Video 1: Stalag VII-A (Transcript)
Prof: We’ll just kinda start. So why don’t we continue with what we’re doing. So, you were in Mossberg.
Prof: And this was a P.O.W. camp.
Vito:It was a P.O.W. camp Stalag VII- A, Seven-A.
Vito: So that’s the thing. That’s where I was stationed at. You know. And I worked off…I started from there. Then I went to Munich too. I worked there 5 months. I started in Munich. I didn’t come back until near the end of the war.
Prof:And that’s during the winter, right?
Vito: Oh yeah. That’s when I had frozen feet. And we wouldn’t get food.
Sometimes they’d give us rotten potatoes. Sometimes we didn’t eat for a day. It was different than the guys that were in prison. The guys in prison, if you had a rate, like a rank, they didn’t make you work. I was a… just a … private. And them were the guys that worked. See that’s what happened. There’s a lot of different stories because guys stood in prison. They didn’t go to work. I had to go.
Prof: Okay. So, the officers got treated better…
Vito: Yeah. They stood in a prison camp. They didn’t have to work but if you were a private, I had to go to work.
Prof: Now how, when did you get captured? Let’s back up a little bit.
Vito:Alright, now, how I got captured too?
Vito:Alright…I was a scout and I was in an infantry, right? Now we got so many objectives to get before we get relieved, it was supposed to get relieved on a Sunday night cause we were up there about 3 weeks and they had it rough up in the mountains of Italy there you know? So, what happened we captured, we got the place by Saturday. So, what, now what happened, we don’t know where the Germans are. So, I’m a scout. And the guy, the captain tells me and another scout “You two guys go out on a Sunday morning. We’re gonna go out, we’re gonna meet the enemy” so this way when they come up, we could tell ‘em where they are. So, what happened we… Sunday morning we get up there and we’re about 100 yards in front of the rest of the squad. What they did was, they let us go to a certain point. Then when they had… one of the guys came up to a certain point. They crossed fire with machine guns. The Germans. So, they killed a lot of guys and me and those other guys were there, and we went to this farm house close by. We stood there and they dropped artillery all day long. Mortars. Then after a while, six hours later, they came in. They knew where we were, they got us. We…we…we…you don’t have a gun because they see you with a gun, they’ll shoot you. So, I was just 19 Years old I was afraid and everything like that. Me and this guy we prayed like anything because of the artillery and all that and then what happened the come in, they captured us. They took us into a room. One guy talked to one guy I talked to another guy. And what happened after that thing. We went outside. There were three guys. Three soldiers taking us to walk to the woods. So, me and this other guy we said to ourselves I guess this is it. And we were…a guy…I was …you know …lousy…you know? And then what happened. A truck came by and they start talking. We got onto the truck and they took us to Bologna. That’s where we went after we got captured. Only two of us. The rest of the guys were killed, or I guess, I don’t know what happened.
Prof: Do you think they were, they were, that they were gonna take you in the woods and, and shoot you? But this truck happened to come by…
Vito: It happened to come by, and I got I got saved.
Prof: And they said, ‘Hey let us put ‘em on this truck’.
Vito:But they, you know. Let me tell ya something. They talked German I don’t understand German. But when they tell you with a rifle or not to do something you know. You don’t have to talk. And that’s what saved my life you know? And then I went to Munich or I mean I went to Bologna.
Prof: Bologna, okay.
Vito: And then the next day they put us…a day later, they put us in box cars. And on the boxcars, it’s 40 x 8. 8 horses or 40 guys. What they did, they put 60 guys in there. They put us in this box car and what they did they put barbed wire they had bars against the doors locked and everything. But they didn’t go into the …what do you call it?… the box car. They stood out and they were, they had their own places and they were guarding the train from the outside. We were locked in there so what happened I would take off. We’re going down and we were gonna go to the Brenner Pass. They said we were gonna go to Germany. Meanwhile, we started out. And the German…the…as the train went by, they didn’t know who was in the train. Then they start strafing the trains. There was a lot of Americans that got killed there. So, after they…
Prof: So, let me stop you for one second. So, in the cars, all Americans now?
