malec, dr. henry joseph
u.s. serviceperson, guard
international tribunal at nuremberg, germany
Henry Joseph Malec was born on April 4, 1926, during the depression days, in Detroit, Michigan. As soon as he turned 16-years-old, he quit school and went to work, first for Mrs. Wagner’s Bakery, rising to head baker as the men were getting drafted; and then at the Chrysler DeSoto Plant, building parts for the B-26 bomber and doing the foreman’s job as the men were getting drafted once again.
Then he was drafted, rushed through training at Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Arkansas, and shipped out to Europe, zigzagging the Atlantic Ocean to avoid German submarines and landing in Liverpool, England. There the soldiers were placed in small boats, arriving in Cherbourg, France, transferring to trucks, then boxcars, and open trucks to the war zone, where he immediately was greeted with the sight of truckloads of frozen corpses – “18-year-old kids like me” and five burning American tanks. Dr. Malec shares many vivid stories from the trenches in early 1945, leading up to his being hit by shrapnel in his left leg, behind his thigh, slowed down by K-ration bars inside his pants to keep warm. He was evacuated to the 100th General Hospital in France, where he was treated and added many “funny stories” to his repertoire. Although his leg and back still hurt, he was sent back to join the 90th Infantry Division, to find that only one other person from his company had not been killed or wounded.
On May 2, 1945, the German 11th Panzer Corps, chose to surrender to the 90th Infantry Division, which they called the American SS Division. As the German general marched toward General Van Fleet, goose-stepping between the rows of lined up American and German tanks, Dr. Malec recollects that “I look at the Germans again on both sides and they are looking at him like God; you see the faces on them and they are watching their general and they are looking at him with awe. Well, all I could see were these young kids frozen being placed on a truck. I think of Warren Lawrence, my ammo bearer. I think of the staff sergeant dead with his leg all shattered. I said to myself, ‘those are the bastards that caused all this damn stuff’ and, as he was almost up to my front, I jumped off the tank. I ran up to him. I stopped him. I saw his face and I took his gun, a Walther PP 32, and I went like this with my hand. And he resumed walking, but no longer doing the goosestep. I just ran back and got on my tank. There was not a peep. Not a sound from either the Americans or the Germans. He surrendered and we left. Nobody said anything to me. Anyway I was very happy about that. I still have the gun.”
On May 8th, 1945, the war was over. “We were in Erlangen, Germany. We got orders to go out and stand against the walls all around the yard. There must have been about one thousand soldiers and we were all wondering what was going on. And now finally I see what looked like an officer with his aide moving from one soldier to another and it looked like he was asking questions from each soldier…. And the question is, ‘If a general asks you the direction to so and so city, town, what directions would you give him?’” He recalled what he learned from his Polish father who fought in the German army in the First World War. “‘Never swear at a sergeant. You can spit, but don’t swear at him.’ He also told me that what they love is posture and look and act like a soldier. So when this head of the military police asked me the same question, I snapped to and I said ‘Sir, you don’t tell a general where to go; I would escort the general.’ And that was the right answer.” So Henry and one other soldier named Bracken were selected and sent to Nuremberg as members of the 26th Infantry Division Regiment of the 1st Division – the Blue Spaders – to guard the Nazi prisoners awaiting trial by the International Tribunal.
“When I first got there and I realized that I was here in this prison with these criminals, guarding them, I said to myself I can talk about it but nobody is going to believe me! And I realized that in all probability they would all have a very high ego. So I said, I know, I am going to get proof that I was here. So I went ahead and I had no problem because of their ego, I was able to get signatures. I call them signatures, not autographs because asking for an autograph would be respect.” He got signatures from Hermann Goering, Admiral Karl Dönitz, General Alfred Jodl, Ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop, General Wilhelm Keitel, and one other. In addition to their signatures, he came away with many stories based on his personal experiences and impressions.
