outside stood a man in a
dirty pray, black-striped suit, the familiar uniform of the concentration
camps. Another man in similar dress
emerged from the bakery, his arms
loaded with large loaves of bread which
he dumped into the horse-drawn wagon
that was standing by the door.
"Hey Comrade!" I shouted, using
the term that concentration camp inmates universally applied to one another. Both men turned sharply and
with one motion jerked their caps off
their shaved heads. They stood at attention, stupid smiles on their blank
faces. I beckoned them forward and
with gestures told them to replace their
caps, emphasizing that they need not
do that any more, ever. The smaller of
the two was summoning up his courage.
His lips moved, and on the third at-
tempt he said, "I speak English, sir.
May I assist?" The accent was French.
"Show us where the camp is," I said,
He crouched on the fender. "Come in;
sit down here" I said, pulling him up
by his arms. He looked at me with
unbelieving eyes and sat down on the
edge of the leather seat. "You tell the
driver how to get there." The man
jumped off the seat and crouched behind
Mike. It was not until much later that
I persuaded him to sit with me again.
We started to question him. How
many people were there at the camp?
About six hundred, but most of them
had fled. What were the conditions!
Bad, very bad. Any Americana at the
camp? No, but an American officer had
been there and said there would be help.
He drew out a dirty slip of paper.
"This authorizes the bearer to draw all
necessary supplies for his camp," it
read. The signature and serial number
were illegible, a normal precaution when
handing out such vouchers. Bread-he
was getting bread for the camp. Was
there any water or electricity at the
camp, Hop wanted to know. No, nothing; electricity failed three days ago.
Many people dying! Oh, yes, just about
the usual number.
I asked our guide his name. "Andre
Israel, French," he said and pulled up
his sleeve to reveal a tattooed number on
his left forearm. This was a camp for
Jews, almost all Hungarians. He himself had been there six months and had
been appointed a clerk because he spoke
German. Was it an extermination camp,
gas and incinerator chambers in it?
Andre shook his head without changing
expression. This camp was established
only eight months ago. It was chiefly a
stopping point for people who were on
their way to Auschwitz (now again
called by its Polish name, Oswiecim)
where the gas chambers were-for two,
or three, or perhaps four million men
and women and children. Thousands
had passed through here. Andre
shrugged his shoulders, and his voice,
dulled of all feeling, sounded as if he
were talking about sides of beef. Then,
two, three months ago, he went on, trans-
portation broke down. They had buried
over two thousand since then. Any
other camps around here? Yes, about
ten, but most of them were labor camps
of the Organization Todt. There were
two factories, one making explosives, the
We entered a wood. As in all German
forests, the trees were carefully spaced,
and the ground was clear of underbrush.
A small metal sign on a post read "KL"
- Konzentration Lager. We drove on.
around a sudden bend in the road, a
fifteen-foot, triple barbed-wire enclosure
loomed into view. At the top of each
corner was a guardhouse equipped with
searchlights. A few wooden barracks
and several green silo-like structures
were scattered under the trees. "Did
anyone escape by climbing the trees?"
I asked because some of the branches
extended over the fence. "Escape ?"
Andre asked in bewilderment. "To
The area was deserted and silent, and
the cry of a bird echoed sharply. With-
out the barbed wire it would have seemed
an idyllic spot for a vacation. Across
the road were neat wooden houses, sur-
rounded by a barbed-wire fence. "The
guards lived here," said Andre. I felt
a rush of anger, remembering Buchen-
wald. "Did the comrades get many of
them?" Andre shrugged his shoulders
again, a motion combining ignorance
with the feeling that it was of no importance. "They got out fast. Had
time to kill only a few comrades, maybe
twenty, before they left. Perhaps some
are still in the forest."
We stopped, and Andre jumped out
of the car, ran to the gate, and shouted
some names. Two men came running
out of the nearest wooden barrack and
drew open the gate. They stood stiffly,
caps in hand, as we drove in.
"Who is in charge here?" I asked as
we entered the largest barrack. We
went into a dispensary, containing a
wooden examination table, a few rusty
instruments, a row of ointment jars on
a shelf, and a large poster on the wall
announcing the louse as an enemy that
must be eradicated. "Who is in
charge ?" I repeated. Andre translated.
