After the Liberation of Dachau
Many American soldiers, who visited Dachau after the liberation, took photographs which they sent home to their families, along with a description of what they had witnessed. The photographs below are from the G.J. Dettore Collection. They were taken by an American soldier who was at Dachau in early May 1945 after the liberation on April 29, 1945. The caption on the back of the first photo reads "This is a view of the Concentration Camp at Dachau. The fence is electrically charged and with very high voltage. Some of the prisoners are at the right in a large body. 13,000 were released when I was there. Billy"
Notation of the back of photograph taken by American soldier
Photo shows the electrically charged barbed wire fence at Dachau
The photograph below was taken from the west side of the camp where the Würm river forms a moat between the prison enclosure and the area where the crematorium was located. Some of the bodies of the German soldiers who were killed during the liberation were still floating in the river when the first soldiers arrived to see the carnage.
West side of Dachau camp with Würm river in foreground Former Polish prisoners demonstrate on the Appellplatz at Dachau
The photograph immediately above, from the G.J. Dettore Collection, shows former Polish prisoners at Dachau carrying signs as they march on the Appellplatz where prisoners had to stand for roll call every morning and evening before they were liberated by the Americans. This photo was taken on the east side of the camp by an American soldier in May 1945. Note the gate house with Tower A on top of it on the left-hand side and the line of poplar trees which the Nazis had planted along the main road which ran down the center of the camp.
Catholic cross in front of Dachau service building
After the liberation, a huge crucifix had been erected by the liberated Polish inmates in front of the service building, which is now the Dachau Museum. The majority of prisoners in the camp when it was liberated were Polish Catholics. The cross was removed when the camp was turned into a Memorial site. The Nazi slogan painted on the roof has also been removed.
The German words on the roof translate into English as follows: "There is one road to freedom. Its milestones are: Obedience, Diligence, Honesty, Orderliness, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Truthfulness, Self-Sacrifice, and Love of the Fatherland." In the early days of the Dachau camp, prisoners who were considered "rehabilitated" were released, but most of the prisoners were offended by this sign and by the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign on the Dachau gate.
A small museum was immediately set up in May 1945 in the Dachau crematorium building by Erich Preuss, an enterprising former prisoner, who earned money by charging a small admisison fee. A set of 10 photographs of Dachau were on sale at the Museum. On the orders of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, thousands of American soldiers were brought to Dachau to see the gas chamber and crematory ovens. The dead bodies found in the camp were kept for weeks so that as many American soldiers as possible could see them, and after that the bodies in the morgue in the crematorium building were replaced by wax dummies, so that the American soldiers could learn about the Nazi atrocities. This museum was finally closed in 1953 after German citizens of Bavaria complained about the gory display.
One of the men who was brought to Dachau, on General Eisenhower's orders, on May 1, 1945, only two days after the liberation of the camp, was Technical Sergeant Robert Parker Woodruff, a soldier in the 42nd Rainbow Division. A letter which he wrote home to his parents was published by a newspaper in his home town, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and is quoted below:
"Mother and Dad,
"Yesterday, May 1, is a day I will never forget, for I went through the Dachau Concentration Camp.
"It was a small city, about the size of Baldwin. Leading into it was a branch railroad, off the main line, and box cars leading into the camp, which had a huge wire enclosure around it. The cars were loaded, and I mean loaded, with dead slave labor, which had been starved to death. Most of them, I could have put my whole hand around their thighs; their legs and arms were quite a bit smaller. Their shoulder blades were protruding five or six inches out of their backs, because they had no flesh on them, and on all of them the pelvic bones were protruding more so than the shoulder blades. They were all nationalities: French, Polish, Russian, Jewish and Americans.
"Before the Infantry had liberated the place, the Germans were in the process of taking these dead off the cars and burning them in a huge crematory. The Germans had cleaned out 20 of the cars, and the rest were waiting to be burned. I remember one car had a layer of bodies up to my knees. Apparently, the Germans were making a frantic effort to get them all burned before the Infantry came.
"The camp must have been a German SS (storm trooper) garrison, because their flag and the Nazi flag were also strewn all over the place, along with the dead German SS troopers. When the Infantry came in, the slave laborers broke loose and started beating and cutting up the SS troopers, and that was a sight. There would be a leg here, an arm there, a hand and a few fingers someplace else. I remember one storm trooper I saw, his head completely smashed; he had no face at all.
"The Germans had numerous barracks, offices, warehouses, and administrative buildings, which were beautifully furnished.
"However, that was all very mild, compared to what I saw next, the crematory. It was a large brick building and, as you entered from the rear, there were a dozen or so small lockers where they fumigated the clothing.
"The next was a gas chamber, where, if they weren't quite dead, they would be finished off.
"Next was one of the two storage rooms, the other storage room being on the other side of the furnaces, of which there were a dozen or so. When I opened the door of the first room, my eyes almost popped, for there, in a room about the combined size of our dining and living room, were stark naked bodies."