Norman Beecher
1080 Monument Street

Age 82

Interviewed November 9, 2005

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.

Click here for audio in .mp3 format.

With the approaching of Veteran’s Day on November 11 and the 60th anniversary of the ending of World War II, it is very timely to look at the perspective of your wartime experiences particularly as you were very conscientious in writing letters and keeping diaries.  You participate very regularly in the Memorial Day parade here in Concord, and regularly attend the annual Holocaust memorial services.  You will be talking about the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.

Norman BeecherI was a student at MIT when the war started, and I enlisted in the ROTC.  It was not entirely altruistic.  The ROTC promised us that we could graduate before having to go into active service.  That promise they didn’t keep, but that was one of the reasons I went in.  Also actually my father encouraged me to enlist.  He had volunteered in the Spanish American War, and he thought it was my duty, which I think is quite interesting because I don’t think many fathers today would do that.  The sense of having to go to war or send your son to war isn’t so prevalent today.

We had no doubts about the need for the war and the need to destroy Hitler.  We heard his rantings, and we even were amused by them sometimes.  One time at the fraternity, we rigged up a loud speaker and broadcast a speech of Hitler’s to the hotel dance floor on the top floor next door to us and only about two floors higher.  We did that for about two hours until the police came.  We were making fun of Hitler, but also feeling it was a terrible thing.  We didn’t know anything about the killing of Jews or that sort of thing.  We did realize that he had attacked a lot of innocent citizens and destroyed them with his dive bombers and things like that.

I was in the ROTC and in the ordnance department, which is the department that does repair of tanks, guns, and equipment.  I was sent down to Aberdeen Proving Grounds where the ordnance department was trained.  I went down first for three months of basic training, back to school for three months, and then went down finally.  At that time I had the option of whether I would be going to Officers Candidates School or going simply into the service somewhere.  I had a number of tests and interviews, and about half of our ROTC group went to Officers Candidates School, and the other half got assigned to somewhere else in the service as enlisted men.  So I went to Officers Candidates School and from there was sent down to Camp Campbell in Kentucky and was assigned to the 14th Armored Division.  Each armored division has a battalion of ordnance that carry all the equipment.  One ordnance company goes with each combat commander into battle and stays right behind him and takes care of the tanks and getting them off the field and preparing them.  We went overseas within a couple of months.  We landed in Marseilles.  Marseilles was the second front opened in Europe and had been opened in about August or September of 1944.  The first invasion was in June, the Normandy landing.  Those troops were spreading out in Europe and driving inland, but they hadn’t gotten anywhere near the German border.  So they opened this other front.  The attack on Marseilles was not nearly as costly as the one in Normandy because a lot of German troops were off fighting the people in Normandy.  So it was a relatively small battle.  It was done by troops before I got there.

We got there in early November.  Then we spent a month putting our equipment in shape.  When you ship tanks and guns overseas in ships, you have to load them up with grease or they would be ruined by the ocean spray and salt water.  So we had to clean all that off and assemble the weapons that had been disassembled for packing purposes including trucks.  Then after a month, we headed north.  As we headed north, we went the main road through the Rhone Valley behind the Germany army which had been destroyed by the people ahead of us.  Every armored division has three combat commands, combat command A, B, and reserve command.  One or two of them took part in some of the final battles with the Germans to destroy this division.  What happened was the Germans were retreating from Marseilles up the Rhone Valley, and the Americans sent a force over the mountains around the main road, a very difficult route, but they managed it with tanks and infantry and blocked off the road north at the top end of the Rhone Valley, so the Germans were trapped.  So then we were pounding them from both sides and that took several weeks.  But by the time we came up, the roads along either side were just piled with dead horses, broken trucks, artillery pieces, small weapons, and even a lot of dead German soldiers, so that you could see there had been a great deal of destruction.

