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May 23, 2010

Jimmy Gentry, liberator of Dachau concentration camp

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, TV shows, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:49 am

Last night I saw a TV show about the Holocaust survivors who live in the state of Tennessee and the American liberators of the Nazi concentration camps who also live in Tennessee. Among the survivors who spoke on camera were Eva Rosenfeld and Hedy Lustig. Some of the survivors were in the Lodz ghetto until late in the war when they were sent to Auschwitz.  One of the American liberators was Jimmy Gentry who was with the 42nd Rainbow Division of the US Seventh Army during World War II.

As Jimmy Gentry started telling about his personal experience during the liberation of Dachau, I recognized that this was an interview that he did with G. Petrone and M. Skinner on 2/25/2000, from which I have quoted on my web site here.

The following quote is his words from the interview:

On that particular morning that we left for Dachau, not knowing that it was Dachau, we just, another day’s work. We left about dawn, which we always did, and on foot, and went South, Southeast towards Dachau. We arrived about 11 o’clock in the morning.

[…]

Because the boxcars that entered the northwest corner of that huge camp were open and the train was partway in the camp, and partway out of the camp. Our and some others went around the end of the box car to enter on the right side, and some others entered on the left side, and we only had about 3 feet between the train and the gate to enter, and on my side when I went around there I saw for the first time literally hundreds of bodies that had been shot and they were dead, and they were spilled out of the boxcar as if you had as if you had taken it, and just turned it over and poured the people out onto the side of the tracks. Some of the bodies were still in the train, some were hanging out over the tops of the piles of people outside, and that’s what I saw for the first time and they were not soldiers. We were used to seeing soldiers, both American and German soldiers who had been killed, but we’d never seen anything like this, they were striped, dressed in striped clothes, their head was the largest part of their body, their eyes all sunken back, they were ashen white, almost a blue color also, their ribs would protrude their arms the size of broomsticks, legs the same, and we didn’t know; I didn’t know who they were. So we climbed over the bodies, and went on into the camp, and inside when we first got inside, the buildings were quite large, they were warehouses for the German SS troops, the elite soldiers, and they had all their equipment in these buildings. Now when we went in there were small arms fire, that means rifle fire all to our right and to the front of us, and what had happened, we found out later, some other troops had entered through the main gate, we came in through the train gate, or back gate, and they came in through the front gate so that’s why what we were hearing up ahead of us and to our right, and as we secured the buildings and moved, oh, towards the middle of the camp we found a second wall, and on this wall, it was not as, not as large as the outside wall, there was a moat in front of it, a watered moat, and then another barbed wire fence. So there was a barbed wire fence, a moat, and then another wall. And we realized then, after seeing the train and after seeing this that these people were not to come out of there.

As he said “they were not soldiers,” this photo below was shown.

Dead SS soldiers on train at Dachau

The photo above shows the legs of dead SS soldiers on the right hand side.  The first four SS men who surrendered to Lt. William Walsh of the 45th Division were taken to the train and shot inside one of the boxcars.

The way that Jimmy Gentry described his entry into Dachau, going through the railroad gate, is all wrong.  He said, “when I went around there I saw for the first time literally hundreds of bodies that had been shot and they were dead, and they were spilled out of the boxcar as if you had taken it, and just turned it over and poured the people out onto the side of the tracks.”  Actually, the American liberators in the 45th Division saw the dead bodies BEFORE they entered the railroad gate; some of the bodies were in open gondola cars and a few were on the ground.  The liberators in the 42nd Division saw the dead bodies BEFORE they entered the camp through the main gate.

Open cars filled with bodies on train parked outside Dachau complex

The photo below, which shows 42nd Division soldiers pulling a dead SS man out of the moat at Dachau, was also shown as Jimmy Gentry was speaking on the TV show.

