Triest, Howard (Hans Heinz)
Munich (Germany), Luxembourg, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, Nuernberg (Nuremberg)
Survivor, U.S. Service Person, Liberator
As read by Howard H. Triest from his Foreword to the book “Journey to Justice: Photographic Stills” by Glenn Triest [with annotations based on the oral history interview]:
On October 9, 1923, Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party planned their big “Putsch” to take over the German government by organizing a large march through the city of Munich to the Odeonsplatz and the Feldherrn Halle. The march failed and sixteen Nazis lost their lives.
That same year, on March 29th, Hans Heinz was born to Ly and Berthold Triest in the city of Munich.
Heinz, as I was called spent a wonderful childhood in Munich surrounded by loving and doting parents, as well as a large family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. My sister, Margot was born in 1929, the year dad went on a business trip to the United States. My mom, Margot and I, accompanied by a children’s nurse, stayed for few weeks at the very fashionable Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth in Feldafing on the Starnberg Lake. I was just six years old and things were good and wonderful as I ran around in my Bavarian Lederhosen and played with all the other kids….
Life was good for all of us; dad was a successful owner of Herrenwaesche factory, a place that made shirts, pajamas, dressing gowns etc. employing more than a hundred people. Mother stayed home with us, she had the support of multiple domestic help and we went on frequent vacations within Germany or occasionally abroad.
We were like so many of our friends, “real Germans”. My dad and his brothers had all fought in the German Army during World War I, many of them as officers. And we all considered ourselves Germans with a Jewish religion.
This, then, was my life in Munich, before 1933.
Life for our family and all of the Jews in Germany deteriorated quickly after the Nazis rise to power in 1933; which resulted in the death of 6 million Jews by the end of the World War II in May 1945. I was able to celebrate my Bar Mitzvah in April of 1936 in the Munich Main Synagogue (built in 1887) before it was condemned as a traffic hindrance and torn down by the Nazis in June 1938. It was attended by some of our family while others had already immigrated to other places outside of the Nazi domination. All other Jewish places of worship were burned to the ground on Kristallnacht in November of 1938. I also managed to graduate from a German high school while my sister; Margot was allowed to attend only Jewish schools.
On August 31st, 1939 I left Germany and arrived in Luxembourg on September 1st, the start of World War II. Two weeks later my parents and Margot joined me in Luxembourg. After an eight month stay in Diekirch, Luxembourg I managed to secure passage on the Dutch ship “SS Pennland” which would leave Antwerp, Belgium on April 26th, 1940 Bound for New York. The voyage was long and eventful, but we finally docked at the New York harbor on May 16th, 1940.
My parents and Margot had booked passage on another Dutch ship, leaving from the Dutch city of Rotterdam on May 10th, 1940; the morning Hitler’s armies invaded Holland and Belgium on their Blitzkrieg into France. Margot finally did arrive in the United States in 1946 after harrowing experiences during the war in Europe and the loss of our parents in 1942. [Margot and her parents were sent by the French secret police to Camp Les Milles in southern France. Margot was left with representatives of a French rescue mission, OSE (Oeuvre Secours aux Enfants) and was sheltered at Le Couret, a home for refugee Jewish girls near Limoges. A few months later, Margot led ten children under the cover of night in Annemasse, France to safety in Switzerland. Berthold and Ly were sent to Camp Drancy, outside of Paris, and then to Auschwitz on August 26, 1942 and died either en route or at Auschwitz itself, where Berthold’s 91-year-old father, Moritz, was also murdered.] Margot and I reunited briefly in Switzerland in the spring of 1945, where she found refuge and I had managed to get a few days compassionate leave from assignment with American Military Intelligence.
I had landed on Omaha Beach on D+1 as a machine gunner replacement but because of my knowledge of fluent German and a lot of circumstantial luck, I was instead reassigned to Military Intelligence. I transferred to fifth Corps as a member of an MII [Military Intelligence Interpretation] team and reentered Germany in December of 1944, just five years and a few months after I had left as a sixteen year old. By April of 1945, we were deep inside Germany and had liberated the concentration camp Buchenwald and just a few days later, linked up with the Russian Armies at Torgau on the Elbe River. A German transfer and concentration camp was located nearby [Theresienstadt]. A Czech liaison officer had gone there to transport some liberated Czech citizens back to Pilsen. I had supplied him with a list of some of own relatives who had been sent there. He returned twenty-four hours later with my seventy-year old grandmother [Rosa Westheimer] who was in fair health despite her sixty-five pound weight loss. She had been imprisoned since 1942. [Besides Ly, another daughter went to Israel and her son Kurt survived Dachau, and then moved to the United States, as did Rosa.]