Vito: All Americans, yeah.
Prof: Okay, okay.
Vito: Now they had prisoners from other countries. They kept Americans together.
Vito: They kept the German. They kept the English and stuff like that, you know what I mean? So, we were all together the Americans and what happened, they strafed the trains. Guys got killed. So, we went…they, they stopped the train then after a while about a half hour later, an hour later, they opened up the things. They had to take the bodies out. The guys that…
Video 2: Liberation (Transcript)
Prof: An hour left on this tape so it should be fine. We should have more than enough. Okay, so we’re back on the train…
Vito: We’re back on the train and so what happened, we had to take the bodies off. All the bodies off and then what happened we had to get into the train, and it took us 3 days and 3 nights to go to Stalag VII-A. That’s when we got to Stalag. So, when I got on to Stalag VII-A, the Americans were together, the Russians were together, the English were together. Prisoners of war. So now when I got over there, I was afraid. I’m a young guy. I don’t know what the hell’s going on. And what happened? I see they’re beating up a couple of Italian guys because the Italian guys fought against us and the Germans got the guy…and they’re beating these Italian guys. And I’m afraid. I don’t know what the hell’s going on. And uh, my name is Vito. And I said right away, my name is Vito, I gotta change my name. So, I change my name to Hal. and the reason why I changed was because I didn’t want ‘em to say I was an Italian. But then after a while they …they didn’t give us a … a name. They you a number. And that …right there that they had to give you a number and you had to learn it in German. And our number was einhundertneununddreißig
zweihundert und siebzehn. That’s 139th 217. I had to say that all the time when I went to work or anything because at roll call, they call your number and if you don’t give them your number or they don’t have a number then they’ll know you’re missing in action. So that’s why… you had to know your number. And a lot of times when you’re working on a job, they… you don’t use your own names, they keep… you know would say. But now when I was in Germany there, we did all kinds of work. The Americans were together. We worked. Like when there was a big railroad, they used to bomb the railroad tracks every time. And they bombed Munich every time and we were…we went to air, air raid shelters and stuff like that. I mean the…the…the buildings. And we were on the bottom and they used to come over and bomb us. There was a lot of guys, Americans, people don’t know were missing in action because of these bombings. They used to bomb, and the Germans would never get the dog tags. To show that they killed Now there were guys that, not ours, but the places that we went, with the buildings who were hit but never came down on us. There was some guys that we knew, Americans, were killed with the bombs coming down. Now we used to work there five months back and forth you know? And the…every job was different. And we had German guards watch us and then we had civilians. Now civilians would come over there and they…they were old people that did want to fight, and they were mad at the…because the Gestapo was around the S.S. troops… and all those guys around. So, what they did when we worked on detail sometimes you got civilians telling us what to do but the guard guarded us. Now sometimes the guy would come in there and he’d see we had no food or anything he’d try to give us some food. And sometimes what happened … there was a book that was written from a guy that was there Cigarettes for Break the guy wrote the book. And …when we were prisoners of war, the guys in the camp used to get cross [packages?] and there was cigarettes in there and they …sometimes we got it. We never got it too much but …in Germany what happened, cigarettes was a big thing. That sometimes …according to who’s handling the cigarettes sometimes if the S.S. troops got, they wouldn’t give you nothing. But the regular Army troops when they got the cigarettes, they would give it to the regular guys, and you would make trades with the people or sometimes with the guards because not everybody wanted to fight the Germans. A lot of them were afraid of the other ones but they had to do…they guard us.
Prof: So, you mean some of the German civilians.
Vito: Yeah… civilian …civilian guys.
Prof: And even some soldiers too or?
Vito: No, no …yeah sometimes they used to give us…and they were afraid. They had to make you work. And it wasn’t that that it was their fault. They were told to do this and we had to do it. And if… they didn’t do that they would beat the guy up. They didn’t care. See life was you had to do what they told you.
Prof: So, you would occasionally find one of these German civilians who would try to help you out?