“My first job was standing guard in the prison yard. I’m standing alone and I see this prisoner walking; he stops and is just standing there. And I’m wondering, maybe he’s just taking a rest. Then I see he puts his head up and I don’t know. Finally, I hear the plane. He heard the plane far, far, sooner than I did. And then I see the plane. It flies over. He’s looking at the plane and he watches the plane disappear. And finally he starts to walk again. And as he passes me I see he is crying tears. I see the tears. And then from pictures I saw I said that’s Hermann Goering; the head of the German Luftwaffe Air Force” and the second-highest official to be prosecuted at Nuremberg.
“The second job that I had was standing guard in front of the gate to the Palace of Justice. I had strict orders to not let any car go through the gate unless they show their pass…. Now I see this black limousine coming at me, a little too fast. I put my hand out. I yell ‘Halt! Halt!’ And it goes right by me, completely ignored me. I couldn’t even see who was inside it was so fast. This doesn’t look good. I pull out my 45 gun and I aimed it at the back window and the car came to a screeching halt. It slowly backed up. Now I’m kind of angry. Don’t do that. I see in the right front this big burly guy with a nice uniform on, tan uniform, red striping on it, one-two-three-four stars; swearing. His face was as red as a tomato. But he shows me his pass. Okay. The chauffer already showed me his pass. That was fine. Now for the back; three civilians, the one sitting closest shows me his pass. Okay. The one on the other side shows me his pass. But the guy in the middle can’t get his hands in his pockets…. He gets out of the car. He finds his pass. He shows me his pass … and says something like ‘I walk.’ So he walks the rest of the way, alone and walks back.” Later, he learned that was President Beneš of Czechoslovakia.
“One day, I had to take Hermann Goering for a consultation with his attorney…. They were talking and suddenly the attorney pulled out a pouch of tobacco. Goering saw that and asked for some tobacco…. The attorney is reaching out with the pouch and Goering is reaching out to take it and I grabbed the pouch and I sifted and sifted around inside and I didn’t find anything. I gave it to Goering and he filled his pipe and I gave the pouch back to the attorney. And when I heard that he committed suicide by taking a cyanide capsule, I wondered if maybe the next soldier that was guarding him did not check that tobacco pouch. Maybe he got that cyanide capsule in that pouch.”
“They had an IQ test for all of the prisoners and this is information that was circulated around by the guards. It turned out that Goering had a superior intellect and when he was told that he had a superior intellect from the test, Goering said ‘If you think I’m smart, you didn’t know Hitler.’”
“When I was guarding in the exercise yard, I saw a woman getting her exercise. And she was doing the German goosestep, walking straight legged. And I wondered if maybe that was Ilse Koch, who would take the skin of the dead prisoners and make lampshades out of it and so on. These people were – you can’t call them animals, you can’t, because animals are good…. There was another prisoner that everybody called a son-of-a-bitch, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the chief of the German Gestapo, the secret police, that every German officer no matter how high feared…. He looked so damn mean, he acted very mean, and that’s maybe why they put him in a corner cell.”
Henry decided to ask General Otto von Schrader, the head of the German Navy, a question: “‘What do you think of the American soldier?’ And he said ‘Well you know the American soldier is a good soldier because if he is in trouble and doesn’t know what to do, he goes ahead and uses his own initiative; he will think about what to do and he goes ahead and do it. The German soldier has to have a command, somebody to command him what to do, it had to be a corporal or it had to be a sergeant or captain or whatever.”
As a 19-year-old, Henry enjoyed “having some fun” with the prisoners. “One day a woman comes up to me and started asking me questions, including ‘What does your father do?’ I told her a nice fat lie; I said my father is a brain surgeon. She said ‘Oh, if your father is a brain surgeon then why are you here? Why are you just a soldier?’ And I said ‘Well that’s the way it is in America. Just because your father has a big job, that doesn’t mean that you are going to get automatically a big job in the army.’ ‘Well what are you going to do when you leave?’ Well I’m going to follow my father’s footsteps. I am going to be a brain surgeon.’ So I got a big kick out of it.”