After a short stint at CIC location just outside of the city, Munich, I received transfer orders to Nuernberg, Germany, the planned site of the Military Tribunal for the trial of the top Nazi defendants. I was a member of the 685th Internal Security Detachment, which was responsible for the safekeeping of the Nazi top defendants and their witnesses. My daily rounds as interpreter for the American prison psychiatrists [Douglas Kelley and Leon Goldensohn] brought me in contact with all the top Nazis and their cohorts [All 22 prisoners, including: Julius Streicher, who thought Howard came from a very fine Aryan family; Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz; Hermann Göring, who killed himself biting down on a cyanide pill; and Hans Frank, the governor of Poland; as well as their families that were imprisoned as witnesses.]. I was in Nuernberg up into the end of the trials.
[It didn’t mean anything to me personally because, at that time when the trial was over, the war was over too, and so we had eliminated the monsters that started it all. But I regarded it as a just punishment. It didn’t solve any past crimes. It certainly didn’t bring back any people who they had killed, including my parents. They were gone. So it was just a punishment. It was a verdict to punish a criminal. It didn’t bring any people back. Millions and millions were dead. But we kind of punished the guilty.]
My final assignment in Europe was G2 Intelligence for Military Government for Bavaria in Munich. I had come full circle; I had left Munich in 1939 as a sixteen-year old Jewish youngster fleeing the Nazi persecution and in 1947, I was supervising the denazification of German villages and cities. I was now Howard Heinz Triest, the American.
[The German people at that time did the same thing they did later on…they never knew anything. They never saw anything and of course they were not guilty because there never were any Nazis. And the question arose, if there were not Nazis and they never did anything bad, who the hell did it? It was interesting to me even more because I was back in the same city that I had resided before and that I had grown up in and I had witnessed some of the things and saw the burning of the synagogues. And yet nobody did it. And you know, even the top Nazis, they were very…very…certain about the fact that they never did anything bad. But, you know after a while you get used to it. ]
In the year 2003 we produced a documentary film and named it, “Journey to Justice” [by Steve Palackdharry, Brent Triest, Glenn Triest, Terry Herald, and Robert Larson]. We dedicated this one hundred and six minute historical film to my parents Ly and Berthold Triest who in 1942 were murdered in Auschwitz.
Now many years later, my wife Anita and I … have two wonderful sons and daughters-in-law [Brent and Nancy Triest and Glenn and Halina Triest], four grandchildren [Jonathon and Jessica Triest, Kate Triest, Tessa Triest, and Lena Triest] and three great grandchildren [Liora Triest, Aryeh Yehudah Triest, and Elina Chava Triest]. [Margot is married to Warren J. Coville; they have three children, Lynn, Betsy, and Claudia, and two grandchildren, Gabe Curtidor and Ashley Curtidor.]
[Howard Triest reflects back on his experiences: “If somebody is pushed into the corner, which I was as a youngster and you have…actually only two selections. One is to fight back, do everything to stay alive and survive and the other is you just sit back and let them do anything they want to. I tried to survive as long as I could…. A lot of it, it doesn’t take any particular skill. A lot of it is luck and what happens and how you can do things…. I don’t know why I made it. I was lucky because I was selected to go first since I was sixteen and a male and I would have been the most precarious of the family.”
[He shares his message to humanity and hopes that people will listen: “Don’t let it happen again. You know we live in a very precarious world and you could see it now with what happened. We fought a war to end all wars. We did it twice already. They thought they did it in the First World War too. And they fought a war and we thought this time all the evil is gone. Well the evil started before the war was over…. I really don’t have an answer or tell people what to do. They shouldn’t do to others what they don’t want done to themselves.”]
Date of Interview: August, 2015
Length of Interview: 59 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Daniel Cooper