When Dachau was liberated by the American Seventh Army on April 29, 1945, most of the German guards had fled the night before, and mounds of unburied corpses were found in the camp. There were also 2,310 bodies found on an abandoned train outside the camp. Everything was left untouched until newpaper reporters, American Congressmen and film makers could be brought in to document the horror. Burial began on May 13, 1945 after the bodies could no longer be kept on display because they were beginning to constitute a serious health hazard.
The photo above was taken on May 3, 1945, the same day that a film of the Dachau gas chamber was made; the film was shown at the Nuremberg IMT as proof that the victims at Dachau had been gassed.
In May 1945, the first month after Dachau was liberated, there were 2,226 deaths in the camp. There were 196 deaths in June 1945 before the typhus epidemic in the camp was finally brought under control. The people of the town of Dachau were forced to bury 1,268 of these victims at Waldfriedhof, the town cemetery of Dachau. Other victims of the typhus epidemic were buried in mass graves at the Leitenberg cemetery, and around 800 bodies were burned in the crematorium at the concentration camp.
In the photo above, notice the sign on the gate on the right hand side. The sign warns visitors that the Dachau camp is off limits because of the typhus epidemic which was still going on in May 1945. The buildings in the background are in the SS garrison which was right next to the Dachau prison camp. Note the team of perfectly matched horses in the background.
When burial of the bodies at Dachau finally began on May 13, 1945, citizens of the town of Dachau were forced to haul the bodies to the new town cemetery called Waldfriedhof, which is 6.5 kilometers from the concentration camp. The photo above shows Army trucks escorting the farm wagons. The American military could have hauled the bodies out of the camp in trucks, but the citizens of Dachau were forced to handle this job as punishment for not doing anything to stop the killing at the Dachau death camp. The citizens of the town claimed that they knew nothing about the Dachau gas chamber, but how could they not have known?
Preparations for this new burial site had begun during World War II, and some of the work had been done by inmates of the Dachau concentration camp.
On May 1, 1964, a memorial stone designed by Dieter Aldinger was dedicated at the Waldfriedhof cemetery; it is shown in the photograph above.
The graves of the camp victims are arranged in terraced rows on a gently sloping hillside near the entrance to the cemetery. When I visited the cemetery in May 2001, there were a few miniature roses that had been planted along some of the rows of graves, but for the most part, the graves of the Dachau victims were untended and neglected. The rest of the vast Waldfriedhof cemetery was very well maintained with not a weed in sight. There were no other visitors in this part of the cemetery while I was there, and no fresh flowers or wreaths had been left at any of the graves.
As shown in the two color photographs above, the Jewish monument at Waldfriedhof stands at the bottom of a slope, in the center of all the graves. The Jews, who died on the death march from the Flossenbürg camp to the Dachau camp in the last days before the liberation, are also buried here. However, I observed that at least 90 percent of the flat grave markers in the cemetery had Christian crosses on them.
On May 2, 1945, the 116th Evacuation Hospital arrived at Dachau and set up operations. According to a report made on May 20, 1945, there were 140 prisoners dying each day in the Dachau camp; the principle causes of death were starvation, tuberculosis, typhus and dysentery. On the day of liberation, there were 4,000 prisoners in the Dachau prison hospital and an unknown number of sick prisoners in the barracks who had been receiving no medical attention.
Eighteen one-story wooden SS barrack buildings in the Dachau army garrison were converted by the Americans into hospital wards to take care of all the sick prisoners. The American medical personnel were housed in the SS administration building, which is now the Dachau Museum. A Typhus Commission arrived and began vaccinating all medical personnel and the prisoners. There was a daily dusting of DDT to kill the lice which spreads typhus.
On May 3, 1945, the sick prisoners at Dachau were brought into the hospital wards. They were bathed, dusted with DDT powder and given clean pajamas to wear; their old prison clothes were burned. Note that this was the same day that newspapers reporters were photographed viewing the dead bodies that were laid out of the east side of the camp. (The Dachau crematorium was on the west side of the camp.)
The lonely hill called Leitenberg is located north of the Dachau Memorial Site in the former village of Etzenhausen, which has since been incorporated into the town of Dachau. The full name of this cemetery is KZ-Friedhof auf der Leiten, which in English means Concentration Camp Cemetery on the Leiten hill. This cemetery was created by the Germans in October 1944 after they ran out of coal to burn the bodies of the thousands of prisoners who were dying in the camp.
In the middle of the Leitenberg cemetery is a Christian cross, made of wood, which was designed by Klaus Backmund from Munich. On all four sides of the cross are panels which are engraved with likenesses of Christian martyrs. Leitenberg was consecrated as a Christian cemetery on December 16, 1949. The majority of the prisoners in the Dachau concentration camp, when it was liberated, were Catholic.
The Leitenberg cemetery was beautifully landscaped in a design by Christian Bauer. Low shrubbery was planted in rows across an open space to mark the mass graves. On both sides of the clearing, shown in the photo above, there are trees and rhododendron bushes, evocative of an English garden.
The photograph below shows another view of the clearing with rhododendrons in bloom on the right hand side. The cemetery looks like it is well maintained, but has an overgrown look that seems to be deliberate. In the background of the first photograph, where the trees converge, is the spot where the Christian Cross stands in the center of the cemetery, hidden by the trees in the photograph above.
By July 1945, the typhus epidemic in the Dachau concentration camp had been brought under control by the US Army doctors, and all the prisoners had either been released or moved to a Displaced Persons camp at Landsberg. The former Dachau concentration camp was then turned into War Crimes Enclosure No. I for German war criminals.