"This is one of the doctors," said
Andre. A tall, stooped man with an indescribably sad face, his metal-rimmed
spectacles hanging loosely on his large
nose, stepped forward from the door.
"Doctor," I said, "how many sick
people do you have here? Can yon give
me a list ? And how many of them need
immediate hospitalization ?''
"All are sick," replied the doctor
through Andre. "Hundred, two hun-
dred. All should be hospitalized."
We asked about food. The cook had
a few supplies left, mostly potatoes, and
more were on the way. Enough for two
or three meals; that is, for a cup of soup
for every man. "Do you have any
women or children in the campT" I
asked. Yes, there was one.
We were led to the adjoining room. A
young woman was arranging a tattered
blanket around an infant lying in a
wooden crate. "A month old tomor-
row," said the doctor. "The first one
here who has ever survived that long."
The mother and child appeared to be
well, and the baby was being breast-fed.
"Surgical eases in here," said the doc-
tor, opening the door to the large room
occupying the remainder of the barrack.
Here on double-deck wooden beds-
mere wooden slabs covered with filthy
straw-were gaunt shadows of men with
shaved heads, showing their ulcerated
legs, the unhealed whiplashes across
their backs. They all had pale faces and
puffy ankles, the protein-deficient flesh
that was unable to recuperate from
even minor wounds. Numbers were tattooed on their forearms or across their
chests. What infectious diseases do you
have here? we asked. Typhus. Are you
sure it is spotted typhus and not intes-
tinal typhus ? No way to be sure; prob-
ably both. No one with high fever in
We asked to be shown around, the
worst places first, and went out of the
barrack. On the ground by the door
was a thickset man on his knees, hands
folded in prayer, eyes shut. The doctor
made rotary motions at his temple.
"Crazy," he said. "A Pole, the only
one we have here." Mike was breaking
open a K-ration box and passing out its
contents to two other inmates who had
Reinforced by four men who clam-
bered onto the running board, we got
into the car again. Andre was now more
self-possessed and directed Mike through
the muddy court. We bumped along be-
tween tree stumps and mudholes.
"Here," said the doctor. In front of
us was a raised knoll with a stovepipe
sticking out of the ground. "Bunker,"
said the doctor.
We made our way on foot through an
inch of mud to a hole in the ground.
Crude wooden steps led down some eight
feet. They were slippery, and our noses
were assailed by a fetid smell combining
decay, excrement, and sweat. "Acht-
ung!" cried a voice. There was a
moment of silence, and then a hoarse
roar arose, an inhuman, unearthly sound.
"America - hooray - hooray -" A
dead, muffled, hopeless sound. "Acht-
ung!" cried a voice again, louder. "No,
no," I snapped. "No more! At ease!"
On both sides of a rectangular space
were triple shelves, bare wooden planks.
In the center, three wooden poles supported the ceiling. At the far end a
nude skeleton sat on a barrel with a
plank across it. He was supported by
another skeleton who was standing;
rather, they leaned against each other
in order not to fall down. Bloody excre-
ment was spattered around the barrel.
We walked along the planks on the
muddy floor. The shelves were filled
with what had been men. Their bodies
were naked or only partly covered by a
scrap of tattered, dirty, gray blanket.
Their bodies were no more than skin
stretched over bone; their knees were
the thickest portion of their legs. Their
shaved heads hung limply, eyes staring
out of hollow sockets, noses abnormally
prominent against the fleshless faces.
Mouths were open, dry, red. Expres-
sionless, animal-like creatures, they all
looked alike; all individuality had long
ago been washed out. Some had enough
strength to turn their heads and fol-
lowed us with burning eyes; a few
turned over and extended their hands
in our direction; some just lay, staring
with unseeing eyes and barely breathing.
A soft, deep groan, a murmur of death
issued from one of the bodies. ''Wasser,
Wasser bitte," the boy whispered. I
felt his head; it was burning hot. A
man who was standing stiffly at attention
at the table in the center, a crude metal
pitcher in his hand, did not move. He
was the only one with clothes on.
What was there to say? "We shall
help," I croaked. "We shall help as
soon as we can." The tension broke.
