©2000, 2009 Aaron Elson
Murray Levine of New Hempstead, N.Y., passed away in 1999. He was a veteran of the 45th Infantry Division and a former prisoner of war. He was captured by the Germans at Anzio.
Aaron Elson: How old are you now?
Murray Levine: Ill be 76 next month, May 31.
Aaron Elson: You were 18 or 19 when you were drafted?
Murray Levine: I was 19. After I was inducted, they sent me to Fort Dix. I was there for a week or so. They put us on a train with all the other guys, and I got sent to Camp Croft, South Carolina. Thats where I took my basic training. Sixteen weeks.
When I finished my basic training in South Carolina, they took me out, because I had taken an IQ test, and I had a pretty high mark. So they took four or five of us out of this training company. The Army had a program, ASTP Army Specialized Training Program they were going to send us to Auburn University to do some studies or training, something specialized. So we laid around for three or four weeks. Then suddenly our orders changed, and we were told to report to the company that was in training in Croft. The Army was holding back on this ASTP because they needed replacements in Europe. So I took another three or four weeks of basic training, and I went overseas.
I had a delay en route, they sent me home, and from there I had to report to Newport News, Virginia, and thats where I was shipped out. I went to Africa on the General Anderson Naval transport. We landed at the port of Oran, and then we got off the boat and walked across the pier to a British boat, which was actually an Indian boat. And we were going to Italy.
I got seasick on the trip to Italy because of the stench, the food that they were cooking, we couldnt take it. The ship was loaded with our rations, but that they didnt give us. They were making some kind of shit, I dont know what the hell it was, a big pot, and the guy was sweating in it. "What the f- - - is this? Whos going to eat that stuff?" And we got seasick because we didnt eat, and we smelled the stuff.
Finally we got to Naples, which was a big replacement center for the infantry. I was there for about a week, and then I was assigned to report to the 45th Division. So they put us on trucks and they drove us up to an area called Anzio Nettuno. And we got off the trucks and they broke us down into units. I was in the 45th Division, 157th Infantry Regiment. I was in G Company.
G Company had fallen back and was in a rest area, which was about a mile and a half from the front lines, and the Germans were firing artillery.
Aaron Elson: Were you a private?
Murray Levine: I was a private, yes.
Aaron Elson: First class?
Murray Levine: No. I was just a plain private.
Aaron Elson: A rifleman?
Murray Levine: I was a B.A.R. man. Browning Automatic Rifle. Two-man team. And we were in this area, and we were talking to the lieutenant; he came and introduced us to the company. Most of the guys in the company were replacements. You dont last long in the infantry.
Aaron Elson: What kind of morale did they have?
Murray Levine: It was pretty good.
Aaron Elson: Were there any original members of the company?
Murray Levine: I would say maybe two or three who lasted from Sicily right through. I dont know how they did it, its just luck. Luck played a big part. Anyway, I jokingly went over to the lieutenant and I said, "You know, my eyes arent too good."
He said, "Dont worry about it. Well put you up front, and youll see everything." I thought that was funny as hell. We all laughed. "Well put you up front," he says. "Oh, good, I was worried."
A few of the guys were talking to the lieutenant, and one said, "Whats the situation in the area?"
He said, "Weve got them surrounded." He was full of shit. It was the other way around. The Germans had us, because they were in the hills and we were on the beaches, so how can we have them surrounded. So we were laughing. I said, "Gee, thats a funny way of surrounding."
We rested that day, and about 8 or 9 oclock we get a call, and we have to replace a British outfit on the front lines.
So we got together our stuff, and it was 2 or 3 in the morning when started to move up. The lieutenant said, "Dont make any noise, because the Germans will shell the roads."
And would you believe, they start shelling the roads anyway. I was so punchy I actually walked into a tree. Banged my head with the helmet, what a noise it made! I was half-asleep. The guys said, "How the heck could you walk into a tree?"
It took us a couple of hours, but we finally got to the front lines. The British outfit was pretty well decimated. Their bodies were lying all over the place. Germans. British. Americans, laying all over.
Aaron Elson: This was the first view you had at the front?
Murray Levine: This was the first, yes. I only lasted about two or three days.
