Scrapbookpages Blog

May 19, 2017

91 year old Richard Dutro remembers the liberation of Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 10:16 am

91-year-old Richard Dutro is on the far right in the photo above

I have a section about the liberation of Dachau on my website at https://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/DachauLiberation/index.html

Richard Dutro was among the American soldiers who liberated Dachau.

You can read about the liberation of Dachau in this news article:

http://www.clevelandjewishnews.com/news/local_news/ohio-governor-s-th-annual-holocaust-commemoration/article_6846b618-3b36-11e7-b6f3-370fd3b9814f.amp.html

Dutro’s unit, the 42nd Infantry under the direction of Gen. George Patton, had left France to head east toward Munich. However, along the way, his unit happened upon what they soon learned was Dachau.

“We came upon something that smelled like a slaughterhouse,” Dutro said. “I grew up in Zanesville, where we had slaughterhouses. But this was a slaughterhouse of human beings.”

The scene that Dutro described was gruesome and gut-wrenching. He recalled 114 train cars at the nearby train station full of dead prisoners the Germans did not have time to burn in the crematorium before the Allies invaded. Barrels full of personal items such as eyeglasses and teeth, things that do not incinerate in a gas chamber, were abundant and strewn about.

As it happened, one of Dutro’s fellow soldiers owned a Brownie camera. The soldier took photos of various scenes, and Dutro ended up with eight of those black-and-white photos. Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich assisted Dutro by holding each photo up so attendees at the commemoration could see them for themselves as the liberator spoke of them. Dutro said the photographs would be donated to a Holocaust museum upon his death.

Here is the full story of the liberation of Dachau:

The infamous Nazi concentration camp at Dachau was liberated on Sunday, April 29, 1945, just one week before the end of World War II in Europe. Two divisions of the US Seventh Army, the 42nd Rainbow Division and the 45th Thunderbird Division, participated in the liberation, while the 20th Armored Division provided support.

On the day of the liberation, Dachau consisted of a main camp just outside the town of Dachau and 123 sub-camps and factories in the vicinity of the town. The next day, on 30 April 1945, at around 9 o’clock in the morning, one of the major Dachau sub-camps at Allach was liberated by the 42nd Division.

On the day before the liberation of the main camp, the acting Commandant, Martin Gottfried Weiss, had turned everything over to a group of prisoners called the International Committee of Dachau and had then fled along with most of the regular guards that night. According to Arthur Haulot, a member of the International Committee, German and Hungarian Waffen-SS soldiers were then brought to the camp in order to surrender the prisoners to the U.S. Army.

Both the 45th Thunderbird Division and the 42nd Rainbow Division were advancing on April 29, 1945 toward Munich with the 20th Armored Division between them. Dachau was directly in their path, about 10 miles north of Munich.

The 101st Tank Battalion was attached to the 45th Thunderbird Division. According to this source the 101st arrived in the town of Dachau at 9:30 a.m. on April 29th.

According to Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, the commander of the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Thunderbird Division, he received orders at 10:15 a.m. to liberate the Dachau camp, and the soldiers of I Company were the first to arrive at the camp around 11 a.m. that day.

Nerin E. Gun, a Turkish journalist who was a prisoner at Dachau, wrote that “The Americans were not simply advancing; they were running, flying, breaking all the rules of military conduct, mounting their pieces on captured trucks, using tractors, bicycles, carts, trailers, anything on wheels that they could get their hands on. The Second Battation, 222nd Reigment, 42nd Divison, was coming brazenly, impudently down the highway, its general in the lead.”

On their way to Munich, the 42nd Division soldiers had met some newspaper reporters and photographers who told them about the camp and offered to show them the way. Lt. William Cowling was with Brig. Gen. Henning Linden when the first soldiers of the 42nd Division arrived at the camp and were met by 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker who was waiting near a gate on the south side, ready to surrender.

 

April 29, 2013

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.