He also remembers the very funny occasion in which “Rudolf Hess was walking down the aisle of the prison real fast, pulling the little American soldier guard that was taking him to the courtyard.” And he remembers having “friendly chats” with Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect.
He also enjoyed “being the only human being that tortured the German war criminals. I happen to be American…. Another son of a bitch was Hans Frank, the butcher of Warsaw, who was responsible for millions of Poles’ and Jews’ murders. Before he would go to bed, he would open the window at the back wall of his cell. The door that I was looking in had a square opening, and a lamp shining in, right by that opening, so we could watch what they were doing. Apparently there were many reasons to guard it, one was to prevent suicide and the other one was to protect them from the German civilians would like to get their hands on them. Frank would open that window and then get back into bed and make himself nice and comfortable, and when I saw he was nice and comfortable then I would open the door, go in and close the window. Now that wasn’t much of a torture, but it was a little bit of torture…. I hated the bastard and I just didn’t want him to be comfortable…. One night I found myself playing with a piece of string that was maybe 6 inches or 8 inches. I made a hangman’s noose out of that string. During the night I would take that string and put it in front of this lamp and it would cast a life size shadow of a hangman’s noose on the wall. And you know when you are sleeping, you wake up; you sleep and you wake up. And quite often when I would see that he is stirring around and he is going to be opening his eyes, I made sure I would put out that hangman’s noose and it was a life size noose and it looked beautiful. He looked at it and I could see him squirming in the bed. That’s what is waiting for you. So I am proud of that.”
Finally, he was witness to the suicide of Robert Ley. “Ley was in this cell across from the cell that I was guarding. And I heard a commotion and saw the soles of Ley’s shoes, shuffling as he was dying…. Ley figured this out very, very wisely. He knew exactly what he was doing. In the cell, the prisoners would have a hand towel. He took the hand towel and he cut it in strips and then he left a little bit of it. He tied it around the bottom part of the toilet and he made a noose, put it around his neck, and whatever towel he had left he shoved down his throat. And then he gave a jerk and it closed off his throat so not a sound came out of him…. No place in any books did I see a description of how he committed suicide, nowhere. But we saw how it happened.” [See also Sereny, Gitta, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, 1995, p. 573.]
When Dr. Malec came home, “I talked to nobody. I did not want to think about the war or any part of it. I just wanted to concentrate on chiropractic school. I was lucky to be able to go to school on a GI bill.” A few years ago, a Vietnam veteran invited him to join the Polish Legion of American Veterans. “I did belong to the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in the 50’s, and immediately was given the job of 3rd District Surgeon. And I worked pretty hard and then finally it was affecting my practice so I just had to give it up.” He decided to start telling his story now because “They are so insistent and they made me realize that actually what happened to me is a part of history. I was just a plain ordinary soldier, but I happened to be the one that they picked to put as a guard in Nuremberg. I had nothing to do with it. I simply followed orders.”
Dr. Malec believes that “The German Nazis were much, much worse than ISIS is today. They would put 100, 200 people into a barn and set it on fire. As time went on, I was finding out more and more and more. So I have good reason to hate the bastards…. So I think that the young people today have to wake up and they have to realize that they are going to be adults and they had better be careful about what’s happening in this country. There is not enough serious thought…. ISIS is our enemies. And they will try to slit your throat. It can happen to you because it happened to people just like you and me. So there is nothing wrong with being on guard. Keep your eyes and ears open to protect your mother, your father, your sisters, brothers, relatives, that’s how you protect, by being aware and sneaking around and watching people, seeing what they are doing.”
Dates of Interviews: March 17, 2014 and February 25, 2015
Lengths of Interviews: 1 hour 17 minutes and 1 hour 2 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Fred Safran