There was the inhuman whine once more,
"Hilfe, hilfe -"
I turned around and made my way to
the stairs. I found a look of ill-disguised
nausea, disbelief, and anger on the faces
of Doris and Hop, the same expression
that must have been on mine. Mike
stood on the steps, rigid and with a
quivering lip; he looked at me with com-
pressed mouth and swore.
We entered four more bunkers and
two corrugated iron shacks. The shelf
beds were arranged a bit differently, and
one iron shack had one thin blanket per
man. Some of the men were not quite
so emaciated; others had great sores on
their legs and backs. A few that stirred
around, stumbling between the central
table and the bunks, had ankles swollen
with edema. It was more and more of
the same. "We shall help, we shall help
as soon as possible." If there was hope
but none complained.
"How many of these men ?" I asked
the doctor, waving my arm to encompass
the area. He passed his hand over his
forehead and adjusted his classes. "It
is hard to think," he muttered. He
turned to a comrade. "Get every
bunker to count the patients at once!"
He spoke in loud, harsh tones. He did
not mean to be cruel, but it was the only
way to get a response from these beaten,
Hop pointed to one of the half-dozen
silo-like structures, each perhaps twenty
feet in diameter, covered with a thatched
roof. "What are those ?" We were
led to one by Andre. A small door, no
windows, straw covering the floor. "The
healthy ones slept in here," said our
guide, "Fifty in each. Didn't stay
healthy long. Some of us escaped the
guards when they left by hiding in the
straw." "All empty now?" I asked.
"Yes, all that could walk have left."
We held a hurried conference. The
doctor came up with the information that
there were about 150 men in the bunkers.
I asked how many doctors there were
among the inmates. "Eleven," he said
in a flat voice. "At one time there
were over seventy. Many of the eleven
are sick themselves. I am sick-"
His voice faltered. Andre continued,
"Many lawyers, actors, doctors in here.
Almost all Jewish, Hungarian. No
other Jews left."
Immediate hospitalization was essential for all. We thought that at best
no more than half the people could possibly survive. In large concentration
camps such as Buchenwald, where
twenty thousand inmates were discov-
ered, whole evacuation hospitals had
been sent in to take over the rescue work.
The numbers here were too low for such
action, and the delays would be too long.
We decided that we could handle the
phase ourselves. Hop and Doris would stay at the camp, delouse the population, and get them ready to be moved. I would go back and arrange for hospitalization and ambulances.
Mike unpacked a box of DDT cans
and our ten hand guns. These con-
sisted of a tin can attached to a hand-
operated pump. The DDT powder was
placed in the can, and a group of likely-
looking individuals of a camp to be de-
loused were instructed in the gun's use.
Clothing was loosened, and two squirts
of the gun were directed down the front
of the neck, the back of the neck, up
each sleeve, and down the trouser or
shirt belt, fore and aft; cap or hair was
also powdered. This method effectively
controlled insect life, did not entail un-
dressing, and could be done rapidly. It
was the main means of combating typhus
in Europe. For the naked inmates of
this camp, it would be necessary to dust
thoroughly both their bodies and their
Hop asked the doctor if he was sure
that 150 people were all he had. The
doctor bobbed his head up and down as
Hop supped a couple of K-rations into
his coat pocket. Another English-speaking man was found so that Andre could
accompany me back to Ampfing.
The car bad sunk down in the mud,
and we had some trouble getting under
way. Andre sat in front with Mike,
shaking his head in refusal when I in-
vited him to the baek seat. I asked him
about big buildings in the area. There
was a labor office at Ampfing-the Or-
ganisation Todt Bureau-and a school at
Muhldorf. He thought there was a hos-
pital at Muhldorf, too. Did he know of
any Wehrmacht food or supply depots
in thia areal No, he did not think there
were any. What about clothing and
beds ? The school at Muhldorf had been
converted into barracks and had plenty
of good beds, but he did not know about
clothes. Any water or electricity there ?
He did not know but he understood that
the building had been hit by a bomb.
We returned to Ampfing and were
directed to the O.T. Bureau. It was a
one-story building of two wings leading
from a central reception hall. The wings
were divided into rooms filled with desks
and other office furniture. There was
only one flush toilet, but there were sev-
eral hand sinks; a weat trickle of water came from the faucets. The electric cur-
rent was off. An adjoining building had
a large kitchen with wood-burning
ranges and the inevitable 600-liter Ger-
man soup kettles.
