The infamous Dachau concentration camp was liberated on April 29, 1945 by the 42nd Infantry Division, along with the 45th Infantry Division, of the US Seventh Army. Yesterday, on the 66th anniversary of the liberation, newspapers were filled with the stories of 42nd Division veterans who recalled the the horror of what they saw and did that day. The photo above shows the bodies of Dachau guards who were killed at Tower B on the day that Dachau was liberated.
The shooting of disarmed German soldiers during the Dachau liberation was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General of the Seventh Army. Their report was finished on June 8, 1945 but was marked Secret. The report was eventually made public, around 40 years later, and a copy of it was reproduced in Col. John H. Linden’s book entitled Surrender of the Dachau Concentration Camp 29 April 1945.
Here are four paragraphs from the report which pertain to the shooting of the guards at Tower B.
11. After entry into the camp, personnel of the 42nd Division discovered the presence of guards, presumed to be SS men, in a tower to the left of the main gate of the inmate stockade. This tower was attacked by Tec 3 Henry J. Wells 39271327, Headquarters Military Intelligence Service, ETO, covered and aided by a party under Lt. Col. Walter J. Fellenz, 0-23055, 222 Infantry. No fire was delivered against them by the guards in the tower. A number of Germans were taken prisoner; after they were taken, and within a few feet of the tower, from which they were taken, they were shot and killed.
12. Considerable confusion exists in the testimony as to the particulars of this shooting; however Wells, German interrogator for the 222 Infantry, states that he had lined these Germans up in double rank, preparatory to moving them out; that he saw no threatening gesture; but that he shot into them after some other American soldiers, whose identities are unknown, started shooting them.
13. Lt. Colonel Fellenz was entering the door of the tower at the time of this shooting, took no part in it and testified that he could not have stopped it.
18. It is obvious that the Americans present when the guards were shot at the tower labored under much excitement. However Wells could speak German fluently, he knew no shots had been fired at him in his attack on the tower, he had these prisoners lined up, he saw no threatening gesture or act. It is felt that his shooting into them was entirely unwarranted; the whole incident smacks of execution similar to the other incidents described in this report.
On the day that Dachau was liberated, white flags had been flying from all seven of the Dachau guard towers since 7 o’clock in the morning, according to Nerin E. Gun, a Turkish journalist who was a prisoner at Dachau. When American soldiers of the 42nd Infantry Division first entered the prison enclosure of the Dachau concentration camp, eight SS men descended from Tower G, the one closest to the gatehouse, and then surrendered with their hands in the air. One of the guards in Tower G was an SS man named Stahl, who survived to tell the story.
Eight guards from Tower A, which is on top of the gatehouse, then came down the stairs and surrendered to the Americans. The photo below shows the Waffen SS soldiers with their hands in the air after they had come down from the towers.
The dead bodies of some of the guards from Tower B were thrown into the canal which borders the western side of the Dachau camp. American soldiers continued to shoot at the bodies. The photo below shows one of the bodies being pulled out of the canal.
Here is the back story on the liberation of the Dachau camp:
Victor Maurer, a Red Cross representative from Switzerland, had arrived at the Dachau prison compound on April 27, 1945, two days before the liberation. Maurer had tried to persuade Obersturmführer Johannes Otto, the Adjutant to the last Commandant, Edward Weiter, to leave guards in the towers in order to secure the camp until the Americans arrived, but most of the regular guards left on April 28th, along with Martin Gottfried Weiss, the acting Commandant. The Commandant of the camp, Eduard Weiter, had already left on April 26th with a transport of prisoners headed toward Austria.
Finally, Maurer convinced SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker not to abandon the camp, but to leave guards posted in the towers to keep order until the prisoners could be turned over to armed American soldiers. Wicker was in charge of a group of SS men who had recently arrived at Dachau; they were former guards in three sub-camps of the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace. The guards, who were gunned down by Wells and the other American soldiers, had only been at Dachau for a few weeks and they were, in no way, responsible for the conditions in the camp.
Maurer knew that there were around 800 common criminals, including convicted murderers, who had been imprisoned at Dachau. He was fearful that an estimated 40,000 vengeful Dachau inmates would be released to wreak havoc in the surrounding area which was still a battle zone. There was also a typhus epidemic in the camp and Maurer did not want the prisoners to be released until the epidemic could be brought under control.
When an advance party from the 42nd Division arrived in a jeep on the street that borders the south side of the SS complex, they saw Maurer and Wicker waiting to surrender the camp under a white flag of truce. By that time, I Company of the 157th Regiment of the 45th Division had already arrived at the railroad gate into the SS camp, on the west side of the complex, almost a mile from the prison enclosure. Waffen-SS soldiers who had surrendered to I Company were immediately gunned down in the coal yard of the SS camp; this incident is usually referred to as the “Dachau massacre.”
You can see a color video of the liberation of Dachau here.