Aaron Elson: And it was still dark when you got there?
Murray Levine: Yes.
Aaron Elson: But you could see the bodies lying around?
Murray Levine: Yes, because what would happen, the Germans, and we, would fire flares. Light up the sky. My eyes were good then, even though I complained.
Aaron Elson: What was your partners name on the B.A.R. team?
Murray Levine: I forgot. He was killed. We got into the foxhole there, and it was muddy. We had mud up beyond our ankles, and we set up our gun.
The Germans fired artillery for two days, they softened us up. On February the 23rd they lifted the fire. I look out of my foxhole and I see them coming. Attacking. I opened up on them naturally. Everybody, the heavy equipment, everybody who was alive was firing at them, and the B.A.R. is like a machine gun, it does a lot of damage. So what they did was they apparently surrounded my foxhole, and one of them tossed a concussion grenade that landed near it and exploded. It just knocked us cold, and also caught me in the left shoulder. I had a wound in the shoulder. Plus a concussion. And I was just shaking my head, then all of a sudden I heard a machine gun spraying, and my sidekick was killed and I caught a couple of bullets in the back. They must have gone through him into me.
Aaron Elson: Did you feel them?
Murray Levine: I felt one. I didnt feel the second one.
Aaron Elson: Was it painful?
Murray Levine: I tell you, it was, but the thing in my shoulder bothered me more because it ripped, you know, the bullet was clean. The one in the shoulder was shrapnel that tears, and I was bleeding badly, and I was spitting blood. From the concussion. I was a bloody mess.
Aaron Elson: Did you have any thoughts? Did you think, "Oh, my God, Im dead?"
Murray Levine: No, nothing, yet. But I look up and I see the Germans are on top of me. And I said to one of them, "Ich bin verwounded." And this is a crack outfit, the Hermann Goering Panzergrenadiers. Their faces were all frostbitten. They had probably been on the Russian front, who knows?
Aaron Elson: How could you tell they were frostbitten?
Murray Levine: They were pinkish and bluish. When youre frostbitten, you get that certain look.
I said, "Ich bin verwounded."
So he looks at me. He says, "Herr [officer], Amerikaner ser schlech verwounded."
So he says, "Macht nichts! Macht nichts!" In other words, "It doesnt matter. Lets finish him off. Were not taking any prisoners."
I hear him cocking his machine pistol ready to finish me off. Thats when I, the thoughts were in my mind, "Goodbye Charlie," when another shell exploded, right among us, and just blew them away. Killed them all. Another GI was there with his hands up, out of my platoon. He was killed also. And part of my hand was blown off. If I wasnt in the foxhole, I would have been killed. Fortunately, or unfortunately, fortunately it only got my hand.
When I finally got my senses back I look around and I see everybodys dead. I crawled out of the foxhole. I needed a helmet, and I took a helmet off this guy whod been killed. I put it on my head, and I was roaming in no mans land. I was in the German lines.
There were a lot of caves in the area, and there were a lot of machine gun nests. So apparently [there was one machine gun nest that had been knocked out], and I said, "Kamerad." I put up my hands. A German runs out, pulls me in, and Im looking around, and I look out and I see there are two GIs coming up with grenades. And our grenades are fragmentation grenades, if they explode in a cave, they make mincemeat out of everybody. So I started to be a pain in the ass. I started to bug the German lieutenant that Im dying, Im bleeding, I need help. He pushed me aside. He spoke English, he said he was too busy and this and that. And I kept after him. And then he says finally, "Get him out of here." So one of the Germans took me and we went in the back somewhere where we could get out of the cave, and we were walking along, and I heard, "Varrooom! Varrooom!" The GIs knocked out the cave.
Incidentally, while I was in there, it was very dark, and there were some GIs who originally were machine gunners, they were in bad shape. They were crying, in agony, they were badly wounded. But fortunately I got out of there, and they got blown away.
We got to a knoll on a hill. Were walking along, there was a big first aid station supposedly, a German first aid station in a stone house. Oh, the German with me took a dirty handkerchief out of his pocket and wrapped my hand up.
Aaron Elson: So he wasnt sent out to execute you, he was sent out to take you to an aid station?
