Up until yesterday, when a reader of this blog identified the dead bodies in the photo above as Waffen-SS soldiers who had been killed at Dachau by American liberators in the 45th Infantry Division, I had always believed the story that these were prisoners who had been shot by the SS guards, as they were trying to get out of the train. The death train had departed from the Buchenwald concentration camp on April 7th and had not arrived at Dachau until April 27th because American planes had bombed the tracks; prisoners riding in open railroad cars had been killed when American planes strafed the train.
The Commandant of the Dachau concentration camp had left on April 26th and the regular SS guards had escaped the night before the Americans arrived. Waffen-SS soldiers had been brought from the battlefield, on the orders of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, to surrender the camp and to keep order until the Americans could take over.
In the photo at the top of this page, note the shoes that the dead men are wearing. I had never noticed this until a reader pointed out that these are German military shoes. In every photo of the death train, the caption always says that these men were prisoners who were trying to get out of the train.
The sight of the dead bodies on the train enraged the soldiers of I Company in the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Division and, before the Americans entered the Dachau camp, they decided that they would take no prisoners. The first four Waffen-SS soldiers who came forward carrying a white flag of surrender were ordered into an empty box car by Lt. William Walsh and shot. The photo above shows their bodies. Notice the Jewish Star of David on the side of the boxcar.
After shooting the four Waffen-SS men who had tried to surrender the camp, Lt. Walsh “segregated from surrendered prisoners of war those who were identified as SS Troops,” according to a report by the Office of the Inspector General of the Seventh Army, dated June 8, 1945.
The following is a quote from the I.G. report:
“6. Such segregated prisoners of war were marched into a separate enclosure, lined up against the wall and shot down by American troops, who were acting under the orders of Lt. Walsh. A light machine gun, carbines, and either a pistol or a sub-machine gun were used. Seventeen of such prisoners of war were killed, and others were wounded.”
Note that the I.G. report refers to “prisoners of war.” The American military knew that this was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention of 1929, but no Americans were ever put on trial for this admitted war crime.
The 45th Division soldiers had entered the SS garrison, next door to the concentration camp, through the open railroad gate at the southwest corner of the Dachau complex at 11 a.m. Soldiers in the 42nd Infantry Division arrived around 3 p.m. and met SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker, who was waiting to surrender the concentration camp, along with a Red Cross representative carrying a white flag. By this time, the 45th Division soldiers had killed up to 560 German soldiers, according to some accounts. General Dwight D. Eisenhower set the number of German soldiers at Dachau who were “liquidated” at 300.
The Dachau massacre was kept secret for over 40 years by the American military. Instead of telling the true story of what happened, the liberators lied about the photos of the death train, claiming that the dead SS soldiers on the train were prisoners, and that the SS had machine-gunned the prisoners to death when actually the prisoners had been killed by Americans who strafed the train. Martin Rosenfeld, a Jewish survivor of the “death train,” testified at the trial of the SS man in charge of the train that the prisoners had been killed by American bullets, as American planes strafed the train.
The photo above shows a plaque which hangs on the outside wall of the Dachau gatehouse. There is also a plaque in honor of the 20th Armored Division which helped to liberate the camp, but no plaque for the 45th Division soldiers. The 45th Division declined to be honored, maybe because these soldiers felt bad about killing German POWs after they had surrendered.
The Waffen-SS soldiers who were killed by Lt. William Walsh had absolutely nothing to do with the Dachau concentration camp. In spite of this, there are still many German-haters out there who think that it was perfectly alright for Americans to kill German POWs after they tried to surrender the Dachau garrison.