CORAL GABLES, Fla. (June 27, 2014) – There was little they could do. Cut off from the rest of the 106th Infantry Division during the early days of the Battle of the Bulge, Pfc. Jack Diamond and his fellow soldiers would soon be surrounded by German forces, leaving them to face the grim reality of becoming prisoners of war.
With time running out, Diamond remembered what his commanding officer told him and the regiment’s other Jewish American servicemen shortly before they went into battle—that if they were ever captured, they should discard their dog tags, which were etched with an “H” for Hebrew.
Allied forces were well aware of the atrocities occurring in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Diamond’s superior officer was simply trying to protect the Jewish soldiers he commanded.
But it was an order the 19-year-old Diamond would disobey.
“I refused to destroy mine. I was an American fighting for my country. They would have to take me the way I was,” Diamond, now 89 years old, said Thursday at the University of Miami’s Founders Hall, where he spoke to representatives from StoryCorps about his World War II service and experience in a German POW camp near Poland in 1944.
One of the largest oral history projects of its kind, StoryCorps visited UM for three days during the week of June 23 to record stories for its Military Voices Initiative, a project that provides a platform for veterans, service members, and military families to share their experiences. UM’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Warmamas, an organization of mothers of soldiers who serve or have served, partnered with StoryCorps during the national nonprofit’s visit.
Diamond, who attended UM on the G.I. bill after the war, was one of 18 people—including veterans and the mothers, fathers and relatives of service members—interviewed over the three days. He spoke privately with two reporters following his 30-minute StoryCorps session, relating his recollections of what it was like in the POW camp where he lived for six months with American and British soldiers.
“They didn’t feed us often, and the food we got was next to nothing,” he said. “All I could think about was how in the hell was I going to get any food.”
And how to stay warm. It was a harsh winter, and Diamond, who had been captured without any shoes on his feet, suffered frostbite in the toes of his right foot. To this day, he has no feeling in part of that foot, he says.
Back home in Miami Beach, where the Brooklyn-born Diamond and his family had moved when he was 12, his mother Ella, a widow, had no idea of her son’s fate during the early days of his capture. He would later learn that she received a telegram informing her that he was missing in action, and then a second telegram that he was a prisoner of war.
Russian troops eventually broke through the German lines and liberated the camp, and Diamond would soon be sent back to Florida to complete his service. After studying at UM, he managed one of the two nightclubs on Miami Beach owned by his family. One of the establishments, the Little Club on Collins Avenue and 22nd Street, was among the first to allow African-American musicians to perform for patrons, Diamond said.
He said he will always be proud of his service to his country, but wishes that veterans of today’s Iraq and Afghanistan wars would get their due. “They deserve it,” he said.
Diamond’s interview and the others conducted at Founders Hall on June 24, 25, and 26 will be archived at the Library of Congress with the possibility of airing on NPR’s Morning Edition and on the NPR website.