America’s First Sea, Air, Land Commando-
Lieutenant Jack Taylor, USNR
Citation for the Navy Cross:
“For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United States; as chief of the Maritime Unit, Office of Strategic Services Detachment, United States Armed Forces, in the Middle East, from September 1943 to March 1944, Lieutenant Jack Taylor, USNR, personally commanded fourteen separate sorties to the Greek and Balkan enemy-occupied coasts. This activity was carried out despite intense enemy efforts to prevent any kind of coastal traffic whatsoever. Lieutenant Taylor, through clandestine operations, deserving of the highest commendation and careful planning and skillful navigation effected numerous evacuations of intelligence agents, doctors, nurses, and downed airmen. Tons of arms, ammunition, explosives, and other military supplies were delivered to Marshal Tito and other resistance forces through the efforts of Lieutenant Taylor. For three months, at all times surrounded by enemy forces, and on three occasions forced to flee from enemy searching parties, Lieutenant Taylor and his intelligence team operated in Central Albania and transmitted by clandestine radio important information regarding enemy troop movements, supply dumps, coastal fortifications, anti-aircraft installations and other military intelligence of great value to the Allied forces. Parachuting into enemy territory on the night of 13 October 1944, with a team of three Austrian deserter-volunteers, he had personally trained and briefed, he began a secret intelligence mission to Austria. Handicapped from the very start by failure to their plane to drop radio equipment, living in constant danger of capture, and the physical and mental strain on his men, the courage and energy of Lieutenant Taylor prevailed and throughout the remainder of October and November, the mission collected target intelligence of the highest value to the Allies. On 30 November, the eve of their departure for Italy, the party was captured by the Gestapo. Through four months of imprisonment in Vienna and one month in Mauthausen prison camp, he was subjected to the customary interrogation methods of the Gestapo. During his capture, Lieutenant Taylor injured his left arm seriously. With this handicap and also being forced to exist on starvation rations and work at hard labor, he resisted all attempts to force him to divulge security……the brilliant results of his operations have been an essential aid to the victory of Allied Arms.”
Lt. Jack Taylor, US Navy commando, after his liberation
Mauthausen was the last of the Nazi concentration camps to be liberated, just three days before World War II ended with the German surrender on May 8, 1945. The American liberators were greeted by Lt. Jack Taylor, a commando in the United States Navy, who had been captured after completing a sabotage mission behind enemy lines; he had been a prisoner at Mauthausen since April 1, 1945. He was brought to Mauthausen from a prison in Vienna when the city was evacuated because Russian troops were near.
The photograph above shows Lt. Taylor, taken shortly after his liberation from Mauthausen. He testified in court that he had weighed only 112 pounds when he was liberated. On his jacket, he was required to wear a red triangle, pointing downward, which meant that he was classified as a non-German political prisoner. Lt. Taylor was imprisoned at the main camp at Mauthausen, but this photo appears to have been taken at one of the sub-camps of Mauthausen, located near the mountains in Austria.
Only hours after the liberation of the Mauthausen camp, Lt. Col. George C. Stevens, the famed Hollywood director, arrived to shoot some footage of Lt. Taylor for his film entitled “Nazi Concentration Camps,” which was shown at the Nuremberg IMT. Lt. Taylor was from Hollywood, California and he started off by saying that this was the first time he had ever been in a movie.
Prior to the proceedings at Dachau in the Mauthausen case, Lt. Jack Taylor gave the following testimony at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal:
“In October ‘44, I was the first Allied officer to drop onto Austria. I was captured December 1st, by the Gestapo, severely beaten, ah, even though I was in uniform, severely beaten, and, and, considered as a non-prisoner of war. I was taken to Vienna prison where I was held for four months. When the Russians neared Vienna, I was taken to this Mauthausen concentration lager [camp], an extermination camp, the worst in Germany, where we have been starving and, and beaten and killed, ah, fortunately, my turn hadn’t come. Ah, two American officers at least have been executed here. Here is the insignia of one, a U.S. naval officer, and here is his dog tag. Here is the army officer, executed by gas in this lager [camp]. Ah…there were…
[Question: "How many ways did they execute them?"]
Five or six ways: by gas, by shooting, by beating, that is beating with clubs, ah, by exposure, that is standing out in the snow, naked, for 48 hours and having cold water put on them, thrown on them in the middle of winter, starvation, dogs, and pushing over a hundred-foot cliff.”
After only 35 days in the notorious Mauthausen camp, Lt. Jack Taylor knew all about the crimes committed there: torture, hangings, shootings, beatings, and the gassing of prisoners twice a day, 120 at a time. Lt. Taylor was the first witness for the prosecution in the Mauthausen case before the American Military Tribunal at Dachau. By now, he was an experienced prosecution witness and he elaborated on his Nuremberg testimony. When asked by prosecutor Lt. Col. William Denson, on direct examination, how many different forms of killing that he had come in contact with in Mauthausen, Lt. Taylor testified as follows:
Gassing, hanging, shooting, beating. There was one particular group of Dutch Jews who were beaten until they jumped over the cliff into the stone quarry. Some that were not killed on the first fall were taken back up and thrown over to be sure. Then there was exposure. Any new transport coming in was forced to stand out in the open, regardless of the time of the year, practically naked. Other forms of killing included clubbing to death with axes or hammers and so forth, tearing to pieces by dogs specially trained for the purpose, injections into the heart and veins with magnesium chloride or benzine, whippings with a cow-tail to tear the flesh away, mashing in a concrete mixer, forcing them to drink a great quantity of water and jumping on the stomach while the prisoner was lying on his back, freezing half-naked in subzero temperatures, buried alive, red-hot poker down the throat. I remember a very prominent Czech general who was held down in the shower room and had a hose forced down his throat. He drowned that way.
