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US troops liberated Dachau concentration camp 75 years ago

survivors in Dachau cheer approaching U.S. troops. (Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain)
April 29, 2020

Seventy-five years ago the U.S. Army liberated Dachau, a concentration camp operated by Nazi Germany during World War II.

On April 29, 1945 the U.S. Army’s 42nd Infantry Division, now a part of the New York Army National Guard, uncovered the concentration camp in the town of Dachau, near Munich Germany. According to a press release by the New York National Guard, the frontline soldiers in the Army unit knew there was a prison camp in the area, but knew few details about the camp’s true nature.

“What the Soldiers discovered next at Dachau left an impression of a lifetime,” the division assistant chaplain (Maj.) Eli Bohnen wrote at the time, according to the release. ““Nothing you can put in words would adequately describe what I saw there. The human mind refuses to believe what the eyes see. All the stories of Nazi horrors are underestimated rather than exaggerated.”

The U.S. Army unit uncovered thousands of bodies of men, women and children held in the concentration camp.

“There were over 4,000 bodies, men, women and children in a warehouse in the crematorium,” Lt. Col. Walter Fellenz, commander of the 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry, said in his report. “There were over 1,000 dead bodies in the barracks within the enclosure.”

“Riflemen, accustomed to witnessing death, had no stomach for rooms stacked almost ceiling high with tangled human bodies adjoining the cremation furnaces, looking like some maniac’s woodpile,” wrote Tech. Sgt. James Creasman, a division public affairs NCO in the 42nd Division World News, May 1, 1945.

“Dachau is no longer a name of terror for hunted men. 32,000 of them have been freed by the 42nd Rainbow Division,” Creasman wrote of the liberation.

The U.S. Holocaust Museum placed the estimated number of those freed from the camp at more than 60,000.

“It is all a horrible memory…To liberate this camp alone was sufficient reason for our war with Germany,” the museum’s tweet reads, quoting U.S. Army Col. Alexander Zabin’s remarks about the camp.

On Wednesday, members of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet and the Israeli Defense Force bands played the Israeli national anthem in tribute to a survivor at the Dachau concentration camp who later became an Israeli national.

April 29 also marks the 72nd anniversary of Israel’s founding as a nation. Israel was formed on April 29, 1948 exactly three years after the Dachau liberation.