Murray Levine: Yeah, apparently. So I went to this supposed first aid station, and they had a lot of German wounded and Italian wounded. First I notice that theyd cut the floor out, and I see that theyre using it also as an observation post for artillery. They were talking, phoning. I said, If we get wind of this, and our destroyers and cruisers off the coast get wind of it, theyll use it as a target. Dont you think they did? Fortunately the stones were [about a foot thick], so the shells would bounce. There were two German paratroopers making a run for the house. A shell exploded and blew their legs off. One German comes over to me with a gun, he was gonna shoot me in the head, he was so burned up. Another one said, "What the, hey, schmuck, what are you doing? Look at his condition. Even though hes an enemy soldier hes a human being." So he put his gun back.
The following morning an ambulance pulls up to take all the wounded out, the German wounded. And theyre leaving me there with another GI. He wasnt wounded. So I said, "I need help."
He says, "Theres no room."
I said, "Ill sit up front with you."
In fact, the other guy said, "Well both sit up front with you."
"Nein." He says, "You got cigarettes?"
I said, "I dont know."
So he frisked me. Fortunately I had cigarettes. I never smoked, you know, from the 10-in-1 ration, I used to get them. He said, "Youve got Chesterfields. Dont you have any Lucky Shtrick?"
"Im sorry. Just Chesterfield." It shows you the tobacco, how important.
He took me, and the other guy. We sat up front. We squeezed in somehow.
There was another German medic, he stayed on the running board, and the driver. And we were riding along in the ambulance and hes going through a tank area. Dont you think we get attacked by American planes? He stops and parks his ambulance near a tank. The GIs are going for the tanks, theyre shooting up the place. They accidentally hit the ambulance too, because he stopped right near a tank.
Aaron Elson: Do you know what kind of planes they were?
Murray Levine: I never noticed. Im shitting in my pants. Its a scary time, whether its friendly fire or enemy fire. And the German medic who was standing on the running board, he jumped off, and he got hit by an anti-personnel bomb. I saw him take off and he never came down. He just disappeared.
Then, after the attack, the driver was looking around. He saw the ambulance got hit. He looked in the back; some of them were killed. Some of them were "todt," he said. But fortunately me and the other guy were all right.
Aaron Elson: The other guy, throughout all this, he hasnt been wounded?
Murray Levine: No, he wasnt wounded. So he drove us to Florence, Italy, and he took me to a hospital. I dont know what happened to the other guy. And I was there, in that hospital, for three or four days. They gave me very little medical attention; in fact they wrapped my hand up with paper bandages. Can you imagine? Paper. And they put me on a hospital train, and during the night they dropped me off at a prisoner of war camp, which was Stalag 17.
Aaron Elson: The famous one?
Murray Levine: Wiener Neustadt, Austria. But they dropped me off at two in the morning, and they dropped me off on the Russian compound side. The lights went on and Russians dragged me in. They treated the Russians like, I cant believe it. And Im looking around, they took me and dragged me in a bed which was too small for me but I lay there. And Im looking around. Russkies. I dont see any GIs. And I hear a lot of Russkies talking, this and that, theyre in bad shape, all of them. Their heads were shaved. The Germans treated them like dirt.
Finally, everybody left the room except one guy. Did you ever get a feeling that somebodys staring at you? I look around and I look at him, and he smiles at me. I smile back. He hobbles over to me. I see that he was wounded in the leg; he had his kneecap shot off.
The first thing, he looks at me, "Du bist Amerikane?"
I said, "Yeah."
He said, "Im Russky."
I said, "Thats what I figured."
He says, "I wish I was an American." He says, "Du bist ein offizier?" Am I an officer? He spoke in German.
I said, "No, Im a private."
He says that hes an offizier. "Leutnant." Russian Leutnant.
He looks at me. He says, "Du bist ein Jud?"
I said, "Yeah." Im a Jew.
He says, "So am I."
He says, "The next time I go to the lazarete," thats the delousing chamber, "and they see that Im circumsized, theyre going to kill me."