The photograph below shows the ledge where SS soldiers at Mauthausen allegedly forced Dutch Jews to leap into the quarry. The narrow ledge is in the center of the photo, a short distance from the top of the quarry.
Lt. Taylor testified in the trial that he had been scheduled to die in the Mauthausen gas chamber on May 6, 1945, but he was miraculously saved when American troops arrived the day before his planned execution. Lt. Taylor was the only American ever to testify for the prosecution in the Dachau trials and his testimony was considered to be more credible than that of the other former prisoners who might have been seeking revenge, more than justice.
In his direct testimony, Lt. Taylor was asked by prosecutor Lt. Col. William Denson to describe the gas chamber. As quoted by Joshua M. Greene in “Justice at Dachau,” Lt. Taylor testified as follows:
Yes, sir. It was rigged up like a shower room with shower nozzles in the ceiling. New prisoners thought they were going in to have their bath. They were stripped and put in this room naked. Then gas came out of the shower nozzles.
The photo below, taken in May 2003, shows one of the shower nozzles, and water pipes coming into the Mauthausen gas chamber. The gas chamber was cleverly disguised as a real shower room with real water pipes, real showerheads and real floor drains. However, Lt. Taylor was wrong about the gas coming through the shower heads. The gas was in the form of pellets, about the size of peas, which had to be heated before the poisonous gas fumes could be released.
According to the testimony of another Mauthausen prisoner, the poison gas flowed through a tube placed low on the wall of the shower room. In his book entitled “The 186 Steps,” Christian Bernadac quoted the testimony of Werner Reinsdorf, a prisoner who came to Mauthausen in 1941 and was assigned Prison Number 535 which had previously been assigned to another man who died. Reinsdorf “took part in the construction of the gas chamber,” according to Bernadac.
The following quote from Bernadac’s book is the words of Werner Reinsdorf:
There was a tube that led into the gas chamber, eighty centimeters above the floor, with its opening turned toward the wall so as to escape notice. The gas flowed through this tube…I, myself, saw Jews being led to the gas chamber….
According to stories told by former inmates at Mauthausen, there was a small metal box, near the floor on the other side of one of the shower room walls. An open can of Zyklon-B gas pellets was put into this box, along with a hot brick which heated the pellets to the proper tempature so that prussic acid could be released. An enameled tube, through which the gas flowed, led from the box into the shower room. Unknown to Lt. Taylor, who expected to be gassed on May 6, 1945, Commandant Franz Ziereis had allegedly removed the box and the tube just before he escaped from the camp on the night of May 2, 1945. The tile in the shower room was replaced, and the wall, where the box had been located, was so skillfully repaired that no evidence of how the gas entered the room can be seen today.
The gas pellets are harmless until heated to a temperature of 78.3 degrees. The Museum displays are in the basement of the former hospital building where the gas chamber is located. Hopefully the temperature in the basement is always kept below the danger point. This type of poison gas was also used in all the concentration camps to disinfect the clothing by killing the body lice which spreads typhus.
After Lt. Jack Taylor arrived at the Mauthausen camp on April 1, 1945, he was put to work “setting tile in the new crematorium,” according to his trial testimony. He testified that the camp administrators “were very anxious to have it completed because all the bodies from hanging and beating had to be cremated to destroy the evidence.” Lt. Tayor testified that “We knew that the only thing that kept the number of violent deaths down was the fact that the crematorium couldn’t take care of any more. And we knew that as soon as we finished, the rate would accelerate tremendously because it was a more efficient oven.” He stated that “the regular procedure for the gas chamber was twice a day, one hundred and twenty at a time. I would say that the new crematorium increased the facilities to two hundred and fifty a day.”
According to Lt. Taylor’s testimony, the new crematorium was first used on Sunday, April 10, 1945. The photograph below, taken in May 2003, shows the new crematorium, which is in the same building as the gas chamber. The flooring in front of the ovens is glazed brick, the same as that used for the floor of the gas chambers at both Mauthausen and Dachau. There is also what looks like floor tile, next to the bricks.
You may actually listen to and view Jack Taylor on the day of his liberation from the Mauthausen extermination camp. This can be done by watching an extraordinary film clip that we have found on the Internet. Go to: http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/Holocaust/mauthfilm.html
The quality of the film as broadcast over the computer is not good, and much of the film has no sound, but be patient and wait for the portion of the film with real-time commentary by the recently liberated Lieutenant Taylor. Note in the film too, and in the still photos we have published in the BLAST, that Lieutenant Taylor is always dressed quite “formally” with tie and jacket (although perhaps a POW jacket). His appearance is remarkably good and belies the weight loss and harsh treatment he experienced at the hands of the German Gestapo.
After returning to the United States, Jack Taylor quickly faded into civilian life, but became very nervous and unsettled as a result of his wartime experiences. Rather than immediately returning to dental practice, he attempted to establish “Taylor Products,” a “Marine Specialties” company and continued exploiting his love of the sea. The business attempt apparently did not work out well for him, and he eventually began to devote full time to a dental practice in Santa Monica, CA.
For a while, he did maintain contact with Dr. Chris Lambertsen who, after the war, returned to the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Lambertsen provided us a copy of a very self-explanatory item of correspondence from Jack Taylor, which is reproduced elsewhere in the BLAST. Like many of the veterans of WWII, life was particularly harsh on the men and women of OSS, whose exploits remained secret for many years after the war, and Jack Taylor was no exception. Sadly, he was to live only 13 more years after his return home.
Dr. Jack Hendrick Taylor at the age of 51 years was killed in a car crash near his home in El Centro, California.
Jack Taylor did it all. Under, on, and from the sea; parachuting from the air; and, operating on land behind enemy lines