SS soldier killed during Dachau liberation is pulled from the moat

Aerial view of the Dachau complex shows the SS garrison on the left

The photo above shows an aerial view of the Dachau complex, which included a large SS garrison and training center on the left, and the prison complex, which is the rectangle in the center of the picture, on the right.  Unfortunately, the top of this photo is not pointing north.  The prison complex was situated in a north south direction; the road that goes across the photo at an angle was actually in an east west direction.  This means that the road was running along the south side of the complex.

The railroad gate was actually at the southwest corner of the Dachau complex. Most accounts of the liberation say that it was the 45th Division which arrived at Dachau at 11 a.m. and entered through the railroad gate, and that the 42nd Division arrived around 3 p.m. at the gate near the southwest corner of the complex where SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker was waiting to surrender the camp. After accepting the surrender of the concentration camp, the 42nd Division soldiers then entered the complex through the main gate.

Main gate into the Dachau complex, April 29, 1945

The gate, shown in the photo above, was the main entrance into the whole Dachau complex.  The concentration camp was inside the complex and had a separate gate with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei.”  The concentration camp was at least a mile from the railroad gate.

Jimmy Gentry wrote a book entitled “An American Life,” in which he included drawings that he had made of the Dachau camp, as it looked on liberation day. He claimed that he entered the Dachau complex through the railroad gate at the “northwest corner” of the camp around 11 a.m. that day, which was approximately the time that John Degro, a soldier in the 45th Division claimed that he was shooting the lock off the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate.

Here is another quote from Jimmy Gentry’s interview in 2000:

And this sea of faces seemed to be, every one of them seemed to be dead, but they were still alive. They looked like they were dead. So we released them and entered the camp, a separate compound where the prisoners were kept. There was not a lot of screaming and yelling and jubilation, not at all. They were blank faced, they were stunned. They did come up to ya and hug ya and someone, I don’t know who said it, someone in my squad said “don’t let ’em kiss you on the mouth.” And that meant, thank goodness that meant that they had diseases, typhus fever for example, and they would fall down to their knees and hug ya around the legs, and kiss your legs and kiss your boots. And of course we didn’t know enough German to know what they were saying and some of them were not German, foreign languages and we didn’t know, we just knew that they were happy to be released, but they were a pitiful sight. We worked our way through the camp and the German guards that had stayed there, none of them left. They were all were killed while they were there in the camp, either by the soldiers, American soldiers, or by the prisoners themselves in some cases. So none of them ever left that camp once we entered.

The 42nd Division is credited with being among the liberators of Dachau, along with the 45th Division and the 20th Armored Division.  However, there were only a few soldiers in each of these divisions that were there on April 29, 1945 when Dachau was liberated.  It seems that Jimmy Gentry has put together a story that is not accurate.  Did his memory fail him, or is he lying about his involvement in the liberation of Dachau?

16 Comments

  1. I have no idea who this furtherglory person is, other than a faceless coward. If you are picking apart a story of a Patriot who served this country honorably, Jimmy Gentry, who also was my history teacher, then you are basically nothing more than a worm. Who are you to accuse him of lying? Apparently that’s what worms do. I know for a fact Coach Gentry would never attempt to draw attention to himself regarding his experiences during the War. You should be ashamed. For anyone coming across this blog- warning….it’s garbage journalism.

    Comment by ProudAmerican — September 28, 2015 @ 11:55 pm

  2. […] For further reading, here is another blog about James C. Gentry. […]
    http://www.sarahmarieclicks.com/blog/memorial-day-a-day-to-remember/

    Pingback by Memorial Day || A Day to Remember » Sarah-Marie Photography: Blog — May 27, 2013 @ 7:33 am

    • Thank you very much for this link to your blog. I looked at the video. Very early in the video, there is a photo of two men at the railroad track that goes inside the SS GARRISON at Dachau, not inside the Dachau Memorial Site on the grounds of the former concentration camp. You can see a photo of this section of track, which has been preserved, on this page of my website: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/SScamp/RailroadTracks.html

      This is probably a photo of Mr. Gentry and another man visiting the place where Mr. Gentry says that he entered the Dachau camp on the day that it was liberated. It was the 45th Division of the U.S. Army that entered Dachau on April 29, 1945 through this railroad gate. The gate was open that day because a train was parked on the tracks, part way inside the camp and part way outside the camp. Mr. Gentry was a soldier in the 42nd Division. Soldiers in the 42nd Division arrived at Dachau FOUR HOURS LATER and entered the camp through the main gate into the compound and then proceeded to the gate into the concentration camp, which was over a mile from the railroad gate.

