of the Greater Quad City Area
I was with the 217th Military Police Company attached to the 15th Corps which was attached to several different armies, starting with the 1st Army and the 3rd Army. Then I was with the 7th Army and then the 9th Army. We landed in France 35 days after D-Day and proceeded with Patton's Army for quite a while. Then, right before the breakthrough, we changed to what I think was the 7th Army. Our company got into Dachau two or three days after the infantry had taken it. I'm not quite sure which infantry division it was. The sights were unbelievable.
We knew about concentration camps through newspaper articles, and so on. The first personal encounter, for myself and members of my company, was at Dachau. The troops were told little purposely. They weren't told where they were going, so, if they were captured, they wouldn't know anything. Everyone was really surprised that we ended up in Dachau. We were military police, and one of our basic duties was to handle traffic. We got to Dachau, and they were still burning the bodies. We saw the pile of dead German soldiers. I'm glad we weren't there when they were shot. We didn't see who shot them or we would have had to arrest the GIs. We noticed that all the ring fingers of the Germans were gone.
There was a pile of clothing that was several stories high. That will give you some idea of how many people had been gassed. While we were there, they were continuing to burn the bodies. There was a huge room that contained several furnaces and they were still burning bodies there. I looked purposefully to see if they were killing women. I saw only one female body there, but I knew they were gassing women as well. I saw the train and probably a couple hundred of dead bodies. What got me was the shape of the bodies...they were just skin and bone. They had literally been starved to death. I don't know why they bothered to gas them, but they did. Ex-prisoners were all around. One day, we were flagged down by a prisoner as we went through the little town of Dachau. He got in the jeep and he told us where an SS soldier was in town. We went looking for him, We just missed him. He had just left...his pack was still laying on his bed.
As to the question about whether the people in the town knew, most of the people in the town were families of the guards who worked at Dachau. They knew. This wasn't true of all of Germany, but the people in that town knew. Near the camps the army had put up these information stations in various towns where they supplied Germans with news about the war, etc. They had posted photographs of Dachau in this one place, and this buddy (who spoke some German) and I would stand around and listen to the comments of the German people as they looked at the photographs. Most of the people said they didn't believe what they saw. They believed they were seeing mannequins. They just refused to believe that the concentration camps existed. To what degree that was prevalent, I have no idea. But, I must say that many of the people didn't know this was going on. But I also believe that many, many did. The whole thing was just unbelievable to me. It demonstrates the depths that human beings can sink to. Here's a guy, he's got his family, nice house and kids, living in a beautiful town, and he goes to work every day and kills people. Heaven help us! It's something I'll never forget. It's still almost unbelievable. I can understand why people of German descent still vehemently deny it ever happened!
I wasn't at any other camps. Our primary purpose for being at Dachau was to insure that the Germans did not disturb what was there. We were there for a couple of weeks, and while we were there, a committee of the U.S. Congress toured the place. Later on, we went up to Salzburg, Austria, when the war ended. We had the job to transport war criminals to the war trials. Several of us were doing this every day for a couple of weeks. That was the purpose of letting the congressional committee see that camp the way it was. They wanted to see the camp and see the evidence in case it might be destroyed. There was no attempt to do so. The civilian population of the town was greatly diminished. Lots of guards were dead, and those who weren't dead were gone.
I have two messages for young people today. Number one, You've got to have faith in God that sooner or later all will work out. And, number two, while you're waiting, you've got to be prepared. We've got to teach our young people about the Holocaust, as an example of what can happen. Especially, I think it's important that they see that the Holocaust can be the result of prejudice. We've got to teach our kids not to be prejudiced. It's very important to teach them not to be prejudiced. Most starts in the home. Kids pick it up from parents.