I was covering the buildings with
rapid strides, mentally placing the patients, beds, and medical equipment. A
German in the mustard-yellow uniform
of the Todt labor corps attached himself
to us, running ahead, opening doors.
He opened his mouth several times to
ask me something, thought better of it,
and screwed up his face in a quizzical
The O.T. building was suitable and
could house 150 people with some crowd-
ing. I turned to the German. "Are you
in charge here?" I barked, and Andre
translated. "Good. Then in two hours
I want every piece of furniture out of
this building and all the rooms swept
and clean. Leave only the beds, if you
have any, and one chair in each room.
I shall order the mayor to furnish help,
but it is your responsibility." The Ger-
man snapped to attention and began to
speak rapidly to Andre. "He wants to
know if he can stay here. He has one
small room." "Tell him we are bring-
ing typhus patients in here and to get
out in two hours but only after the work
is done." The German's face responded
to the word Fleksfeber (typhus), and he
did an about-face.
Mike drove back to the bakery and
we entered its warm, yeasty atmosphere.
An ample woman met us, wiping her
hands on an apron. I demanded the
mayor, and he emerged from a back
room. "All right," I said, backing him
up against the wall, "now listen. Get
fifty strong people, anybody, and get
them to work at once. You know the
O.T. Bureau? Good. Clean it up, all
furniture out. We are bringing concen-
tration camp people in there, typhus,
starved. Get fifty women and have each
one bring a pail of hot water, soap, wash-
cloths, and towels. These women are to
wash up the poor people. Get food:
chicken or meat broth, mashed potatoes,
little bread, enough for 150 people. The
kitchen. Have them bring cups, plates,
knives, forks, and spoons. All this must
be done by two o 'clock, three hours from
The mayor looked a bit dazed and
counted on his fingers. "Fifty people,
food for 150, soap, towels-what are we
to do with the furniture?"
"Throw it out of the windows, anything. There is a court in back of the
building. Stack it up there. I want it
neat. Yon know the penalty if all this
is not done?" The baker gulped and
tugged at his collar. "It is hard, very
hard." I looked as ferocious as I could
and snapped my riding crop against my
shoe. "At once!" The mayor edged
himself away from the wall and ran out
of the door. I could hear his voice sum-
"Now," I said to Andre, "are you
sure about those beds?" "Oh, yes,"
said my guide, "unless they have been
destroyed." "You stay here and keep
the mayor on his toes-you understand.
see that he does everything that I or-
dered. I'm going for ambulances; and
trucks to get those beds. I'll be back
in about two hours." I had my fingers
crossed at this point.
Back in Dorfen I gave Van a summary of our findings. '' "We need a medical unit in there, ambulances, and hospital rations." Van thought for a moment. "Blood plasma," he said, '' vitamins-'' "Food and care,'' I said. "And every hour means literally another life."
Van picked up the telephone. "How
many ambulances can you get along
with?" he asked. ''About a half dozen,
and a couple of trucks." I was using
estimates that were a carry-over from
the early, skimpy G5 days. Van reached
the 187th Medical Battalion and in less
than twenty minutes arranged for a
platoon of the 662nd Clearing Company
to take over the treatment of the con-
centration camp patients; seven ambu-
lances and two trucks; rations and medi-
cal supplies. This was almost too good
to be true.
In less than an hour Mike and I were
out on the highway where the medical bat-
talion was bivouacked; ambulances and
trucks were lined up in readiness on the
field. I outlined my plan to the officer
in charge. We would return to Ampfing, I would proceed to Muhldorf with
the trucks to pick up the beds, and the
ambulances and a guide would start for
the camp a half hour later. Several
trips would be required to evacuate all
the people. The medical platoon would
arrange reception at Ampfing.