      Mr. Gentry has made a career out of being a liberator of Dachau, but he could not have entered the railroad gate that day because the 42nd Division soldiers who were there that day did not enter through the railroad gate.

      Mr. Gentry might be the most wonderful man that has ever lived, but he was not at Dachau on April 29, 1945. Read about the liberation of Dachau on this page of my website: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/DachauLiberation/LiberationDay3.html

      Comment by furtherglory — May 27, 2013 @ 10:39 am

  3. I think I’d take the account of the person that was there than the “historians” that wrote the stories of supposedly what happened. After all, we know that in many cases our records of history in the history books themselves are less than accurate! I think someone that was there is more trustworthy than someone who was not!

    Comment by kelly — May 26, 2013 @ 9:43 pm

    • In my blog post, I did not write about what the “historians” wrote. I compared Gentry’s account with the accounts given by other soldiers who were there. Gentry was in the 42nd Division, but his description of the liberation of Dachau does not match what the other soldiers in the 42nd Division said. Instead, he describes what the soldiers in the 45th Division did. This leads me to believe that he was not there on the day that Dachau was liberated. He might have been brought to the camp several days or weeks later, since General Eisenhower ordered that as many soldiers as possible should be brought to Dachau to see the horror.

      Comment by furtherglory — May 27, 2013 @ 6:46 am

  4. Prior to reading this page, i had also been trying to read and compare many different stories about the Camp liberations to see if they make sense.
    In most cases (like that of Harry J Herder Jr. describing the liberation of the Buchenwald Camp) I am inclined to trust the stories told by the veterans, and yet they invariably have some kind of contradictions to some of the more-corroborated stories.
    I believe that these are largely a result of details getting mixed up over the years. It’s impossible to put yourself in the position of a 19 year old experiencing these kinds of scenes, and imagining how the mind will treat the memory.

    Comment by Slingshot — November 8, 2012 @ 3:38 am

    • I wrote about who really liberated the Buchenwald camp on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Buchenwald/Liberation4.html I included the story of Harry Herder who made many mistakes in his account. General Eisenhower gave the order that every American solider should be taken on a whirlwind tour of the nearest camp so that there would be no deniers in the future. Eisenhower predicted Holocaust denial before it happened and he wanted to have lots of witnesses to the concentration camps. Many of those soldiers who were taken in truck loads to the camps now claim to be among the “liberators” of the camps.

      Comment by furtherglory — November 8, 2012 @ 7:13 am

  5. Just so we are clear, you did call him a liar when you left this response in the comments section:

    “Getting the story mixed up like this is a sure sign that the person is making up the story. Veterans and survivors are paid for the talks they give to students. I don’t think “lying” is too strong a word to use for falsifying history in order to make money.”

    In that statement, not only do you call him a liar by saying he was “falsifying history”, but accuse him of doing so for money. There is no other way to interpret what you wrote, whether you want to admit it or not. I am not going to argue whether or not you called him a liar, because I don’t have to. Your own post proves me right…done.

    If the killing of the German officer who surrendered the camp and the SS soldiers happened the way you claim, then I too feel that was wrong and am saddened. I’m no “pollyanna”….I know that in war no side can claim total righteousness.

