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Helen and Sol Krawitz Holocaust Memorial Education Center

Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center

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Milton Gottlieb – Liberator

Interview with Milton Gottlieb




DATE: June 18, 2018


Milton Gottlieb’s Closing Words:

I am very proud of my country for its participation in World War II. The country was completely united in its efforts to win the War and assist the allied countries.

Q: When and where were you born?

A: I was born to Bessie and Phillip Gottlieb in the Bronx, New York in 1926. I was the middle child of two sisters.

Q: Describe your family background.

A: My mother, Bessie Michaels, came here from Gradna, Poland. She was born in 1900 and came here in 1915. My father, Phillip, came from Pinsk, Russia at the end of 1917. He had two half brothers and a sister. His father was deceased. My father had no money; he only went to grammar school. He worked as an apprentice to a plumber and he learned the trade. He took a job driving a taxicab. He lived with 10 men in one room on eastside. My father worked the night shift.

Q: How did your parents meet?

They met in New York on the Eastside. One day when he was 21, he said he was he was looking for a nice girl. They got married I think around 1922. My mother was a wonderful homemaker and became a professional caterer. Work was hard to get in those days and it was harder to get into the plumbing business.

Q: How did your father make a living?

My father went to Long Island for start a plumbing business for two years; it did not work out. He went back to the Bronx. Then went he went to Newark and my mother worked for her sister. I partially grew up in Newark and then the government forced my father to enlist during wartime. They needed my father to work in Jacksonville, Florida Naval station. They needed plumbers and steamfitters. He worked there until he retired.

Q: What were you doing during the war?

The move interrupted my third year of high school. I finished high school in Jacksonville—Robert E Lee High School. I graduated and went to the University of Florida. In my 2nd year we were kicked out of the dorms. The Air Force took over the college to train Air Force soldiers. I was 17 at that time.

A: When did you enlist?

I enlisted in the ASTRP—Army Specialized Reserved Training Program. They sent me to North Carolina for training. You continued your college program, but they added military courses. After six months the program discontinued—that was in 1943. Then I went to basic training camp at Spartanburg’s South Carolina. It was terribly hot and difficult. When you graduated from basic training, you take an IQ test and then they decide what you are best suited for, and they chose for me to be a medic. You have to accept it. I didn’t even think of asking for anything else.

Q: Can you describe how you were trained as a medic?

A: It was a short course—one month on how to fix blisters, how to treat patient’s wounds, and how to do a tracheotomy. I was also selected for a two-week course of advanced training. That consisted of how to treat soldiers immediately by ambulance or jeep and how to drag the wounded off the field and to the hospital. Then they said, “We want you to apply for OCS—officer training—and I was accepted. They told me, “You may also go to West Point or Army school.

Q: Did you go to officer’s training? What did you decide?

A: Just then they came out with a directive. They needed soldiers for the overseas battle of the Bulge. At same time, I got a notice of acceptance to go to OCS. They gave me the choice and I chose to go overseas.

Q: Why did you choose to go overseas rather than officer’s training school?

Why did I volunteer to assist in the battle of the Bulge? It was the last stand of Germany. Germany put everything they had into that battle. That was in 1944. Medics don’t carry guns. I knew I was going as a medic. I didn’t want to carry a gun. You weren’t allowed to carry a gun by the Geneva Convention. The first thing they do is give you a helmet and jacket with a red cross on it. As soon as we got to Luxemburg, we took off the jackets and helmets because we were told that we were targets for the Germans, and they would kill us. But we still didn’t carry our rifles. We were “married” to our rifles, but as medics we gave them up.

Q: How did your parents react to your decision?

A: I went back to Jacksonville. My parents were very upset. They give you a week to say goodbye.

Q: Describe what going to war was like for you.

We came over on a fruit freighter, which was converted into three or four tiered-bunks, which we had to stay in all the time. I don’t know the name of the freighter. The first day on the boat they took us outside for fresh air. As far as we could see, we were out in the ocean and as far as you could see were ships and planes guarding us. We were lucky not to be attacked. It was dead winter of 1945 and it was freezing cold, and we couldn’t go outside and everyone got seasick. It took 10 days on the boat, and we departed at Le Harve, France. We couldn’t get off the boat. The city was leveled and we took boats, 100 at a time to land.

Q: What happened once you landed on shore? What were the conditions?

