The bodies of the dead SS soldiers, shown in the photo above, were left in the coal yard at Dachau, where they had been killed, until May 3, 1945 when the incident was investigated by Lt. Col. Joseph Whitaker, the Seventh Army’s Assistant Inspector General. A report on the “Investigation of Alleged Mistreatment of German Guards at Dachau” was filed on June 8, 1945. It was marked secret, but the contents were later revealed to the public in 1991. A copy of the report is included in Col. John H. Linden’s book The Surrender of Dachau 29 April 1945.
Why was this incident, which has since become known as “The Dachau Massacre,” kept secret for 46 years?
Why wasn’t the incident immediately made known to the public so that haters of the German people all over the world could have celebrated this news? After keeping this secret for 46 years, why reveal the truth at all?
Today, it is impossible to write anything about the “Alleged Mistreatment of German guards at Dachau” without attracting hateful comments, ranting about how these German POWs “deserved to die.”
The dead soldiers in the photo above were not German “Guards” of the Dachau concentration camp. Most of them were German SS soldiers, who had been stationed in the SS garrison that was adjacent to the camp. Others were wounded Wehrmacht soldiers, who had been dragged out of a hospital inside the SS garrison.
The photo below shows American soldiers looking at the bodies of the first four SS soldiers who surrendered to Lt. William Walsh. Lt. Walsh marched these POWs to a train, parked outside the SS garrison, and shot them after they had surrendered in good faith. The feet of one of the soldiers are shown, hanging out of the box car.
At the time that the German soldiers were shot in the coal yard, with their hands in the air, the American soldiers in the 45th Division had not yet seen the Dachau concentration camp that was next door to the SS garrison, and the soldiers in the 42nd Division had not yet arrived at the Dachau compound. This was a clear case of American soldiers shooting POWs that had surrendered, and had their hands in the air.
The bodies of the German soldiers in the coal yard were left out until the U.S. Army could do an investigation.
The paragraphs below are from the “Secret Report” done by the U.S. Army, which pertain to the “Execution of German soldiers by members of the 45th Division.” Why did the U.S. Army call the shooting of the SS soldiers an Execution? Were the German POWs given a trial before they were “Executed”?
4. At the entrance to the back area of the Dachau prison grounds, four German soldiers surrendered to Lt. William P. Walsh, 0-414901, in command of Company “I”, 157th Infantry. These prisoners Lt. Walsh ordered into a box car, where he personally shot them. Pvt. Albert C. Pruitt, 34573708, Company “I”157th Infantry, then climbed into the box car where these Germans were on the floor moaning and apparently still alive, and finished them off with his rifle.
5. After entry into the Dachau Camp area, Lt. Walsh segregated from surrendered prisoners of war those who were identified as SS Troops.
6. Such segregated prisoners of war were marched into a separate enclosure, lined up against the wall and shot down by American troops, who were acting under the orders of Lt. Walsh. A light machine gun, carbines, and either a pistol or a sub-machine gun were used. Seventeen of such prisoners of war were killed, and others were wounded.
7. Lt. Jack Bushyhead, 0-1284822, executive officer of Company “I”, participated with Lt. Walsh in this handling of the men and during the course of the shooting personally fired his weapon at these prisoners.
16. Lt. Walsh testified that the SS men were segregated in order to properly guard them, and were then fired upon because they started moving toward the guards. However, the dead bodies were located along the wall against which they had been lined up, they were killed along the entire line, although Lt. Walsh only claims those on one flank moved, and a number of witnesses testified that it was generally “understood” that these prisoners were to be shot when they were being segregated. These facts contradict the defensive explanation given by Lt. Walsh.
In his report to Headquarters, written on 2 May 1945, Brig. Gen. Henning Linden, of the 42nd Division of the U.S. Army, wrote the following:
As we approached the Southwest corner, three people came forward with a flag of truce. They were a Swiss Red Cross representative, Victor Maurer, and two SS troopers who said they were the camp commander [SS Lieutenant Wickert] and his assistant. They had come here on the night of the 28th to take over from the regular personnel, for the purpose of surrendering the camp to the advancing Americans. The Swiss Red Cross representative said there were about one hundred SS guards in the camp who had their arms stacked, except for the people in the tower…He had given instructions that there were no shots to be fired, and that it would take 50 men to relieve the guards, as there were 42,000 “half-crazed” inmates, many of them typhus-infected….
Note that Brig. Gen. Linden incorrectly referred to SS 2nd Lt. Wicker as Wickert. After surrendering the Dachau concentration camp to the Americans, 2nd Lt. Wicker was never seen again. It is not known when nor how he was killed.
According to 1st Lt. William Cowling, who was with Brig. Gen. Linden at the time that the camp was surrendered, the 42nd Division had been advancing down a road toward Munich when, by chance, they heard about the Dachau concentration camp.
In a letter to his family back home, written on April 30, 1945, Cowling wrote:
Enroute we learned from civilians and two newspaper people that just off the main road was a concentration camp of Dachau, oldest largest and most notorious camp in Germany. These newspaper people were going up to see the camp so we decided to go up too.
We ride in a Jeep with a guard out ahead of the boys and we were several hundred yards ahead as we approached the Camp. The first thing we came to was a railroad track leading out of the Camp with a lot of open box cars on it. As we crossed the track and looked back into the cars the most horrible sight I have ever seen (up to that time) met my eyes. The cars were loaded with dead bodies. Most of them were naked and all of them skin and bones. Honest their legs and arms were only a couple of inches around and they had no buttocks at all. Many of the bodies had bullet holes in the back of their heads. It made us sick at our stomach and so mad we could do nothing but clinch our fists. I couldn’t even talk. We then moved on towards the Camp and my Jeep was still several hundred yards ahead. As we approached the main gate a German officer and a civilian wearing an International Red Cross band and carrying a white flag came out. We immediately filed out and I was just hoping he would make a funny move so I could hit the trigger of my tommy gun. He didn’t however, and when he arrived abreast of us he asked for an American officer. I informed him he a was talking to one and he said he wished to surrender the camp to me.
The photo below shows Brig. Gen. Linden on the far left, with the Red Cross representative in the center and Lt. Wicker, standing next to him. Wicker’s aid has his hands on his head. They had been taken to the “death train,” after surrendering the camp, but claimed to know nothing about it.
SS soldiers had been sent from the battlefield to keep order while the Dachau camp was being surrendered. They were killed before the U.S. soldiers found out that these were not the guards in the camp. The guards had left the night before.
When you are fighting a war and winning, there is no need to ask questions. Just shoot every man in sight and hope that one of your victims was a “war criminal,” not a POW with rights under the Geneva Convention of 1929.
My blog post today was inspired by the following comment on another website:
Re: The Dachau Massacre of Guards
SignifierOne, I think the issue that people are trying to argue is that, as Prisoners of War, under the Geneva Conventions, these men should have been detained and processed and then put to trial, tried for crimes against humanity, then executed instead of summarily executed on the spot.
Executing POWs is wrong but in the case of Dachau and with concentration camp SS guards I, personally, would make an exception because of pure outrage. As far as the foreign [Hungarian] SS volunteers that were executed, they would have simply either been repatriated to their country of origin and executed for treason or possibly escape justice by joining the French Foreign Legion.
The “outrage” that caused the American soldiers to “execute” the SS men without a trial was the sight of the “Death Train.” The American executioners did not bother to examine the train and see that the prisoners had been killed by the strafing of the train by American planes. The train had taken over 3 weeks to travel 220 miles from the Buchenwald camp because American soldiers had bombed the railroad tracks.