Scrapbookpages Blog

February 18, 2011

An American soldier with the 81st Field Hospital describes a visit to Dachau in 1945

A document that belonged to an American soldier who was with the 81st Field Hospital in Germany after the end of World War II has been recently put on line by his daughter.  Page 9 of the document can be read here.  I found page 9 of the document to be very revealing because it describes a visit by some members of the hospital unit to the Dachau concentration camp.  No date was given for this visit, but the “death train” was still there and the bodies of SS soldiers who had been killed after the surrender of the camp were still there, so it must have been a few days after the camp was liberated on April 29, 1945.    

This quote is from the daughter’s blog post which you can read in full here:

Several members of the unit went over to Dachau and obtained entrance to the notorious concentration camp. It was a place of unbelievable horror and a sight that no one can forget. Guided by one of the prisoners, we visited the gas chamber where prisoners marked for extermination were sent. Outside the building was a huge pile of naked dead bodies, grotesquely sprawled one upon the other. The bodies were scrawny, emaciated, like wax dummies of skeletons. Slightly to one side lay a number of SS troopers beaten to death in sadistic revenge by the liberated prisoners. A stench of death hung in the air. It was all macabrely unreal.

Bodies of SS soldiers on the left outside the Dachau crematorium

Note the soldiers on the extreme right in the photo.  They seem to be visitors who are viewing the macabre scene at Baracke X, the building where the gas chamber and the ovens were located. On the left, in the photo, are the bodies of some of the SS soldiers who were killed during the liberation of the camp.

Here is how the soldier with the 81st Field Hospital described the gas chamber that he saw that day:

Stepping inside the building, one entered the reception room where incoming victims slated for extermination were told to undress in preparation for showers. Each person was given a bar of soap and a towel. Scarcely suspecting, they were told to enter the adjoining room which was marked “Shower-Bath” and a heavy steel door closed upon them.  There was nothing alarming about the room which was of ordinary size. A number of apparent shower jets protruded from the ceiling.

Note that the “shower jets protruded from the ceiling.”   In 1945, many homes in rural America did not have bathrooms, much less a shower stall. Maybe this soldier didn’t know that shower jets in a shower room normally hang from the ceiling, as in the photo below, which I took at the Mauthausen camp.

Shower jet hanging from water pipe at Mauthausen camp

Apparently this soldier was not at all suspicious that the shower room had been modified after the camp was liberated.  He didn’t question why the shower heads were just stuck into the ceiling and not connected to any pipes.  He didn’t even mention that the ceiling was only 7 and a half feet high.  Did Germany have building codes back then which allowed a shower room ceiling that was not at least 8 feet high?

Little windows on the east wall of the Dachau gas chamber

What about the little windows on the east wall of the Dachau gas chamber, which are shown in the photo above?  How come this soldier didn’t see them?  A sign inside Baracke X tells Dachau visitors today that the gas pellets “could have been” thrown through these little windows.  Yes, the Zyklon-B could have been put into the gas chamber through these openings, but strangely, no one even noticed the little windows until several years after the war.

Page 9 of the document continues with this quote:

When the 250 victims were crowded into this room and the heavy steel door shut and locked, the “shower” was turned on. In approximately two minutes, the entire 250 would be dead of asphyxiation.

Note that this visiting soldier did not mention what kind of gas was used or how it was able to come through the shower jets.  Apparently, the visiting soldiers didn’t question the former prisoner who was leading their tour.

The following quote from page 9 is the most shocking:

According to the inmate, perhaps a million people had been exterminated in Dachau’s gas chamber and crematorium –  the largest percentage being persons brought there solely for the purpose of extermination and never seeing the inside of the prison stockade.

Perhaps a million people had been exterminated?  Or perhaps not.  Who cares?  America won the war and we can lie if we want to.

The largest percentage were brought there solely for extermination?  What about the smallest percentage?  Why were they taken inside the prison stockade before being exterminated?  The most important question is: Why was an inmate giving this tour?  And how did the inmate get the information about the million people who were perhaps exterminated at Dachau?

This quote is also from page 9 of the document:

… the long rows of kennels where huge-ferocious dogs were kept and set upon living prisoners hung just off of the ground, and the string of 50 boxcars on a siding just outside the camp crammed full of dead bodies.

The visit to Dachau was obviously very disturbing so it is not surprising that this soldier got the atrocities a little mixed up.  At the time of his visit, the dog kennels were empty because all the dogs had been killed by the American liberators.  The inmates had told the Americans stories about the prisoners being hung by their arms with their feet just off the ground.  But the dogs were not set upon the prisoners while they were hanging.  And there were 39 railroad cars on a siding just outside the camp, not 50.  Not all of the 39 cars were boxcars and not all were crammed full of bodies.

Here is the story that this soldier was told about the train on which dead bodies were found:

There were prisoners just arrived at Dachau who were awaiting entrance into the camp. For eight days they remained crammed inside the boxcars without food, water or sufficient air. A few that managed to break out and attempted to escape were shot and found with legs or arms hanging outside the cars.

Body of German soldier who was shot by American liberator of Dachau

Body of German soldier who was shot by American liberator of Dachau

The photo above shows the first four German soldiers, who were shot by Lt. William Walsh, before the American liberators of Dachau saw the concentration camp which was next door to the SS garrison at Dachau.

The real story is that this train had taken 20 days to get to Dachau because the tracks had been bombed by American planes.  On the way, some of the prisoners who were riding in open gondola cars had been killed when the train was strafed by American planes.  When the train arrived, around 1,300 living prisoners were immediately brought into the camp. The bodies with legs hanging outside the cars were the bodies of SS soldiers who had been taken to the train to be shot after they surrendered to the Americans.

According to this document, every member of the Hospital unit was taken to see the “horrors of the camp.”  Their stories are now being told to a new generation of Americans.