Vito: Oh yeah… Let me tell you something. There’s good and bad in all the nationalities, all the countries. There was a lot, but they can’t open their mouths because a guy…you get an S.S. troop, he shoots you. The young guys, they were crazy so if you had one of them around you gotta be careful. Now I’ll tell you one story that happened over there. One time we had to work detail. We were working like hell, so they gave us a rest, right? I don’t know sometimes we never rested. But they gave us a rest and we’re sitting in the circle there and there was guards there and one guy was reading a newspaper and he had it up to here. And one of the guys, an American guy laughed because… the guy shot him right then and there. They didn’t even think nothing about it. And that was how … you had to be careful whatever you did.
Prof: So, so you knew at any time…
Prof: That kind of anything could happen.
Vito: Yeah, yeah anytime. If a… if a guard didn’t like you, he shoots you. Sometimes when you go in the barracks, they search you… but as the stories go by, I was searched a lot of times. When I was in prison camp there, there was a guy. This was near the end of the prison thing. There was a guy named Oscar Hilly. He came from Charleston. So, when I was going to high school, he …he got shot down over Berlin. I was a sophomore. I read this in the newspaper and everything like that so what happened years go by I get prisoner of war I find out he’s a prisoner of war. But he was shot down over Berlin and they at the end of the war they were moving guys from Berlin down to our camp cause we’re overcrowded. So, we had to move out of the camp to there. But about 2 or 3 weeks before I was there and we walk around and say who’s here? who’s this? He says Oscar Hilly. “Oh Vito!” You know, this and that. I says, “You need anything?” so he says, “ Yeah I need a knife.” And the reason for the knife is you have 8 men on a loaf of bread. One guy cuts it up. When he cuts it up, he… they didn’t have utensils they didn’t have knives, they didn’t have … they had to do it any way they could do it. Now the guy that did the last one he gets the last piece. So, he’s gotta break it even right? So, what happened I give him the… I go to work one day then I … I didn’t do nothing. Next day I went to work, and I worked on a building that day. They had a knife. I found a knife. So, I had these shoes that were big and everything like that. I took the knife I put it on the bottom of my thing, and I brought it back into the camp. And how I got it into the camp. The guard knew I was working over there and my feet were bad, and they let me go through, so I took a chance of brining the knife. So, what happened, I got into the camp and I dug it underneath the … in the barracks. Underneath the barracks. So, then the day goes by back and forth Then I came in one day and a… cause we were going in and out. And what happened I says “I got the knife.” They had a commotion on one side of the place, right? And the guys who were arguing… talking loud and all the Germans were watching there and… while they were talking I took the knife and threw it over the fence. And the fence was, the offices were on one side. We were on the other side. They had the one…one car could go through and they had barbed wire barbed thick. So, what happened? I threw it. Now they guy gets the knife. I, I get liberated I get home and this and that. Guess what happened? I’m sitting at a place in the … the … down in the Washington Township over here. I was a bartender and these guys come in to drink and they says, one guy I hear a guy say “You see Oscar Hilly?” They’re talking amongst themselves and I overheard them I say, “You know Oscar Hilly?” “Oh yeah.” I says he came from Charleston he was shot down. “Oh yeah, he was our boss.” I says “you guys know where he is? Cause I haven’t seen him in 30 years.” He says, “he’s living out in South Jersey.” “Try to get in touch with him, tell him to come up here I want to see him.” Well he got in touch with him we went to Season’s Restaurant the friends and everything like that. He came and he had the knife. Guess what happened? He wouldn’t give me the knife. He kept the knife. So, what happened? That was … good. Then after a while what happened, on my 70th birthday I invited him to a party, and what do you think he… he said “Vito, here’s the knife for you.” It wasn’t the knife it was another knife. He wouldn’t give me that knife. But these are the friends that you have that remember.
