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September 7, 2010

The liberation of Dachau, as reported by the New York Times

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 6:58 pm

This New York Times article is about the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.  It is printed here just as it was written in 1945:

Dachau captured by Americans who kill guards, liberate 32,000

DACHAU, Germany, April 30 – Dachau, Germany’s most dreaded extermination camp, has been captured and its surviving 32,000 tortured inmates have been freed by outraged American troops who killed or captured its brutal garrison in a furious battle.

Prisoners with access to records said that 9,000 captives had died of hunger and disease or been shot in the past three months, and 14,000 more had perished during the winter. Typhus was prevalent in the camp and the city’s water supply was reported to have been contaminated by drainage from 6,000 graves near the prison.

39 Cars Full of Bodies

A short time after the battle there was a train of thirty-nine coal cars on a siding. The cars were loaded with hundreds of bodies and from them was removed at least one pitiful human wreck that still clung to life. These victims were mostly Poles and most of them had starved to death as the train stood there idle for several days. Lying alongside a busy road near by were the murdered bodies of those who had tried to escape.

Bavarian peasants – who traveled this road daily – ignored both the bodies and the horrors inside the camp to turn the American seizure of their city into an orgy of looting. Even German children rode by the bodies without a glance, carrying stolen clothing.

The camp held 32,000 emaciated, unshaven men and 350 women, jammed in the wooden barracks. Prisoners said that 7,000 others had been marched away on foot during the past few days. The survivors went wild with joy as the Americans broke open their pens, smothering their liberators with embraces.

Bodies were found in many places. Here also were the gas chambers – camouflaged as “showers” into which prisoners were herded under the pretext of bathing – and the cremation ovens. Huge stacks of clothing bore mute testimony to the fate of their owners.

A French general was slain last week as he walked toward a truck, believing that he was to be evacuated, prisoners reported. They said that Elite Guards had shot him in the back.

The Americans stormed through the camp with tornadic fury. Not a stone’s throw from a trainload of corpses lay the bleeding bodies of sixteen guards shot down as they fled.

When Lieut. Col. Will Cowling of Leavenworth, Kan. slipped the lock in the main gate, there was still no sign of life inside this area. He looked around for a few seconds and then a tremendous human cry roared forth. A flood of humanity poured across the flat yard – which would hold a half dozen baseball diamonds — Colonel Cowling was all but mobbed.

Rescued by soldiers

He was hoisted to the shoulders of the seething, swaying crowd of Russians, Poles, Frenchmen, Czechs, and Austrians, cheering the Americans in their native tongues. The American colonel was rescued by soldiers, but the din kept up.

Flags appeared and waved from the barracks. There was even an American flag, although only one American was held there. He is a major from Chicago captured behind the German lines when he was on special assignment for the Office of Strategic Services.


Update, Sept. 8, 2010:

A reader requested in a comment that I write something about what is known now that was not known then.  So here goes:

1.  The article is dated April 30, 1945 but it does not give the date of the liberation which was April 29, 1945.

2.  Dachau was not “the most dreaded extermination camp.”  It was not an extermination camp at all.  I am amazed that this term was used so soon after Dachau was liberated.

3.  The report mentions the “tortured” inmates. This was a concentration camp, not a death camp, and torture is usually used to get information.  But why would the Dachau inmates have been “tortured”?  I wrote a blog post on the people who were tortured at Dachau, which you can read here.

4. There was no “furious battle” to capture the “brutal garrison.”  The garrison, next door to the concentration camp, was an SS garrison; the first four soldiers, who came forward and surrendered to the Americans, were marched to the train outside the camp and killed.   Then more SS soldiers were killed in cold blood after they had surrendered.