    However, I don’t understand your logic when you say those were the “real” atrocities. Does that mean you feel those horrible acts were somehow worse or more meaningful than what the Nazi’s were systematically doing to the Jews and other members of their society they deemed marginal because of their ethnicity, age, mental health, etc? Do you feel the way those German soldiers were treated was worse or more wrong than what happened to the European Jews and other ethic minorities at the hands of Hitler and the Nazi party?

    When I first read your blog, I thought you might be a Holocaust denier, but as I read more I didn’t think so. But now, I don’t know and really don’t care. You slandered my family with your presumptions and accusations and I defended them. I don’t presume to have studied the overall subject of the Holocaust more than you. Obviously you have spend a great deal of time on the subject. However, I do know that many people brutally lost their lives in WWII, including my great uncle and Jimmy’s older brother David Gentry in Italy. And many proud and brave young men laid it all on the line to defend the world against tyranny. I do not believe that to be hyperbole, that is simple fact. You dishonored those men with your words against my Uncle Jim, and shamed yourself in doing so, and did further by trying to deny it.

    Comment by Jeff Nichols — March 21, 2012 @ 11:56 am

    • I understand your concern. It is a great honor to be a liberator of a concentration camp. In 1945, Dachau was a 1200-year-old historic village of 13,000 people; just outside the village was a huge garrison and training center for SS soldiers. Within the walls of the garrison was a prison enclosure that was a concentration camp. Outside the Dachau garrison, there was a train that was parked part-way inside the garrison. The first American liberators followed the train and entered the SS garrison through the railroad gate that was open because of the train. The first American soldiers entered the garrison around 11 a.m. and the first four SS men who surrendered to them were taken to the train, put inside one of the cars, and shot. The German soldiers who were shot were SS men who had nothing whatsoever to do with the concentration camp. The SS men who were in charge of the camp had left the night before. The Americans then entered a hospital and dragged out wounded Wehrmacht soldiers, who had nothing whatsoever to do with the concentration camp, and executed them with their hands in the air. The American army kept this secret for the next 40 years.

      Jim Gentry claims to have been among the American soldiers who entered the SS garrison at 11 a.m. on April 29, 1945. The problem is that it was soldiers in the 45th division who entered the SS garrison at 11 a.m. that day. Mr. Gentry was with the 42nd division. The 42nd Div. arrived at 3 p.m. and an officer in this division accepted the surrender of the camp from a German soldier and a Red Cross man. There were very few American soldiers from the 42nd division who were there that day. The few that were there arrived in jeeps.

      After the Dachau SS garrison was liberated, the American military took over the garrison and used it for American troops for the next 28 years. During those 28 years, truck loads of American soldiers were taken on a whirlwind tour to see the former concentration camp. That is why I have speculated that Mr. Gentry was taken on a tour of the camp a day or two after it was liberated. If he had been there on the day of liberation, he would have known that the 42nd division did not enter the camp at 11 a.m. and they did not enter through the railroad gate. The 42nd division soldiers entered the Dachau complex through the main gate and went directly to the prison enclosure.

      I have done considerable research on the liberation of Dachau. I have written at length about the liberation of the camp at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/DachauLiberation/LiberationDay3.html

      I included Jim Gentry on this page of my website: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/DachauLiberation/LiberationDay4.html

      Comment by furtherglory — March 21, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

    • You addressed two different issues in your comment. You wrote: “However, I don’t understand your logic when you say those were the “real” atrocities. Does that mean you feel those horrible acts were somehow worse or more meaningful than what the Nazi’s were systematically doing to the Jews and other members of their society they deemed marginal because of their ethnicity, age, mental health, etc? Do you feel the way those German soldiers were treated was worse or more wrong than what happened to the European Jews and other ethic minorities at the hands of Hitler and the Nazi party?”

      Dachau had nothing to do with “what the Nazi’s were systematically doing to the Jews and other members of their society…” Dachau was a camp for political prisoners. The Jews who were there when the camp was liberated were Jews who had been sent to what is now Poland and they were brought back to Germany near the end of the war. They were put into labor camps, which were sub-camps of the main concentration camps. Shortly before Dachau was liberated, the Jews were brought to the main camp so that they could be surrendered to the Americans.