When we returned the O.T. Bureau
was a beehive of activity. Most of the
furniture had been stacked up in the
court, and numerous papers, forms, and
books were lying around in the halls. I
could almost hear the yelps of complaint
from some intelligence officer as he sur-
veyed the damaged records, many of
which were already burning merrily in
the court; I ordered the rest deposited in
a room over the kitchen. Women were
scrubbing floors, and children were run-
ning about. Some American soldiers
had drifted in, adding to the confusion.
and the mayor came running, asking
what the time was. I ordered everyone
out but the actual workers. The kitchen
was also buzzing with activity. Kettles
were steaming, and all the utensils were
sparkling bright. Cups, plates, and the
cutlery were in neat array on the tables.
Andre and his friend from the bakery
were sitting in one corner, munching
huge crusts of bread.
"You think we could stay here, sir?"
Andre asked, "There are rooms above
the kitchen-'' '' Sure,'' I said, '' you 'll
be needed. But now let's get those beds.
And your friend can show the ambulances the way to the camp."
We drove off, the two trucks following.
On the right was a bluff with a cathedral
and some large buildings overlooking
the river. "Ecksberg Convent," said
Andre. I filed the information in my
head. We were not supposed to disturb
religions installations, but often the Ger-
mans had already converted them to
other purposes, and it was then assumed
that their use was not prohibited.
Muhldorf appeared suddenly as we
emerged on the other side of a bridge.
The north section of the town was badly
beaten up. The streets were empty, but
as we drove along, people began to come
out, and suddenly the streets were filled.
The town was still under daylight cur-
I told Mike to stop, and Andre called
out to the Germans to assemble. They
came forward hesitatingly. Andre trans-
lated that I wanted ten men to climb up
on the trucks to help me load things for
about a half hour. There were no vol-
unteers, so I pointed to the huskiest
specimens and ordered them on the
trucks. None was below forty years of
age. The towns of Germany had long
since been drained of younger man-
The school was a few blocks to the
right and consisted of two stone build-
ings. One had been converted into bar-
racks, and a gaping hole in the roof
showed where a bomb had penetrated
three stories of the building. It must
have been a faulty explosive because the
walls were still standing. Rain had increased the damage, and much of the
plaster was on the floor or ready to drop.
The place was filled with cumbersome
double-decker wooden beds with gunny
sacks stuffed with straw as bedding. A
few of these beds would fill our trucks,
and not many of our patients would be
able to climb to the upper decks. The
straw-filled bags, however, would serve
as mattresses. I ordered 160 of them
to be loaded and told the drivers to see
that only clean, untorn ones were taken.
The Germans went to work.
I decided to explore the other building.
The door was unlocked, and Andre and
I entered a number of schoolrooms, with
desks, blackboards, and other parapher
nalia. Behind the teachers' desks were
Nazi flags and pictures of Hitler. On
the second floor was an office and a small
apartment. The bed had been occupied
recently, and butts of American ciga-
rettes were scattered on the floor. Some
of the butts were stained with lipstick.
A civilian suit was hanging on a hook.
"Why don't you put this on and discard
your outfit ?" I asked Andre. He
looked at the suit and tried on the coat.
"If you don't mind, Major, if you
please," he said, "may I keep my
clothes ? This coat is warm and I could
use it, though." The concentration
camp uniform had become a badge of
honor and survival and was usually re-
tained by the liberated inmates as they
wandered over the roads of Germany.
The trucks were now loaded with the
straw mattresses, and I dismissed the
sweating Germans. We headed back to
The ambulances had already left.
"Mike," I said, "you get yourself a
handful of Germans and get these mattresses into the hospital. You'll have to
put five or six in each room-and see
that the rooms are clean.'' Mike jumped
to his tasks.
Trucks and jeeps began to draw up at
the gate. The personnel of the medical
platoon selected one room for treatment
and dressings, another one for an office,
and began to unload their medical sup-
plies. It was certainly not what a hos-
pital should have been, but it was the
best we could do.
The work was not completed before
the ambulances returned. The faces of
the drivers were grim. As the first few
stretchers appeared, some passing Amer-
ican soldiers and Germans stopped and
watched silently from a distance. Only
a few of the patients were on stretchers;
the rest had been packed in sitting, eight
to each ambulance. They began to come
out. Men without clothing, without
hair, without flesh, sores on their legs,
their knees larger in girth than their
thighs, a filthy piece of blanket around
their groins. They stumbled and fell as
they tried to navigate the three steps
into the place before someone could help
them. They shuffled a few steps forward
and rested, exhausted, and looked
around in wonder. A gasp came from
the onlookers. The Americans swore.
