Did Japanese-American Soldiers liberate Dachau?


The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which consisted entirely of Japanese-American soldiers, is acknowledged by the US Army as the liberators of one of the 123 sub-camps of Dachau, and also as the liberators, on May 2, 1945, of some of the prisoners who were on a death march out of the main Dachau camp.

The Go for Broke National Education Center web site has the following information about the sub-camp that was liberated by Japanese soldiers in the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion:

On April 29, 1945, several scouts were east of Munich in the small Bavarian town of Lager Lechfield when they saw a sight they would never forget. The Nisei came upon some barracks encircled by barbed wire. Technician Fourth Grade Ichiro Imamura described it in his diary:

"I watched as one of the scouts used his carbine to shoot off the chain that held the prison gates shut. . . They weren't dead, as he had first thought. When the gates swung open, we got our first good look at the prisoners. Many of them were Jews. They were wearing striped prison suits and round caps. It was cold and the snow was two feet deep in some places. There were no German guards. The prisoners struggled to their feet. . . They shuffled weakly out of the compound. They were like skeletons - all skin and bones. . ."

Holocaust historians conclude that the Nisei liberated Kaufering IV Hurlach. This camp housed about 3,000 prisoners. Hurlach was one of 169 subordinate slave labor camps of Dachau.

Contrary to claims made by the Go for Broke National Education Cener, the United States Holocaust Memorial Musuem and the US Army credit the 12th Armored Division of the US Seventh Army with the liberation of the Kaufering IV sub-camp of Dachau on April 27, 1945 with help from soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division, who arrived on April 28, 1945. Kaufering IV was one of 11 camps, all named Kaufering and numbered I through XI, which were located near Landsberg am Lech, not far from the city of Munich. Kaufering IV, which was near the town of Hurlach, had been designated as a sick camp where prisoners who could no longer work were sent.

Entrance to Kaufering IV sub-camp of Dachau

Photo Credit: USHMM

During World War II, the 522nd was attached to five different divisions. The official credit for liberating a sub-camp of Dachau and the marchers from the main camp was given to whatever division the 522nd was attached to at the time.

A new book entitled "Dachau, Holocaust and US Samurais - Nisei Soldiers first in Dachau" by Pierre Moulin tells the story of "the role played by very special liberators coming from 10 Concentration camps in USA: The US Samurais of the 522nd Field Artillery BN who were the first to reach the camp of Dachau." However, the U.S. Army does not recognize any Japanese-American soldiers as the liberators of the main Dachau camp.

This photo purportedly shows the liberation of Dachau

The photo above, which purportedly shows the liberation of Dachau by the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 100th Division, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, is from this web site: http://www.hirasaki.home.att.net. This photo was obviously not taken at the main Dachau camp, and it was not taken on April 29, 1945 when Dachau was liberated, judging by the amount of snow on the ground. The photo appears to have been taken after May 1, 1945 when it snowed in the Dachau area. One prisoner is holding a bed roll which indicates that these prisoners were on a march out of the main camp when they were discovered by Japanese troops, probably on May 2, 1945.

Two days before the main Dachau camp was liberated, there were 6,887 prisoners, half of whom were Jews, that were marched out of the camp. The marchers were liberated by American troops several days later after the German guards had abandoned them.

Jews and Russian POWs on march out of Dachau main camp

Solly Gaynor was one of the Jewish prisoners who was rescued on May 2nd from a march out of the main Dachau camp by a Japanese-American soldier. Gaynor is a Lithuanian Jew who was forced to work in a factory in the Kaunas ghetto from August 1941 to June 1944 when he was sent to Dachau to work in one of the sub-camps. In the last days of the war, the sub-camps were evacuated and the prisoners were marched to the main camp, from which some were sent on another march to the Bavarian Alps. Gaynor credits Japanese-American soldier Clarence Matsumura with saving his life.