I did have a good deal of interaction with the German population after the war.  I had a good deal of interaction with French because we spent until early spring of 1945 in France trying repeatedly to break through the Seigfried Line, which was the defensive line at the German border.  Every time we tried, we got driven back.  There were lots of block houses that could come up from the ground and go back in.  There were lots of block houses that were disguised as houses, and when you fired a shell, the house parts fell off and you saw 7-foot thick reinforced concrete with cannon and machine guns firing.  It was a very difficult thing to get through.  We did finally break through in late spring.  The way it was done was the engineers, combat engineers, strapped 50-lb packs of TNT on their backs and crawled across open fields at night with smoke blowing over them to decrease visibility and went up to the dragon’s teeth which were in front of the block houses.  Dragon’s teeth are odd shaped pieces of concrete which tanks can’t climb over.  They blew those houses up and created paths for us to get in.  Then the division attacked.  The way they neutralized the block houses in general was someone who was able to get up close to them would throw a grenade into one of the firing slots.  It was the only way they could get in.  The shells were totally ineffective.

I probably should mention the battle of Hatten, which was the biggest battle we were in.  Hatten is a town in France near the German border.  It was in the middle of the Marginot Line which was the French defensive line, much less impressive then the German Seigfried line but there were a number of block houses.  As we advanced, we were met by German forces and these German forces were probably a spillover from the Battle of the Bulge which had started in Belgium earlier and made the 101St Airborne famous.  But that battle did continue for a long time, and the Germans did advance and they spilled over to the south and came over to us.  So we were met by a German armored division and two infantry divisions.  We had essentially the same divisions, and we met up in Hatten and fought for about 10 days.  Of course, Hatten was leveled to the maximum of about three feet.  It was a very bloody battle, and we lost every tank.  We had an armored division with 256 tanks, and every tank was put out of action.  And we lost of course a certain amount of infantry although casualties was not as high as you would expect.  Our total casualties during the war were only about 5-6% whereas wars like the Civil War had 50% casualty rate.  Anyway we had a very bloody battle.  I was in a forward recovery station.  I was given the assignment to go forward with the attacking units and bring the tanks back for repair.  So I was in a forward unit and I was right in the middle of the artillery.  The artillery was 17 battalions ranging all the way from 75 millimeter up to 240 millimeter, and they fired continuously for ten days.  The result was I ended up taking over a German farmhouse for my troops to use and the barn for some of our equipment and that farmhouse had every tile fall off the roof, but it was never hit by anything.  It was just the shock of the percussion of all the artillery.  So that was what damaged my hearing considerably.  I have not since then been able to hear very many high notes.

Norman BeecherThe most startling characteristic of the French was how accepting they were of their circumstances.  This was war and so that was it, there was nothing you could do about it.  They didn’t complain.  One farmer that I was billeted with had a shell hit the roof of his house and was blinded by this and killed one of his brothers, but he didn’t express the kind of passionate grief that you would think.  The French were very hospitable.  I did have a couple of two-day leaves, one in Paris, and one to Nancy.  Nancy was about 60 miles, and Paris was a couple hundred miles.  At Nancy, I was taken in by a French family and the young people put on a party for me and were very friendly.  We just had a good time and the thing that was interesting about the French that is different than the Americans is every young French person had already developed some talent to show others.  So one boy played a guitar and sang a song, and one girl danced or sang or would tell a story, and so it was a much more entertaining evening than I would have had in a typical American family where they talk nonsense.  I felt a little bit inadequate because I didn’t have anything particular that I knew how to do.  But it didn’t matter to them.

Then when I went to Paris, I was standing in line to get a ticket to the opera.  This woman came along who was part of the USO and she said would you like to have dinner with a French family who has a nice daughter and go with her to the opera.  I said I would.  So I went to this French family, and they had two daughters.  One of them had a date who was an American Air Force pilot and he told me about how he gotten acquainted with this girl when he first came to France some six months earlier, and he had seen as much of her as he could.  He said for the first three months all he was allowed to do was sit in the room and talk to her while her parents chaperoned.  After about three months he began to be able to take her out on a date or something.  He had to bring her in at a very early hour and they could only go certain places.  So the French were very protective of their daughters.  So, we went to the opera and we had a good time.  I have a lot of respect for the French anyway. They have a very sophisticated view of the world and they’re not simpletons.  They are not willing to give trite assumptions about people.  It isn’t that I particularly prefer the French or anything.  I felt very sorry for them when I saw them during the war because they were beaten down pretty much.  They didn’t have enough food.  They were just terribly mistreated by the Germans.

