WWII veteran recalls horrors of Buchenwald His group found hundreds of bodies there.
Editor’s note: This is one in a biweekly series about World War II veterans and their experiences. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
“I never knew people could live like that,” said Calvin Schultz of Fort Wayne upon reflecting on scenes he witnessed during the liberation of Buchenwald, a German concentration camp during World War II. “It was an extremely sad experience.”
Schultz was born in Fort Wayne in 1920. He graduated from South Side High school in 1939 and International Business College in 1941 with a degree in accounting and general business. He worked at General Electric in Fort Wayne until being drafted into the Army in June 1942.
As a city boy Schultz found the rigors of basic training at Camp Forrest in Tennessee to be challenging. “It about killed me to crawl through the mud and climb barbed wire,” he said. Other requirements during the two months included 20-mile hikes running with a heavy pack on his back.
With his office skills Schultz had hoped he would be assigned an administrative job. Instead, he became part of the Tennessee Maneuvers in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “We lived in pup tents in bivouacs as if we were overseas and on the move,” he said. “We simulated battle conditions to toughen our bodies.”
The soldiers set off fuses for similar purposes. “We had to get used to noise,” he said.
Schultz was appointed corporal and assigned a special duty. “The American military feared Hitler would use chemical warfare on our troops,” he said. “I was trained how to fit soldiers with gas masks so if a poisonous gas was released, it would not cause damage to them.”
Schultz received additional training at Camp Phillips, Kan.; Yuma, Ariz.; and Southern California. He was in the Golden State in spring 1944 when he received orders to pack his bags. “Rumors were that we’d be sent to the Pacific,” he said.
Riding troop trains for three days and nights took the men in the opposite direction to Fort Dix, N.J., where they boarded the Queen Mary for a five-day voyage to Firth of Clyde near Glasgow, Scotland. At Wilmslow, England, the soldiers trained for two months, arriving at Utah Beach in France on Aug. 7. “We had heard of the big landing there in early June but didn’t realize how big it (D-Day) had been until later,” Schultz said.
Schultz was attached to Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, 80th Division, HQ Company 3rd Battalion. His duties included typing and answering the phones. “We were 300-400 yards behind the front lines,” he said. “We suffered mostly artillery fire because the German firing went past our front line several times.”
From France, Schultz’s unit moved to Germany, then Luxembourg. They were there in December 1944 when one of the war’s greatest conflicts began – the Battle of the Bulge. “It was awful,” Schultz said. “We lost many men there. It was Germany’s last stand, and it was stressful.”
American soldiers took turns at the front line. “We’d fight for several hours, then trade with other troops to rest,” Schultz said. He and other soldiers carried their M1 rifles at all times. <br> The conditions for sleeping were worse than anything the Tennessee Maneuvers had created. “It was snowing most of the time and very cold,” Schultz said. “Our platoon dug foxholes the size of a room so we all could sleep inside. We covered it with logs for camouflage.”
His gas mask training was relevant. “I was told to ring an alarm should there be a gas attack,” he said. “The alarm would alert the whole company to put on their masks.”
After two months, Schultz was sent back to Germany. By then, the German army had begun to lose its aggression and soldiers retreated, fearing the war was lost to their cause. Such was the case with Nazi guards at the Jewish prisoner camp Buchenwald.
In early April 1945, Schultz was part of a group that found hundreds of bodies – living and dead – there.
Buchenwald was the first Nazi camp liberated by American troops and one of the largest in Germany. Schultz arrived the day after the initial liberation. Horrified, he and other American soldiers stared at the emaciated bodies of 200 boys and men, still living but barely, being held, prisoner. “We wanted to give them food, but our officers told us not to do so. They said food would hurt the prisoners’ systems at the time.”
The sight of the camp’s gas chamber shocked the Americans. “Our officers made us soldiers stand in the gas chamber with our masks on while they turned on the gas,” he said. “That way we knew what it was like to be gassed and what the Jewish prisoners had gone through when killed.”
Perhaps most appalling was the sight of open graves. “The former prisoners said they had been forced to dig the graves and bury the dead from the camp,” Schultz said. Upon learning the Americans were approaching, the guards had run off in the middle of covering the bodies.
On VE Day (Victory in Europe), Schultz was stationed in Austria. He was sent to Czechoslovakia during the Occupation after the war’s end and later furloughed in Paris and London.
In September 1945, Schultz was transferred to the 955th field artillery battalion. His service there was short-lived. In early December, Schultz left from Marseilles, France, on a ship bound for the U.S.
He spent Christmas 1945 at Camp Atterbury in southern Indiana. He was discharged Dec. 28, and by New Year’s Eve he was back in Fort Wayne.
Three weeks later, Schultz married Doris Siebold of Fort Wayne. They became parents to four children. Doris died in 2002.
Schultz has positive thoughts about his service during World War II. “It was good for me to be in the military during World War II,” he said. “I got to leave home and be on my own. I’m glad the Lord gave me the strength to have the experience.” <br>
<i> Bluffton author Kayleen Reusser published the book “World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. </i>