of the Greater Quad City Area
I was born and raised in Davenport. Just before the draft started I joined the national guard in Davenport. After training in Louisiana, New Jersey and North Carolina, I was sent overseas to Africa for about two months, and then we left there and disembarked in Naples, Italy. We were there until from December, 1942, to May, 1943. We came into France 50 days after the invasion, and continued on into Germany to Luxembourg. We were finally just outside Salzburg, Austria. I was a special agent attached to the 13th Brigade which had a one-star general, and I stayed with them mostly, and took messages from them back to our place, driving all over the countryside when I was busy.
I got to Nuremberg the day the corps of engineers was bulldozing a track through town so we could get through. I went in 2 or 3 miles and there was nothing standing that I ever saw...except two sides of a hotel. In fact, everything was gone. From the town I proceeded about 25 miles to the southwest. I had heard about Dachau, so I proceeded down the road and spoke to a couple of photographers. They told me the way to a small village about 1/2 mile off the main road. There was a railroad inlet there, and as I drove in I saw 17 cattle cars with the bodies of all these people, about 10 feet high. The bodies were dressed in black and white uniforms just like the prisoners wore, and they were being taken into the camp to be cremated. Each one of these persons had a tag on a toe with a number on it. The Germans had their names and numbers on papers, so that when they got cremated, their families could buy their ashes back...they put them in a flower pot.
The crematorium was maybe 1/2 block long and 1/2 block wide. In the middle of it were 10 or 12 long grates. They'd stack bodies on them to be burnt, then they'd put the ashes in flower pots. When the people contacted them, they could buy back the ashes of their loved ones. Someone said that $50 was the cheapest they could pay. At the end of the building, the clothes were piled up. They would clean those and ship them back for the next group to come in. The flower pots were at the opposite end of the building, in a large room. Imagine, an entire room filled with flower pots...you know there were thousands of people cremated there.
know what infantry went through there first, but I got behind a LIFE
photographer as he took pictures of the barracks and everyone they could. The
barracks were still crammed with prisoners. The prisoners were in shock. Just
outside of the barracks, there was a long pole, like a telephone pole. Some
prisoners were tied to the poles, so their feet wouldn't touch the ground. When
the police dog came around, if they tried to kick or move, the dogs would chew
or bite them...horrible deal. This Jewish boy I saw was hurt, so we helped
him. Before we came, he was taking care of the barracks, doing the dirty work
for the Germans. I got to talk to him because he could speak a little English.
He said that he saw the infantry coming in, so he took a shovel and hit a
German in charge of the barracks on the head and killed him. He was happy then,
even after all he had gone through...even after all his friends had been
cremated. He told us lots of stories. Just horrible!
I was there 2-3 hours after they were liberated. I think they were taken over at 7 a.m. and I was there by 10 a.m. with the LIFE photographer. They really treated them bad! I was there so early that food and medicine hadn't arrived yet. We were just trying to get them out of the barracks...to get them fresh air and sunshine. It was really gruesome. The prisoners looked to be in shock and were starved. Starved and shocked. Anyone who says it didn't happen is a bunch of goofies. I saw 17 boxcars of people...they were starved to death! I was there for about two hours.
The question is often asked about how the people who lived there, who lived so close, couldn't have known. They knew what was going on! They had to. There was a smell from burning bodies, a stench that you don't forget. There was so much stench from the burning. The first ones in, the stench was horrible! Before it got cleaned out, German civilians were taken through it. When I went back to my unit, I told them what I saw and most of those men had a chance to go see for themselves. They couldn't believe there were 17 cattle cars full of bodies. The air going through and they had no coats or anything. They had either frozen to death or starved to death. I was just 21 years old. I just couldn't believe it. How anyone could do anything like that, you had to be out of your mind. Back in the states I had never heard or seen anything like this.
The message I want to leave with young people is that I think every student should spend two years in the military service. This would help young people grow up and learn to take care of themselves. For example, in Switzerland, when kids get out of school, they all have to spend nine months in the military. Then, once every year, they go for two weeks to brush up, like our National Guard.