Ettenheimer was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1917. After the United States entered World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. He attended Officers Candidate School and was commissioned to a Second Lieutenant. He details his assignments that led to his participation in the invasion of Europe on D-Day as part of the combat engineers. Their duties included the deactivation of German installations, mines, and booby traps.
Ettenheimer describes his involvement in the European campaign through France, Belgium, Holland, and then into Germany over the bridge at Remagen prior to its being blown up. He entered Buchenwald on April 10 or 11, 1945, as part of the 1501st Engineer Water Supply Company for the purpose of setting up clean water facilities for the camp. His company’s entry into the camp was preceded by a group of African American soldiers. Ettenheimer tells of the emaciated inmates of the camp, the horrible conditions, the barracks, crematoriums, hanging sites, and the many people who died after liberation. He told the prisoners that he, too, was Jewish, and they found this fact difficult to grasp. The photographs he took in the camp are displayed during the interview.
He and other officers entered the living quarters of the camp commander where Ilse Koch, the commander’s wife, had lamp shades made from the skin of camp inmates. He took some of them, as well as a leather whip used by Ilse Koch. The lamp shades have since then deteriorated, but Ettenheimer displayed the whip during the interview, as well as a stick used to prod the camp prisoners, a metal plaque taken from Ilse Koch’s residence, and other weapons.
Ettenheimer participated in taking VIPs through the camp to show them the German atrocities and specifically recalls escorting Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce. He finds it inconceivable that German citizens in the vicinity of the camp did not know of the existence of Buchenwald or its purpose. He still experiences emotional difficulties brought on by what he saw at Buchenwald.
Date: September 20, 1993
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 46 minutes
Format: Video recording