Harry Zaslow was born in Philadelphia, PA, the son of Alex and Tillie Zaslow. His father was involved in the clothing business and subsequently in real estate. Harry attended public schools and in addition had an extensive Jewish education. His parents and he were members of the conservative Jewish community. He also had one semester at Temple University prior to his induction into the military.
Mr. Zaslow was inducted into the U. S. Army in June 1943, and took basic and advance training in Field Artillery in Alabama, resulting in an assignment into the 283rd Field Artillery Battalion. After one year of training in the United States, his unit was sent to England for six weeks of additional training before entering continental Europe at Omaha Beach, France, on August 6, 1944, exactly two months after D-Day. He was one of 13 Jewish soldiers, out of approximately 500 in his unit, and experienced a moderate amount of anti-Semitism in service.
Mr. Zaslow was involved in military campaigns in France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. On the morning of April 29, 1945, while near Munich, Germany, he and three other soldiers were ordered to proceed to a site, then unknown to them, which they later determined was Dachau Concentration Camp. This was the same day that the camp was liberated by U. S. forces. Mr. Zaslow describes viewing boxcars full of dead bodies in prisoners’ clothes on the railroad track just outside of the camp. At the entrance gate laid a dead German soldier in an immaculate blue uniform with gold piping. The gate itself had a large arc marked “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work liberates). Upon entry into the camp, he saw many emaciated inmates, mostly Jews as well as others from Poland, Russia, etc. Since Mr. Zaslow speaks Yiddish he was able to establish some communication. He also witnessed a group of former guards standing at attention, guarded by the former prisoners. As one of the former guards moved he was pulled out of line and severely beaten with a bull whip by one of the former prisoners. Mr. Zaslow believes it was in retaliation for similar treatment that the prisoners received prior to their liberation.
He also saw dead bodies stacked like cordwood in one of the buildings which was a crematorium. He opened one furnace door and saw a burning body inside. These sightings deeply affected the then 19 year-old Mr. Zaslow and they have stayed in his mind since then. He does not recall any other specific U. S. soldiers inside the camp at that time, but suspects that they had been there prior to his arrival.
Mr. Zaslow and his three companions were in the concentration camp for about two hours before returning to their unit. He believes the reason for their being instructed to visit the site was an order issued by General Eisenhower following his own visit to a concentration camp for the purpose of exposing soldiers to the atrocities performed by the Germans.
During the interview, Mr. Zaslow read a letter he wrote to his parents a few days after his entry into the Dachau camp. This very stirring letter describes in detail his feelings at the time. He also read two other letters he sent to his parents. One describes an encounter with the remnants of a Jewish community in the Belgian city of Charleroi with whom he celebrated the Jewish High Holiday services. The other describes a small stone-built synagogue in a liberated German town which was still standing in good shape. It was being used by the Germans to house Australian prisoners of war. He also mentioned his meeting with female slave laborers, mostly Russian, who claimed that besides their regular work they had to “entertain” German soldiers.
While in the military, Mr. Zaslow sent many letters to his parents which were all saved by his mother. He re-read these letters about 40 years later to refresh his memory so that he could speak to school groups and other interested groups about his experiences and to write a book about those experiences which is currently in progress.
Following his discharge from the military, he returned to Temple University and subsequently became a real estate broker. He is married and has four children; three sons and a daughter.
In a message to the viewers of this interview, Mr. Zaslow stressed, among other items, that hatred can lead to genocide and that one must keep an eye on one’s government, and that one must learn from history.
Interview and Synopsis by: Hans R. Weinmann
Date of Interview: March 6, 2003
Interview Length: 1 hour 30 minutes
Format: Video recording