The next day there was the worst snowstorm in 20 years, and we had to march about 10 miles in the snow to a train depot where trains took us to Luxemburg. Everybody was cold, wet and hungry. We had minimal food at that time; we had nothing on the train. Your rations were your meals—stew, eggs and ham, corn beef hash, spam, creamed spam, big square chocolate, powdered drink (orange/lemon) bullion powder, 4 cigarettes, package toilet paper and soap. You got three meals per day and goodies at night; once a month you might get fresh bread and there was a shower truck once a month.

Q: What happened once you reached Luxemburg?

A: In Luxemburg they told us we were in reserve for the battle, but we never went in. We waited and then the battle was won. And from there we started the invasion of Germany.

Q: What division were you in?

A:  I was in the 89th Division (Colorado Division). We started the invasion of Germany.  When we landed in France, before we got to Luxemburg, I went to an Officer’s Prisoner’s Camp on the border of France and Luxemburg. There I saw Canadian and Australian officers that were executed by the SS. That was my first introduction into the real war.

Q: Can you describe what you call “your first introduction to war in the officer’s Camp?”

A: When I walked into the camp, in an open field in front of the barracks, there were 10-12 men lined up in a row. It was only hours after the Germans had left. They had shot the men in the back of their heads. They were on their knees, stooped over, shot dead. It was a terrible introduction, and there wasn’t anything we could do for them. My whole medical team went and saw this (all five of us). The Army had a burial service. They have these soldiers who come and bury and identify the dead and notify the Canadians in that case. We just left to continue the invasion.

Q: What happened after the Officer’s Camp?

A: Then we went onto Luxemburg. That was the first day. We got to Luxemburg. Every soldier had to have a buddy. You shared a half a tent and that was where you slept.  You weren’t allowed to make a fire. Rations were eaten cold. Everyone was cold and frightened. Then we marched 20 miles everyday to take control of German land.

Q: Did you serve as a medic throughout the invasion of Germany?

A: After the 2nd or 3rd day, I was lucky. I was not called to be a medic first class in the headquarters company anymore because I had some knowledge of German. I didn’t serve as a medic anymore. I served as an interpreter and a getter of real estate. I was in demand and I had to go to the Germans to say we were taking their house, and they had to leave but most of the time, the houses were empty. Sometimes there was food on the table. In Headquarters Company, we actually had food. I rode around in a jeep or truck. You didn’t have a permanent vehicle. I was still part of the 89th division.

Q: Did you personally experience attacks or fighting?

A: Not that much. There was some wounding and once a bullet went over my shoulder and between my feet. You never knew where the bullets came from. Most of the bullets came from teenagers. The Nazis were retreating. We’d go into a village, and you would see white sheets hanging from the windows, and then when we left, and then we’d see the Nazi flags go up.

Q: Did you experience liberating any concentration or labor camps?

A: During the invasion, we got to the town of Gotha in Saxony, Thuranger. We got to this camp with an Arbeit Freit Machen Frei arch at its entrance. There were 2000 slave labor work camps in Germany. We saw people in nightgowns, stripped, most of them couldn’t talk, the majority in the barracks in what serve as their beds. The first thing we saw was that they laid on straw in the barracks. Then there was a commotion in the courtyard when we came in. The inmates were beating a kapo–a Slavic inmate who was a collaborater. They beat him to death. (Milton references an account of the event in the book: Gated Grief by Leila Levinson, p. 109 Al Hirsch’s testimony)

Q: Can you describe further the general conditions of the inmates?

A: Every soldier had chocolate bars in his rations. Typhus was rampant and the soldiers recoiled. We gave them chocolate bars. The starving inmates immediately retched when they ate them as it was too rich for empty stomachs.

Q: Did you do any medical treatment?

A: No, they were immediately deloused. A truck would come, they would stand naked and they were sprayed head to toe, and then they would shower and get army clothes. Delousing and showering trucks came. They were given bread. Fresh bread. That was a thrill for us. When the bread truck came, and we were in the snow, I drop it, and I didn’t care; I picked it up and ate it.

Q: Did you liberate or experience witnessing any other camps?

A: After Gotha, a directive came down from General Eisenhower to all the soldiers. First he directed all officers to go into the towns to get the officials of the towns. He wanted the official deniers to see what was going on. The smell of death was overwhelming. It was a unique oily vapor. It permeates everything, but the officials denied it. Everybody denied it. Second he would allow any soldier to go into a concentration camp to witness the atrocities. Eisenhower wanted witnesses. He did it more for the people of the towns. He gave the soldiers the choice, but he forced the politicians of the towns to visit the terrible atrocities inflicted by the S.S.