For a couple of days, I was just heartbroken. Finally, while he was talking to me, a couple of GIs come in. Theyre looking for me, because they had a roster, and they expected some GIs to come in, and my name was on there. They figured they screwed up, they must have dropped me off in the Russian compound, and they found me. They said, "What are you doing here?"
I said, "I dont know." How the heck should I know?
So they got me and they took me to the American compound. In the interim, I befriended this Russky, and I used to make sure that I would give him some food, because we used to get a Red Cross parcel, which was actually an American Army parcel but they were using the Red Cross as a front.
His name was Liebman, Ill never forget.
Then one day we were looking for him, because I couldnt find him. The Germans had killed him. Only because he was a Jew.
Murray Levine: I was in this camp for about four months. While I was there I had a French surgeon operate on my hand. He did a beautiful job.
But the camp was only for Air Force, not infantry. The guys used to dig tunnels every day to escape, it was really something, unbelievable. Some guys got out, but the thing is, if you dont talk the language, where are you gonna go?
Anyway, they finally interrogated me...
Aaron Elson: How did they interrogate you?
Murray Levine: "Name. What outfit are you from?" I said, "Name, rank and serial number, thats all Im giving you."
"We know youre from the 45th Division," because they knew the area they picked me up in. "What are you?"
I said, "American."
He says, "Religion?"
I said, "Im a Jew."
He put down I was a Protestant. Why? According to their propaganda, theres no Jews in the front line. Theyre home making money I guess. They probably had another dossier on me anyway, God forbid if they won the war, they would get me.
I was there for three months, and then they said, "Youre in the infantry. What the hell are you doing here? Youve got to go to an infantry camp." So they said, "What rank are you?"
I said, "Im a sergeant."
"Can you prove it?"
I said, "No."
So they sent me to Stalag 3B, which was a noncom camp. I was there for about six months, and they come over to me, "You cant stay here. You cant prove youre a noncom. Youve got to go to a camp for privates, infantry." So they put me on a train and sent me to Hammerstein, Prussia, 2B. After I was there a couple of days, I spoke to the "man of confidence," thats what they called the guy that headed up the American compound.
He said, "What are you doing here? Where are you coming from?"
I said, "I was in a noncom camp at 3B but they said I couldnt prove it, so they sent me to your camp."
He says, "What were you?"
I said, "I was a private."
He said, "Do you want to be a under-offizier?" Do you want to be a sergeant?
I said, "Yeah."
So he made a paybook out, "Sergeant."
A couple of days later, I go to the authorities. I said, "What am I doing here? Im a sergeant." So they sent me back to 3B.
Aaron Elson: How would they transport you?
Murray Levine: By train. This time it was by train.
Aaron Elson: In boxcars?
Murray Levine: No, a regular train. And I was in Stalag 3B, Ill never forget it, every Friday for a while we used to get the Red Cross parcels, so we were like traders. I didnt smoke. I used to trade among the Americans, plus with the Germans. I used to get white bread. With the GIs I used to buy their prunes, raisins we used to get a box of raisins, and I used to eat that. I used to keep my stomach in good shape. And with the guards I used to trade for bread and for vegetables. Chicken. It was really something. The guards werent allowed to trade with us, but they did anyway. They used to front for the officers, because they wanted the cigarettes. After a while they took the cigarettes; they didnt ask first.
Aaron Elson: Im surprised. I thought they would have done that all along.
Murray Levine: They stopped the trading, and started to take the cigarettes away. The sonofabitches.
Aaron Elson: Thats got to make you angry.
Murray Levine: Oh yeah. What happened, after a while, you know, would you believe it, Max Schmeling came to visit us. Remember Max Schmeling, the fighter? He came in all smartly dressed. He was a Nazi paratrooper. Everybody knew of him, "Max Schmelings here!" Nazi bastard. They made a fuss over him.
Life went on. We traded. What else was there to do? We had secret radios so we knew what was going on. And the Germans actually after a while knew just what we were doing, because when they sent new prisoners in they also planted their own guys. Spies. You never knew who was what. But they knew just what we were doing. I used take cigarettes you used to get powdered milk in a can in the Red Cross parcels after we finished it I used to put cigarettes in the milk can and bury it in the ground. A lot of guys did that. So they came in with minesweepers and dug them up.
