I donít remember where I was stationed when all of this began. In my quarters, which was a rather large building, another officer was also in residence. He was a flyer with our squadron. One night he came into my room and stated that he, in addition to his squadron duties, had authority from the United States Army Graves Registration. He had received orders from Graves Registration headquarters for him to proceed to a concentration camp outside of Munich, Germany, known as Dachau. His purpose was to determine if any Americans had been imprisoned, executed and/or buried in this prison camp. I was asked if I would accompany him on this mission. I stated that I would in the event that I could get permission from my squadron commander to leave the base for this purpose. Needless to say, the authority was quickly given and this officer, who I will call Lt. B, and I proceeded to go to Dachau.
We went to Munich and received a jeep for an unlimited period of time, and drove to the prison camp. As we approached, the old trees on both sides of the road completely covered the road like a roof. You had the impression that you were going into a tunnel. On the left side of the road and parallel to it, we noted there was a high masonry fence or wall of a sort. It was constructed of stone and mortar and was approximately eight to ten feet high. On top of the wall embedded in cement were jagged pieces of broken glass that ran the entire length of the wall. The wall seemed to extend for some two hundred or three hundred yards down this road. Beyond the wall, or at its termination, there seemed to be wire or barbed wire fences that went on for a considerable distance. Behind these wire walls were one-story buildings. In the yards, surrounding the buildings, were people milling around who appeared to be prisoners. Later we found out that thatís exactly what they were. They were SS men who had been arrested and were awaiting possible trial and punishment. This picture
will give you some idea of what the scene looked like, in the distance, as we moved along this road. Note that there is a high guard tower in evidence on the right hand side that was guarding the wire walls and the prisoners.
About a hundred yards down the masonry wall, was a gate that opened for entrance, into the compound in back of the wall. As we turned into the compound, within the masonry wall, we noted that it, was quite large and included several buildings. In addition, we saw a long building with a red tile roof. Like the others it appeared to be one-story tall. It turned out it was one story above ground, but there was a huge basement underneath it. This photo,
shows the sign and what we saw as we came into the compound. The sign had been put there by American troops.
We were given a guide that furnished all of the information about the operation of the camp, pointing out and explaining in detail, the horrible things we saw.
Our guide said that the sign had been placed by the American troops that occupied this prison camp after its liberation. This building that housed the crematorium was in three parts. There was the center part that housed the ovens. The left 1/3 of this building housed the gas chamber. The right 1/3 of the building was a storage area where they stored the bodies until they could get them to the ovens for cremation. As it was explained to me, the prisoners would be brought into this compound and walked up to the building. On the left side of the building was a walkway going toward the rear of the building. On the walkway were clothes racks. The same racks that you would see in a department store for hanging clothes. The prisoners were told that they were going to be given a bath and to have their clothes de-loused. They were required to strip naked. Their clothes were put on these racks, purportedly to be retrieved after the bath, or later that same day.
A little farther down from the racks on the wall of the building was this tremendous iron door
in this picture. This iron door opened into a windowless room that I estimated to be approximately thirty by thirty feet, with a very low ceiling. The floor was tile or inlaid brick and had drain openings in the floor. In the ceiling, protruding from the ceiling, were nozzles that looked like garden hose nozzles. They would walk these nude prisoners into this room, then close and lock the door. The door could not be opened from inside the room.
A soldier behind a glass window would operate the controls shown here
But, instead of water, it was poisonous gas! When I was inside this room and was inspecting the interior; particularly the door, I noted that on the inside surface of this iron or steel door, there were fingernail scratches where people in their agony and desperation had tried to tear up the iron door with their bare hands.
After the execution of these prisoners, they would open the steel door and back a truck up near this opening. They would take the bodies out and stack them in the bed of the truck with the head toward the cab and the feet out toward the tailgate. After they loaded all the bodies, they then drove around the building to the other side, to what I would call the storage room. The storage room in this shot
you will note, had three or four steps leading up to the entrance to the storage room. The truck would back the tailgate up to the steps. Soldiers would then grab the (supposed) dead bodies by the feet and yank them out and bang the heads on the steps. If the prisoner was not completely dead, he would be done away with-instantly! The bodies were taken into the storage room and stacked like wood.
