The photo above shows the front page of the 45th Division News, an American Army newspaper, published on May 13, 1945. The soldiers in the 45th Thunderbird Division of the U.S. Seventh Army were the first liberators to arrive at the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945. The first thing they saw was a train with 39 cars, filled with dead bodies.
They were so angered by the sight of these dead bodies of prisoners, wearing striped uniforms, that they immediately started killing the first German soldiers who surrendered to them inside the SS garrison which was right next to the Dachau concentration camp. The photo in the middle of the newspaper shows Thunderbird soldiers looking inside one of the railroad cars. The photo at the bottom shows Thunderbird soldiers sitting in Hitler’s apartment in Munich.
The newspaper article begins with these words:
Thunderbirds who last week still wondered why we fought the Germans and their beliefs got their answer at the Dachau prison camp where death claimed victims by the carload and murder was a wholesale sadistic business.
The headline about “Why We Fought” is reminiscent of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous quote, after he saw Orhdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, on April 12, 1945, the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. Eisenhower said:
The American soldiers didn’t know what they were fighting for, until they saw the concentrations camps, then they knew what they were fighting against.
The 45th Thunderbird Division soldiers didn’t know and didn’t care why that train loaded with corpses was at Dachau, nor did they care how these prisoners had died. The soldiers made up their minds that they would take no prisoners; they entered the SS army garrison, next door to the concentration camp, through the railroad gate, and proceeded to kill every German soldier that surrendered to them with his hands in the air, no questions asked. Geneva Convention? Never heard of it!
In November 1945, when the staff members of the Dachau camp were put on trial by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau, the first prosecution witness was asked about the victims on the train. The Dachau staff was being tried only on charges related to the death and mistreatment of Allied nationals, and the witness didn’t know what country the dead prisoners on the train were from. The American prosecutor quickly moved on to another subject.
The massacre of the German soldiers at Dachau was kept secret for 40 years. No one knows how many were killed but it was somewhere between 17 and 520. The families of the dead German soldiers were not notified of their deaths; if they asked, they were told that their family member had escaped when Dachau was liberated.
The American Army took over the SS garrison and stayed there for the next 28 years. There are rumors that the German soldiers who were killed in the “Dachau massacre” were buried in a mass grave on the grounds of the former Army base after their dog tags had been removed.
A new movie, Shutter Island, which is due to be released on February 19, 2010, will show a flashback scene which will depict the Dachau massacre.
If you go to Dachau, notice that there is a plaque on the wall of the gatehouse in honor of the 42nd Rainbow Division, which also participated in the liberation of Dachau, but there is no plaque for the 45th Thunderbirds.