Oral History

John Dolibois describes interrogating captured Nazi officials

John Dolibois immigrated to the United States in 1931 at the age of 13. After graduating from college, Dolibois joined the 16th Armored Division of the US Army. Due to his German language skills, he became involved in military intelligence. He returned to Europe in this capacity toward the end of World War II. Dolibois interrogated German prisoners of war, including leading Nazis, in preparation for the postwar trials of war criminals. He was later appointed US ambassador to Luxembourg, his birthplace.

Transcript

Back in May when we were beginning to interrogate these men, nobody knew there was going to be a trial per se. We knew something was going to happen. But we had to get a lot more information before that decision could be reached. And that was really the function of the detention center "Ashcan" in Luxembourg. To sort of gather information to assist the prosecuting staff in developing a case which would then be, like a grand jury, "Yes, a crime has been committed." So now this person is going to be tried for it. And that is the function. And we were the investigators for the so-called grand jury, the war crimes commission. Now in my case, in addition to getting these interrogations, I would go around and collect gossip and do them little favors you know. If a shoestring broke, I'd get them another shoestring. Just little simple things. A little toothpaste. If they had a problem, got a toothache, I'd arrange for the dentist to see them. And in that way they started talking. Never, I shouldn't say never. Seldom about themselves, when it came to "I'm guilty of this, or I'm guilty of that, or I knew about the concentration camps," for instance. But they would say, "Oh, Dachau, yes, there was a place like that. Ask so-and-so, he was involved in that." And this is the kind of lead that would help us in our interrogation. So our sumer travails in Luxembourg was primarily to get to know the prisoners, their characters, their personalities, which would help prosecutors in developing their approach when they tried them. And also for historical purposes. We had a lot of historic war department commissions, historians, who wanted to interrogate these prisoners. So many times, we would have a professor from the Hoover Institute or some other think tank who was working on a particular aspect of the war history, who would come and we would interrogate on their behalf. They would sit in on it but they couldn't speak German, and we would interrogate the prisoner and get the information they wanted for their historical... Interviewer: How would you explain that visit? John: We'd tell them the truth, that this man is a historian and he's writing a history of the tank as used by the German command, and the tactics that Rommel used in Africa, or Guderian in his tank warfare, and oh yes, they'd tell you all about that.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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