Scrapbookpages Blog

March 5, 2012

A single day at Dachau, nearly 67 years ago

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 7:32 am

“a single day at the Dachau concentration camp on the day its 30,000 prisoners were liberated by American GIs in 1945” is all it takes to get your name in the world-wide news nearly 67 years later.

A regular reader of my blog alerted me to an Associated Press news story that is going around the world, from Asia to Nigeria. You can read it here on the UK online Nigeria News.

The story is about Don Greenbaum, 87, and Ernie Gross, 83. “They don’t think they met that day in Dachau but nevertheless share a bond.”  According to the AP news article, “The two men now talk about their experiences at local synagogues and schools while also now working to find other Dachau survivors and liberators…”  You can read about the liberation of Dachau here.  Start by reading here about what it was like in the last days of World War II so that you can understand this news story in context.

This quote is from the article published on the UK online Nigeria News:

Gross, a Romanian Jew, was 15 when he and his family were taken from their home, deported to a ghetto in Hungary and eventually packed on a standing-room-only boxcar to Auschwitz in 1942.

At the urging of a man next to him as they waited in line to be processed, he lied and told the SS officer he was 17.

Any younger and he’d be deemed incapable of hard labor and, he was told, immediately killed.

Romania was part of Hungary at that time and the Hungarian Jews were not sent to Auschwitz until May 1944. If Ernie Gross is now 83, that means that he was born in 1929 and he was 15 in 1944, not 1942.  There are numerous Holocaust survivors alive today because the person standing next to them in the line at Auschwitz-Birkenau told them to lie about their age.

The story of Ernie Gross continues with this quote from the Nigeria News:

In a state of starvation, and after months of daily beatings and backbreaking work, then-16-year-old Gross was shoved onto another boxcar, this time headed to Dachau, near Munich. It was supposed to arrive a day before the liberation, on April 28, but American bombings delayed the train.

The actual story is probably that Ernie Gross was 15 when he arrived at Auschwitz in 1944 and at the age of 16, he was “death marched” to the German border where he was put on a train to Dachau.  After a day at the main camp, he was probably taken to one of the many sub-camps of Dachau.  In the last days of the war, the prisoners in the sub-camps were brought to the main camp, some on foot and some on trains.  Most likely, Ernie Gross was on a train coming from one of the eleven Kaufering sub-camps to the main camp when the train was bombed by American planes.

This quote from the AP article in the Nigeria News explains how Ernie Gross was saved in the nick of time by the American liberators:

When he arrived the next day, barely able to walk, Gross knew he would soon be murdered: hanged, shot, gassed, he didn’t know. He was so close to death that he didn’t care.

‘We were standing in this long line and we already knew where we were going,’ he said. ‘I was close enough that I could see the crematorium and, all of a sudden, I see the German soldiers throwing down their guns and running away.’

The first contingent of Americans had arrived.

Ernie Gross was in a line that was going to the crematorium.  This would have been the Baracke X building at Dachau where there was a gas chamber disguised as a shower room, as well as cremation ovens.

According to the news article, Gross weighed “85 pounds after nearly a year of sickness, abuse and constant hunger…” He had most likely been a prisoner at the Kaufering IV sub-camp of Dachau which had been designated as a “sick camp.”  Trains from Kaufering IV were bombed by American planes on their way to the main Dachau camp.

The news article continues with this quote:

Greenbaum said his company arrived shortly after the first wave of American troops and spent only a couple of hours at Dachau before moving on to their next mission. The SS at Dachau were captured, killed or in hiding by the time he arrived.

‘We met a priest there who took us through the camp. He showed us what was there; the prisoners were walking skeletons,’ he said. ‘We called the troop behind us to notify them about what we had come across and to bring food and clothing and blankets and the whole bit. Then we left. We had to keep going.’

Wait a minute! The “troop behind us” was notified to bring food and clothing and blankets?  Earlier in the article, it was stated that Greenbaum’s company was sent to Dachau to seize the food in the SS garrison next to the camp.

Greenbaum, a soldier with Gen. George Patton’s Third Army 283rd Field Artillery Battalion, arrived that day at Dachau expecting to seize ammunition, clothing and food that was kept for the Nazis notorious SS forces.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a list of the Army units which are officially credited with being liberators because they arrived within the first two days after a camp was liberated. Two divisions of the Seventh Army are credited with the liberation of Dachau.  I checked with the USHMM and found that the 283rd Field Artillery Battalion is not listed among the liberators of any camp.  This means that Greenbaum was not at Dachau on April 29, 1945.  Most likely Ernie Gross did not arrive at Dachau until April 30, 1945 which was the day that a train, that had been bombed, arrived from the Kaufering IV sub-camp of Dachau.  These two men did not meet at Dachau because it is most likely that neither of them were at Dachau on the day that it was liberated.