A Survivor's Contribution to the US War Effort: The Joseph Eaton Collection (Curators' Corner #17)

Uploaded by ushmm on 26.03.2012

Judith Cohen: My name is Judith Cohen. I am the photo archivist at the Holocaust Museum.
And, it's a real privilege to present the Joseph Eaton Collection.
The Joseph Eaton Collection is one of our larger private collections. It consists of
about ten archival boxes, of which there are photographs, photo albums, documents, reports,
correspondence, and publications.
What interests me most about it, on a personal level, is that we often separate donors--so-and-so
is a liberator; this person is a survivor. And the Joseph Eaton Collection is the story
of one so-called Ritchie boy, who's both, on one hand a survivor--he himself had fled
Nazi Germany--but also made an extraordinary contribution to the American war efforts.
Joseph Eaton grew up in Nuremberg, Germany and he escaped to the United States when he
was still a child. Joseph did very well in the United States despite the fact that it
was a new language. He went through high school, got a fellowship--a full scholarship to Cornell
University--and was beginning graduate school when World War II broke out.
Even though he was officially an "enemy alien," he was conscripted into the U.S. Army and
sent to Camp Ritchie in Maryland. Camp Ritchie was a special Army base that was used to train
native German speakers to do intelligence work in Germany.
Shortly after completing Camp Ritchie, Joseph was sent to Europe as part of the Fourth Mobile
Broadcasting Unit. And his unit was responsible for "psy-ops" or "psychological operations."
It had two purposes. One was to collect information about what was going on in Germany and bring
it back to Allied headquarters--it was affiliated with Allied headquarters--and second, and
even more important, was to convey free information to the German people, both in the army and
And they did that in two ways. They ran radio shows out of Radio Luxembourg with up-to-the-minute
news, and they edited and distributed newspapers, something called the Frontpost, that was a
four-page newspaper that was dropped over Germany to civilians, and also a condensed
version called the Feldpost, that was sent by artillery shells into the frontline.
The papers carried two types of news. The main bulk of the news was just, what's happening
in the war--up-to-date news, um... Where are the units? Because there was an awareness
that the news that was being produced in Nazi Germany was not accurate; it was all through
the Nazi propaganda machine. But, then, in the back, there was also a lot of information
on how do you surrender--and there was one article that said, "German Mothers Tell Your
Sons to Surrender." And some of them, in fact, had rules for surrender, and said, "If you
come, we won't harm you. We just want you to put down your weapons." And I asked Dr.
Eaton, I said, "Did this have any effect?" And he said that, in fact, when they captured
many soldiers they had these uh... Feldpost in their pocket and said, "See, you've promised
that you're going to treat me fairly."
After the war ended, the Psy-Ops unit continued its work in a very different way. The Americans
wanted to make sure that there was still accurate information being given to the German populace.
The German newspapers from before were thoroughly Nazified; they were shut down.
So every member of his unit became an editor of a local newspaper. So Joseph Eaton, only
twenty-six years old, became editor-in-chief--in fact, he was the only editor, only reporter--of
the Regensburger Post. And these small newspapers got their national news from Army headquarters
and the last page was local news, which the individual editor had free rein to write stories,
collect information, and write what he thought was most appropriate for his community.
He also made his own efforts to de-Nazify the area around it. The newspaper actually
was printed in Straubing, which was a town right nearby that had an intact printing press--the
printing press in Regensburg had been destroyed in the war, so he operated out of Straubing.
In Straubing, there was a synagogue that had been desecrated on Kristallnacht. Joe went
and found volunteers--"volunteers" in quotes--of the women whose husband[s] had been responsible
for the desecration. And he enlisted them and said, "Don't you think it would be a good
idea if we cleaned up the synagogue?" Of course, they didn't have much option but to agree
to this, and they went, they cleaned up the synagogue. Joseph Eaton took photographs of
them cleaning up the synagogue, and then wrote a newspaper article about the rededication
of the Straubing synagogue.
Another uh… way where he acted on his own volition has a much more personal tone and
a very poignant one.
Because he was working in this very particular unit, for the purpose of collecting
information, he had access to his own vehicle. He had a jeep and he had a driver. Joseph
Eaton knew enough to know that many German Jews had been deported to Theresienstadt and
he made it his mission that he wanted to go and see if he could find any family members.
When he arrived, he met Rabbi Leo Baeck, who is the leader of German Jewry before the war
and was interned and was a leader of the community in Theresienstadt. Rabbi Baeck gave him a
list of all the survivors in Theresienstadt, which he was able to bring back and then send
through quarters so that people would know who was there, since one of the main priorities
after the war was to reunite people. He also came back with letters and was swamped by
people who wanted him to take letters and send them to relatives, especially in the
United States. And one of the most poignant parts of the Eaton Collection are letters
that he received back from people in the United States saying, "Thank you. This is the first
news I've had that my sister was still alive." And he really had a major role in reunifying
families, in that sense.