After Hatten, we were still beating our heads against the Siegfried line and that went on for some time.  In March of ’45, we managed to break through the Siegfried line and then we got up to the Rhine and that was another barrier.  By the time we had been there a little while, we were able to go north and cross over a bridge which other army divisions had established there.  We crossed the Rhine there and went on into Germany.  We had very many battles taking towns.  We took an enormous number of towns.  The history of the division says we took 1000 towns in France and Germany.  Of course, some of them were very small, and some of them were big cities.  We had a big battle at Lohr, which is some distance beyond the Rhine.  There we essentially had to pretty well burn the town with people shooting at us.  We lost 26 tanks in that one battle over a day or so.  When we came to a place that had a lot of resistance, we would just grind through.  We didn’t do any maneuvering or flanking, we just went straight at them.  The Germans were losing at that time, and we didn’t have to hold up that much.

Later on I suppose in middle April and very near the end of the war, we were getting quite a way into Germany.  Then people would come out in the towns and offer to surrender and say that the SS were holding strong points.  They would tell us that maybe there was a German down in that church steeple there, or there’s a German in that house there.  That way we would eliminate the resistance which was generally a small group of SS.  Then the town surrendered happily.

To communicate, I could speak German reasonably well, as I learned it in school.  I’m sure there were people in the division who spoke German also.  Basically the people wanted it over with.  It was really foolish for the German command to continue resistance because they didn’t have anything to resist with.  They had a few guns here and there and a few thousand troops, but we had divisions with heavy armor and artillery on the armored vehicles and regular infantry.  It did cost us some people because you can’t completely neutralize everybody.

I didn’t have the slightest concern about killing anybody and maybe I was brought up the wrong way.  I never actually killed anybody directly myself.  Being in the ordnance, we rarely got close enough to the front to see the enemy.  I got shot at a number of times, but the only people who really had a chance to get scared and to worry about maybe killing people were the people in the very forward units.  A very small handful of the army is right up front.  One tank is really the point and that tank is the fellow who really gets the butterflies in his stomach and we could hear on our radios the commander of that unit ordering the forward tank to “move out, move out”.  We knew the tank commander was a little reluctant because obviously he was going to be the center of attention of the Germans very quickly.

I was armed, but I wasn’t really shooting at anything.  The way modern war operates even at that time you didn’t really have a chance to get scared before you got killed.  A good example is one of my buddies, another officer in our company, and I were shaving one morning and a shell came in and took him away.  He had no warning.  It didn’t kill anybody else in the division or in the company.  But he was gone just like that.

When I was in this forward unit at the battle of Hatten, I had the feeling we were going to win.  I wasn’t worried.  I didn’t realize how seriously we were being damaged.  We didn’t have enough forces to hold and after ten days we fell back 20 kilometers.  But we could have fallen back a lot and I could have been killed.  But it never occurred to me.  By the time I got over there, I figured I might get killed but the most likely thing was I was going to live forever which is what young people feel.  I was 21 years old when I went over.  But that’s still young enough to think you’re going to live forever.

