There is considerable disagreement among the US 7th Army soldiers as to who was the first soldier to enter the gate of the Dachau concentration camp on liberation day, April 29, 1945. The gate with its sign that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” is shown above. Translated into English, the words mean “work makes you free.”
On March 17, 1986, Private First Class John Degro, the lead scout of I Company, 3rd BN, 157th Infantry, 45th Division, wrote a statement regarding his claim to have been the first American soldier to set foot inside the notorious Dachau camp. Col. Howard Buechner, a 45th Division Medical Corps officer, included Degro’s statement in his book entitled “Dachau, the Hour of the Avenger.” The following quote is Degro’s words from Buechner’s book:
As lead scout, I shot the lock off the gate and entered the compound. There were 32,000 inmates, screaming, between hugging and kissing us. The stench was unbearable. We backed out the gate, let a few inmates out and gave them weapons. We cleaned out the guard towers, took knapsacks off of the dead SS and threw them over the barbed wire into the compound.