A Soldier's Account: Lt. Harry Wolff's Story

During his travels through war-ravaged Europe, Lt. Harry K. Wolff faced many obstacles that seem minor today, but were difficult to overcome at the time: Ink could be in short supply and he often had to keep his activities a secret, even as he wrote his wife nearly every day while he was away.

Wolff was a 30-year-old lawyer when he entered the war— older than the average soldier. As a member of Patton’s 3rd Army, his Anti-Aircraft unit was attached to the 1st Army for the D-Day Invasion under General Bradley, and he was often called upon to serve as a Judge Advocate in Military Tribunal Hearings.  Following VE-Day he spent three months living at the Dachau concentration camp when it was an SS prisoner of war camp operated by the US Army that held as many as 31,000 Nazi and SS troops, any of whom were awaiting trial for war crimes.

Like many people of that era, he rarely spoke about his experiences during the war. It wasn’t until after he died that his daughter and son-in-law began to realize the importance of his collection, including a trove of letters he wrote daily to his new wife that detailed his life during the war. Below is a small insight into the life of a soldier in newly liberated Europe.

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    September 1, 1945
    Germany

    My Darling "It" Girl –

    Hello sweetheart. How's my lil' pinup queen today. Gosh but I only wish I could be saying that to you rather than writing it. I feel fine doll and am having no trouble at all with my jaw. Sounds okay, doesn't it. Well that's a fact. But I'm still as lonesome as can be for you and there's no remedy except "you" in person.

    Yesterday was a terrific day for me so I didn't get a chance to write my baby. Ever since the captain started his policy of handling me all the work I've been as busy as a bumble bee. But that's okay with me — time passes faster and that means I'll be back in our own house sooner. I've made several suggestions to him and it seems that every time I do he simply says — "good idea, take care of it will you." And that's it. Then it seems that I'm always around when something happens so I get that job too. This seems funny when you consider that it wasn't but a few days ago that I was writing how hard it was to keep busy — but such isn't the case anymore.

    To start out with — after breakfast yesterday I started to leave to go to the hospital for a check-up as recommended by the doctor who operated on me. But I no sooner…

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    …climbed into the jeep when the captain called me back to hand me an order appointing me as class A pay agent to pick up the payroll and pay the men. It seems that the lieutenant who originally had the job was to leave for Switzerland on a tour. Oh well, what's one more job between friends. So — I took off for the hospital and the check-up —which is at Bad Weissee on Tegern See (Lake). The doctor was there and we had a general reunion. You should have seen the reception. Finally when all the kidding and fooling around cleared the doc looked my jaw over and said that there no drainage and everything looked swell. Now he wants me back again in another 2 weeks and he'll take some more x-rays to see if the hole is getting smaller in my jaw. When he said that everything looked swell you can just bet that it didn't hurt my feelings one bit. While I was there I paid my compliments to my old ward and some of the boys that are still there. All the time it rained like the dickens. I mention this because for the past several days it's been hot as blazes. In fact it's quite a coincidence that the day I left the hospital it rained too.

    Well, after leaving the hospital I went to the city of Hausham which is the city I am in charge of. Having made a previous arrangement to see the Burgermeister and decide some…

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    …problems they had I arrived on time (yep, its still me) and saw the bird. He spent 3 years at Dachau concentration camp as a prisoner and was a musician by profession. We had quite an extended talk (throught my interpreter) following which he presented me with a bottle of vintage wine. Not being content with this he made me a present of his own 25 caliber pistol, which he had a permit to keep. Not bad, huh! After that I spoke with the chief inspector of the city and he too wanted me to have a souvenir so he gave me a Nazi red cross weapon. I don't know exactly what it is but chances are it was a saw of some sort for cutting and amputating limbs on the battle field. Another souvenir for the collection! No, I won't send it home but will bring it along with the other junk I've picked up. Now isn't that a happy prospect for you — oh yeah!

    To get on with the story — I listened to the troubles of various and sundry people and finally got away much to the disgust, I guess, of those whom I refused to see and who still waited. From here I went to the military government control office in Meisbach and there settled some of the problems. So — all went well.

    Oh yes — here's something I forgot to tell you. While on my way back from the hospital I came across a German with a 120 camera with a 3.5 lens and made a deal with him and so now I have a camera — at last! The camera…

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    …itself is not particularly the best by a long shot but it has an excellent lens and an excellent shutter arrangement. I'm still trying to get a Contex, Leica, Roloflex or the like and have a lead on one so maybe I'll get a good one yet. Mine has a speed of 250. Oh yes — the Burgermeister is trying to get me one too. He said that I just missed out on a Leica with all the gadgets that go with it. Just my luck!

    After all this I finally had to go to the city of Resnheim to get the payroll for themen. But before this did have lunch — after all who am I to go without food! The city of Rosenheim is quite a large city from what I saw of it. My driver and I then got back to the battery but it was too late to pay the men so I went back to Haushain and answered some more problems, after this back to the battery and then chow. After chow I paid the men and following getting rid of about $4,000 found out that there was to be a show for the men in our show-house. The men arranged for a German vaudeville show for about $60.00. Enclosed is the program. The show iteself was swell and all those in the cast spoke or sang in English. Of course their use of the English language was a little cock-eyed but all in all they tried and did pretty good. When the show was over I was so darned tired I just turned in and called it a night. In between times I managed to [get] the supply situation under control so now that job's showing good results.

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    Hows that for a busy day!

    Today I had to go back to my city for some work I had to do and then back to the hospital so I could pay a few of the men who are there. I forgot to tell you that on my return from Rosenheim yesterday I picked up a young displaced person and took toward Munich. It turned out that he and his mother and dad are Polish and that 3 years ago they entered the Dachau concentration camp. After they entered they were separated and to this day he doesn't know what happened to them. Oh yes — they were Jewish. He was 18 and a handsome young kid. He showed me his forearm and as was customary on the prisoners there was tattooed there his number. When he learned that I was Jewish he got a smile that spread from ear to ear. He speaks a little English that he picked up from the American soldiers and knows enough to carry on a conversation. Well, to get back to today — after lunch a group of us went to Dachau to see our quarter in the camp. They aren't bad (much better than what we have now) — in fact we're to occupy the barrack that the SS used to use. These buildings are just outside the concentration camp area. As it should be — the SS now occupy the compound while we occupy their barracks. We expect to move in on Tuesday. But more of this tomorrow.

    That's it for tonight honey — so sleep tite and dream of your "lil' bunny" (ahem!) and I'll be seeing you for our nightly date. Good night Babe and God bless you — you're perfect. Do I love you? — and how!

    All of me and all my love for all my life.

    Bunny J.

Photo gallery of artifacts from the Wolff Collection