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August 12, 2013

Norman Coulson, the American soldier who stayed at Dachau for a year after the camp was liberated

I read the story of Norman Coulson in an article in The Evening Sun, which you can read in full here.

Norman Coulson was at Dachau for a year after the camp was liberated

Norman Coulson was at Dachau for a year after the camp was liberated

This quote is from The Evening Sun:

Hanover WWII veteran reflects on time at Dachau
Norman Coulson, 93, tries to find balance between forgetting and remembering the horrors of the German concentration camp.
By SARAH FLEISCHMAN

The Evening Sun
Posted:   07/28/2013 08:00:07 AM EDT

After the German concentration camp of Dachau was liberated in April 1945, Norman Coulson stayed there. There was still work to be done.

“It was my job to clean up the whole camp, the bodies and so on,” Coulson said. “The thought of the place was terrible, just the stench.”

Coulson served as chief architect of the post-liberation effort with the Army Corps of Engineers. He was the only one in the Corps sent to Dachau, and he stayed there for a year before coming home to Hanover, Pa.

“It’s the kind of place you can’t forget, but you try to anyway,” Coulson said.

There were so many dead that the crematorium couldn’t handle all of them. Coulson recalls using a bulldozer to push bodies into a mass grave.

“We assumed all these people were dead,” Coulson said. “If their eyes didn’t move, they were dead.”

Coulson arrived at Dachau three days after the American takeover of the camp.

“We (Americans) took over the camp so fast no one knew what was happening,” he said.

Inmates were simply told to go home, but many of them did not have the strength or the means to make it home, if home was still there.

“They were on their own. They just walked out on the street,” he said. “Some of them didn’t know who they were.”

Coulson employed several former inmates to help him. A Polish man named Alfons was his right-hand man. He could speak English and told Coulson about the horrors of living in Dachau.

Alfons told Coulson of the food – a potato broth with no meat. He described how guards would make all of the people in a block stand outside until an escaped prisoner was found. He spoke of the gas chambers and how the guards had prisoners kill other prisoners.

“The Germans didn’t do anything on their own,” Coulson said.

And Coulson still has an album of pictures from his time at Dachau. Alfons is in several photos with Coulson, standing over a desk looking at the building plans for the camp. When they weren’t working, sometimes the two men went on picnics.

The photo album itself is a miracle. Coulson couldn’t just walk to a corner store to buy film. When Alfons and Coulson did get film, he said, it was all different sizes and of questionable quality. Then, as Coulson was waiting for a ship back home, all of his belongings were stolen – except for the photos.

In all of my research on the Dachau concentration camp, I have never before read anything about the Army Corp of Engineers staying at Dachau for a year to remove the bodies and re-build the camp.

I have, in fact, read about the 40th Combat Engineer Regiment, which was attached to the 45th Thunderbird Division; the 40th Combat Engineers arrived at Dachau on April 30, 1945 to take over, one day after the camp was liberated.

The photo below shows the prisoners helping to remove the bodies that were piled up outside the Baracke X building.

Dachau prisoners pile bodies on wagons to be taken to Leitenberg hill for burial

Dachau prisoners pile bodies on wagons to be taken to Leitenberg hill for burial

A bulldozer was used to dig mass graves on Leitenberg hill

A bulldozer was used to dig mass graves at Leitenberg

German civilians brought bodies to Leitenberg hill for burial in mass graves

German civilians brought bodies to Leitenberg hill for burial in mass graves

So what did the Army Corp of Engineers, headed by chief architect Norman Coulson, do at Dachau for a year?  They didn’t use a bulldozer to shove the bodies, found at Dachau, all the way up to the Lietenberg hill, into mass graves.  The shoving of bodies into graves with a bulldozer was done by the British at Bergen-Belsen because they didn’t want to handle the bodies of prisoners who had died of typhus.

British soldier driving a bulldozer at Bergen-Belsen

British soldier driving a bulldozer at Bergen-Belsen

This quote is from the news article in The Evening Sun:

Norman Coulson, 93, a veteran of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, talks about his time in the post-liberated Dachau concentration camp in South Germany on Monday at his home on Northland Drive in Hanover. Coulson was responsible for cleaning and rebuilding the camp, which at the time was used to hold German prisoners of war who were awaiting trial. (THE EVENING SUN — SHANE DUNLAP)

The way I heard it, it was the “German prisoners of war” who cleaned up the Dachau camp when they were put into the barracks to await trial.  The camp was not “rebuilt,” but some new barracks were built, by the Americans, that were not as good as the original barracks.  You can read about “War Crimes Enclosure No. 1” on my website here.

The trials of the “German war criminals” took place in a building inside the SS garrison that was right next to the Dachau concentration camp.  A photo of the building is shown below.

Building where the war crimes trials were held at Dachau

Building where the war crimes trials were held at Dachau

The news article in The Evening Sun continues with this quote:

Coulson said he spent the majority of his time in the Army traveling to seven different countries with the Army Corps of Engineers. He was in Germany, about 50 miles from Dachau, when he saw a notice asking for people with architectural experience to work at the camp. He had worked for a local Hanover, Pa. architect, I.M. Myers, since he was 16, so he had the experience.

After the war ended, the camp was to be the site of war crimes trials, so after the bodies were taken care of, Coulson had to make sure the buildings were in working order.

When convicted German soldiers were hanged, the press would come to see, so Coulson was told to design a new kind of gallows so the executions would be less public.
“I essentially just barricaded [the gallows],” Coulson said. “But I wasn’t too happy doing that project.”

The “convicted German soldiers” were hanged at Landsberg am Lech.  The photo below shows the gallows.  The man who is about to be hanged is Martin Gottfried Weiss, the acting Commandant of Dachau when the camp was liberated.

Martin Gottfried Weiss is about to be hanged on a gallows at Landsberg am Lech

Martin Gottfried Weiss is about to be hanged on a gallows at Landsberg

Martin Gottfried Weiss was convicted by the American Military Tribunal of participating in a “common plan” to commit war crimes.  The “common plan” was a new war crime that was made up by the Allies AFTER the war.  Under this new law, anyone who was associated with a concentration camp in any way was a “war criminal,” whose crime was so heinous that the death penalty was justified.

February 16, 2011

New book and possible documentary film could clear up a lot of questions about the Holocaust

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:36 am

A book written in German by Holocaust survivor Leslie Schwartz is due to be translated into English this year and already plans for a documentary about Schwartz’s life are under way, according to a news article which you can read here.  The working title of the film is Lazarus, Schwartz’s camp nickname, referring to his ability to cheat death like the biblical character.   (more…)