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Harold Kennedy at Camp Hale, Leadville, Colo.
Harold Kennedy at Camp Hale
Leadville, Colo. 7/23/43

"Discovering Concentration Camps at the End of the War,
And Getting to Go Home"

Harold Kennedy

December 21, 1994
Interviewer: Rheba Massey

Kennedy describes the anguishing experiences of the 104th Division as they liberated Germany at the end of the war: "Starting out across Germany, we went right down the highways. . . There was fighting going on one way or another all the way across Germany. . . On one particular day we went sixty miles; so you could see how fast we were going across Germany . . . Hitler had killed himself in April . . . the war was over. The civilians adapted very rapidly to the American occupation. . . One of the places that we overran as we came eastward was Nordhausen; the military installation and concentration camp. I was not part of the operation; I was there several hours after they had overrun it. There were 6,000 dead inmates lying about on the ground. It was a ghastly sight. Worse than that, it smelled to high heaven." The American military made the people of Nordhausen come over and see what was going on right next to them. "I talked to German civilians and they always said, 'Well, we didn't know.' I'd say, 'You could smell it couldn't you?'"

An immediate problem for the American military was disposal of the bodies. "They enlisted a lot of German civilians; hopefully they would have tried to get Nazis to carry the bodies to a trench and bury them. There wasn't anything else they could do. . . I understand Nordhausen was the underground factory for the B-2 rocket bombs. . . Concentration camps were, I suppose, the most frightening thing, most gruesome thing that we encountered. We were combat soldiers. We were used to seeing lots of dead people . . I talked to probably hundreds of surviving camp inmates."

Kennedy helped the intelligence people to locate Nazis and arrest them. "The Germans were ready by this time to rat on their neighbors who were Nazis. I don't think it was a particularly successful operation. . . The big drive against Nazi criminals came later . . I do remember an incident in one town where I met a concentration camp inmate who had made his way home. A bunch of Poles came in with a German . . . using whips and hitting him and swearing at him. It turned out that this was a German official of some kind of other, I never got the details, who had been responsible for this guy being in a concentration camp. It was quite a confrontation . . I made certain that guy was arrested."

The concentration camp inmates were often forced by the Nazis to keep ahead of the liberating forces. "If we approached a camp, they'd evacuate the inmates and they'd have them tied up to huge wagons with supplies on them. They had the inmates pull the wagons across the countryside. At one place outside of Leipzig we got information from civilians that they had some of the concentration camp inmates who couldn't walk anymore so the guards shot them. We had the local brown shirt Nazis dig them up; we had found out where they were buried. That was something. I can remember one of them was obviously shot through the head and another was obviously bayoneted. This sort of gruesome stuff."

The horror of war, at least in the European theater, was over for the 104th Division; the first combat infantry division to return to the United States. "We got to the United States, came past the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor on July 3, 1945. The fireboats were squirting water up and we got a great welcome. . . I got on the phone as soon as I could and called Jeanne. I was getting a forty day leave before we were to go to California for training to attack Japan. I said, 'Lets get married!'"

Jeannie had seven days to borrow a dress and get ready for their war's end wedding, but it was a nice wedding at her church in Stillwater, Minnesota. Less than a month later, the Kennedys had just returned from their honeymoon and were relaxing at a lakeside cabin when her father announced, "They've dropped an atom bomb on Japan." Kennedy turned to his bride and said, "That's the end of the war." On November 9th Harold Kennedy was discharged from the military and was soon reunited with his wife.

Kennedy concluded his long interview with these words: "What more can you want than Fort Collins? We took up skiing after we came to Colorado. We both still ski. Our family, the four children, is all grown. We have six grandchildren. What more can you want in life? I sometimes wonder it all happened to me."

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