Q: Did you go to witness other camps?

A: Yes, Ohrdruf was a sub-camp in town of Ohrdruf. I went to witness the sub-camp with other soldiers. The first thing we saw were tiers of logs piled up and bodies on different levels being burned—they were still burning. They would take the bodies to a ravine not far away. As far as you could see were dead bodies in the ravines. There were also people hanging in the square. They also had 4 ovens there. Most people died from starvation or typhus. Then kapos came with hand wagons and piled the bodies and took them to the ravines. Up until the end of the war, these sub-camps were gassing people.

Q: Were there any women and children left?

A: I saw a few women alive but no children. I never saw a child. I was witness to the atrocities in the last six months of the war—January 1945 through August 1945. We all asked that. Where are the children? One day I took pictures. I sent them to my mother. She burnt every picture. I don’t blame her. It was too hard to take.

Q: What did you witness after the camps towards the end of the war?

A: After the concentration camps, we continued on through the entire country of Germany to Austria and then Czechoslavkia and then Poland. Then we stayed as occupation troops in Salsburg, Austria for three months and then we went back to Le Harve for the staging camps. That’s where you get the soldiers ready to go back to the United States. The camps were named for cigarettes. My camp was Lucky Strike.

Q: What did you witness at the end of the war? (August 1945)

A: We would see people on the dirt roads by the thousands at the end of the war, going back to where they came from. We didn’t know who they were. It was heartbreaking to see those refugees. The Poles wouldn’t give the Jews back their houses and they blamed the Jews for the war.

Q: What was coming home like for you?

A: I returned to the United States in May, 1946. I came home to Jacksonville. On the second day I said I wanted to go back to the University. They welcomed me. At that time they were giving out three-year diplomas. I had a football scholarship.

Q: How and when did you and Claire meet?


A: My parents said that I had to go to Newark in June for a wedding for your cousin Murray and “you are an usher.” So I go to the wedding. Claire’s family was invited and she was bridesmaid and I am an usher and we decided to date. We got married on October 1, 1946. I was 20 years old. Our families were friends. Claire’s father gave us the business to run—a flower shop. We lived in Newark. Everyone was getting married at that time—you couldn’t get a place to get married at.

Q: Did you talk much about what you witnessed after the war?

A: Soldiers? They didn’t feel they could tell people how bad it really was and the trauma was terrible. They didn’t think it was right to talk about. Soldiers talked about among themselves. It was universal. The soldiers were traumatized. In the Army called it “shell shocked.” I witnessed it. I treated two soldiers. One shot himself in the arm, and one shot himself in his thigh to avoid going into battle.

Q: Later on did you ever speak about your war experiences and witnessing the Holocaust?

A: Yes, I’ve spoken to Men’s Clubs in synagogues and to students in high schools and grammar schools.

Q: What was that experience like and do you have a message for future generations?

I am very proud of my country for its participation in World War II. The country was completely united in its efforts to win the War and assist the allied countries.




Milton Gottlieb, Liberator

Milton Gottlieb was born in the Bronx, New York to Bessie and Phillip Gottlieb on March 5, 1926.  He was the middle child of two sisters, Anita and Sheila. He grew up in Newark and Jacksonville, Florida where he went to the University of Florida before enlisting in the Army Specialized Reserved Training Program.  He continued college while training and became a medic. In 1944 he enlisted to go overseas to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. He became part of the 89th division (Colorado Division) that landed in LeHarve, France to invade Germany.  During the invasion, Milton acted as a medic first and then interpreter. His division liberated Slave Camp Gotha and Slave Camp Zwickau bearing witness to atrocities in sub-camps like Ohrdruf. The 89th and Milton continued to bear witness through Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland from January 1945 to August 1945.  He returned to the States in May 1946, and shortly thereafter met Claire Brenner at a family wedding. They married on October 1, 1946, and Milton took over Claire’s family floral business. In the post war years they lived in Short Hills, New Jersey. Milton bought the Martinsville Inn in 1979 and moved to Bridgewater in 1981 from Short Hills.  Milton was a florist and caterer until he retired at age 65, but he worked until he was 80. He and Claire have three daughters and one son – Sara, Beth, Marla and Steven. They had seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren and had been married 73 years  in October  of  2019.  Milton died on November 24, 2019, at the age of 93.