The German women wrung their
hands. "Mein Gott, Mein Gott!" they
moaned, and it was not an act. Two
women who had been cleaning up the
hall stood transfixed. "How can it be !"
they cried and dropped their brooms to
help a stumbling Jew. Mike rushed for-
ward. "Hitler's work. You ought to
be proud of it!" he yelled at the women
in English. I told him to help place the
The macabre procession continued. It
included some men in relatively better
condition, dressed in striped suits, who
introduced themselves as doctors. Doris
emerged from the last ambulance. "We
miscounted," she said. "They thought
we meant just what they call the hos-
pital camp. In the next compound there
are about as many, although not as bad
as these." I told the sergeant in charge
of the ambulance crew to inform Colonel
Hopkins that no more than 150 could be
accommodated here and that we would
have to leave the rest until new facilities
could be established. The cook and half
of the doctors were to be left at the
camp, along with all available food.
"And I have brought the woman with
the child," said Doris. I caught sight
of the mayor's coattails and yelled for
him and for Andre. "See that
woman ?" I said, pointing to the ambu-
lance by which she stood. "She is to be
taken in by your best family in town.
She will be given a room, clothing, and
rations. A layette for the child. They
will be your direct responsibility. And
if they are not treated better than an
Obergruppenleiter. ..." I snapped
my riding crop. The mayor wiped his
brow. "Ya, ya," he said, "it will be done
immediately." He ran down the steps,
talked to the woman, pointed back at
me, and they disappeared up the street.
A patient shuffled across the hall.
Starvation and disease had washed out
all individuality. This skeleton was
tiny, a boy that could not have been
over fifteen years old. He stumbled up
to Doris, dropped on his knees, and
grasped her hands. "Danke, danke,"
he sobbed, kissing her hands. A medical
corps man led him off.
Another stretcher was entering the
door. The man on it was not breathing.
A thin line of bloody saliva had dried
around the drooping corner of his
mouth; on his face was a look of peace
and hope, set in death. '' Where do you
want the body?" asked the stretcher
bearers. They put him against the wall
in the hall and covered him with a
The hospital was now starting to function, and the medical platoon was taking
over. A Hungarian doctor was directing cases with obvious fever to the isolation rooms; a clerk in a striped suit was
attempting to get the names; the German women without further direction,
disbelief in their eyes, were starting to
wash up the tortured bodies. Out of
the kitchen other women were carrying
big trays and caldrons of food. I
stopped them. "A cup of soup, a spoon
of mashed potatoes, a small slice of bread
only," I said. These men needed fluid,
glucose in their veins, more than anything else.
I went into the room set aside as the
office. Andre and another comrade were
arranging some papers. Andre had
picked up a typewriter somewhere. "I
have some records," he said, "the list of
the guards. I tried to keep the names
of the people in the camp, but that is
incomplete. Mostly we had just num-
bers." I took the list of the guards and
thumbed through the pages. Most of
the names were Hungarian. "Good," I
said, "I'll see that this gets into proper
"This is my comrade," said Andre.
"He would like to &tay here, too." The
man was very short and stocky; his face
was chalky, his hair almost pure white.
"I am from Budapest," he said slowly
in German. '' I am a writer, thirty years
old. I thank you. My wife is in London. Is there any way of writing to
her?" He looked up at me beseechingly and repeated his statement word
for word in the same monotonous tone.
"You will have to refer to the medical
officer, the captain who will be in charge.
Perhaps he will have something for you
to do.'' Once more the man repeated his
speech. I knew there was no way at the
moment for the man to reach his wife.
"Look," I said, "supposing you write
a note, and I shall see what I can do.
Perhaps the Red Cross-'' The man felt
on the table for a piece of paper, grabbed
a pencil, and poised it over the sheet.
He shook his head and suddenly started
to cry. "I can't remember her name
or her address. For two years all I have
done is repeat her name and address and
now I can't remember. Please wait,
please-" I sat down to study the list
of guards and waited. Finally I left
him with his grief.