You will see that I am pointing to something up on the wall here
It is a human footprint. This will give you some idea how many bodies were piled in there. Note particularly from about my waist down in the picture, there seems to be a layer of dark smudges all along the wall. As near as we could determine, this was blood and other bodily floods that escaped when the bodies were stacked, before they could be destroyed.
When convenient, they would move the bodies into the crematory area
I donít think that this picture shows it, but the bodies were placed on an iron stretcher or bed-like unit, before they were put into the ovens, Each corpse had a little clay disk wired onto either the leg or the arm. The disk was later used as an identification of the remains.
The soldier that accompanied us, is holding one of the pots to show the little clay disk that was placed on top of the ashes for identification . After the body was cremated, they would scrape the ashes into a metal pot, as shown here
In addition, on top of this pot there was a snap-in lid that had the information about the person, date of death, age, and nationality. The pot in thiis picture was interpreted by the soldier, to contain ashes of a nine year old, Romanian boy. The accumulation of these pots must have been rather large. I donít know how long it took to cremate a body. They must have done it rather quickly. When they had many of these pots, they took them down in the basement and stacked them up like fruit jars. It was my unhappy chore to go into the basement to see what was there. It was a room of horror! Someone had been into this basement-knocked down a lot of these pots, the tops had come off, and the floor was covered in cremated human remains. As you walked, it would crunch underneath your feet and would send a chill up and down your spine. In the basement, there were (I would guess) thousands of these pots.
Proceeding out of the building into the compound, we noticed and discovered that this must have been a compound for gruesome fun and games by the guards. Note again that this compound was large and was completely surrounded by this huge eight-ten foot fence with broken glass on top of it. Examining this compound, we found that the situation was even more horrible than we had expected. For instance, there was a tree that had been used for hanging prisoners and the branches seem to have been well used. The tree can be seen in this shot
although I donít believe you can see the wear on the limbs. you will also see that there is a wooden structure near this tree that was a doghouse. It seems that the guards, for fun and games, would turn a prisoner loose in this compound (from which he couldnít escape) and then they would release their large dogs to attack and tear the prisoner to pieces-all for the entertainment of the guards.
Very close by the body storage shed was a big ďTĒ shaped mound of dirt. It was used for the purpose of kneeling the prisoners and shooting them in the back of the head. You can see the mound here
But, the worst thing that I saw you will see here. This
shows a pit that at one time had a roof that could be closed and locked. It goes down some five or six feet. I am there in the pit. I donít think that Iím standing up, but Iím not kneeling very much. At the bottom of this pit, the pit turns to the right for a distance of about thirty feet in the form of a tunnel, approximately three feet high by four feet wide. In this pit and tunnel, they would keep rats (with the top closed, of course) and would not feed them periodically. At certain times they would not feed them at all! It was great sport to put a prisoner in this pit, close and lock the top, and leave him there, until.... well, you can imagine what the rats did and what happened to that person.
The next two photos show the interior of some of the other buildings that were there in the compound. This
is a mock-up of a person hanging from the wall and was either done by the guards in the camp, or someone had done it to visualize and show an example of how people were treated. But, that picture does not show a live person. In another room of the building, somebody had written ďTo Hitlerís deathĒ, which is this picture
After going through this crematorium and the compound itself, and seeing all the various things that happened there, Lt. B conducted an investigation, but what he found is not known to me. Later that evening, we drove back to Munich. On the way back and a very short drive from this place of horrors; we saw on a little hill, overlooking one of the most beautiful valleys and little streams that you have ever seen, a little German cafť or tearoom. We stopped at this tearoom and went in; were greeted warmly, had tea and the most wonderful German chocolate cake I think I have ever tasted. The conflict and contradiction between that horrible camp and this place of tranquility and peace was mind-boggling. You question your own sanity. One thing, though, is certain: When Dachau was in operation, a part of our world had gone stark, raving mad.
I am including this shot
which is a picture of Lt. Bís bulldog. Honestly he was the dumbest animal I think I ever met. He was a delight, though, and a beautiful dog. We did not take him on this trip to Dachau, but I thought youíd be interested in seeing ďOlí John BullĒ.