By Ashley Yeaman
More than 65 years have passed since five Texan World War II veterans were soldiers in Europe, fighting a foreign enemy and liberating Nazi concentration camps.
However, their memories remain fresh, and recollecting what they have witnessed brings their emotions to the surface, often with tears.
Their stories tell another side of the Holocaust.
The Texas liberators were often some of the first to enter the concentration camps and see the devastation held within them.
The Baylor Institute for Oral History is interviewing these Texas veterans as a part of a larger effort of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission.
After completing the video interviews, they will be placed on www.thgc.texas.gov and housed in the institute’s database for researchers.
The four Holocaust museums in Texas will also receive copies of the interviews, along with the Texas veterans and their families.
Dr. Stephen Sloan, director of the Institute for Oral History and assistant professor of history, said he has completed five of the 18 interviews the institute plans to complete within two years.
“We’ve already captured some powerful stories,” Sloan said. “We’ve been to Fort Worth, Dallas, Corpus Christi and San Antonio, and we plan to go to Lubbock, Houston and [towns in] East Texas.”
Sloan said using video rather than audio to record the interviews allows one to capture more.
Graduate assistant Robert Deboard accompanied Sloan to the interviews to operate the camera while Sloan conducted the interviews.
“All of the battles that they have been through — nothing could have prepared them for the Holocaust camps,” Sloan said. “It was just something radically different — and these guys are 19, 20 — they weren’t prepared. They didn’t know what they were going to see.”
In his interview, Corpus Christi veteran Herman Hanks Josephs recalled going into the Dachau concentration camp for the first time.
“We shot a few Germans on our way — they were escaping. I let them have it. All that I saw — to this day, I still won’t buy anything German, made in Germany. I hated them so badly,” Jospehs said.
After clearing the camp, Josephs said the soldiers were able to interact with the prisoners in the camp.
“One of them moved, and I went over to him. I opened my rations and made a little soup for him. He died two hours later in my arms,” Josephs said. “So I had tears in my eyes, and I cry every time I think about it. This poor guy. He was about 40 years old and weighed about 50 pounds, maybe.”
San Antonio veteran William Dippo said the conditions at the Mauthausen concentration camp were “worse than the battlefield.”
“[The prisoners] were terrible. They were covered in sores,” Dippo said. “If they were alive at all, they didn’t go over 70 pounds, and they were all sick and had lice. It was terrible.”
Dippo said he helped in digging mass trench graves for the casualties, but the military commanders had the villagers from the town over to bury the bodies.
“They were told to wear their finest clothes and no gloves, and they were to take each skeleton — each body — down into the hole,” Dippo said. “They said, ‘We didn’t know, we didn’t know,’ [but] the stench of the ovens should have given it away. But you didn’t even need that. It was obvious what was going on in that enclosed area.”
Within the devastation, however, were also moments of hope.
Rev. Wilson Carafax of Fort Worth was an Army chaplain when he entered Buchenwald concentration camp.
Carafax said he was approached by a young boy who he later learned was holocaust survivor and author of 57 books, Elie Wiesel.
Wiesel, who assumed Carafax was a chaplain because of the cross on his lapel, requested a Jewish worship service be organized for the prisoners in the camp.
“I remember the first time [we had service],” Carafax said. “We got our carry-alls, those big trucks, and put people who could be carried in those things to a place where we could have a worship service. They had to be lifted on. They had to be carried on, crying. they never thought they would be alive.”
Carafax said the emotions in the service were high.
“They cried. They shouted. When they got through, they were just raising hands, sort of like our Pentecostals today raise theirs,” Carafax said. “They were just raising their hands in joy and appreciation. They didn’t think they’d ever see that again.”
The experiences tested Carafax’s faith.
“I was guilty. I felt guilty. I didn’t have the kind of faith I should have,” Carafax said. “But nonetheless, I went through it.”
Dippo said his experiences of the concentration camps have forever impacted him.
“If I mention it or even think about it, I get emotional. I can’t help it. It’s there. It will never go away. It’s something that should never, never happen again,” Dippo said.