On April 29, 1945, as the United States Seventh Army was advancing toward Munich, the men of the 42nd and 45th Infantry Divisions came upon an unexpected installation just outside the city. That installation, the concentration camp, Dachau, was guarded by only a hundred German soldiers, but it held over thirty thousand prisoners, many barely alive. The emaciated prisoners, the stacked corpses, the stench of decay revealed to these men a horror they could never have imagined, forcing them to confront Nazi atrocities and turning them into witnesses to the Holocaust.
In Dachau 29 April 1945, dozens of men from the 42nd “Rainbow” Division describe what they saw when they entered the camp. Their writings form a collective memoir of the unit and an unassailable record of the day. These unaltered, first-hand accounts possess a unique power and impact, offering “eyewitness reaction from the heart and the gut.” Their vivid recollections stand as testimony of the Holocaust, but they also draw us into the minds and hearts of the liberators, most of them young men, not even twenty-years-old, suddenly face to face with unimaginable horror. The writings reveal the extent to which these men could confront this outrageous reality. Some passages come alive with detail -- the acrid odor, the dull eyes of the sick and dying, the fear or arrogance of the SS guards -- while others stop at the camp’s gate, memory crippled -- consciously or not -- from that point forward, a bad dream not to be relived.
But this collection helps us all to experience it, with writings ranging from those prepared that day or soon after -- official reports, newspaper pieces, letters home -- to others written decades later. Contributors include enlisted men and officers, combat veterans and first-timers, soldiers and chaplains, liberators and survivors. Each entry lends depth and detail to the picture of a camp just liberated. They write of the survivors catching site of the advancing Americans and charging the gates, of sporadic resistance from a few pockets of German soldiers not yet ready to surrender, of assessing and securing the camp, taking prisoners, and witnessing acts of revenge against the German guards. Though the described scenes and circumstances vary, through virtually all the stories runs a common thread, namely, the soldiers’ attempts to come to grips with what they discovered.
For members of the Rainbow Division, perhaps their contributions to Dachau 29 April 1945 have helped them grasp the reality of what they saw and the import of their place in history, but that is not why they wrote this book. As the editor makes clear, the book was written to stand against Holocaust deniers and revisionists, “to preserve the memory of Dachau so that evil will be recognized and remembered.” It is their way of continuing the fight they took up nearly sixty years ago.
Dachau 29 April 1945 includes over ninety personal statements describing conditions or events relating to Dachau’s liberation. Each soldier’s testimony is preceded by a brief biographical statement usually touching upon his wartime experiences and postwar life. The book also includes numerous black-and-white photographs, drawings, maps, poetry, end notes, and an index.
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|TABLE OF CONTENTS|
|FOREWORD BY JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN||vii|
|INTRODUCTION BY BARBARA DISTEL||xv|
|SIX OFFICIAL REPORTS||11|
|The Battalion Commander||29|
|The International Prisoners Committee||35|
|An American Inmate||38|
|THE RAINBOW DIVISION’S OFFICIAL CORRESPONDENTS||41|
|GENERAL LINDEN’S GROUP||49|
|THROUGH THE LENS OF THE PHOTOGRAPHERS AND THE ARTIST||61|
|COMPLETING THE PICTURE||67|
|Sunday, April 29||68|
|Monday, April 30||144|
|DACHAU FROM WITHOUT||167|
|JUST OUTSIDE OF DACHAU||187|
|STORIES FROM BEHIND THE WIRE||191|
|THE RAINBOW AFTER DACHAU||215|
|The Rainbow Division’s Memorial Foundation||215|
|A Conference at Drew University||217|
|Humanitarian Aid Projects||232|
|TWO ROADS TO DACHAU||239|