      One can not compare the Dachau massacre to “what happened to European Jews and other ethnic minorities.” What happened to the Jews “at the hands of Hitler and the Nazi party” did not happen at Dachau. The Dachau massacre was revenge, taken by American soldiers, against German soldiers who had fought honorably on the battlefield. They were not the SS men who were involved in what happened at Auschwitz and other camps in what is now Poland.

      There is something called the “Geneva Convention” which has rules for fighting a war. American soldiers violated the Geneva Convention at Dachau when they shot wounded Wehrmacht soldiers after dragging them out of a hospital. The American Army then kept this secret for 40 years instead of punishing soldiers who had violated the rules of warfare.

      I have talked with German men who were soldiers in World War II. Every single one of them said that they didn’t understand why America was fighting against Germany. They all thought that, after President Roosevelt died, the American Army would change sides and fight alongside the Germans against the Communists in the Soviet Union. They could not understand why German soldiers were treated badly after the war.

      On this page of my website, I tried to put the liberation of Dachau into context by describing what it was like in Germany in the last days of the war: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/DachauLiberation/Background.html

      Comment by furtherglory — March 21, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

  6. furtherglory – I cannot believe you are calling Jimmy Gentry, who, as a member of the 42nd Rainbow Division, you acknowledge as a true hero for his actions at Dachau, a liar. I have heard Mr. Gentry tell his story a few times and I know for a fact that he was not paid one penny for any of the speaking engagements I attended. How do I know that for sure, you ask? It is because he is my great-uncle and I heard these stories either at his home, his church or at the school where he taught and coached.

    The first time I heard him tell the story was in 1982 (or ’83) during a student assembly at Brentwood Academy where he taught and I was a 10th grade student. I had heard family members talk about it, especially my Grandfather (who was Jimmy’s older brother) but this was the first time I heard it directly from him. One of the most memorable things that day was to see my uncle, a well respected football coach and leader of young men, burst into tears when the mental images of that day flew vividly back into his mind. His tears were not a contrivance and weren’t part of some huckster’s scheme to make money by taking another’s experience and presenting it as his own for glory or financial gain. His emotions that day were a spontaneous and honest reaction to witnessing first-hand, as a 19-year-old boy from the country, the unspeakable atrocities caused by the darkest part of humanity. It was not an act, it was an expression of grief and sadness that could only come from someone who experienced what he was talking about.

    I remember my Mom being surprised that he spoke about his experience in front of the school since he didn’t tell his family members about it for a long time. It was a couple of years later when, after a meeting with a Holocaust survivor, he decided to talk about his war experiences in a larger way to others.

    The story he told at school that day, years before he had ever thought about going on the “lecture circuit” as you call it, was exactly the same as he’s always told, the same story that you now call him a liar for recounting as his own. In reading your blog for hours this afternoon, I noticed that you frequently like to make your point by posing a question to the reader. Allow me to do the same. Why would he “lie” to those students that day when I first heard him speak about this? There was no fee nor fame involved, no reporters taking notes to write a story on him, no cameras rolling to take his story to the masses, no film makers, no bloggers…none of that. He was not going to be famous or make money from telling that story that day to a bunch of high school students…kids he loved that he wanted to share this story with in hopes that, in doing so, he could possibly undo some of the evil he witnessed by imparting on them the very real and destructive powers of fear, hatred and prejudice. Why would this football coach concoct this elaborate ruse and pretend to break down and sob like a baby, needing to be comforted by a fellow teacher? Was it some ploy to get them to feel sorry for him or to inspire them to play harder? Had he discovered a new “anti-macho” way to inspire the team to a championship through his tears? Of course not, that is ridiculous.

