Sgt. Everett Steiger from Salem, Oregon and T/4 Joseph W. Eaton relax on the bed that had belonged to Joseph Goebbels at Schloss Rheydt.
It was moved into the hallway by the GI's who are now billeted in the castle and need his room.
Joseph Wechsler (later Eaton) is the son of Jacob and Flora (nee Goldschmidt) Wechsler. Joseph was born on September 28, 1919 in Nuremberg, Germany where his father owned a shaving brush factory. He had two older brothers Siegfried and Martin and one younger brother Herbert. The family was Orthodox. In 1930 the family moved to Berlin after his father's factory went bankrupt as a result of the stock market crash. Following the Nazi takeover in 1933, the boys were expelled from school, and the family began to look for ways to emigrate. Since they could not afford to leave together, the two older sons left for Palestine, and Joseph and Herbert joined a children's transport to the United States sponsored by the German Jewish Children's Aid. In 1943 Joseph was drafted into the American army though still technically classified as an enemy alien. He first was trained to serve as a medic and then in military government. He finally was assigned to the 4th Communications Unit which was associated with SHAEF. The communication's unit operated both radio and print communications, and Joseph's main function was to serve as an army journalist both to report on the mood in Germany to American headquarters and to disseminate American propaganda to German society. Shortly before leaving for Europe, Joseph became a naturalized American citizen. He also changed his name to Eaton so that if he were to be captured by the Germans, his parents would not be harmed on his account. His brothers who had enlisted in the British army also used a Hebraicized version of the same new name Though only a non-commissioned officer, Joseph was given his own driver and free reign to report on what he felt was significant. In October 1944 while traveling in Trier he learned that one of Hitler's top generals Major General Ernst von Poten was hiding in the area. After first making two markings on his helmet so that he would look like a captain, Eaton obtained his surrender. The general, who thought Germany's cause was lost, not only agreed to surrender but also to urge other Germans to give up their arms on air. Eaton wrote a speech for him which the general practiced for the radio broadcast. However, Eaton's superiors at SHAEF opposed the idea for bureaucratic reasons, and the general never gave the speech.
After the war ended, Joseph remained in Europe for several months as part of the army of occupation. He lived in Straubing and served as the editor of the Regensberger Preuss, one of a handful of newspapers the Americans published to provide a denazified news source. Joseph still had the autonomy to report on what he found interesting. On one occasion he made former Nazis who had desecrated the synagogue in Straubing clean up the site, and then he wrote an article about what happened. He reported from Buchenwald three or four days after its liberation and also visited the Deggendorf displaced persons' camp. He sent some of his articles to his brother in Palestine who translated them into Hebrew and published them in the Hebrew newspaper "Haaretz". Joseph also visited Braunau, Hitler's birthplace, and set up a small museum on the site until the Americans returned the site to the Germans. In June 1945, Joseph Eaton received permission to visit Theresienstadt. There he met with Rabbi Leo Baeck who presented him a list of survivors. He also brought back many letters from survivors to post to relatives in America. In addition to his formal work, Joseph unofficially helped the Bricha. Since Straubing was near the Czech border, he allowed Jews fleeing Eastern Europe to stay in his free bedroom.
After Joseph Eaton completed his army service, he returned to the United States, completed his PhD from Columbia. He became a professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and authored several books. Joseph's parents, Jacob and Flora Wechsler, succeeded in fleeing to the Netherlands from Germany, only to be arrested and deported to the Sobibor death camp where they perished in 1943.
Mar 21, 1945
Locale: Rheydt, [North Rhine-Westphalia] Germany
Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Joseph Eaton
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
WORLD WAR II: ALLIED WAR EFFORT -- Allied Invasion/Fighting Units