The following quote is from the web site www.hirasaki.home.att.net:

Two liaison scouts from the 522d Field Artillery Bn, 100/442 RCT, were among the first Allied troops to release prisoners in the Dachau concentration camp. I watched as one of the scouts used his carbine to shoot off the chain that held the prison gates shut. He said he just had to open the gates when he saw a couple of the 50 or so prisoners, sprawled on the snow-covered ground, moving weakly. They weren't dead as he had first thought.

When the gates swung open, we got our first good look at the prisoners. Many of them were Jews. They were wearing black and white striped prison suits and round caps. A few had shredded blanket rags draped over their shoulders. It was cold and the snow was two feet deep in some places. There were no German guards. They had taken off before we reached the camp.

The above description of "the Dachau concentration camp" obviously refers to one of the many Dachau sub-camps, not the main camp.

The following quote is from an article written by Burt Takeuchi which was posted several years ago on the web site of the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee in San Jose, CA:

Liberation of Dachau by Japanese Americans
522nd Field Artillery Battalion 442nd RCT
April 29th 1945

The war in Europe was coming to a close as the Allies raced across Germany to Berlin. Elements of the US 7th Army chased the remnants of the German army retreating into Germany. Among the fastest moving units was the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion a Nisei (Second generation Japanese American) unit that was originally attached to the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The 442nd won the most decorations for any American unit for its size during WW2. The unit would win 7 Presidential Citations (5 while rescuing the Lost Texas Battalion in France 1944), 20 Medals of Honor (America's highest decoration for valor) and over 9000 Purple Hearts (decorations for wounds suffered in combat). The 522 had a reputation for having the fastest and most accurate fire in the US Army. They were hand picked by Gen. Eisenhower (Commander of Allied Forces in Europe) to help lead the attack into Germany. The 522nd liberated several of the sub camps near Dachau and actually opened the main gate at the Dachau concentration camp. Some 5000 survivors of the Dachau concentration camp were liberated by elements of the 522 on April 29th 1945.

On April 29th 1945, Staff Sgt. George Oiye was member of a forward observer team (patrols to search for targets for artillery to shoot ) for artillery battery C leading the 7th Army racing into Germany. Elements of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion were spread out over a 30 mile radius. They had orders to destroy military targets in Munich and to demolish the headquarters of the dreaded SS. They also had warnings to be on the look out for top Nazis such as Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun (Hitler's mistress). They chased the retreating German units, captured and disarmed them. According to 522 records they were the first Allied unit to reach Dachau.

Unintentional Liberators
"We weren't supposed to be there" said Oiye. Since they were spread out over such a wide area (30 KM) and Dachau was so big they simply ran into it. Japanese American soldiers shot the lock of the main gate of the outer perimeter fences. Then opened the barbed wire gates of the infamous crematorium the site were thousands of Jewish prisoners bodies were burned into ashes. The building had tall smoke stacks and large ovens with bodies smoldering still inside. Prisoners were often gassed or died of the harsh slave labor conditions at Dachau.

"A Hard Thing"
Oiye explained his reaction to visiting the infamous camp: He was mainly on the muddy roads out side the camp when it started to snow. "It was very cold and he saw the prisoners shivering. Some were in very bad shape,"emaciated, sick, diseased, bugs crawling on them and dying" He recalled the stripped suits they wore and some had no shoes. Oiye and his fellow soldiers gave the prisoners their extra gloves, bed rolls, and food. His reaction to the prisoners: "we were not prepared to deal with coming across a concentration camp." "We came across by accident and were not prepared. It was a hard thing" He remembered that he " felt bewildered, then angry and fearful. " Oiye explained the sense of guilt "that mankind had transgressed so far.... the worst case of sin I know of."

"War was one thing but that kind of treatment of mankind; that is not normal" Oiye stated. Some of the 522nd soldiers found ladies handbags made of human skin. He could remember seeing "intricate" tattoos on these handbags. Gloves and lampshades were also found to made of human skin. Other soldiers reported that dozens of prisoners that were horribly tortured and murdered.

Note that the article quoted above mentions that the Japanese-American liberators "opened the barbed wire gates of the infamous crematorium." The barbed wire gate, through which today's tourists enter into the crematorium area at Dachau, was not there when the camp was liberated. The crematorium was outside the prison compound and not surrounded by barbed wire. There were no bodies smoldering inside the ovens on the day the main camp was liberated because the Germans had run out of coal to burn the corpses as early as October 1944.