Prof: And so now how did you um. I mean when you were in the P.O.W. camp, how did you keep your spirits up? I mean how did…
Vito: Because I was young. I was… don’t forget, when I went into the service, I was 18 years old, I was playing football on a Saturday, Thursday I went into the Army. There was a … I went from a football game on a Saturday… Saturday, Thursday I went into the Army. I was young I used to… I was in good shape and everything but after a while I lost weight, I was… And I when I went into the service there, I was 165 pounds in high school. Then when I went there when I came out when they weighed me after I got liberated, I weighed 130 pounds. And then what happened I was eating a little bit, my mother had chicken for me home every day and this and that and what happened, I went from 130 pounds to 219 pounds in about 4 or 5 months. And that’s you know, that’s what happened. Then when I came home it was great. Everybody enjoyed us coming back. And the Charleston we have this in town. We had 5 guys that got killed there, a guy Pete Ramses. On route 17 they have a softball field, little league, named Pete Ramses he’s a guy that died when I played baseball with him in the 30s, he got killed over there. And a guy… Donnie Mastrioni he lived next door to me. He was 22 years old he got… he got killed next to me too. But in the town in Charleston there was 8 P.O. W’s. 8 Prisoners of war. My best friend that I had in high school he got captured at Battle of the Bulge I got captured in Italy, the other guy got shot down over Berlin, on guy got captured in Africa. We all at the end of the war, we all came home together. We went into Charleston I was the last one to come back. We had a great time. The town fed us we had parties every day. That’s how come I went up form 130 I went up to 219 Pounds.
Prof: And do you remember when you were liberated? Do you remember the end of the war?
Vito: Oh, yeah. Here’s…liberation. I was in the prison camp Stalag VII-A. The Germans were, got all the guys from Berlin coming down. So then now the prison camp is… a lot of guys there. So, they wanted to get out. We couldn’t get no food or anything, but we had to move out. They got 300 of us to go to a farmhouse outside of Mossberg there, right? So, we go in this farmhouse and uh, what happened the war is coming to an end. They say this and that. Well the German used to have a tank alarm. And they have the air raid alarm. Now we knew, we were in the… building, right? … farmhouse. And what we did, we first had German guards then they changed them over to the civilian guards. I mean soldiers that weren’t bad. They were told to do it. But they, the other guys took off the, the bad. So, what they did, they made us put P.O.W. on the roof. Now they fire planes came by they seen that they had P.O.W. on there, they knew where we were. So, one day on a Sunday morning… we hear the air-raid alarms and we hear the tank alarms and we knew the tanks were coming. Then over the ridge, 20 tanks were over there. Then all of the sudden they came, and they liberated us. They come in and… the first thing they asked us: ‘who treated you bad?’ The guys that were there didn’t treat us bad. There was German guys that were soldiers and they were told to do it. And they weren’t bad so that’s why. Then what they did they… we got over there, and we had to strip and everything. They cut our hair, they gave us showers, they gave us new clothes, everything like that. Then after a while we waited one day, and they weren’t doing anything for us. So, what happened, there was a guy that wrote this book, Cigarettes for Bread. He asked me and another guy 3, 4 of us together. We got two Harley Davison motorcycles with a side car. So, this way we went from the … that camp that we had outside at Mossberg. We went from there it took us 6 days to go to Paris. We’re on the road. Now when we road on the road we had to stop in a farm house. The war wasn’t over yet. So, what happened one guy would sleep three guys… three guys sleep one guy watched if any Germans were around and this and that. We did this for two… for six days. We got in there on May 8th. But on the road there when there was convoys coming they, we had to get off the road and when we see the truck coming by they gave us food and everything like that. We had the P.O.W. things right. Then we got out of Paris. We got there May 8th and what do you think happened? The war ended May 8th in the afternoon we came in there and the town we had parties. I stood there 2 weeks and then I said I have to go. And I went home…
Prof: But how… you guys just felt like…we’re gonna go to Paris?
Vito: We’re gonna go to Paris! We had… we had machine guns we had all the… but we gotta watch ourselves because there’s guys in the farmhouses. You don’t know if you go into houses with Germans there. Because you don’t… know you can’t trust nobody…
Prof: So, the war wasn’t over yet at that point …
Vito: No! No! That’s why you had to watch out… some Germans were in there, French people. Some French were against Americans.
Prof: Whose idea was it to go to Paris?
