From Bautzen to the U. S.

Bill Neinast

The late Colonel Jack Norton was the Godfather of my son, Will.

Jack was a Jew born in Bautzen, Germany, the home of the Wendish sect that
established the community of Serbin and preserved their Sorb language in central Texas.

At age 15 he was able to get out of Germany and to the U.S.  His parents, a brother, and a sister were subsequently killed in Nazi concentration camps.

Here are several paragraphs of a letter from Jack to Will in 1995.

“I remembered so well my experiences in my hometown, Bautzen, near Dresden, on Kristallnacht, November 8, 1939.  After all sorts of indignities from mobs of ordinary bhurgers, my family, an aunt’s family, and a third family were hiding out in a 5th floor apartment at the Post Platz.  Two of the fathers had escaped based on my warnings early in the morning. The third father was already taken away by the Gestapo.

“When some of the more despicable German/Bautzner citizens learned of our location, hundreds streamed into the Post Platz.  They screamed Death to the Jews and yelled for us to jump out of the window.  Finally, Nazis in uniform came storming up the stairs to do the job.  My mother threw the window open and showed at the window sill our group ready to jump.  Three women, one of whom had already become insane, and five children.  The people screaming for us to jump never stopped.  And yet, for some reason I still cannot fathom, the advance of the Nazis on the stairs stopped.  The rest of the story is too long.  We escaped during the night, hid in a cave, nearly starved, etc.”

Jack returned to Germany during WWII as an American soldier.  He writes about that in these paragraphs:

“Near the end of the war, I crossed the Rhine with a unit to which I was attached, near Wesel.  A few days later I was sent further South to a just captured small town named Hadamar.  It was an idyllic, beautiful German town located in a valley not too far from Frankfurt.  On a mountainside overlooking the town was a large insane asylum, forever to be known as the Hadamar Murder Factory. 

“Here the Nazis began in 1935 the practice of euthanazia on Germans mentally handicapped, mostly children.  During the war they also killed here mentally and physically handicapped slave laborers from many nations.  Thousands of non-Jews were the victims….  During the last days of the war the Nazis sent to Hadamar for extermination also several train loads of hopelessly wounded German soldiers.  Quite coincidentally, I captured a male nurse, Heinrich Ruoff, who had given most of the deadly injections from the beginning of the euthanasia program.  Ruoff and several others were tried by an allied tribunal, convicted, and hung for the atrocities against foreigners….”

Later, as an Infantry Platoon Leader in Korea, Jack earned the Silver Star Medal, the nation’s third highest award for valor.  When I asked him about the award, he answered simply, “I only did what I had to do to keep my men alive.” 

He indicated with his answer that he did not want to discuss it further, and I never broached the subject again.

While I was serving with Jack in Heidelberg, Germany, he declined an assignment as an Aide to the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Army, Europe.  The reason he gave for declining was that his German was so rusty he would not trust his interpreting for the CINC in meetings with German officials.

He admitted to me, however, that the real reason for declining that promotion was his utter disgust with having to shake hands and make nice with German officials who were old enough to have served Hitler.

So here’s the perspective.

This tribute to a friend and colleague triggers concerns about whether history is close to another repeat cycle.

Space limitations require leaving those concerns until next week.  Stay tuned.


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