In an e-mail to me on July 5, 2007, the author of the above article, Burt Takeuchi, wrote the following correction:

The sighting of bodies smoldering was made by Oiye probably after the WW2 was over. He recalled seeing smoke rising from the smoke stack at the crematorium. I do not think it is an over site on his part.

After the liberation of Dachau, the American Army took over the camp and burned 800 bodies in the crematory ovens, including the bodies of the SS soldiers who were killed during the liberation.

If any ladies handbags made of human skin were ever found at Dachau, they were not put into evidence at the American Military Tribunal where the Dachau Commandant and 39 of his staff members were put on trial. There were 31,432 survivors of the main Dachau camp who were liberated on April 29, 1945, not 5,000 as claimed in this article by the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee in San Jose, CA. Most of the prisoners in the sub-camps had been marched to the main camp and only a few sick prisoners had been left in the sub-camps.

Burt Takeuchi, the author of the article about the 522nd, wrote the following correction in an e-mail to me on July 5, 2007:

The figure of 5000 survivors liberated is not the total of the Dachau camp population. It is the number of survivors that were estimated to be encountered by the 522nd in sub camps, near the Main Camp and along the roads traveling to Dachau. Yes, over 30000 survivors were liberated in the entire liberation by the Allies.

Does it really matter which unit is first to Dachau? I think its more important that they stopped and tried to help the survivors. The Allies are all in the same army and in the same cause.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was composed of second generation Japanese-Americans (Nisei), but commanded by Caucasian officers, was a volunteer unit that was created on February 1, 1943. One third of the soldiers in the 442nd were recruited from the 70,000 native-born Japanese-Americans, who had been interned on the American mainland, and the remainder were Japanese-American volunteers from Hawaii.

A Japanese veteran featured in Spielberg's film, "The Last Days," was Katsugo Miho who told the story of how the 522nd liberated one of the sub-camps of Dachau. According to the book based on "The Last Days," Miho told the following story:

Our reconnaissance squad shot open the locks to one of the sub-camps and allowed thousands of inmates to get out. Starving, looking like the walking dead, they began to roam the snow-covered countryside, just trying to find something to eat. The Germans had been using horses to cart their artillery and supplies, so there were a lot of dead horses lying along the roadsides. Against their better judgment, these inmates were stripping the horses and eating the flesh. Some of them died because they couldn't digest something like that.


In the meantime, whilst I was in and around Dachau, my Dad was still considered a Prisoner of War and being interned in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Many members of the 442nd RCT throughout the war had parents, brothers and sisters in the so-called Relocation Centers throughout the United States.

Allach sub-camp of Dachau, April 30, 1945

The photo above, which shows the liberation of the Allach sub-camp of Dachau on April 30, 1945, is from this web site: www.jamsj.org/442team.html.

The following explanation for the photo above was copied from the web site:

These Jewish prisoners at Dachau are celebrating their release by the 522nd Artillery Unit. The American flag was provided by the Japanese American soldiers. Many of the Jewish prisoners look healthy and strong because they were among the group recently brought to Dachau from areas where they were used as hard laborers.

Contrary to the claims made by the web site of the 442nd RCT, this photo was not taken at the Dachau main camp, but rather at the Allach sub-camp which was liberated by the 42nd Rainbow Division of the US Seventh Army. The prisoners in the photo look healthy and strong because the typhus epidemic had not spread to Allach until about a week before it was liberated, so there were not many sick prisoners. Just before the main Dachau camp was liberated, prisoners had been brought there from the sub-camps, but this is not a photo of the main camp. Note the wooden fence in the background which proves that this is not the main Dachau camp.

Claims made by African American soldiers

Which Jewish Chaplain first entered Dachau?

Who entered Dachau first?

The account of Frank Burns of the 42nd Division

Back to Dachau Liberation

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This page was last updated on April 30, 2009