Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Fred Fields was born Siegfried Dingfielder and fled Germany with his family just after Kristallnacht. They arrived in the United States in 1940 and lived in Brooklyn, where Fields worked as a baker until getting drafted into the army. A graduate of Camp Ritchie, Maryland, he shipped out to the ETO as an interrogator and joined his 69th IPW in Metz. The Following is Fred's story from the book The Enemy I knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War II by Steven Karras.
Private Fred Fields
In the whole village where I grew up, there were eight hundred people and eighty of us were Jews, roughly 10 percent. There were three breweries in the town. On Saturday nights, everybody got together in town, jew and non-Jews, and played cards. Then Hitler came in and everybody started to alienate themselves from the Jews. I remember that one man got up and made a speech in a beer garden where everybody met. He said, "I don't understand what they want from the Jews here, they've never done us any harm. THey're just like we are." The next day he disappeared and ended up in a concentration camp. He came back six weeks later and never spoke another word about it. He was cured. The guy who was the political leader and ran the dairy, Mueller, organized the pogrom, in which all of the Brownshirts roused the Jews our and destroyed houses. They dragged the men out and burned the synagogue (just three blocks from our house) that had a beautiful Byzantine dome.
I was nine years old when the Brownshirts staged a demonstration outside our house; they banged on the walls, shattered our windows, and were throwing rocks. My family and I jumped over our back fence, and I led them through the card, where we boarded horses once a year, and into our vegetable garden. We were shelved overnight by a farmer who my father did business with and who lived about three miles away. I stayed with a second cousin in Furth and went to school -- an orphan school -- for a while until I joined my family later. In 1933, I was nine and couldn't fathom what was going on. There was no reason for it. I was scared. The week Hitler came to power, my uncle, along with three buddies, came into our village from Nuremberg and marched down the street with a red flag, and that sealed his fate right there. When he fled, the Germans caught up with him in southern France and nobody eery heard from them again. We resettled in Bamberg in 1935; my father and I took English lessons because he thought there was no future left for me in Germany. On the other hand, he felt that while he couldn't do business, he had saved a little money and thought he'd be able to survive. He was completely wrong. Ultimately, I was the motivator in getting our family to leave. My father said, "No, we'll stay," and I said, "Let's go."
Then on Kristallnacht, he and my uncle were arrested and sent to Dachau, like everyone else. If prisoners could prove to the authorities that they had a way out of the country they would let them out. When they let him out the end of August, he didn't look too good. He would not mention a word about what happened for fear it would get back to the Gestapo and they would take him back. He wouldn't even tell us about it at home. Anyway, we had a short time to get out of this country and we had to turn over our house, acres of land and meadows that we leased to other farmers. We sold everything for 1,000 marks, the price of two cars at that time. We couldn't get into the United States because our quota number had not come through yet, so we had to go to England. Ten days before Germany invaded Poland, we were on a train to Frankfurt with very little: three suitcases and whatever was on our backs. Then we took a plane to England. At that age, I can only describe certain numbness in me and an apprehension about the future.
The place we stayed in London was an enclave of refugees. I worked in a button factory and learned all about London. Just before I turned sixteen in May 1940, we went to the United States on a Dutch ship and arrived at the port in taking the ferry and then the subway to Brooklyn. It was strange taking the ferry and then the subway, and pretty scary. My cousin had a job waiting for me at a bakery. At sixteen I can't say that I was that introspective. I was making 38 dollars a week and I went to Ebbets Field to watch the Dodgers. The refugee neighborhood in New York was Washington Heights, but where I was there were no refugees. The baker who I worked for was a Galizianer - an Eastern Jew - and he said, "Listen, you're a 'greenhorn' and I'm going to learn you everything you know." I didn't go to school, I only worked in the bakery. Whatever I learned, I learned from the streets, and before long there was no German left in me.
Before the War started, I had the feeling that Hitler had to be stopper -- that much I felt at the time. Chamberlain did the most idiotic thing when he shook hands with Hitler and turned over the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. You can't make deals with a dictator; that much I knew. What I remember about Pearl Harbor was shock and disbelief, as well as a disappointment that we weren't alert enough. How could squadron after squadron of airplanes catch the entire Pacific fleet with its pants down? I cannot say that I was too eager to go but when Uncle Sam wants you, you accept it. So, just before I was nineteen, I received my notice and was drafted. When the recruiters asked me for my preference, I requested mount calvary because of my experience in Germany with horses. They laughed at me because aside from one outfit in Kansas (for ceremonial purposes), there no longer was a Calvary. I went to Fort Drum, NewYork, and then to basic training like all the other shrubs, where we did what we were told, marched, sweat, and trained. After that, I was sent to "bakers and cook" school at Camp Barkley, Texas. In my training company, there were real Georgia rebels, ignorant guys who thought Jews had horns on their heads. My sergeant was a real-rum head ex-boxer who didn't particularly like the guys from New York, especially the Jews. After eight weeks, I was asked to battalion headquarters and told to pack my duffel bag. I thought I had done something wrong.
