Scrapbookpages Blog

September 1, 2010

Mystery solved: the dead body found at the Dachau gate on the day of liberation, April 29, 1945

Several accounts of the liberation of Dachau mention that there was a dead body lying just outside the only gate into the concentration camp when the 42nd Rainbow Division arrived at around 3 p.m. on April 29, 1945.  These accounts  do not say whether this was the body of a prisoner or an SS guard.  Now the mystery has been solved.  I have just learned that a book by Pierre Moulin entitled Dachau, Holocaust and US Samurais – Nisei Soldiers first in Dachau tells the history of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, and explains how the dead body came to be just outside the gate into the Dachau camp.

The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which consisted entirely of Japanese-American soldiers, is acknowledged by the US Army as the liberators of one of the 123 sub-camps of Dachau, and also as the liberators, on May 2, 1945, of some of the prisoners who were on a death march out of the main Dachau camp. But according to Moulin’s book, Japanese-American soldiers in the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion were also the first Americans to see the main Dachau camp, on April 28th, the day before the official liberation.

Moulin says that he started the research for his book seven years ago when he talked with Eric Saul and Barbara Distel at the Dachau Memorial site. But it was a providential meeting with Mr. Zouzou Perez, who had been appointed by the Belgium government as President of the Survivors of Auschwitz, who gave him the answers to his questions. Mr. Perez, who was a friend of Moulin’s mother-in-law, put him in touch with Arthur Haulot, a former Belgian political prisoner at Dachau.

According to Moulin, Arthur Haulot was the Vice-President and founder of the International Committee of Dachau in 1944.  Haulot gave Moulin the following information about the DAY BEFORE the liberation:

On the morning of the April 28th 1945, around 10:00 a.m., a first alert very special : 5 times one minute sirens with a short break. This type of alert signified there were enemies in sight. Just a few minutes after it was a second alert of the same type.

But nothing happened. No Americans.

Moulin tells the story of what really happened that day:

As Arthur Haulot was with Pat O’Leary, the President of the International Committee, inside building A, looking out towards the only gate into the concentration camp, they spotted, around 3:00 p.m., an American jeep, followed soon by a second one that came to the gate.

The German guards remained quiet, but the Jeeps left immediately. A Polish detainee saw the Jeeps leaving. He couldn’t resist and ran through the gate after them. The German guards, who had gained confidence after the departure of the Jeeps, shot the Polish prisoner in the head and his corpse fell down against the outside of the gate.

Curiously, the gate into the concentration camp at Dachau had not been locked that day, and the main gate into the Dachau compound was also not locked or even guarded, so that the two Jeeps had entered the compound through the main gate and had driven up to the gate of the prison compound.

Arthur Haulot and Pat O’Leary witnessed the arrival of the American Jeeps, but said that the soldiers never went inside the camp.  According to Moulin, the 45th Thunderbird Division was then ordered to liberate the Dachau camp. Soldiers in the 45th Division arrived early the next morning and entered the SS garrison first.

According to Moulin, the two alerts were never explained as there were officially NO American troops in Dachau on April 28, 1945. The only unit claiming that they were there that day was the 522nd F.A. Battalion.

Moulin wrote: Why  did those men leave without trying to get inside the Dachau prison compound? Because they had received strict orders to leave at once.

This quote is from Moulin’s web site about the liberation of Dachau:

The US HQ had no option and ordered the 522nd Scouts to leave immediately and to keep their mouths shut under Court Martial Threat. The two alerts were provoked by the coming of the two jeeps. They could have pass to the SS camp gate due to the confusion when the SS guards left in a hurry and when the new troops under the command of Lt Heinrich Winker came in the camp.


So the 522nd F.A. bn of Japanese Ancestry were the first to reach Dachau Main gate on April 28th 1945, but never got inside the camp and couldn’t really be considered as the first liberators. The first official Americans liberators came on April 29th 1945, two journalists Peter Fuchs and Marguerite Higgins came with Will Cowling from the 42nd Rainbow Division and to get inside they have to remove the corps of a detainee against the door. That was the proof that they came after the 522nd F.A. jeeps.

The 45th Thunderbird Division, the 42nd Rainbow Division, and the 20th Armored Division are officially credited by the US Army and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with liberating Dachau on April 29, 1945, but according to Moulin, the first American soldiers to see the Dachau main camp were Japanese-Americans.

Read about which soldier entered Dachau first on April 29, 1945 here.