February 27, 2013

New book about Felix Sparks gives a new perspective on the liberation of Dachau and the Dachau massacre

You can read a review of Alex Kershaw’s new book entitled The Liberator here. The liberator in the title is Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division of the US Seventh Army, the first unit to arrive at the Dachau complex, which consisted of an SS garrison and a concentration camp.

It was Sparks who fired a shot into the air to stop the killing of German soldiers with their hands in the air, an event known today as the Dachau massacre.  The Dachau massacre was kept secret for 40 years, and many people today still don’t believe it.

German soldiers being executed at Dachau by 45th Division soldiers

German soldiers being executed at Dachau by 45th Division soldiers

Felix Sparks fires a shot into the air to stop the massacre

Felix Sparks fires a shot into the air to stop the killing of unarmed German soldiers

In the two photos above, note the German soldiers standing against a wall with their hands up; the second photo shows Lt. Col. Felix Sparks firing a shot into the air to stop the massacre.

I received a notice from Amazon today telling me that this new book is out; in the past, I have purchased many books about Dachau and the liberation of the camp.

This quote is from the review of the book which you can read in full here:

….. Kershaw’s exploration of what relentless combat can do to the mind. By Sept. 1944, he notes, more than 100,000 men had been pulled off the line due to combat fatigue.

“According to the U.S. Army surgeon general, all men in rifle battalions became psychiatric casualties after 200 days in combat. ‘There aren’t any iron men,’ declared one army psychiatrist. ‘The strongest personality, subjected to sufficient stress over a sufficient length of time, is going to disintegrate.’ ”

This happens at Dachau. Completely unprepared for what awaits them, and having fought for far too long, some of Sparks’s men crack, and begin shooting and killing unarmed SS men. Sparks manages to stop it, but is held responsible anyway. As fortune would have it, his case winds up on the desk of four-star General George S. Patton in May, 1945.

“There is no point in an explanation,” Patton tells him. “I have already had these charges investigated, and they are a bunch of crap. I’m going to tear up these goddamn papers on you and your men.”

“You have been a damn fine soldier.”

A sentiment this deeply researched and affecting book makes abundantly clear.

I have not read the book yet, so I don’t know if the author mentions that, while the 45th Division was busy killing unarmed German soldiers in the SS garrison that was right next to the camp, the 42nd Division was accepting the surrender of the camp from a German officer.

Surrender of the Dachau camp to the 42nd Division

Surrender of the Dachau concentration camp to the 42nd Division under a white flag of truce

The 45th Division “liberated” the SS garrison, killing wounded Wehrmacht prisoners, along with SS men who had been sent to surrender the camp.  The concentration camp, which was within the walls of the SS garrison, was “surrendered,” not “liberated” in the sense that it was defended and soldiers had to be killed in order to take over the concentration camp by force.

You can read about the surrender of the Dachau concentration camp on my website here.

You can read about the role of the 45th Division in the “liberation” of Dachau on my website here.

The following quote is also from the review of the book:

In France, in the waning months of the war, this almost gets him [Felix Sparks] killed, as he leads a charge to rescue some cut-off forces. As he exits his tank to rescue some wounded, the Germans have an easy shot and Sparks is as good as dead. Astonishingly though, an SS machine gunner by the name of Johann Voss holds his fire. Given the ruthless reputation of the SS, this is a shocking revelation, but Kerhsaw explains: “There was no honor to be gained, said Voss, by drilling a brave officer with 7.2mm bullets as he tried to help his wounded men. Indeed, there was a silent understanding among the SS watching Sparks. Killing him would be wrong.”

So this new book is going to point out that at least one SS soldier fought honorably during World War II?  Was this what caused Lt. Col. Felix Sparks to stop the killing of unarmed German soldiers, about whom Col. Howard Buechner wrote: “Public outrage would certainly have opposed the prosecution of American heroes for eliminating a group of sadists who so richly deserved to die.”

Col. Buechner’s account of the Dachau massacre is quite controversial; you can read about it on my website here.

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