5.  “Prisoners with access to records”?  So the reporter got his information from prisoners.  The article makes it sound like 9,000 PLUS an additional 14,000 had died in the last few months.  Half of the deaths in Dachau occurred in the last 6 months that the camp was in operation, including 2,226 prisoners who died in the month of May, after the liberation. According to Paul Berben, a prisoner who wrote the history of the camp, there were 18,296 deaths in the main camp and all the sub-camps of Dachau between November 1944 and the end of May 1945. Most of these deaths were due to the typhus epidemic in the camp, according to Berben.   I am also amazed that the reporter mentioned typhus; this is usually left out of the story.

6.  The 6,000 graves were on a hill called Leitenberg, which was a couple of miles from the camp. The grave site was located far from the camp to PREVENT contamination of the water supply.  The Dachau camp had been hit by an Allied bomb on April 9, 1945 and there was no running water at the camp.  The prisoners had apparently told the reporter something about the water supply, but got the story mixed up.

7.  Not all of the 39 cars on the train were coal cars, and not all of them were filled with dead bodies.  The prisoners on the train were Jews and Soviet POWs from Buchenwald.  They had been evacuated from Buchenwald on April 7, 1945 and the train had taken 20 days to reach the camp because the tracks had been bombed by Allied planes.  Prisoners in the coal cars had been killed when the train was strafed by Allied planes, according to a Jewish prisoner who was on the train; he testified at the proceedings against the SS man who was in charge of the train.

Victor Maurer, a representative of the Red Cross, who arrived at Dachau a day or two before the liberation, said that he was told that, out of 5,000 prisoners who started the train trip to Dachau, 2,700 were dead on arrival, which would mean that there were 2,300 survivors who entered the camp. Maurer also said that there were  only 500 bodies on the train when the Americans arrived, and that some had been killed, while others had died of starvation.  The official count of the dead bodies on the train was 2,130.

8.  The “orgy of looting” which was done by the “Bavarian peasants” was caused by the warehouses at the SS garrison being turned over to the prisoners when the acting Commandant and the regular guards left the camp on April 28, 1945.  The people in the town heard that the warehouses were open and they went to the camp to get food for themselves.

9.  Half of the 32,000 prisoners had been at the camp for two weeks or less.  They had been brought to the main camp from the sub-camps.  Very few were emaciated or even “unshaven,” judging by the photos taken at the liberation.

10.  “Huge stacks of clothing bore mute testimony to the fate of their owners.”  The prisoners, who were in charge of the camp after the acting Commandant and the guards left,  told the gullible liberators that the clothes hung up outside the disinfection gas chambers were the clothes of the prisoners who had been gassed. Allegedly, the prisoners were forced to hang up their clothes outside the disinfection chambers before they went in to be gassed.

11.  The “French General” was General Charles Delestraint.  I have an article about his death on my web site which you can read here.

I find it interesting that the prisoners would tell the reporter about Delestraint’s death and specify that it was the “Elite Guards” (SS men) who had killed him.  TMI  in my opinion.  I think the prisoners killed the French General themselves and blamed it on the SS.

12.  The bodies of the “sixteen guards shot down as they fled” were the bodies of the SS men who were killed in cold blood by the liberators.  They were not fleeing; they were trying to surrender the camp to the Americans.

13.  The one American who was held there was Lt. Rene Guiraud. He had been trained in Canada before he was parachuted into Nazi-occupied France, along with a radio operator. His mission was to collect intelligence, harass German military units and occupation forces, sabotage critical war material facilities, and carry on other resistance activities. Guiraud organized 1500 guerrilla fighters and developed intelligence networks in Europe. During all this, Guiraud posed as a French citizen, wearing civilian clothing, which means that when he was caught, he was not protected under the 1929 Geneva Convention.  Guiraud was captured in France and interrogated for two months by the Gestapo, then sent to Dachau in September 1944.

Note that the reporter did not learn the name of the one American.  That’s because Guiraud kept his mouth shut; he did not come forward and tell lies to the liberators.  To his credit, Guiraud did not EVER talk about Dachau.  He knew when he volunteered for this job, that he would be put in prison if caught.  He did not write a book and whine about his treatment at Dachau.