When the war was getting close to the end, they decided they didnt want us to fall into Russian hands, so they put us on a forced march. 178 kilometers, in three days. We had to march to Stalag 3A which was in Luchenwald, not Buchenwald, Luchenwald, which is just south of Berlin. Anybody who fell out during the march got a bullet in the head.
Aaron Elson: You saw that happen?
Murray Levine: Oh, sure! And they used to walk us through the back woods. So I see a lot of dead people around in uniforms, and I said to one of the guards, "Who are the menschen?"
And he says, "Das Yuuuuden." Now you cant tell me the Germans didnt know, the populace didnt know what was going on. Disgusting. Its just disgusting.
Aaron Elson: Were they in uniforms, the striped pajama type?
Murray Levine: Right, the striped pajama.
Murray Levine: When the Bulge happened, we knew about it. And I was sitting by the gate with three or four guys, against the fence. Incidentally, all the stalags, all the prisoner of war camps, were near railroad sidings. And all of a sudden we see boxcars of troops, captured prisoners, American. It was the 106th Division practically that had been captured in the Battle of the Bulge.
That division had taken the brunt of the slaughter, of the attack. And prior to that, about a week or two before, the Germans came around and asked us if we had any excess uniforms that we can contribute, because they have a lot of prisoners coming in. They said there was a big battle and a lot of prisoners, and theyll need the uniforms.
So if we had an extra shirt, extra trousers, everybody gave whatever they could. And then suddenly we saw this load of guys coming in, it was unbelievable. They were hungry, and I shared my Red Cross parcel with one particular guy who I befriended and he befriended me. I shared my food with him, cigarettes and everything. Whenever I cooked anything he always said to me, he wanted to lick the pot. So I said, "Lick the pot? Lick it." So we used to call him, everybody used to laugh, you know. We used to call him Leckey. And every time, like I finished, he always said, "I want first leckey." He always wanted to be the first one to lick the pot, we used to make fun of him.
When we got to Stalag 3A, he was in a position where he could get food, and I was in an area where I couldnt get it. And he never offered to help me. Me and some other guys. And we got pissed off at him. I thought that was the wrong thing.
Incidentally, the Russians liberated the camp. That was the day the war ended, we were freed on May 8th.
Do you know that when the Russians liberated the camp, they took their own prisoners and beat the hell out of them with Sam Brown belts. We sat there and we cried. We couldnt believe it. What the Germans did to them and now these guys. Look how propaganda built up in the Russian soldiers mind against their own troops who were prisoners of war. They beat them up because they were prisoners. They should have died.
Aaron Elson: What was a Sam Brown belt?
Murray Levine: You know, a belt. I call it a Sam Brown belt. They took them off and they beat the hell out of them. It was pitiful. We cried, actually. We just couldnt take it.
We waited around for two or three days and we couldnt get any food, so five of us got together and we said, "You know what? Screw it. Lets try to make it to the American lines." At Torgau. We knew theyd joined up there. That was on the Elbe River.
So we took off, and we roamed Germany, and we went through farmlands and so forth, knocked on doors and told them who we were, they crapped in their pants and they gave us whatever we wanted. We told them, "Amerikanische Kriegsgefangene," which is prisoners of war. They hurried to hide their daughters, what do you think, were gonna rape them?
We stopped off at an area which used to be a German officers barracks, and we knocked on the door, and there were a lot of women in there. We told them who we were, and they were happy to see us. So they let us in. We were there for a while, and they gave us some food. We didnt bother with them sexually. That was the farthest thing from our mind. We wanted to get to the American lines.
And they knew that we werent going to bother them sexually. So they were very nice.
Suddenly there was a sharp knock on the door. I happened to be near the door. I opened up the door, and theres a Russky there with a machine gun in his hand.
And they all started to cry. They knew. He came in and he saw there were plenty of women there so he was gonna have his pick.
So I said to the other guys, "Lets not get involved." He was a friendly soldier. If he wanted to do what he wanted to do he had justification in some ways anyway, because what the Germans did could never be, you never could get even anyway. So the girls were telling, "Please, dont leave," to protect them. And I said, "Look. We have to go. Sorry."