Norman BeecherDachau was very near the end of the war at about the end of April of ’45.  We had been moving steadily and at an increasing rate.  We’d move as much as 20 miles a day.  That’s a lot for an armored division as tanks don’t go very fast.  If you keep them in good shape, they can run at 30 miles an hour.  Of course, we had to slow down whenever we came to a town.  As we moved on, we had a number of divisions with us.  The 99th infantry was one and some of the 99th division infantry rode into Dachau on our tanks.  We were the only division according to what I found out later that reported the opening of Dachau to army headquarters which seemed strange because the 42nd  infantry was supposed to take it.  So we simply came to Dachau.  We got there and, as I say, the 42nd was ordered in our battle group to take the camp and they did.  We didn’t know there was a camp there.  Maybe the 42nd did, but I never knew it, and whether anybody else in our division did, I don’t know.  We knew that all through Germany there were camps with people being held prisoners.  We had opened a dozen war camps for the people who were very badly treated.  If you gave me a whip and the ???? now, it would immediately bring back memories to me, as they had this sickly odor of sort of damaged human beings.  I don’t know if it’s people wearing the same clothes for several months, or what it is, but the camps had a distinctive order.  When we got to them, the people that were there were so happy.  They were absolutely ecstatic being released as you can imagine.  We never stopped to observe that except for one time.  One time we spent a night near one of these camps and these people despite the fact that they were so emaciated and weakened, they danced and sang all night.  That was a work camp.  The only death camp that our group was involved in was Dachau.  I only went to the main camp.  As I mentioned, I learned later that there were as many as a couple of hundred satellite camps around Dachau.  It was a very large area, and it contained not only the camp where people were kept and imprisoned in crowded barracks surrounded by walls, but also a SS training unit.  I didn’t know this at the time.  As I approached the camp, I saw only the ground level.  I only saw one piece of wall and one compound.  Now I know there was an SS training camp, and that’s what the 42nd infantry division fought with when they came there.  And incidentally, when I got the camp and went to what I thought was the main entrance, I was told by the American soldiers who were guarding the entrance, the people in this division that took the camp saw what was there in terms of dead bodies and burial areas and so forth, and one lieutenant lined up 22 guards against the wall and shot them with a machine gun, and that this lieutenant was going to be court martialed.  That’s all I knew then.  Much later I learned that the lieutenant was relieved of his command and sent back to the States and so was the commander of the battalion or division.  The principally responsible officers were also sent home and the thing was taken under advisement for investigation by the Army legal authorities.  Much later I learned it had all been kept top secret and had not been released until 1992, and then during that time nobody had actually been charged.  The division commander had actually risen to the rank of Brigadier General, and the lieutenant went back to private life. 

It was a shocking scene and when I came in, what I saw that was most dramatic was four railroad cars in this compound of apparently a longer train because I could see the beginning of the next car poking out from behind a building.  But these four railroad cars were box cars and they had the doors open and inside had been stacked bodies very neatly.  From what I could see it looked as though the heads were off, stacked in the same direction and through the doors a number of the bodies had slipped out onto the ground and there were just stacks of bodies on the ground.  They were very white and very emaciated and very straight.  I’ve never seen bodies like that before.  I’ve seen people killed on battle fields but never like that, straightened out just before they died or something like that.

I don’t know where they were taking the bodies.  I suspect they shipped them in from somewhere else to be cremated at Dachau.  That’s only a guess.  I can’t see any other reason.  They probably didn’t have time to cremate them as the Americans had captured the place.  Apparently, Dachau was running this cremation facility right up to the last minute.

The assignment for our division was to essentially capture territory straight ahead of us.  I’m sure the division commander was given assignments as to which towns we would take and exactly the direction we would go.  But down at our level we only knew that we were assigned as Combat Command A at that particular time that we had to go to town A, B, C, and D and take them all in the next 24 hours if possible.  Then we would move on to other assignments.  We essentially rolled through southern Germany at the head of the troops because armored division is always in the front.  That’s the hammer that strikes.

So Dachau was a point on our way.  My personal point of view was I didn’t stay in Dachau.  I had to go on to other places where our division was moving.  When I personally arrived in Dachau I think the 14th armored and the 99th infantry probably arrived on one side of Dachau at the same time the 42nd infantry was arriving on the other side where they fought the battle with the S.S.  We were all in this battle together moving along.  At the level of lieutenant, you don’t get the full picture, you get pieces of it.  I did work as a liaison for a while.  This is an assignment where you go around with your chief and go to company headquarters, one on the front line and one further back, and find out what their plans are and bring information to division headquarters.  Then I saw a little more of the big picture, but generally speaking I didn’t get that information as a lieutenant.