Vito: This guy uh… this guy Paul Church. He wrote a book. I got the book here. He wrote the book about it. I didn’t get captured with this guy. I only did… worked with him on some jobs. But I went to… we went on the, to Paris with the cycles… the motorcycles with the side car. I didn’t know how to drive I was just 19. I sat on the side, we rode up there. And what happened? we got over there we…we they treat us like kings.
Prof: And how long did you stay in Paris?
Vito: For two weeks
Prof: That must have been a pretty good two weeks.
Vito: I… there’s a million stories in the naked city and I can’t tell it.
Prof: So, they were that good that you can’t tell it? Okay, I think that says it all!
Vito: There’s good parts in the war and there was bad parts.
Vito: And I, I had fun after. When the war was ending. Life was good, I mean I was a young guy 19 years old… you know.
Prof: So you didn’t feel um, you know you were happy, I mean obviously that was over.You didn’t have this, what am I trying to say? You know how some people have so…uh, damaged and nerves and all that
Vito: Yeah, no, no. I..I did what I had to do I knew I was young. I wasn’t… I didn’t have a good education I’ll tell you right now. But I’ll tell you. You graduate now it was good what I did. But years ago, you were young you didn’t know anything. Now there’s a lot of stories I could tell you that it’s unbelievable. But these are the things that happened. And I’m gonna tell you a story. People might laugh. When I got… When I got… into the service right? I went basic training fort McClellan in Alabama, right? And what happened they. I went through basic training and this and that. and then what happened I’m gonna go overseas. So, I get on a ship and were riding with this uh… on a ship. And what happened they had some Marines and we had to crossing, bend this way, going that way, going that way. Then all of the sudden we’re almost there. Over to Europe… they say were gonna go to Africa. Well me, I says Africa? I says, woah Tarzan and Jane. Cause years ago, we didn’t have television we had Tarzan and Jane on the television. So, you figured they’re real people, right?
Vito: So, what happened, go over there I… I didn’t wanna say anything, but I said oh I’m gonna see Tarzan. It was…they didn’t have Tarzan and Jane. It was a movie! But see these are the things that happened years ago that you know, when your young and this and that you know? But I had good times I had bad times.
Video 3: The Japanese (No transcript)
Video 4: High School Graduation 74 Years later (No transcript)
Video 5: Respect for Veterans–The Cost of Freedom (No transcript)
Video 6: Liberated from the Prison Camp (No transcript)
Video 7: Politicians Today (Transcript)
Bonagura: “Do you have like any thoughts about the politicians today? Most of them we used to have, presidents who were veterans. We had a lot of presidents who were in the service but now we don’t have that so much anymore. Do you have any message for politicians today?”
Vito T: “The politicians they are making enough money! What they should do? I don’t hear a politician. Here is what they should do. You know these guys, I’m a solider. I’m out and they’re taking care of me now. But what about the guys you never hear about? Guys that have lost their arms and legs. What do you think, guys don’t lose their arms and their legs? How many people do you see walking around without arms and legs? You don’t see none of them because the people would laugh at the guys. They don’t respect these guys. Oh, look at him he’s walking this way and he’s walking that way. The politicians are making so much money they should help these guys. And the nurses, you don’t hear nothing about the women in the war. There were women in the war when I was there. Today you look at my car I got a sign “Protect the Women.” They give up their lives too.”
Bonagura: “So, its basically this idea where the civilian like myself doesn’t know what’s going on with the sacrifices. And the politicians, they use that.”
Vito T: “The politicians use whatever can help them out to get a name. But they are supposed to go there and take care of the guys that fight for our opinion. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about politicians, but whenever a guy is against the service men… I don’t like him. The service men are protecting his job. What if they come over here and they lose their job? It was the guys that were fighting for him. Sure, we got guys, yeah, yeah, the guys they’re sending, guys while sitting back over here over there. So, they can have all the money they’re making. They should worry about the guys that’s protecting our country. You don’t hear nothing about politicians helping veterans in the hospital or we are having a big day there for vets. You don’t hear a damn thing! If you’ve seen the guys get wounded and come home with no arms no legs. What do you think there is only 2 or 3? No, there’s thousands you don’t see anyone walk around because they don’t want to walk around.”
