Gusta, Leonidas

Gusta, Leonidas

American Soldier

Gusta was born in 1924 in West Virginia to a Greek Orthodox couple. Four years later the family moved to Detroit where Gusta’s mother gave birth to a daughter in 1930. Gusta’s father ran a restaurant in Detroit.

In early 1938, Gusta’s father sold the restaurant with the intention of moving to Greece with his family. En route to Greece they had to make a stop in Italy which then was controlled by the Italian Fascists. Gusta remembers that their short stay in Italy happened to be at the same time as Hitler’s visit to Italy. The family had to wait in an Italian seaport for the ferry to Greece. Gusta states that this town was filled with swastika flags and thousands of Italian soldiers. Gusta recalls that his father had second thoughts about what he saw in Italy. Nevertheless, the family proceeded to Greece.

In September, 1938, Gusta and his father visited relatives in Athens. Gusta remembers that it was then that they heard about the Munich conference during which the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain accepted the transfer of certain regions of Czechoslovakia to Germany. His father was very concerned that this situation would result in a war and decided to return to the United States with his family. When the war broke out in September, 1939, the family was again living in the United States.

Gusta states that during his high school years, he was not aware of the persecution of Jews in Europe. In March 1943, after graduating from high school, Gusta was drafted into the U.S. Army. After his basic training in Michigan, he was assigned to the Military Police and then to the 28th Armored Division. In the beginning of 1945, his company was sent to Southern France. In the following months, his unit proceeded to Germany and saw some combat action.

Towards the end of the war in spring, 1945, Gusta was again assigned to the Military Police. His duty included the guarding of German soldiers in prisoner of war camps. At this time he learned of the death of one of his uncles on a Greek ship which had been torpedoed by the German Navy.

After Germany surrendered in May, 1945, Gusta was stationed in a headquarters of the Military Police in Germany. During this time he learned about what happened to Jews and other prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. One of his fellow soldiers showed him pictures of piles of corpses in the Dachau concentration camp. He could not believe what he saw. During the interview Gusta tells about one particular assignment. His unit had to escort a truck to the U.S. Army headquarters in Salzburg, Austria. This truck came from Dachau concentration camp and was loaded with boxes filled with gold dental fillings, wedding bands and eyeglasses, obviously belongings of former inmates of the camp. Another terrible incident happened when a British survivor of a German prisoner of war camp wanted to stay overnight at the American Military Police headquarters. A machine gun leaning on the wall fell down, discharged and killed this man.

In June 1945 Gusta was sent back to the United States. He eventually graduated from college with majors in liberal arts and music and became a teacher in an elementary school. He states that his general opinion of the Germans is that, following the war, they were in all areas pretending to have had no affiliation with the Nazis and with their ideas. He believes that the Holocaust or something similar could happen all over again and can only be avoided by educating today’s youth.

Interview information:

Date: February 2, 1995
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Length: 1 hour 30 minutes
Format: Video recording