The ambulances were now pulling up
at the gate with the second load of
patients. Some soldiers wandered in
and had to be cleared out. A chaplain
ran up the steps. "What horror," he
exclaimed, "how terrible! Major, how
can you stand it? What can I do?"
There was no obvious reply to all this,
so I let him stand and look at the starved
patients as they stumbled or were led
through the hall. Finally he murmured
something about starting religious ser-
vices, and ran bouncingly down the
Hop arrived with the last ambulance
of the third trip. His clothes were
chalky with DDT powder, his shoes were
muddy, and his face lined with fatigue.
It had been a hard decision to leave some
of the people at the camp. The cook had
complained that there was no discipline
any more. There was enough food for
another day or two, and Hop had ar-
ranged to have the delivery of water
continued by horse-drawn tank. He in-
spected our improvised hospital and
went out with Andre to see the mayor
about restoring the water supply and the
Doris came running. "Those German
women are going to kill them. Did you
see what they were feeding them ?" Instead of a little broth and potatoes, the
women were ladling out heaps of mashed
potatoes, huge pieces of boiled meat, and
slices of gray bread at least two inches
thick. When the plates could hold no
more, they served them to the men who
had been washed up or passed them to
the clutching hands of naked men who
had stumbled and shoved their way to
the food. Those who could sit up or
stand were gulping the food like ravenous beasts. And those too weak to stand
or sit were being fed by spoon. It was
useless to intervene now; we would have
a riot to quell. All I could do was to
order the portions cut. I fully anticipated mortality from this unorthodox
method of treating starvation. Next
day, however, we learned that except for
a few eases of vomiting no untoward
effects had been noted.
There was little else for us to do. The
medical platoon was now in charge.
They had set up the treatment room and
were starting to examine methodically
each patient, to establish a diagnosis,
and to start therapy. The administrative officer was making out his list of
needed supplies, and the residence across
the street was being converted into quarters for the staff. The moribund men
had been started on intravenous glucose
We assembled to five concentration
camp doctors who had come with the
ambulances and introduced them to the
officers of the medical platoon The doctors were instructed to stay and to assist
in all possible ways. I promised to keep
headquarters stimulated on supplies and
hospital rations. We shook hands all
around; the doctors in the striped suits
looked proud and determined.
Next day the change in the patients at
Ampfing was almost unbelievable. The
medical platoon had worked all night.
All the cases had been seen, examined,
and recorded, including twelve cases of
presumptive typhus; sulfa and other
drugs were controlling the diarrheas;
and only one man had died. The
pinched faces of the patients were relaxed, and many of the men were sitting
up on their straw mattresses holding a
piece of brown paper with granulated
sugar on it. They had requested that
this wonderful confection not be put on
the cereal they had for breakfast and instead they were now eating it granule
by granule. "The first in a year, the
first in a year," they repeated, smacking
their lips. German women were scrub-
bing the floor. One crouched in front
of a patient who was describing his pre-
vious activities as a lawyer and lecturing
on the sins of the Germans, waving a
long finger under her nose.
Rumor from the usual unreliable
sources now had it that the war would
soon be over, The radio was full of
news of German Army groups surrendering, of German anils fleeing from the Russians, of more contacts between
American and Russian armies, of advances, final thrusts. We were too busy
to notice. During the following few
days we evacuated another concentration
camp, set up another hospital at the
Ecksberg Convent, inspected the labor
camps in the area, and reviewed the
civilian medical facilities at Mühldorf.
On May 8 there were speeches and announcements. It was the official Y-E
Day, but in Dorfen it was just another
day. Trucks rumbled over the dusty
roads, soldiers stood their formations.
displaced persons wandered through the
streets, and German soldiers filled the
POW enclosures to overflowing. The
German civilians still looked dazed and
It was not until Churchill's stentorian
"Advance, Brittania!" came over the
air that Public Health Team Number
Two caught some of the spirit of the
occasion; we toasted the victory with the
last of our whiskey. Two slightly inebriated soldiers on the steps below were
singing ''White Christmas'' to the accompaniment of a liberated accordian when we finally went to bed. Before I could go to sleep that night, I saw eaunt men in striped suits on the roads, in camps
for displaced persons, slowly making
their way home. But they had no home.
The road for them had just begun.