I saw the battlefield where the 13th armored division was wiped out.  They had gone into a valley as reconnaissance and one side of the valley was a railroad track tucked behind an embankment and behind that embankment were Germans with 88 millimeter guns.  The 88 millimeters can penetrate our tanks.  So when they got in there, the Germans attacked them from the side and the rear.  I saw these 100 or more tanks scattered around the valley, and people had tried to escape from them and had their heads blown off and arms and legs blown off – a really terrible sight.  But it was a different sort of picture in Dachau seeing these strange white bodies all piled in a row, really very shocking.  I don’t mean to say it had a delirious effect on me.  I didn’t break down and cry or get traumatized that I couldn’t sleep or anything like that, it was just hard to believe.  When I got in there, I had my camera and I had taken a picture of the gate outside, but when I got in I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture.  It just seemed sacrilegious to take a picture of all that.  I wish I had taken a picture because it turns out there is no such picture.  Nobody took a picture, and they should have.  It’s a dramatic example of what that camp was all about.  There is nothing in the archives that I’ve been able to dig up that came even close to showing this sort of thing.  I got some pictures from the National Archives recently.  One shows maybe a hundred of these white straight bodies laid out on the ground, and the caption of the picture says, the bodies were shown to newsmen.  Whether they laid them on the ground to show the newsmen or whether they had just been unloading them from the train, I don’t know, but I feel sure these were the some of the same bodies that were on the train.  Even having them laid out straight on the ground like that is horrible.

The civilians were there to clean up the camp.  What the army did was say we’re not going to spend our time burying bodies, the Germans can do it.  So they rounded up all the males they could find in the town and ordered them to show up at the camp.  So they did.  There were about 10 or 15 of them, sort of forming a platoon.  They were young farmers and people like that who had been exempted fro the war either for their farming needs or too old or something like that.  You can believe that every able-bodied young German was either already in the army or dead.  There were very few men left.

I don’t separate the German population from the Nazi killing machine entirely especially now that I’ve read a lot about the Holocaust.  The mindset of the Germans was such that they thought they were doing the right thing by killing Jews.  They really felt that was justified.  I’ve seen a picture in recent years of a German soldier who sent home to his family to show what a fine fellow he was a picture of him shooting a Jewish woman with her baby.  He felt that was the right thing to do.  They didn’t feel the German Jews were part of their population.  I realized that from the people I met, and I did meet some very ordinary pleasant Germans after the war.  Those people obviously had this mindset and had supported Hitler and they recognized they had been defeated and Hitler had been defeated, I don’t think they had completely changed their mind.  Many, many Germans changed their minds later.  But when I knew them, we didn’t talk about that.  I accepted them as they were and I occasionally talked to one of the men about how they felt about Hitler and they would say, “well, Hitler was good for the country, but we shouldn’t have gone to war”.  But they talk about the fact that he was a brave character, but they didn’t see him like that even after the war.  Germany has done very well in reeducating its people.  I was in the Reichstag in Berlin a few years ago and they had turned it into a museum.  In one corner they had a movie theater where they were continuously running pictures of the Holocaust, Krystalnacht, and pictures of concentration camps and all these things from the war.  And you’d see Germans coming out weeping.  That wasn’t true when I was there.  I just accepted these people as they were.  It’s hard to hate a whole group of people anyway.  It’s hard to blame them for this sort of thing.  I just treated them as regular people.

My division stayed on after the war for a few months.  What they did is they sent the people that had the longest combat duty home first and that included all the people that had served in Africa before coming to Europe.  I didn’t serve until after Marseilles so there were lots and lots of troops that had longer service records than I did.  So I stayed a bit longer.  I came to Europe in late October/early November 1944.  Of course, all the people that had come in the invasion of Normandy had been training in Britain a year or two before that.

