Montgomery, Donald L.
Donald was born in Pontiac, MI on January 1, 1923.
He came from a family of five children and went to Lake Orion High School.
His parents didn’t attend church.
He was eighteen when the war began. His father was the traffic manager for the Board of Commerce of Pontiac. Their life became tough during the Depression and, to make extra money, he caddied during the summer months.
Donald worked at the GM Truck and Coach plant after High School. It was a good job, but in 1943, at the age of twenty, he was drafted. He looked forward to the army because all of his friends were going. He went to Camp McCain, MS for his basic training to be a Military Police Guard. He trained six months before being sent overseas.
Donald had no idea what war was about, except that, because of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were the enemy.
Then he went to Fort Shelby, MS and then on to South Africa. He was on a ship for seven days, mostly in the hold. Donald was told nothing when he arrived and was sent to a compound north of Casablanca. Most of his battalion was killed in Italy.
He enjoyed the army because of the camaraderie and not having to take care of details like food, living quarters or clothing.
The soldiers searched the German prisoners and took everything away from them. Many of the German soldiers spoke English and seemed arrogant and defiant. Donald was there less than one month, escorting prisoners onto ships headed for the US. There were about fifty to one hundred ships in the convoy, the prisoners being given different food than the soldiers’ GI rations. He guarded the Germans in POW camps where they had volley ball games, song fests and barbeques. There was no productive labor, but they did have good medical treatment. They were under strict control.
He was there about six months. He said his job was boring and monotonous and never saw any prisoner being abused.
Next Donald was shipped to the 11th Armored Division in Ft. Bliss, TX, where he stayed for one month, then home for ten days before shipping out to England, where he learned his mother had died.
He learned about guns which he had never used before. He was waiting to be shipped and became scared and leery even when listening to the pep talks.
He was shipped to France, Luxemburg, Germany and Austria, but was always confident that the United States would win the war, although some battles were lost. He then went on to Bastone, and then to Germany where he saw civilians, but didn’t see any rapes or mistreatments. He thought he’d see surrender because he had witnessed others while driving eastward. He had no idea about being part of a liberation, nor about liberating Mauthausen. He was near Bergen Belsen and the Germans were marching prisoners in that direction.
He saw hundreds or thousands of bodies, corpses on the road. He saw starving corpses, bullet ridden, thousands of bodies, men, women and children. His unit picked up German officers and took them in.
This picture was beyond comprehension to him and disbelief on the part of the US soldiers who became angry. They wound up in Concentration camp Mauthausen in Linz, Austria on May 5, 1945. There was no resistance. He first thought that all the Germans had been taken prisoners, but they had escaped the night before.
What he found were walking skeletons and dead bodies.
He was horrified! The stench! Most could not walk . . . Donald and his buddy took pictures so that, he said, pictures that reached the Americans through the press couldn’t be “doctored up.”
The prisoners were overjoyed. The soldiers were told not to feed the prisoners fearing that their starving systems could not hold food.
He saw mountains of corpses who, at one time, were once men, women and children. The soldiers were in shock!
He thought that these were political prisoners, not Jews. But, he said, they were people. He went in the buildings, he saw the gas jets in the crematoriums, he saw the bodies in their striped uniforms. He saw the furnace the Germans used to burn the bodies, the ashes used to fertilize potatoes, he was told, the skin used for lampshades.
He never wrote home about what he saw . . . he was afraid of censorship, but when he returned he did try to talk about it, but people were not interested.
He went to one reunion in Indiana, later married and had three children. He tried to talk about what he saw and, he said, breaking down, that his family was not interested either.
When asked why he agreed to this interview, he said that survivor Sam Offen called him to meet and talk. He told Sam he’d do this interview to try to keep the memory of the six million alive.
Donald Montgomery said “I’m not a hero . . . in any way.” Asked if he thought this could happen again, he said yes, that people are gullible and that it’s easier to teach hatred than love.
Donald was in the army until February of 1946. He was discharged with three campaign ribbons and many citations.
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Format: Video recording