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Chapter 22

The train and the coal depot


The prisoners from then found out much later what happened before the true liberation of Dachau. For them this was a great moment - The Americans were there and they were free!


This is what soldier John Lee of the American 345th Infantry Division remembers about his shocking experiences on April 29, 1945.


“For me the war started in January 1945. I was sent to France to supplement the 157th regiment Infantry, which had suffered heavy losses in the Vosges.


It was the day after my nineteenth birthday. I came from a solid family and that year I had graduated from the Catholic boys school in Wilmington, Delaware. That is where we were taught good manners and respect for other peoples' opinions. But there was nothing in my upbringing that prepared me for the unimaginable and dehumanizing experiences that awaited me in Dachau.


My company was deployed in the Vosges and later in Neurenberg. In high tempo we chased young German troops ahead of us. We had to hitch rides on tanks and trucks to keep up with them. The morning of April 2nd, the 1st Company received orders to capture the city of Dachau and the concentration camp that was located just outside the city. For a boy of nineteen, Dachau was just another town in Bavaria, and a concentration camp was something like a prisoner of war camp. I had no idea what the word meant and certainly not that I would still remember, fifty years later.


We went to the city in tanks. Our company prepared to take the concentration camp. Because the bridges had been blown up, we had to proceed on foot. Railroad tracks led the way into the camp. We followed the tracks until we found thirty or forty freight cars. They were riddled with bullet holes. Inside were human wrecks in such deplorable condition that we could not believe our eyes. How was it possible that people could do something like this to each other. During the fighting we had seen fallen soldiers, gunshot wounds and burns. But this!


We were shocked to the core. Quite a few of us had tears in our eyes. The dead boys were laying there with their eyes open, as if to say: “Where were you guys all this time?”


Then came the anger. The boys started cursing and yelled: ”Let's kill the bastards!”. I had never seen my friends that furious.


Our commander, Lieutenant Walsh gave the order to empty the SS hospital and to bring everyone outside, sick or not sick. It was soon obvious that there was nothing wrong with most of the patients and that a lot of the SS-ers had donned Werhmacht uniforms. In the courtyard two prisoners were beating an SS-er with a stick. When we tried to intervene, one of the man dropped his pants. He had been castrated.


The SS-ers we caught were brought together in a kitchen storeroom next to the hospital.


They were defiant, refused to raise their hands in the air and cursed the Americans. The Lieutenant ordered us to set up a machine gun and to shoot if the SS-ers did not comply. When that did not happen, the machine gun sprang into action. Most bullets missed their target, but several SS-ers were hit. It is hard to say how many of them died.


Later on the story was that a hundred SS-ers were killed, but that is certainly not true. Altogether there were no more than sixty and after the shooting more than half were still alive.


That night we were housed in the bakery of the camp. It was a restless night, without sleep and with nightmares over what we had seen that day. The stench of the dead and the odor of the flour in the bakery - nobody could eat a bite. A lot of the boys had crying jags, others had diarrhea or threw up. We had trouble believing that what we had seen was reality.


The next day we went on. Munich had to be conquered.