So I was not going home right away.  At first I stayed in my division and then my division was ordered to pack up and go home with all the long service people.  But I was transferred to 4th Armored, which was Patten’s division and that one was going to stay.  I never actually saw Patten.  During the war we were along side the 4th army for a while, I think I may have seen him inspecting his troops at one time.  It’s hard to remember at this point.  I have this impression I did, but I’m not sure.  Of course he was also assigned to occupation command, and he was assigned command of the sector which I was located in.  He was a very bad command of that sector.  He gave out orders that Germans had to step off the sidewalk whenever they met an American.  They had to tip their hat to the American flag every time they saw one.  He just passed a lot of small orders which were completely unnecessary and didn’t do anything to improve the attitude of the Germans at all.  It was a venegful act.  The occupation was full of corruption.  It ran all right but the officers who were in command, and these weren’t always military officers, found it very easy to get a fine house and servants they wanted and a nice German girl.  There were people who were trained and sent from States who weren’t military officers who were involved in the occupation.  I think it was mostly these types who were just using their position to take these little bribes and pretty much did.  It wasn’t very inspiring.  But things gradually got better.

Norman and Nancy BeecherTwo things were very interesting.  When I was training, I could understand how Hitler could get these young men to volunteer for the army.  It was fun.  I enjoyed taking a rifle and charging forward and firing and throwing myself on the ground.  It was sport; it was a game.  I didn’t mind having machine guns firing over my head.  It was sort of like boys playing with toy guns.  Then I also had the same sort of patriotic fervor that Hitler youth had.  They were thinking they were going to improve the situation for the Third Reich and the German people.  And I felt we were going to do a great noble thing in getting rid of Hitler and going to war.  So I can understand how the Germans felt.  It’s really sad that people react this way and can’t really understand the significance of what they’re doing. 

Then the other thing that was surprising to me was how relatively peaceful it was very close to the front lines.  The only thing that reminded you of the fact of war was there were machine guns firing and artillery firing.  There were a few people up there in front who were taking the brundt.  But just a little way back, you didn’t really know it was happening.  One night when we were in the city of Saverne, the Germans were firing their long range guns and it hit the barracks of one of the companies and killed 13 men and seriously injured 11.  My good buddy, Lieutenant Liberson?? was in that company.  He was not killed but injured.  It was a heavy blow and just out of the blue.  First shell of the night.  You’re not terribly scared but all of a sudden something happens.  It’s the long range mechanized equipment.  

Of course, the war in Europe was quite different then the war in the Pacific.  The war in the Pacific was more like Vietnam.  You’re charging at the jungle and hearing a machine gun firing right at you and the bullets are going by you.  A larger number of troops were in that situation there than they were in Europe.  In Europe the guys in the front lines were in fox holes and were firing back.  Then they could move more easily.

Of course a lot of fighting was in cities and towns.  That was just a question of tanks going down the streets and if there was opposition, get rid of it and move on through the town and the infantry was following behind, take possession, and go on.  There might be a lot of occasions where you met up with the enemy and eventually they would surrender.  When we went through the Siegfried line, one of my men was poking around in the pillboxes and came upon a major general ???  He could have shot him (voice very low)

The SS were these fanatical people.  They were the ones that carried on the last ditch resistance.  The ordinary German I think realized they were going to lose.  Toward the end of the war Hitler had already committed suicide so anybody that heard of that must have known it was over.  It was very big news.  It appeared in the Army newspaper, and I actually have a copy of that issue.  Big headlines “Hitler Dead”, but I don’t remember just exactly when that was but probably in about late April ’45.  The war was over on May 8 which is another interesting thing.  The way the troops didn’t react.  My men didn’t do anything different that day than they did every other day.  And not only my men but the combat troops that were all around us.  They would just talk about everything, polishing their tanks, checking their weapons and so forth, and not acting as though anything had happened.  All the time the States was going wild, and there were parties in the streets and so on, and Times Square.  But our people just took it so calmly.  They just felt so different, but not rising to celebratory.  I’m sure they felt just as I did, isn’t this great, it’s just terrific, nobody’s going to get killed any more.  And yet, that just didn’t come out somehow.  A lot of them didn’t bother to listen to any of the speeches from the various leaders such as Churchill and Truman.  We just had a different sort of feeling about it.  We were just very, very thankful.

