Prison Camp Liberators of WWII: Baylor University Finds New Way to Pay Tribute to Texas Heroes

  • tx lib 3
    Readying for combat (Photo courtesy of Bill Danner)
  • tex lib bodies
    Grim discovery (Photo courtesy of William Womack)
  • Tx liberators
    WWII Veteran Birney "Chick" Havey with collection of war memorabilia (Photo by Robert DeBoard, IOH videographer)
  • graves
    Digging mass graves (Photo courtesy of Herb Stern)
Nov. 6, 2015

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Contact: Terry Goodrich,(254) 710-3321

WACO, Texas (Nov. 6, 2015) — The firsthand accounts of 19 Texas veterans who helped liberate World War II Nazi concentration camps now can be seen and heard on Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History (IOH) website using a new video indexing tool that allows a rare type of access to their compelling stories.

The videos in the online exhibit, synched to printed transcripts, range from the story of a chaplain who conducted a worship service for newly liberated Jewish survivors at Buchenwald camp to the combat engineer who helped bulldoze mass graves for victims at Mauthausen to the engineer who witnessed the liberation of slave laborers in a secret German bomb factory.

When visitors go to the Texas Liberators of World War II project on the IOH website, they can launch the just-installed OHMS (Oral History Metadata Synchronizer) portal, which allows them to simultaneously engage audio/video with an index and printed transcript. The project is the first at IOH to fully employ the technology, said Stephen Sloan, Ph.D., IOH director and associate professor of history in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

OHMS is a relatively new software developed by the University of Kentucky's Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

“In this digital age, we asked, ‘What can we do to navigate history?’” said Steven Sielaff, IOH senior editor and collection manager, who created trailer clips, preserved the video and constructed OHMS records.

When interacting with an OHMS record, “you can simply click on a topic or transcript timestamp to advance to that point in the narrative,” said Sloan, the project’s principal investigator and interviewer. “The built-in search engine provides even greater discoverability while engaged with the video. OHMS records for this project exhibit what is termed ‘Level 1 Indexing,’ which are simple correlations between topic and time.”

The two-year Texas Liberators project, funded by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission in Austin, captures the veterans’ stories in interviews done from 2011 to 2013. Interviews were conducted in the liberators’ homes, and site visitors are able to digitally step into their living rooms.

Many of the veterans wear caps bearing the insignia of the units they served in, and “many of them have items from the war — knives, bayonets and medals, as well as maps on the wall showing the places they served,” Sielaff said.

“You get the voice, the language and those expressions that you just don’t get in a transcript,” said Lois Myers, IOH’s associate director. “Two of the veterans are Jewish and helped liberate other Jews from camps. It’s very moving.”

Another powerful tale is that of a veteran and native of Germany whose family came to the United States before Hitler came into power. He conducted translation and intelligence operations, and after helping liberate Nordhausen slave labor camp, he had the grim task of transcribing accounts of some of the experiments that Germans conducted on prisoners in concentration camps.

“We have already lost four of these veterans,” Sloan said. “The best way we can honor our veterans is by giving them the opportunity to not only tell, but retell to this generation and the next, their story. Oral history allows these contributions to be recognized far into the future in the words and manner in which they themselves wanted it told."

IOH also recently published a collection of 17 riveting interviews in “Tattooed on My Soul: Texas Veterans Remember World War II,” an anthology that offers an overview of the war and how it was lived out by the men and women who served their country on land, in the air and by sea.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT THE INSTITUTE FOR ORAL HISTORY

Through dynamic, recorded interviews, the Institute for Oral History preserves the stories of individuals who helped create the fabric of history and whose lives, in turn, were shaped by the people, places, events and ideas of their day. The Institute has recorded and preserved oral histories since 1970, earning along the way a strong reputation for multidisciplinary outreach to both academic scholars and community historians by providing professional leadership, educational tools, and research opportunities.

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