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Revenge is Mine

An Interview with William Katzenstein,  505 PIR

William Katzenstein - interpreter and interrogator for the 505 PIR, in March 1945

William Katzenstein was born in Schenklengsfeld, Germany. His family then moved to the small town of Bad Langensalza where his father started a cattle business. The Katzenstein family was Jewish and by 1936 times were becoming difficult for Germany's Jewish population. In 1936, Katzenstein's mother immigrated to the United States and was able to eventually bring over the rest of the family. The following narrative is our interview with Bill Katzenstein and includes his earlier teen age years in pre-war Nazi Germany and his recollections of his first real face to face combat in Holland. Mr. Katzenstein was an interpreter/interrogator with HQ Company of the 505 PIR.

As a child in Germany, I played soccer and other games with other children in my town. I had a normal childhood in the late twenties and early 1930s. By the mid-1930s things started to change in Germany. I remember that things really started to change when most of my friends began joining the Hitler Youth. At that time they started calling me a "dirty Jew." The insults soon escalated into violence which including beatings. I remember many trips home from school that included bloody noses and broken glasses. Only 10-12 Jews lived in the Bad Langensalza and everyone in town ostracized us. I began to find different ways to go home, but that did not work. My father asked me if I wanted to take boxing or wrestling lessons so I could defend myself; I wanted both. A day or so later my father found a man named Ehrlich, who had been a professional boxer and wrestler. He was about 35 years old and a socialist and the Nazi's banned him from all professional sports. To make a living, he taught wrestling and boxing. He also inherited a house and rented out rooms to help with expenses. In the basement of the house was the gym where he gave his lessons. Ehrlich taught me boxing, wrestling, and Judo. His lessons included stuff in the book and not in the book. I trained three afternoons a week for six months. Finally he told me, "You're ready." Later he told me that because of my enthusiasm during the lessons, he would not charged for his services.

One afternoon shortly after my last lesson, the same Hitler Youth gang that regularly assaulted me on the trip home from school confronted me again. That day I felt prepared and confident. Recalling my lessons with Ehrlich, I was able to maneuver the fight to ground of my choosing. I chose a building that had a large brick wall and had my back to the wall to eliminate the possibility of being jumped from behind. That day there were 5 or 6 boys taunting me. When they confronted me I turned around but didn't cringe or plead with them to let me go as I had in the past. They were surprised and shocked at me reaction. I then pointed at the largest boy and said, "who's the first fatherland fighter to beat up on the dirty little Jew?" I told the largest boy to step forward and fight me one on one. As he moved forward, I kicked him as hard as I could in the groin. He crumpled forward in a great deal of pain. I grabbed him by the hair and swiftly and forcefully, raised my knee to his face. As I pushed him back I gave him another kick in the belly and he landed flat on his back. I then said to the other boys "who's the next fatherland's fighter to beat up on the dirty little Jew?" At that, the boys fled.

A few months later we emigrated to New York. Our family had several relatives in the country at the time; however, immigration to the United States was very difficult. In order to immigrate legally to the United States, every sponsoring family had had to have $5,000; it was a law so that no one would be a ward of the state. Once in New York, we opened a dairy store and worked long hours to get by. My father later bought a farm in up state New York and we operated a sort of boarding house that I worked in during my teen years.

In March 1943 I was inducted into the US Army. I went to Camp Picket, Virginia for basic training. Solicitation Boards arrived on base and I signed up for Intelligence School at Camp Ritchie, MD. There I learned numerous way to think on my feet. For example I learned everything from how to drive a train to flying a Piper Cub airplane. I even learned how to make a crude map with just a pencil, string and a clipboard. I was then sent to Camp Brand, Illinois and I started practicing on Africa Korps POWs. Not long after my arrival, a Parachute Solicitation Board came to Camp Brand and I signed up.

The following is Katzenstein's recollections of his first face to face combat in Holland.

Several days after our initial jump into Holland, at about 10:00 in the morning, I was ordered to go to a hill outside the small town of Reithorst. I was provided information that we had captured a German captain and three enlisted men. I traveled to the hill with a lieutenant (whose name I can't remember) in a small car we had "liberated". As we approached the hill there was no activity; no small arms fire, no nothing. There was a windmill on top of the hill as well as a small building that resembled a log cabin. The prisoners were inside the building, guarded by our men. All of the sudden all hell broke loose. It was the beginning of another German counterattack on the hill. The building had a sliding door with a hoop on it for a latch. I closed the door and wedged my entrenching tool into the hoop to lock it. I had my tommy gun with me and went down towards the fighting. As I made my way down towards the men, the Germans were coming out of the woods attempting to overrun our positions. This was my first eye-to-eye contact with the enemy. It was different from Normandy; there I fired a few shots but because of the various hedges I could not tell if I hit anybody.

There was a German coming at me and my finger froze on the trigger of my weapon. I let the whole 30 rounds of ammo go into this man, ripping his waist open. I was pretty scared and also out of ammo. Another German charged me with a bayonet. I called to the guy next to me to throw me another clip of ammunition. He wasn't able to get me the ammo quick enough so I reached for my knife and I grabbed the German's bayonet, jumped out of my foxhole, turned the bayonet around and stabbed him. If it hadn't have been for my training I wouldn't have been able to survive his attack. Luckily the counterattack was repulsed. Meanwhile, another lieutenant was in windmill directing mortar fire. The Germans were firing mortar on our position. I told the Lieutenant, you better get out of there, and a moment later a shell hit the windmill just as he left.

The lieutenant then directed me to get the prisoners out of the area. I found a jeep and driver and piled the German's in Jeep.

Since there was no room in the jeep, I jogged along side on foot. About 100 -200 yards from where we stared I was fired upon. I yelled out, "you sons of a bitches stop firing." Thinking that it was likely that it was our own men who were firing on us. A few seconds later the firing stopped, but not before our right rear tire was punctured. The driver asked me whether we should change the flat tire. I said, "the hell with the tire," and we drove back to Headquarters.


Personal Interview by Patrick O'Donnell with William Katzenstein. 1/98