Lieutenant Norbert Auerbach

* 1922  †︎ 2009

  • “Before I embarked I had been given American citizenship. Immediately. With conditions. One of them was a common one – we were not given any documents proving we were American citizens. They told us we wouldn't get them unless we were dismissed form the Army as honorable discharged, that is without the slightest problems. As for me I was at a commission in Washington. They clearly suggested me that my father's name was on the German lists and to be captured might be very dangerous for me. I was not forced but I was recommended to serve under another name but Auerbach. So I obeyed and served under the name Allan. We served as the American citizens. We didn't have to wait for five years after which you were normally allowed to ask for American citizenship. Of course we could refuse American citizenship but there was no reason for it.”

  • “It is a widely spoken issue these days that enemy soldiers in Iraq are not treated well. In comparison with what we did to German soldiers in Ardennes, then Iraq is a piece of cake. We let them sit or lie in snow and they basically got frozen. There was also no time to pamper them. Because we needed some political information and when some people didn't want to reply, but they were very few, there was usually no resistance to the questions we asked, so we just said: 'OK, you stay out there until you think better of it.' And it genuinely was a great pain for the people. Captives are never dressed properly, they don't have proper shoes. They are soldiers no more but captives. It must have been very unpleasant I believe. Now they make a great fuss of it but nobody said a word then. Maybe it was a mistake. It wasn't exactly following the Geneva Conventions but as for us, it was a very effective way of getting the information.”

  • “We were waiting for embarkment to be able to leave the harbor. The battle had already started. When we were out of the harbor the sea was very rough and the ship had no keel so it terribly turned around. Most of us were incredibly seasick. It was an absolute torture. My theory was that we managed to land just because not less than fifty percent of soldiers from different ships were so seasick that they didn't care about what they were doing. They went to the beach saying: 'I'll better go and die rather than stay one more minute on board. That was why we actually managed.”

  • “I was chosen for so called intelligence school. It was interesting because we were transferred to a base, which is Camp David these days, thus close to Washington in Maryland. We basically learned the organization of the German Army, Japanese Army, how to interrogate captives and we learned to gather political information. There were many people like me there – people who came from Europe and knew languages. I spoke even Japanese at that time.”

  • “Then I served with military police. We searched for American soldiers who hadn't come back to their troops. I went from one little town to another in Ardennes. We mainly searched through whorehouses because we usually found them there.”

  • “The lieutenant told me: 'I'd like some fresh eggs.' We thought we were in the country, we could certainly find some fresh eggs somewhere. We picked a farm, knocked on the door and a lady opened. We told her, in German of course: 'You immediately give us all your eggs.' She said: 'Yes, sir.' She led us to the cellar and there were thousands of eggs. Because the Germans had such a voucher system. Each got an egg for a week or something like that. And this was a place where they gathered all the eggs before they were delivered to the office that passed the eggs out. Our whole regiment had fresh eggs on that day.”

  • “The worst about it all was actually the terrible cold. We sat in open jeeps and every time we stopped, it advanced very slowly, we couldn't even stand up because our knees were totally frozen.”

  • “You actually don't realize it very often. You always have the feeling, don't you. Someone next to you, in front of you or behind you dies, but you yourself have some kind of immunity and you still believe you'll get out of it healthy or only wounded. Of course I saw dying people around. But you perceive it as an everyday job.”

  • I was wounded twice. It was a shrapnel once. We went along the Danube. We weren't on the other side yet and unfortunately my lieutenant couldn't consult maps. Instead of going to the right we went to the left. We got to an area that was heavily bombarded by the Germans. My back was hit by a shrapnel. The wound was immediately treated. It was nothing serious, I was back with the troop in two days time. We laughed then because this gave me, according to the American Army rules, the right for the Purple Heart decoration. The Purple Heart is an award you get when you are wounded. The second time it was in the Netherlands and it was real fun. Being bombarded I hid under a tank which wasn't far from the building where we were. After the assault the lieutenant told me to clean up the broken windows in a room where he wanted to work. I started cleaning and I cut my finger on a piece of glass, it was bleeding a lot. I went to emergency and they had to record it and they asked me how it happened. I hardly said that during an assault and the old witch put it down and that was it. So I got another Purple Heart, another decoration. It was fun but eventually it proved to be very useful. Because when they were dismissing people after the war, they did it according to the points how long you served. And you got five more points for every decoration including wounds. The two wounds gave me enough points to be dismissed a year earlier than I would normally be.”

  • “The Germans tried to infiltrate in American uniforms behind our lines. It was such a kind of danger you were never ready for. Once we got a command to transfer from place to place that were about twenty kilometers from each other. I went with lieutenant who came from Berlin by jeep. He was a very bright man but his English was quite bad. When he spoke English, his German accent was very strong. We knew there were American guards on the roads. They stopped all cars and asked for some information, especially about American sport, in order to find out whether the crew were true Americans. Because the lieutenant came from Berlin, he had no idea about American sport. That was why I was worried that they would shoot us dead if they stopped us. In case they stopped us I forbade him to say a word. Of course they stopped us. They asked us about baseball and thanks God I knew something about baseball so I answered their questions and they didn't shoot us.”

  • “People mostly forget, thank God, the times when they are waiting somewhere. The times when you sit somewhere and someone is shooting at you... It's no fun. The memories are almost like humorous. A few examples: Once we were in a convoy. There were closed tanks in front of us and we followed them in closed jeeps. Then a very intensive bombing started. We got a command to hide in a yard. The yard had high thick walls. We left the vehicles parked at the gate on the road and we, a group of about fifty people, hid in the yard in which a group of German civilians had been already. My lieutenant said: “Norbert, let's go to work.” I was supposed to interrogate civilians in order to get some information about some possible positions of soldiers, their troops etc... I started and another soldier came to me and said: 'You are supposed to report at a commander of another troop.' I reported and he said: 'You do not know that you must not meet German civilians? You either stop right away or I'll set you in prison.' I wanted to reply that I did it as a task. But he was rude and didn't want to hear a word. Then I looked over the wall and saw the falling artillery, explosions and it started destroying our vehicles. And I thought I wouldn't have my jeep destroyed! I ran to the jeep like crazy, it was exploding all around the place. I jumped into the jeep, I got it to the yard, only one tire was damaged. All other vehicles were destroyed. Then I thought I was totally mad. I put my own life in risk in order to save a stupid jeep.”

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    Praha, 13.09.2004

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Joining the army was initially something romantic and interesting to me. On the other hand, to share a room with a hundred of other people, to queue for food, toilets or shower, it’s a bit of a nuisance

Norbert Auerbach
Norbert Auerbach
photo: Pamět národa - Archiv

He was born in a family of a film producer, an owner of large production companies Elekta Film, Slavia Film and a co-investor of Film Studios Barrandov. His family moved to Czechoslovakia in 1924. Norbert Auerbach attended a French lyceum in Prague; his father encouraged him to study foreign languages. Nineteen-year-old Norbert knew German, French and English fairly well. His parents decided to move to the United States of America in 1936. However, they left only in 1939 just before the Germans occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. They were waiting for their visa to the USA but they eventually left for Brazil. They came to the USA only in 1940. Norbert Auerbach finished his high school there and started his university studies. After Pearl Harbor attack he joined the American Army where he served for four years and a half. They disembarked in Normandy three days after D-Day. He served at the west front with the intelligence troop of the American second tank division, with whom he got as far as the Elbe banks. After the war he became famous as a film producer in Columbia Pictures and United Artists. He has lived in Prague since the ’90s again. He died on 12th December 2009.