Fleisher, Leslie Leonard
U.S. Service Person, Liberator
England, France, Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Germany
Mr. Leslie Leonard Fleisher had his Bar Mitzvah, went to Southeast High School and then to Wayne State University. He was drafted at the age of twenty-two. He was sent to Indiana in 1941 for, what he thought would be one year, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He then became a navigator, part of the 92nd Group and was sent to England in 1942.
He landed in Scotland and then traveled to Liverpool, where the Germans were bombing. He was then a second lieutenant, flying B-26s. He didn’t think he’d live. Colonel Smith was his commanding officer when he took a group of thirty tankers from France to Germany. His group was successful in disarming the German Luftwaffe together with General Patton’s army. He never was shot, but lost many personal friends.
Mr. Fleisher took one German captive, a pilot, who was happy to be captured. He found him hanging from his parachute in a tree. He took his gun and watch and turned him over to the stockade near Mauthausen.
They left that area and went east/west Autobahn toward Weimar, Germany when they encountered a huge stench. They found that they were one and a half miles north of Buchenwald Concentration Camp. No one knew a thing about the camp. Mr. Fleisher said that the stench was so horrid that it “gets in your throat and tastebuds.” He was in one of the first groups to enter Buchenwald.
Mr. Fleisher saw piles of skeletons and bones, canvas cloths thrown over, million of flies and a thick odor. They went into the hospital, wanting to remove the patients out of that “hell hole” to Weimar where medical staff could help as they were coming through. The hospital was like a dry-goods store. It was a wooden building filled with people wearing black and white striped pajamas, stacked up, feet against the walls and filthy conditions. “Inhumanity of man to man.”
Only ten percent of the patients were salvageable and mobile. They left the other poor souls there, then forced the Germans out of their homes and putting the sick into them.
His Air Force squadron group of about one hundred fifty to two hundred soldiers had heard nothing about this before they entered the camp. The German guards told them they were forced to do this job. They personally saw the German commander’s wife, who kept busy by making wallets and lampshades out of Jewish skin. These were all on display in her home. Everyone professed innocence.
They went on to the end of the Autobahn, then north to the SELB before getting orders to go back toward Yehna, Germany. The Russians had all different uniforms, different weapons, were boiling animals in big pots on trucks and scavenging off the land.
NOTE: At this point, the interviewer asks “How old were the patients at Buchenwald” ?
Mr. Fleisher: “How could you possibly tell? They were pale, skin and bones, emaciated.”
Mr. Fleisher said that he saw the furnaces, which were still warm, and containing body parts. That picture, “grotesque and shocking” as well as the odor of burning flesh keeps coming back to him after all these years. He said, “The world’s got a lot to learn. I hope that when people come here to the Holocaust Center, they don’t forget.”
Mr. Fleisher retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. His souvenirs were a Nazi flag, a German sword, his flight jacket, a German bayonette, a German Walther gun and a scrapbook of his pictures.
His wife, Jean, appeared on camera and said they were married in 1947 and that Mr. Fleisher woke with nightmares for two to three years afterward. His son, Robert appeared and told how he had the opportunity to see Elie Wiesel in person in New York and told him that his father was one of the liberators of Buchenwald. Wiesel stood still, as in shock, and then his eyes teared up and thanked him. He said that his father didn’t speak about much of this until the late 1970’s.
When his daughter, Ricky Shaw appeared on camera, she broke down, saying how proud she was of her father. Her son, Sloan, is Mr. Fleisher’s only grandchild.
Date: September 4, 2003
Interviewer: Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig
Format: Video Recording