We packed up. We took off. We left them there. And he grabbed ahold of one of the women, and to try to entice her romantically he gave her a can of sardines. Ill never forget that. We thought it was funny. A can of sardines to get you know.
So we left. We heard them screaming and yelling. He probably was raping them. Never turned back. We just couldnt. We werent going to extend ourselves in any way. And we walked along, and we saw German soldiers coming the other way on the road. They werent armed. And they were saying were gonna fight the Russians. "Amerikane gonna fight the Russians."
"Youre full of shit. Theyre our friends."
Anyway, we made it to the American lines at Torgau. They were happy to see us. We were happy to see them. It was a great day. And the first thing they did was they took us in and they fed us, great, terrific food. And then they took us and had us deloused. We took our uniforms off, and they gave us new uniforms. We stayed there for a few days, and then they sent us to Le Havre, France, there were camps around Le Havre named after cigarette companies. And they sent me to a camp called Camp Lucky Strike. There they examined us, and they interrogated us.
Oh, this is interesting: When I was interrogated, they said, "When you were a prisoner, did you have any problems because you were Jewish among our own troops?"
I said, "Yes. I found a lot of antisemitism among," because I had a lot of problems with a lot of the guys. There were a couple of guys from Boston who gave me a hard time. I got into a fistfight practically. In fact one of my friends got into a fistfight with them. They blamed us for the war.
"What were their names?"
I said, "I dont want to get involved. I dont know his name."
I did know his name. But forget it. Maybe hell smarten up someday.
"You should tell us, because we want to put a stop to this once and for all."
We didnt know that the Germans had murdered six million Jews. We heard about the concentration camps, but we didnt know what they were doing. When they told us, it was shocking.
Anyway, we were in Lucky Strike for a week or so, and then they put us on transports, and we went back to the United States. Because of my wounds, they sent me to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. I was there in an Army hospital, and they examined me. They told me that they were going to give me a medical discharge, and with my wounds and everything that they were going to put me in for a hundred percent disability. Its got to be worded a certain way. After a week or two I was discharged and I was sent home, and the VA awarded me a hundred percent disability. That lasted for about six or seven months and I got a notification that they were going to reexamine me. I was reexamined, and they restructured my disability to 60 percent. But you had the right to appeal, and your power of attorney could be any of the veterans organizations, so I said to them, "Which is the biggest and most powerful?" They said the American Legion. I said "Thats who I want to represent me." So they sent me to see a representative of the American Legion. I told him my case, I showed him everything they had to know. And they represented me and they got back 20 percent, so I got back 80. I had 80 percent for fifty some odd years, until I just got 100 percent disability as an ex-prisoner of war.
Aaron Elson: Were there any psychological aftereffects?
Murray Levine: Yes. I used to dream about how narrowly I escaped death. Three times. Thats part of post traumatic syndrome they told me. I still have it.
Aaron Elson: Do you remember the dreams?
Murray Levine: Yeah, I remember that I looked up and I, you know, dreamt that the Germans were on top of me and had the jump on me, and they were gonna just blow me away, and suddenly out of the heavens a shell exploded and just wiped them away. It cost me part of my hand, but.
Aaron Elson: That would be in the dream?
Murray Levine: Yes.
Aaron Elson: And then you would wake up?
Murray Levine: Id wake up, in a cold sweat. It went on for a while. Anyway, when I got home, oh, I want to also point out, I was missing in action for eight months, and my family didnt hear from me. The Red Cross didnt notify them or anything. The first notification that they found out that I was a prisoner was when they got a card from me telling them that I was a prisoner of war. Then about a month later the Red Cross notified them that I was a prisoner of war. So they really were sweating me out.
And the rest, life went on. Its quite an experience.
Aaron Elson: The Leckey, you said he was in an area where he could get food?
Murray Levine: This Leckey guy, a year or so after I was out of the Army, working, he was a buyer for a resident buying office. I met him on 34th Street. And I said to him, "Hiya Leckey." And he tried not to remember me. I said, "Dont you know who I am?" And he smiled and he said, "Yeah, I know." We said a few words, and then we parted and that was the end of it. He was embarrassed.
Aaron Elson: What kind of a job was he in where he could have access to food?