Bonagura: “Do you feel lucky that you came back all in one piece?”
Vito T: “Oh yeah, I thank the lord every day. I was going to church when I didn’t have to go to Church. I didn’t even have to go to church, I say prayers all the time. I aint afraid to say it, and I do. It helped me out. Some guys I know don’t believe in that, because if the guy has a kid say he’s 30 and dies in the war and he is praying every day and his son is dead those are the ones you have to help I know guys that have sons who died in the war How could you talk to them? How are you supposed to help them They feel bad, but your supposed to live to help them out because of their parents. When they have a son that died in the war, they are down and out too. You know?”
Video 8: Birthday (Transcript)
Bonagura: So, when is your birthday?
Vito T: July 19th. I just had my 90th birthday. On my 90th birthday I had a parade and everything! And there was a girl that lives in the next town, and she’s a reporter. She covered my birthday. Well, put two and two together. She finds out there’s a girlfriend of hers that lives in England. She says to look on the T.V. about me because I was in a prison camp and she heard that someone else was in the prison camp. So they watched it and I met Moose Bergen. He was there at the same time. In 1944 at Christmas. We were in the prison camp the same day. We were both there on the same day. I worked with him, he worked with me. What happened? We talked it over. His daughter came over to visit me. She came from England. We talked and everything, I even sent him a Yankee hat. He sent me over something too. He told his daughter to go over and see Vito. Tell him I was asking for him. He wrote her everything about me. I knew him for two years. Then he passed away. After I knew him two years.
Video 9: Vito’s Conversation with Leslie Schwartz (Holocaust Survivor)
Vito T: (On phone)
Leslie Schwartz: So, you were a prisoner?
Vito: Yeah, I was a prisoner. When they bombed the railroad tracks. I used to work over there. Then, when the buildings were bombed, we tried to put buildings up. When the guys that got killed, we had to take them out. I was with the Army. The American Army.
Leslie Schwartz: Yes.
Vito T: You are a Jewish guy, right?
Leslie Schwartz: Yes.
Vito: A guy saved my feet. When I was in the prison camp, I had frozen feet. And my shoes wouldn’t fit. And when a guy god killed, I got his shoes. A guy brought me shoes to save me feet. He was a good pal. I don’t know his name, but he was a good man.
Listening on telephone.
Leslie Schwartz: Do you remember the name ……(unintelligible)
Vito T: No, No. The Bahnhofstrasse. That’s all I heard.
That’s where I worked. Bahnhofstrasse—- The English name
Leslie Schwartz: The Americans name and the English name.
Vito: Yeah, I know. They come at Sunday nights. I was there when they used to bomb.
Americans. We worked together with the Jewish Americans. We all worked together there, when we had a job. I did you know.
Leslie Schwartz: You worked at the Jewish home and concentration camps?
Vito T: Yeah. We worked together at some of the jobs. When they had a rough job, they needed guys. We worked together. We worked together. When they needed. Sometimes the Russians together. We stayed in Munich. Sometimes when they bombed, they made us wait outside. Years ago.
Leslie Schwartz: They were there every day at home.
Vito T: Oh yeah! I know. I am here so. I was there and You were there. We’re back and that is all that counts, pal.
Leslie Schwartz: How old are you?
Vito T: I am 93.
Leslie Schwartz: I am 88.
Vito T: You are 98?
Leslie Schwartz: No, I am 88.
Vito T: (Laughing) I said holy Mackerel. So, you are 88. That’s old too. You are thankful right that you are here.
Jewish Solider: What do you do?
Vito: I am retired. Now I look at the women. That’s all.
Leslie Schwartz: Who do you work before?
Vito T: I went to high school. Then I got drafted after high school. So, I went to the war. I worked for Magnavox TV.
Vito: Yeah, I had a good job when I came out. It was a hard-working job. I worked at Magnavox and East Strut ford Syringe. I worked for East Strutford Syringe. They made syringes. It was a good job back then.
Leslie Schwartz: Oh.
Vito: Alright pal? So look. You take care of yourself. Remember the Alamo. Remember the Americans who helped you out.
Jewish Solider: Yea.