I was sent to an intelligence school in Fort Ritchie in Hagerstown, Maryland. We always made fun of the cadre at Camp Ritchie, as we had Turks, Egyptians, French, Russians, Poles, and nearly every other ethnic group. We were in classrooms a lot of the time and there was just a lot of training. I was trained as an interrogator. In the training battalion there were dozens of German Jews in my class. On a Sunday, I became a citizen before I got shipped out. I was taken in a covert jeep to Washington, D.C., to be sworn in; before they brought the judge in, my commanding officer requested that I change my name because I was eventually going to Germany and it would be better for the nature of the work I would have to do. I was Siegfried Dingfelder, and you couldn't get more German than that. So I changed it to Fred Fields.
Reconnaissance Patrol at Camp Ritchie during WWII
We were taken to a British freezer ship known to transport meat and joint a convoy of fifty other ships to Europe, but we couldn't see them because they were spread out so far. We lost ships, but we didn't even know it. I liked the idea that I was going back to fight Germany; it was in my plans that I could get back to where I came from and get some Nazis, but I was there to do the job I was trained to do, not just settled old scores. From a replacement depot in England, I went across the channel to another replacement depot in Paris and then to a suburb called Le Vesinet, where I got my shipping orders. I was sent to the French-German border to join my unit, 69th IPW in Domville, Alsace-Lorraine, outside Metz. We did our work there under the XX Corps. The men in my unit were Capt. Al Lithen, Lieutenant Wallach, Staff Sergeant W. Marry, Staff Sgt. Bornsteind, and Cpl. Fred Reich. From there we went up to Luxembourg, then Belgium, and then up to the Remagen Bridge breakthrough, where we got closest to the action. My first interrogation was in Metz, I was certainly exhilarated to be able to do something of importance.
Fred's Interrogation team (IPW Team 69) showcased on the 60 Minutes Program in July 2022.
(In a phone conversation with Mr. Fields, he shared his team frequently made light of the fact that their team number was "69".)
I felt that my training was sufficient enough; our unit officer, a captain, was of German parentage and came from Wisconsin. His German wasn't very good, so much of the work was left with us refugees, while he was more in charge of administration. Certainly, my German background was pivitoal to my ability to do an effective job. From the Germans, we had to get information on the strength of their unit, how many men they had, how many they lost, and where their last campaign was. We found out that a lot of men came from the Eastern Front, running tail from Russians and were coming to the west to gain some kind of foothold and drive us back. Before Remagen breakthrough, one of our guys found out that the Germans were pulling every regiment, every division they had from Strasbourg 9southern France), to where the breakthrough was going to occur -- all the heavy stuff. Our unit turned it over to our commanding officer, General Walker with the XX Corp, and Omar Bradley with the First Army. I did start to believe that a lot of troops had no use for our intelligence units at times, no matter how valuable it was. Commanders often liked to talk to their officers in the field to tell them what was in from of us.
It felt damn good to interrogate Nazis, especially when we had a pistol (usually one of their Lugers) in a holster on us. We knew that the average German soldiers just followed orders, so getting information out of them wasn't difficult. Name, rank, and serial number didn't mean much to them, so if we could put them at ease, it usually worked to our advantage. With SS and officers, however, it was drastically different; we had to be rough with them, psychologically (and sometimes physically) and threatened them with everything under the sun. On more than one occasion we would say, "If you don't talk, we are going to put a bullet in your head." With one guy, we had him dig his own grave, measure it, and then made him lie in it before bringing him back to the interrogation table. During one interrogation, I let my anger fly when I knocked a Sturmhaupfuhrer's teeth out. I was stupid for not wearing a glove, because I hurt my hand. At one interrogation, we had a platoon of Greek guys from New York who had their own anger for the Germans and who loved to get their hand on the prisoners.
A special award Fred and his unit received for finding and returning Napolean's stolen flag which had been taken from the Louvre during WWI.
When we got into Germany, I went to Buchenwald concentration camp two days after the war. We saw the skeletons in the ovens, and the skeletons were still walking barely alive. There were dozens alive out of god knows how many thousands of people who were killed. As a German Jew, I felt anger and helplessness over what had happened to these people -- you couldn't make good with what had already happened to these people and it was frustrating. No matter what I have read or heard, it doesn't tell a damn thing compared to what I saw. I saw the ovens, the bunks where they packed people in like sardines. The ordinary person cannot fathom that. After the persecution we had experienced, I didn't expect much more -- but the concentration camp left us speechless. The eastern camps were worse, but I don't know how it could get much worse than what I saw. Instinctively, I knew that whatever relatives I left behind ended up dead. Of my fathers seven siblings, three never made it out. My mother lost her twin brother, who was a communist. So, I had no love left for the Germans. When we caught Germans, suspected Nazis, their response to our questions was always, "Ich bin nur ein kleiner Mann" (I'm only a little man).
Uehlfeld Germany, today.
After that, we were turned south from there. When we got near my hometown of Uehlfeld I got permission from my captain to go back there. My cousin, Henry Schwab, who was in another unit, 57th IPW, operating nearby, took a jeep -- a day and a half ice trip -- and we went back to Uehfeld to look for the Nazis who we remembered. I asked around and they said they disappeared into a neighboring village. Unfortunately, when someone takes off their uniform and slips into a pair of overalls, they are very hard to identify out of a group of people. In Uehlfeld, I also made it a point to visit the cemetery to see if my relatives' stones were still there. I was in Tutzing when the war was over. I applied for a civilian administrative job after the war but was turned down because of my limited education, even though I had all of this experience. All of us trained interrogators were well... suited to run an administration to ferret out any Nazis from a town.
Fred Fields is a retired butcher and still lives in an apartment in the Bronx.