I didn’t march in Memorial Day parades for a long time.  Finally, David Little, who was an ardent supporter of Memorial Day, kept asking me to do it.  Then he died and I said I’m going to do it because he asked me, and I’ve been doing it ever since then.  I’m a member of the Human Rights Council.  I got on that because I mentioned at one of the meetings I had opened up Dachau, and they asked them if I would join them.  I certainly want to do everything to oppose prejudice and racism and seeing Dachau is one thing that inspired me to feel that way.  I think the Holocaust memorial is a good idea because I don’t think we can afford to forget.  There are already people who deny the Holocaust and say it never happened.  There was a lot of prejudice in the world at that time against Jews quite apart from Hitler.  In this country, there was a lot of anti-Jewish prejudice.  It’s gotten much better in later years.  Even Concord having a synagogue, where 50 years ago I didn’t think we’d ever have a synagogue.  People just wouldn’t have stood for having all these Jews around them.  This is in Concord, which is a very benign community. 

We came in 1955.  We were looking for a place to live.  We bought a house in Conantum very early and very fast.  I was teaching at MIT and had been in charge of a practice station in New Jersey and had to come back here to teach so we had to get a house quickly.  Then we were there and we felt we wanted to move into a house in town or build our own house.  We kept looking for a lot and so during that first year, we were offered various places.  Finally one of the realtors who we had been doing business with said he had a wonderful opportunity for us.  He had a lot here with frontage on a small pond and it had a very reasonable price because the owner had an offer from a Jew and he doesn’t want to have a Jew there.  That was in 1955 or 1956.  We didn’t take it, but someone else did and they probably did get a decent price.  But this fellow that was selling the lot had this Jewish prejudice.  I don’t think that sort of thing would ever happen today.  We’ve gotten way beyond that.

As far as I knew when we arrived in 1955, there were very few Jews.  One of the problems with Conantum was expressed by a woman that I sat behind at a school meeting.  When Conantum was built, there were enough people in that vicinity that they wanted to build Willard School.  It was built and that took people from Conantum and also because things were getting crowded on this side of the river, they wanted to transfer some people from the Alcott School to the Willard School.  And that was done.  There was a meeting to explain this and some of the people on this side of the river that also were transferred to the West Concord school.  So this woman sitting in front of me in the meeting finally near the end said to her companion, “Well, I wouldn’t mind having my children go to school with all those washer women’s children, but I can’t stand to have them go to Willard School with all those Jews from Conantum.”  There was an illusion there were many more than there really were.  I don’t know how many Jews were there because I never knew if a person was a Jew or not.  But Conantum Jews, if they were Jews, and their colleagues certainly did a wonderful job.  You know Conantum had three Nobel Prize winners.  For a community unit of 100 houses to have three Nobel Prize winners is certainly a record.  One is Bob Solow who is economics, and I think the physics man was Lynn Loomis? but I’m not sure and the third fellow was another economist and I can’t remember his name.  It is an interesting historical point.

You know Conantum was essentially started by young MIT and Harvard faculty.  They had very good intentions.  They had a good architect and they did a nice job at laying it out, but they had a few little quirks that didn’t always work.  One was when the cement trucks came in to pour the foundations, they were met by a civil engineer with testing equipment to see if the cement was of good quality.  And it didn’t always pass.  So the cement trucks were sent back.  Little things like that that sort of raised the costs.  Finally, they went bankrupt and a vice president at MIT by the name of McLauren bailed them out with personal money.  We lived in Conantum for six years, and then we had the opportunity to buy this house.  It’s such a fabulous place.  We mortgaged everything we could.  We even took a second mortgage.


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