Murray Levine: He was in an area where there was some food that they had gotten from some farm, not just him but a group of guys, and they had quite a bit of it. They could have shared it. And he never offered. So we figured he was a pig. And we just didnt want to have anything to do with him. But when I met him under different circumstances, I greeted him and he greeted me, but we never socially tried to get together or anything like that. It was just hello and goodbye, and that was it.
Aaron Elson: Did you come under bombings in the stalag?
Murray Levine: Not in the stalag itself, but we used to see some raids that were going to Berlin. Ill never forget there was about, I swear it must have been a couple thousand American planes that flew over the camp, on their way to Berlin. And they rocked Berlin. When we sat on the ground we could hear the thundering, it was unbelievable. They deserved it. Actually deserved it. Ill never forget, there was one raid were about 500 American planes flew over, and all of a sudden out of the blue, a German pursuit plane flew up. And I said to one of the Germans, "Whos that?"
He says, "Unser Fliege!" Our plane!
I said, "Big deal." Unser Fliege. So the Amerikane planes, they started to count. It was past 350 and there were still more coming. They shook their heads. They said, "For us the war is over." They admitted it. They bit off more than they could chew. Thank God it worked out this way. Thank God. Otherwise it would be a whole different world. So, life goes on. Try to stay healthy.
Aaron Elson: Did you see things in the camp, where some people would hoard food or would steal food?
Murray Levine: No. Thats one thing that, nobody ever stole anything. It was pretty good that way. In the first place, there wasnt enough to steal, and actually, the Red Cross parcel that we got, which consisted of a can of powdered milk, a can of corned beef, a can of Spam, a box of prunes or raisins, a box of biscuits, a can of sardines or a can of salmon, a can of jam or marmelade, whatever, and some vitamin pills.
Aaron Elson: Vitamin pills?
Murray Levine: Yeah, if I remember, there were vitamin pills. A couple of pills. And five packs of cigarettes.
Aaron Elson: Were there 20 cigarettes in a pack, or were they small packs?
Murray Levine: No, no. Regular packs of cigarettes. Five packs. That was like money, and thats how we did our trading. Oh, and a can of Nescafe coffee. A small can. Powdered. That kept us going. And the Germans, their rations, you could throw up from it, was a ladle of rutabaga soup. Thats what they fed us. Plus a slice of bread, potato bread. Which was dated, incidentally the loaves were dated 1937, 1936; they were preparing for war.
Aaron Elson: You could see the dates on the loaves?
Murray Levine: Yeah, it was cut into the crust.
Aaron Elson: So they had made the bread that long ago?
Murray Levine: Made out of potatoes. We ate it. It didnt get rotten. Who knows, maybe it was rotten. It didnt taste that great. You know, you ate it, youre hungry, you eat. Theres times I was so hungry I used to pull roots out of the ground. Youd be surprised how you used to behave when youre hungry. Unbelievable.
Aaron Elson: Were there ever worms in the soup? We were so hungry sometimes we never looked. They said it was horsemeat. We ate it. When youre hungry you eat, what are you gonna do? You shut your eyes and eat. But that was the extent of their rations. They didnt have too much themselves. In fact, we had more cigarettes than their front line soldiers had. Cigarettes were a big deal then. Their front line soldiers used to have three cigarettes a day, that was the ration.
Aaron Elson: Had the guards in the camp been on the front lines?
Murray Levine: No. The guards were older men. The young punks, there were some, but they were only there for a week or so, and then they were replaced by older men who looked like they were in World War I. They were the guards. Also some of the officers. But when they used to send in guards with the minesweepers and so forth, they were young punks, smartly dressed in German uniforms. All officers wore long leather coats. They were cruel, in many ways. But as the war progressed they softened up a little bit. They knew it was over, and they wanted to befriend us. After all, they knew if the Russians get them they would tear them to shreds, like they did to Russia. So they needed somebody to hold onto. Actually we saved their ass. If it wasnt for us, the Russians would have pulverized Germany. They would have burned it to the ground. Rightfully so. But they didnt.
Aaron Elson: How about the guards when the Russians did take over the camp? You were liberated by the Russians?
