Which Jewish Chaplain first entered Dachau?
Rabbi David Max Eichhorn and Rabbi Eli Bohnen were the first Jewish chaplains to enter the Dachau concentration camp; both arrived on April 30, 1945, the day following the liberation. The first Jewish religious service was held by Rabbi Eichhorn on May 5, 1945.
Three weeks after the liberation of Dachau, Rabbi Abraham Klausner was transferred from Paris to Dachau to work with the 116th Evacuation Hospital in caring for the survivors. Klausner became an advocate for the Jewish survivors at Dachau and persuaded the US Army to give them better treatment in the camp while they were being held in quarantine until the typhus epidemic was over.
In 1945, Rabbi Eichhorn was a Captain in the US Army XV Corps. The first Shabbat service at Dachau, which he conducted, was filmed by George Stevens and it was included in the film about the liberation of the Nazi camps.
The letters of Rabbi Eichhorn have been collected into a book entitled "The G.I.'s Rabbi" edited by his grandson, Mark S. Zeid. The following is a quote from a letter he wrote after seeing Dachau:
We saw 39 boxcars loaded with Jewish dead in the Dachau railway yard, 39 carloads of little, shriveled mummies that had literally been starved to death; we saw the gas chambers and crematoria, still filled with charred bones and ashes. And we cried not merely tears of sorrow. We cried tears of hate.
Rabbi Eli A. Bohnen was with the 42nd Rainbow Division. On May 1, 1945, Rabbi Bohnen wrote the following in a letter to his wife, Eleanor:
.... We entered the camp itself and saw the living. The Jews were the worst off. Many of them looked worse than the dead. They cried as they saw us. I spoke to a large group of Jews. I don't remember what I said, I was under such mental strain, but Heimberg (my assistant) tells me that they cried as I spoke. Some of the people were crying all the time we were there. They were emaciated, diseased, beaten, miserable caricatures of human beings. I don't know how they didn't all go mad. There were thousands and thousands of prisoners in the camp. Some of them didn't look too bad but most looked terrible. And as I said, the Jews were the worst. Even the other prisoners who suffered miseries themselves couldn't get over the horrible treatment meted out to the Jews.
This page was last updated on September 23, 2007