"Because every time we spoke to someone, they knew nothing about it" Conversation with Edward W. Haughney, first American Mayor of Weimar
Glossen: When were you mayor of Weimar?
Haughney: For about ten days in April 1945. I was a young captain in a field artillery outfit, which was part of the of 3rd armys 8th corps artillery, I believe. Then they brought in a regular civil affairs team, which was trained to handle these things.
G: When did you join the army?
H: I was drafted right after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and I put on my uniform for the first time on the 15th of January 1942.
G: So you had actually seen three years of battle?
H: Well, no. I was going through basic training, and then they sent me to more schools to become an officer. We didn't go overseas until February of 1944. We sailed from Boston on the 12th of February 1944, and we landed in Glasgow, Scotland on the 22nd of February of 44. The invasion of Normandy was on the 6th of June 1944. My outfit did not go in until about 2 weeks later. I don't remember the exact date. We were not on the D-Day invasion, but we did land there, and we were fighting our way from Normandy to the Siegfried-line, captured Koblenz, crossed the Rhein at Boppart, and just kept going, kept going. But finally we got orders to stop and wait for the Soviet forces to come forward. Where were we? We were almost directly south of Berlin and north of some place in Czechoslovakia. So we sat there for about two or three days and then got orders to come on back. And the reason why we came back was that the army had bypassed lots of places, and many of the cities had no troops occupying them.
G: Do you remember on what day you actually entered Weimar?
H: I don't know the exact date. I know it was about the 15th of April.
G: Were you among the first Americans entering Weimar?
H: No. My battalion commander had been there before and someone had been there before him. So we were not the first. It was well after midnight when we arrived, we stayed at a hotel and I went straight to bed.
G: Do you know the name of the hotel?
H: Yes, it was called Elephant Haus. It was almost like a movie scene. One day the battalion commander came in and said to me, Where are you staying? I said, In the hotel. He said, Where in the hotel? Upstairs. Where upstairs? I said, I'm not telling you. [ ] Well, I know where you're sleeping tonight, he said. I said where? There were two suites in the hotel, one on permanent reserve for Hitler, one on permanent reserve for Göring. [ ] So the battalion commander said, That's where you're staying tonight. I said, Why? He said, Well, I have to be out and our communication came into there, and you're going to be there. So, that was a direct order, I spent the night in Hitler's bed. [ ]
G: Who decided that you should be mayor of Weimar?
H: Technically I was a staff officer. I had a total of about ten men under me. [ ] I was then the senior captain with the headquarters. I had been with the battalion since we'd trained in the States. I was one of the few surviving officers, and I had a very good relationship to the battalion commander who was naturally in charge of everything, including the city of Weimar. And since he had so many problems with police, with refugees, etc., he decided to make me the mayor.
G: Do you remember when that was?
H: No, it was a day or two after we entered there. And I said, I don't know anything about being the mayor. He said, You're a lawyer, aren't you? I said, No, I was a law student. He said, Good enough, you're the mayor. So I figure, How in the world do I handle this. I went down to city hall. I had a GI with me who spoke a little German, and we started asking questions. There where dozens and dozens of people who wanted to talk to the mayor about everything. They wanted to get a pass to travel. They wanted to get permission for this or that. Therefore, I decided that I needed more help. So I sent the police for the old mayor, who was the mayor before Hitler got rid of him. Fortunately, he was still living there. And they brought him in. I told him that I wanted him to be my deputy and what he could do and what he couldn't do. Of course, I didn't know whether I could trust him. So I got in my jeep, and I called out to Buchenwald to our service battery. I said, I want you to interview about five guys who can speak English and German because I've got to look for an assistant. So when I got out there, they had about five guys lined up for me who could speak English and German. And I talked to them all. I finally picked one of them. His first name was Jerry. I don't remember his last name. He was a Czech. And he said that he had been the manager of the biggest hotel in Prague and spoke several languages. So I said, Get your stuff. Well he had no stuff to get. So I put him in the jeep with me. I took him out of the camp and brought him down to Weimar. And I said, Your job is to sit next to the mayor and pay attention to everything he does. You've got to report to me as to what he does and what he doesn't do. So I authorized the old mayor to issue a pass to be out after curfew for medics and for clergymen, and a few other things like that.
G: Were you also in charge of keeping the city run as a city?
H: Oh yes, my main concern was that the water and the electricity was on and that there was no rioting going on.
G: Did you meet Germans outside of your official duties?
H: Meeting them would not be the right word. I was aware that they were there. Those who came into the city hall for some reason I would meet. But I was not socializing with them, let's put it that way. And they were not allowed out after dark, and really none of them were in a position to travel. But the battalion commander decided one Sunday that the people of Weimar would like to take a walk on Sunday. And it was the walk to Buchenwald.
G: So the famous walk to Buchenwald was the battalion commanders decision?
W: Why did he do that?
H: Because every time we spoke to someone, they knew nothing about it. They never heard of it. Maybe because it wasn't safe to know about it.
W: Did you go up with the Germans?
H: No, I did not walk up. It was about a five mile walk each way. I rode the jeep.
G: Did you have GIs escorting the Germans?
G: Were they rounded up and then led to Buchenwald?
H: Well, they weren't physically forced, but they were encouraged to. They were permitted to and authorized to and encouraged to. And it was interesting, walking to Buchenwald, they were sort of smiling and happy to be out walking, and they were happy that the shooting was over. Coming back many of them were crying and holding handkerchiefs over their faces.
