Scrapbookpages Blog

April 29, 2013

Holocaust survivor was standing in line for the gas chamber on the day that Dachau was liberated.

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 4:45 pm

Today, the United States Holocaust Museum is celebrating its 20th anniversary. You can read about it online here.

This quote is from the news article about the USHMM:

For 20 years, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has reminded visitors of atrocity, grief and survival.

On Monday, nearly 4,000 supporters joined 843 Holocaust survivors and 130 veterans to celebrate its 20th anniversary and hear speeches from President Bill Clinton and museum founding chairman Elie Wiesel.  Under a large tent outside the museum, just south of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., survivors talked with American soldiers who liberated concentration camps, sharing their stories.

Ernest Gross, who survived the Dachau concentration camp, searched for years to find a camp liberator. He found one in Don Greenbaum of Philadelphia. The two traveled to Washington to attend the ceremony together.

“I was transported from Camp 7 to Dachau to be gassed and to go into the ovens,” Gross told ABC News just before the ceremony, from his seat next to Greenbaum.

“I was standing in line, and I was close enough that I was able to see the ovens, and all of a sudden I see the German soldiers are throwing their weapons down,” Gross said.  “I didn’t know why I turned around, and I saw the American Army liberating the camp, and for 67 years I looked for somebody who liberated me to thank him.”

The USHMM website has a page about Ernest Gross, which mentions that he was a prisoner in the Kaufering VII sub-camp of Dachau.  In the last days of the war, the prisoners in the eleven Kaufering camps were evacuated to the Dachau main camp, except for Kaufering IV which was the camp for sick prisoners.

Now we know why the prisoners were brought from the Kaufering sub-camps to the main camp.  It was not to allow them to be liberated by the American Army which was on its way to Dachau.  No, Ernst Gross and the rest of the Kaufering prisoners were brought to the main camp to be killed in the gas chamber.  Ernst was saved in the nick of time.

SS soldiers were shot by Lt. Bill Walsh on the day that Dachau was liberated

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 4:03 pm
American soldiers pose beside the bodies of SS soldiers killed during the liberation of Dachau

American soldiers pose beside the bodies of SS soldiers killed during the liberation of Dachau

The photo above shows the bodies of SS soldiers who were shot by American soldiers during the liberation of Dachau on April 29, 1945.

I previously blogged here about a new book about the liberation of Dachau, written by Alex Kershaw.  This morning, I read an excerpt from the book on this website.

Kershaw wrote at length about “I Company commander Lieutenant Bill Walsh”  describing him with these words: “twenty-five-year-old Walsh, a tall and imposing figure with a chowder-thick accent from Newton, Massachusetts, arrived at the junction with I Company, which had earned the presidential unit citation for its actions at Anzio.”

U.S. soldiers view the bodies of SS men who were taken to the "death train" and shot

U.S. soldiers view the bodies of SS men who were taken to the “death train” and shot

You can read about the Dachau “death train” on my website here.

This quote is from the excerpt from Kershaw’s book which you can read in full here:

Walsh had no idea what [Lt. Col. Felix] Sparks meant by “concentration camp.” He had once seen a POW camp in upstate New York that had housed fit, well-fed, and happy German prisoners. Perhaps Dachau would be the same kind of place.

[ …]

There were thirty-nine boxcars in all, containing some two thousand corpses. The train had left Buchenwald with around forty-eight hundred prisoners some three weeks earlier. It had first stopped so that hundreds could be shot. The SS that cruelest of springs had been over- whelmed, confused, and exasperated by the sheer numbers of their victims and, under orders not to let any prisoners fall into the hands of the Allies, had killed with clinical efficiency. On April 21, when the train halted for the second time, thirty-one hundred severely malnourished and dehydrated people on board were still alive. Six days later, when the train pulled into Dachau at night, there were just eight hundred. The dead were left to rot on the train.

I Company commander Bill Walsh arrived at the boxcars. At first, he thought the skeletal people were sleeping.

What the hell is this?

Sparks was next on the scene, having left his jeep in a nearby side street, along with his shotgun and radio. His only weapon now was his Colt .45, holstered at his hip. At first, as were many of his men, he was paralyzed by what he saw. The sights and smells robbed the mind of reason.

[…]

Sparks ordered his men to check to see if any people were alive. None were. Then he told them to keep going toward the camp, a hundred yards in the distance.

Bill Walsh still looked stunned. “Okay, move!” Sparks ordered Walsh.

Walsh and I Company began to move past more railroad cars, down the tracks that led into the Dachau complex.

Sparks followed behind, passing more open boxcars filled with bodies, boxcars like the ones he had ridden in across America ten years before. Ahead of him, some of his men were boiling with rage, eager to avenge the SS crimes. I Company scout Private John Lee had never seen his fellow Thunderbirds so unhinged.

Sparks heard men screaming and cursing. “Let’s get these Nazi dogs.”

It was all too much. His men were losing their minds. Lieutenant Walsh set the tone, ranting and raving about SS sons of bitches. He and others had been pushed past the breaking point. The army had trained them to fight. It had not prepared them for this kind of psychological shock. Nothing could. They had come across a tragedy beyond comprehension. “Every man in the outfit who saw those boxcars,” recalled one of Sparks’s men, “felt [like] meting out death as punishment to the Germans who were responsible.”

Sparks snapped commands and tried to regain control of his men. It took several minutes.

“Okay,” he finally said when I Company had calmed down enough for him to make himself clearly understood. “We’re going in the camp.” Sparks led the way over a perimeter wall with one group of men while Lieutenant Walsh advanced with another group from I Company. On the other side of the wall, Sparks found himself in the neat garden of a pleasant home, one of several used by families of the SS officers within the Dachau complex.

[…]

Meanwhile, Walsh and  his party came across four SS men who had their hands on their heads. Walsh took them into one of the box- cars and called for a machine gun. Then he changed his mind and fired his pistol at them. But he did not kill them all. Other I Company men could hear the survivors’ cries of pain. A private called Pruitt entered the boxcar and lifted his M1 rifle and fired, killing the wounded men with eight or nine clinical shots. “They were suffering and taking on and I figured there was no use letting them suffer, so I finished them off,” Pruitt later testified. “I never like to see anybody suffer.”

Walsh’s  men carried  on, moving  beyond  the rail tracks into the Dachau complex itself.

[…]

Then [Sparks] saw Lieutenant Bill Walsh emerge from between a couple of buildings. He was chasing a German.

“You sons of bitches,” Walsh was screaming repeatedly.

Walsh began to beat the German over the head with the barrel of his carbine.

“Bastards. Bastards. Bastards.”

Sparks ordered Walsh to stop, but Walsh ignored him. So Sparks pulled out his .45 and clubbed Walsh on the head with its butt, stunning him and knocking him to the ground.

Walsh lay there, crying hysterically.

“I’m taking over command of the company,” yelled Sparks.

One of Walsh’s men, Sidney C. Horn, recalled that seven men were needed to take a hysterical Walsh into a room and “get him quieted down. He really lost it there.” Walsh had gone “crazy,” as Sparks would later put it, overwhelmed like many of his men by the scenes of atrocity. Walsh later confessed: “I’ll be honest with you. I broke down. I started crying. The whole thing was getting to me. This was the culmination of something that I had never been trained for.”

The boxcar where SS men at Dachau were shot

The boxcar where SS men at Dachau were shot

The “Dachau massacre” was kept secret for over 40 years.  The explanation given for the bodies of the men whose legs were hanging out of the boxcar is that these were prisoners who were shot by the SS men when they tried to escape.