    It was real. It was his life, his story, seen with his own eyes, felt with his own hands. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, saw his fellow soldiers killed, had to take the lives of other young men and then experience walking into a Nazi Death Camp, all at the age of nineteen.

    I tell you this because I want you to know more about the man you call a liar, Jimmy Gentry, his motivations and his character. I hope that you will now see he deserves better than to be called a liar and have his humanity called into question by you.

    Comment by Jeff Nichols — March 19, 2012 @ 5:13 pm

    • I did not call Jimmy Gentry a liar. Here is what I wrote: “The 42nd Division is credited with being among the liberators of Dachau, along with the 45th Division and the 20th Armored Division. However, there were only a few soldiers in each of these divisions that were there on April 29, 1945 when Dachau was liberated. It seems that Jimmy Gentry has put together a story that is not accurate. Did his memory fail him, or is he lying about his involvement in the liberation of Dachau?”

      As you can see, I asked a question: “Did his memory fail him, or is he lying about his involvement in the liberation of Dachau?” His story does not fit the story that was told by many other men who were there. On my blog post, I wrote: “Most accounts of the liberation say that it was the 45th Division which arrived at Dachau at 11 a.m. and entered through the railroad gate, and that the 42nd Division arrived around 3 p.m. at the gate near the southwest corner of the complex where SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker was waiting to surrender the camp. After accepting the surrender of the concentration camp, the 42nd Division soldiers then entered the complex through the main gate.”

      You posed this question to me: “Why would he “lie” to those students that day when I first heard him speak about this?”

      I think the answer lies in this quote from your comment: …”he didn’t tell his family members about it for a long time. It was a couple of years later when, after a meeting with a Holocaust survivor, he decided to talk about his war experiences in a larger way to others. ” He met a Holocaust survivor and felt his pain; that’s when he decided to talk about Dachau. It was many years later and he got the details wrong.

      There were two atrocities that the American soldiers saw when they “liberated” Dachau. 1. There was a train parked outside the camp with many dead prisoners on it. One of the survivors of this train testified under oath in a trial of the SS men that the train had been strafed by American planes and the prisoners in the open railroad cars were killed. The man, who was on trial for allowing the prisoners to be killed, also testified that the train was strafed by American planes. 2. There was a typhus epidemic going on and 400 prisoners per day were dying of typhus.

      The SS men in charge of the camp left the day before the Americans arrived and turned the camp over to a Committee of the prisoners. A Red Cross man who was in the camp asked an SS man, who had been there only a couple of weeks, to surrender the camp and he did. The camp was surrendered to the 42nd Division.

      The real atrocities that were committed that day were 1. the killing of the man who surrendered the camp and 2. the killing of Waffen-SS soldiers who had been sent from the battlefield to keep order during the surrender of the camp.

      I can understand that Jimmy was a 19-year-old from “the country” who did not realize that the prisoners were skin and bones because they were sick with typhus, and that the camp was filthy because the camp had been bombed, three weeks before, by American planes and there was no running water or electricity because of this.

      Comment by furtherglory — March 20, 2012 @ 5:59 am

  7. Isn’t ‘lying’ a strong term to use? There are bound to be errors of memory and different points of view, especially after what 65 years?

    Comment by paulo — May 23, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

    • The difference between arriving at 11 a.m. and arriving at 3 p.m. is not an error of memory. The difference between entering the railroad gate by squeezing past a train and entering through the large main gate building is not an error of memory, especially when the railroad gate was a mile or more from the main gate. Jim Gentry described what the 45th Division soldiers did, not what the 42nnd Division soldiers did. Getting the story mixed up like this is a sure sign that the person is making up the story. Veterans and survivors are paid for the talks they give to students. I don’t think “lying” is too strong a word to use for falsifying history in order to make money.

      Comment by furtherglory — May 23, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

  8. Oh my God. The picture where they pulled a soldier out of a water is so sad and cold.

    Comment by entertainment — May 23, 2010 @ 8:52 pm


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