G: Had you been aware of Buchenwald?
H: No. Not before I got to Weimar. However, the morning after our arrival, I got my maps together and tried to plot where we were. And I knew that B Battery was in Erfurt. One of the batteries was in Jena, because headquarters battery was in Weimar, and I didn't remember where the C Battery was. But they were all within 20 miles or so of that area. But where was service battery? As soon as we got some communication going, we called service battery, and they said that they were about 5 miles north of Weimar. I looked at my map, and there's nothing there. There were just woods. I said to the person on the other side of the line, Where are you? He said, Were at the camp. I said, What kind of camp, a POW camp? He said, No, its a camp. Well, tell me about it. He said, If I told you, you wouldn't believe it. You have come out and see for yourself. Well, a day or so later, people started asking, have you been to the camp? Then I really became interested in the camp when a couple of big shots, members of the British Parliament arrived and then a couple of American congressmen. So I hopped in the jeep and drove up, and the camp was Buchenwald.
G: The first American unit that came to Buchenwald was a tank unit, right?
H: Yes, about the 10th or 11th of April. After we crossed the Rhein, Pattons tanks were going through everything and not getting much resistance. So some American tanks came to Buchenwald; however most of the guards had already left. Our service battery was put in there to bring in food, clothing and heat, etc. And they also put in a hospital unit that they called the field hospital then, now they call it a MASH unit.
G: Did you have any idea how the camp was actually run? I mean, what the inner structure of the camp was?
H: Not really, because my two visits were short. During the first visit they showed me around. The horrors! The ovens! The bodies! I did take a lot of pictures, but after I had them developed a long time later, I decided that I could live without them, and I destroyed them all.
G: Did you have a sense of what nationalities were in the camp, age groups? Did you see children?
H: No, I didn't see any children. I didn't see any women. I was told there were women there, I did not see any. Now apparently the Americans knew about the camp. I never heard of it until I was there.
G: What did the Service Battery do in the camp?
H: The medics were setting up the hospital tents and seeing to it that the food was distributed etc.; but they did not prevent the people from leaving.
G: So the people could leave freely
H: Yes, those who were well. There were many, about 20,000 in the camp at that time, and many of them were in pretty good shape. And they began to cause a problem for me in Weimar because they would go out, when there were GIs driving trucks, and they would thumb a ride into Weimar. And many of them had some scores to settle. They wouldn't be afraid of breaking into a store to get whatever they wanted. I then prohibited them from leaving the camp, and I decided to arm the German police. I had no other choice. With the 10 men that I had, most of them were out as sort of guards at the main roads leading into Weimar. The others we had put in telephone lines. I wasn't using them as fighters because the guns were 20 miles away and there was nothing to shoot at. So, how was I going to police Weimar? And if the police were unarmed, the people from the camp who were in good shape would beat them up and make all sorts of trouble.
G: Did you talk to the German police?
H: Yes, because we found a former police chief.
G: Did you call him to your office?
H: Oh, yes. [ ] He agreed wholeheartedly because he was interested in maintaining some order. The police imposed a curfew, and the first night several people got locked up for violating the curfew.
G: Did you encounter any cultural difficulties in dealing with the people of Weimar as mayor?
H: No, what amazed me though, was that the people would not do anything until they got permission. Some of them even wanted permission to cut down a tree on their property because they needed firewood. They felt they had to come to the mayor to get permission. [ ] So apparently, unless something was authorized, you didn't do it.
G: What was the worst thing about being mayor of Weimar??
H: Well, visiting Buchenwald and seeing the situation there because every time I think about it, I get upset. [ ] we were aware they had labor camps and forced labor but never anticipated the conditions as bad as in Buchenwald, and Buchenwald was supposedly, not the worst. Buchenwald was not designed as an extermination camp, it was a work camp. [ ]
G: What was the relationship between the people of Weimar and the US Army? Was there hostility or did they accept you as liberators?
H: Not as liberators, but as the lesser of two evils. They'd rather have us than the Soviets. Matter of fact, when we started to pull out of the area, lots of the Germans would try to come West too. Lots of them. Also, the Germans were certainly appreciative that we were able to bring in food. There was definitely a food shortage there at the time, and we had plenty of food. Later, our battalion occupied a house somewhere near Nürnberg, and the women were happy to do the wash, happy to cook and all that kind of stuff for food. So we gave them the GI rations. [ ] It was a business relationship, but it wasn't hostile.
G: How did the GIs that you worked with feel about Germans? Did they look at them as enemies?
H: Well, it depends. Admittedly, we were prohibited from fraternizing. There were orders. My battalion commander was a good leader. He didn't always follow orders. He knew what orders were to be followed, and what orders were to be ignored. And when the shooting stopped, he kept the whole battalion together. He said that the no- fraternization rule was bad rule. But he also said that it was the rule. And if people were caught, they were going to be fined. He said, nobody in the battalion is going to catch you. But if you're caught, don't say everybodys doing it, even though its true that everybodys doing it. Just accept that you're going to be fined. Well there were lots of GIs that ended up marrying German girls.
G: So, they didn't think of the Germans as enemies?
H: No. You know what the biggest ethnic group in the United States is? Germans. So a lot of the GIs still had distant relatives there. One friend of mine, who is now deceased, unfortunately, was in the Air Force, and he got shot down over Germany, his grandfather was born in Germany.