Hartwig, Robert J.
This oral history video interview is available at the USC Shoah Foundation website through the
generosity of the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Family Foundation
Hartwig was born on a farm near Hadley, Michigan. After completing high school in 1932 and then college he became a teacher. In 1941 he enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a member of “C” Company, 134th Ordnance Battalion, 12th armored Division (General Patton’s Army). There he became the head of an instrument unit, maintaining various types of equipment (sighting instruments, watches, binoculars, etc.). He held the rank of technical sergeant and was also a hobby photographer.
His military unit entered Europe at Le Havre, France, and moved eastward with Patton’s 12th Army. When in Bavaria, Germany, they heard rumors about the existence of concentration camps where inhumane conditions existed. He and his fellow soldiers tended to disbelieve these rumors. The rumors, however, were verified when two escaped prisoners of war told them of the horrible conditions in German concentration camps. They described brutalities, mass murder, starvation, inmates eating grass to survive, and other atrocities.
One day Hartwig received an order to accompany a group of soldiers to a nearby concentration camp. The group consisted of the company commander, an interpreter, a jeep driver, and Hartwig. Hartwig’s assignment was to take pictures and to record the mission. The camp was identified as Landsberg, one of eleven camps near the Bavarian town of Landsberg. (Landsberg is also the site of a castle converted to a prison in which Adolf Hitler was jailed following his unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government in 1923.) The Landsberg camp served as a satellite labor camp to Dachau concentration camp.
As the group approached the camp, the smell coming from it was overpowering. Upon entry they saw corpses draped over barbed wire fences, some bodies still twitching, as well as thousands of dismembered bodies. Some bodies in the piles were still moving, others were partially or completely burned.
Hartwig displays a number of photos of the scenes he observed, including one showing himself on the site. Other U.S. military units had also entered the camp and found some German SS guards still alive, but most had been killed by the surviving prisoners. Hartwig tells of speaking (through the interpreter) to one survivor, a Polish Jew, who had been transferred to the Landsberg camp from Dachau. This survivor told him that within the last two days the Germans had marched out of the camp all the prisoners healthy enough to walk. The German guards then began to exterminate the remaining inmates by either shooting them, injecting air into their veins, chopping off their heads, or by burning them. Indeed, all the bodies found in the camp showed evidence of having been freshly killed.
From the camp records captured by the liberators and from conversations with the survivors, it was ascertained that about three-quarters of the inmates of this labor camp were Jewish.
The U.S. Army brought in German civilians, ostensibly Nazis, from the town of Landsberg to bury the bodies. One group was ordered to dig ditches, while the other was to carry the bodies. Hartwig mentions one German researcher who attempted to write a history of the town of Landsberg. He was persuaded by the mayor, as well as by the threats of a neo-nazi group, to abstain from writing about the concentration camp.
Following his discharge from the army, Hartwig continued in the teaching profession. He expresses great concern about the attempts being made to revise or deny the existence of the concentration camps specifically and the Holocaust in general. Since Hartwig was an eyewitness he now speaks out about what he saw in schools and to community groups. He believes that full knowledge of what happened is necessary to prevent a recurrence.
Date: June 14, 1992
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 55 minutes
Format: Video recording
To view this oral history video interview, please click here.