Liberation

According to Michael Selzer, author of "Deliverance Day, the Last Hours at Dachau," the camp was liberated at 17:28 hours on Sunday, April 29, 1945 by American troops of the US Seventh Army. Although it was at the end of April , the weather was very cold and there was a dusting of snow. Some of the prisoners were wearing overcoats. There was one American Prisoner of War, Major Rene J. Guiraud from Cicero, IL, in the Dachau camp when it was liberated and 5 other Americans who were civilians living in Germany when the war started, according to Marcus J. Smith in his book "The Harrowing of Hell."

According to survivor Nerin E. Gun, there were 11 Americans imprisoned at Dachau at various times in its history. There were approximately 90,000 American POWs in camps in Germany, and 375,000 German POWs in American camps, according to a book entitled "Nazi Prisoners of War in America," by Arnold Krammer. Most of the Americans who were stranded in Nazi occupied Europe during World War II were sent to the prisoner exchange camp at Bergen-Belsen which had turned into a disaster area after Germany was reduced to a pile of rubble by Allied bombing at the end of the war. The Belsen camp had just been turned over to the British two weeks before on April 15, 1945 and the world had gotten the first indication of the magnitude of the Nazi atrocities when newsreel pictures were shown of the naked corpses being shoved into mass graves by British bulldozers.

According to Michael Selzer in his book "Deliverance Day," the prisoners at the Dachau Concentration Camp made an American flag in the days before American troops arrived and they hoisted the flag on liberation day. Several writers about the Dachau camp have mentioned the International Committee of Dachau Prisoners, a secret organization of Communist inmates which governed the camp. It was the Communists who formed the official welcoming committee for the American liberators.

The majority of the prisoners in the Dachau camp on liberation day were civilians from German occupied Poland, numbering 9,082, including 96 women, who were brought to the camp as slave laborers, according to official American Army documents. In his book "The Day of the Americans," Nerin E. Gun wrote that some of the survivors had been in the Dachau camp for 11 years. Many who were incarcerated in the first year of the camp were released after serving time, according to the Museum Guidebook. One survivor was Ernst Kroll, a Communist, who was sent to the camp a few months after it opened in 1933 and was still there on liberation day. According to Michael Selzer in his book about the liberation, Kroll said that the camp had "deteriorated terribly" in the last few months before it was liberated. Kroll said the camp "was beginning to look like Calcutta," referring to the temporary structures that had been created with poles and blankets on the sides of the barracks.

American Seventh Army soldiers from two different divisions approached the Dachau camp from two directions. The 45th Thunderbird division, approaching from the southwest discovered dead bodies in 39 open freight cars on a train that had been abandoned just outside the SS garrison. According to survivor Nerin E. Gun, there were 2,310 corpses found on the train and on the ground nearby, including 21 children and 83 women. A U.S. Army photo in the exhibition at the Museum shows American soldiers viewing the bodies of victims on this freight train. Before the bodies were removed from the train and buried, the American liberators took advantage of this opportunity to bring young boys who were members of the Hitler Youth to see what the Nazis had done, according to Robert H. Abzug, author of "Inside the Vicious Heart."

Dachau guards executed

According to Michael Selzer, the residents of the town of Dachau had hung white bed sheets from their windows to signal their surrender as American soldiers marched through the town on their way to liberate the Dachau camp. At the camp, there were also white flags which had been flying from the guard towers since early morning, but according to his account, there was machine gun fire directed at the prisoners by the SS guards, and the American soldiers killed the guards in the towers. A U.S. Army photograph shows guard tower B on the west side of the camp with six dead SS guards on the ground. Tower B is near the canal, which was known as the Würm river, along the west perimeter of the camp . Some of the German guards were shot in the waist deep canal, with their hands up. The enraged American soldiers who had just seen the dead bodies in the crematoria then pumped more bullets into the dead bodies of the German guards. The Doberman guard dogs were also shot in their kennels just outside the concentration camp.

In his book "Deliverance Day," Michael Selzer wrote that the American liberators marched 122 of the German SS soldiers, who had surrendered at the Dachau Concentration Camp, to a wall and with their hands up, shot them with machine guns. Included was the Commander of the SS garrison, Heinrich Skodzensky, who had only moments before surrendered the camp to Colonel Jackson of the 45th Thunderbird division, saying in English, "I am the commanding officer of the guard in the camp, and I herewith surrender the camp to your forces." Skodzensky was shot along with the others, dressed in his immaculate black SS uniform. Robert H. Abzug wrote in his book "Inside the Vicious Heart" that the American soldiers were enraged by Skodzensky's clean uniform and shined boots in these squalid surroundings. No SS records of an SS officer named Skodzensky have ever been found.

According to Selzer, the U.S. Army photograph which is included on this website shows three SS guards still standing after the second round of shots. A book entitled "Dachau, Hour of the Avenger" by Col. Howard A. Buechner, the chief medical officer of the 45th Thunderbird Division, reports that a total of 520 German SS guards were executed on the day of liberation at Dachau. Afterwards, the inmates were allowed to finish off the guards that were only wounded by the firing squad, and to beat to death some of the remaining guards, according to Abzug.

There are no photos of the execution of the German guards exhibited at the Dachau museum. A sign on the wall of the gatehouse in honor of the 7th Army which liberated the camp is written in English, French and German. The German version uses the English word "Liberators." The German people today celebrate their defeat in World War II as their "liberation from the Nazis."

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