THE LAST WORD: Dachau liberated on this date in 1945 — let’s never forget Holocaust!
Today marks a significant milestone in what should be a concerted, ongoing effort to preserve the account of one of the worst blights on human history — the Holocaust.
It was on April 29, 1945, that the U.S. 7th Army’s 45th Infantry Division liberated the first German Nazi concentration camp, Dachau. On the same day, a major satellite camp of Dachau was also liberated by the 42nd Rainbow Division.
Dachau was not the first concentration camp to be liberated, but the significance of its role in Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror makes its liberation stand out as a monumental, if not far too belated, victory against the forces of evil in World War II.
Majdanek was the first major concentration camp discovered by the advancing Soviets on July 23, 1944, according to historical accounts. Others pre-Dachau included Auschwitz, also liberated by the Soviets, on Jan. 27, 1945; Buchenwald, by the Americans on April 11, and Bergen-Belsen, by the British on April 15.
Of Dachau, Col. William W. Quinn of the U.S. 7th Army, said, “There our troops found sights, sounds and stenches horrible beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind.”
Dachau was established five weeks after Hitler became Germany’s chancellor in 1933. The camp was located about 10 miles northwest of Munich on the outskirts of the town of Dachau.
The camp initially held about 5,000 political prisoners, mostly German opponents of the Nazi regime. But in the next few years the prisoners included a wider variety of “undesirables” in Hitler’s Germany, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals. By 1938, Jews became the primary victims of internment.
According to history.com, Dachau was the training center for SS concentration camp guards and became a model for other Nazi concentration camps. It was also the first Nazi camp to use prisoners as human guinea pigs in medical experiments.
History records thousands died or were executed at Dachau, and thousands more who were too weak or sick to work were sent to an extermination center near Linz, Austria. Existing records show that while about 32,000 inmates died at Dachau and its subcamps, countless more were sent to extermination camps elsewhere.
Two days before the liberation of Dachau, some 7,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, made a death march from Dachau south to Tegernsee. The next day, many SS guards abandoned the camp. Then, on the 29th, the main camp was liberated after a brief battle with the camp’s remaining guards.
As they neared the camp, according to history.com, “the Americans found more than 30 railroad cars filled with bodies in various states of decomposition. Inside the camp there were more bodies and 30,000 survivors, most severely emaciated.”
Today, unbelievably, throughout the world are pockets of denial in which conspiracy theorists or anti-Semitics attempt to erase the Holocaust from history books, claiming it never happened.
Thankfully, supreme commander of the allied expeditionary forces in Europe, U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, decided to personally visit as many Nazi concentration camps as he could to document their existence and appalling conditions. He also ordered the filming and photographing of camps as they were liberated. Within months after the war in Europe, some of that film footage was used to create a one-hour documentary called “Nazi Concentration Camp,” which prosecutors used to prove that Nazi leaders on trial at Nuremberg had perpetrated unbelievably heinous crimes against humanity.
On April 12, 1945, Eisenhower saw his first concentration camp near the town of Gotha, according to an excerpt from his book, “Crusade in Europe.”
“I visited every nook and cranny of the camp,” he wrote, “because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that `the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.'”
Let this column be just one more declaration against the evil insanity of denying the historical truth of the genocide of up to 17 million people, including 6 million Jews.
Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.