Murray Levine: Yes. They didnt bother with us. Hello, Kamerad, and that was it.
Aaron Elson: But I mean the German guards.
Murray Levine: They ran away. They werent around. They took the firing pins out of the machine guns in the towers and took off. If the Russians caught them they would have killed them. In fact, they had caught a couple and they shot them on the spot.
Aaron Elson: Did you see that or did you hear it?
Murray Levine: I heard the firing, but I didnt see them laying dead there. We didnt want to get involved. But it was just sweet revenge.
Aaron Elson: Were there any guards that became friendly with the prisoners?
Murray Levine: No. They kept their distance. They only ones that they really did share a little with was the man of confidence, the guy that headed up the compound. We would talk a little and so forth, but not with the rest of the guards.
Aaron Elson: What would you do to pass the time?
Murray Levine: We just would lay around and bullshit with the guys. Just talk. Listen sometimes to a radio which was undercover.
Aaron Elson: What would they do when they found someone with a radio?
Murray Levine: Theyd destroy the radio. As soon as they destroyed it, wed make another one. No big deal. Like one of the officers said, we used to have roll call twice a day, Ill tell you something about that too. He called us out, he says, "We cant leave any metal things around with you people. You people are so inventive that youd probably build a tank." He meant it, too. Apropos of what you said about the guards, one guard was really a little on the corrupt side. I used to trade with him. And he says to me, "You get me enough cigaretten, and I get you a panzer." You get him enough cigarettes, hell get us a tank. Incidentally, we worked out where we used to buy guns from them too.
Aaron Elson: Really?
Murray Levine: Not me. But some of the guys.
Aaron Elson: And what would they do with the guns, hide them?
Murray Levine: Yeah, they hid them. Buried them in the ground. Real deep. Sometimes they found them, sometimes they didnt. Plus ammunition. It was really something.
Oh, there were also two bars of soap which we got in the Red Cross parcels, which the Germans never had, and they relished soap. There was a period of time where a lot of women used to parade, they were probably prostitutes for the German officers, and they found out where the American compound was, so on a Sunday they used to parade outside the camp, and take their clothes off. And we used to throw soap at them. So the more soap we threw at them, the more they took off their clothes. Dont you think some guys worked a deal out where they got out to get laid? They used to pay the guards off. It took three packs to get out, and three packs to get in. I dont know what it cost them for the women, probably a couple of bars of soap. Also, we got two bars of chocolate in the Red Cross parcels. D Bars we called them. They used that. Till the Germans got wind of what was going on, so they upped the price. Because if you get caught outside its your ass. So they raised it to six packs to get back in. Some guys didnt give a shit, they wanted it so bad, they paid. But then orders came from headquarters, any American found screwing around with the German women, theyd be killed. So they put a stop to that.
Aaron Elson: Were any killed like that?
Murray Levine: No. They stopped it. It was only a couple of guys that managed to do it anyway. But it was the talk of the camp. Theres always somebody that was pretty outspoken about it, you know, he was proud that he got out to get in, if you know what I mean. But then they put a stop to it; they didnt allow the women to come around.
Aaron Elson: With you having been wounded, had your wounds healed?
Murray Levine: No. There was a time, I woke up one morning, and I had a terrible high temperature. I went to see American medics who were prisoners, and they found out that I had a bullet in me. It festered. That was giving me the temperature.
So I said, "Take it out."
They said, "Were not surgeons. But we know of an Italian surgeon in the Italian compound that will take care of it, if you want to go over there."
I said, "Sure."
So they walked me over there, and the surgeon took out the bullet and also the shrapnel from my shoulder that was giving me the problem. And I offered him some cigarettes. He didnt want to take them, but I forced them on him.
I got off the table after the operation and I walked back to the camp. I felt better.
Aaron Elson: Did he give you any sedative?
Murray Levine: Yeah. He dulled my back. I dont know what he used.
Aaron Elson: The shrapnel was in the shoulder?
Murray Levine: And the bullet was in my back. The bullet came up to the surface, and it was hard to take it out because the body put a protective coating around it, and he had to scrape through to get in there. I used to have it with me, I was showing it to everybody, and I lost it. Fifty five years ago.