1st. Lt. William Cowling: Report from the Dachau Liberation

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1st. Lt. William Cowling: Report from the Dachau Liberation

Read the actual letter and report filed by 1st Lt. William Cowling on liberating Dachau. This section submitted by John Cowling,his son. Click on pictures to see full-size view of photos (4) taken at the liberation.

View of the Camp

The Letter

28 April

Dear Folks:

  Boy oh boy am I having a heck of a time trying to findtime to write. We are really moving. My days have beenconsisting of getting up between 6:30 and 7:30 eating,throwing my stuff in a Jeep and taking off. When visitingthe regiments and sometimes the battalions and then head fora new CP. By time we get into the new CP and set up it is11 o’clock at night or later and I am so tired. I just hitthe sack, so I really haven’t had much time to write. Ireceived the fruit cake the other day and boy was it good.That package contained all the right things. I have lost mychap stick and my lips were chapped so it really came inhandy.

  Well I was interrupted at this point and it is now the30th of April and the very first minute I have had to write. Since I started this letter I have had the most, I supposeyou would say, exciting, horrible and at the same timewonderful experience I have had ever or probably ever willhave. When I tell it to you your probably won’t believe allthe details. I knew when I heard such stories back in theStates I never believed them and now even after seeing withmy own eyes, it is hard for me to believe it. Well, to goon with the story as you know we have been moving veryrapidly and oftentimes the boss and I get into the townsjust about the same time the front line troops do. Yesterday we started out to locate a company and a unitadvancing down a road. Enroute we learned from civiliansand two newspaper people that just off the main road was aconcentration camp of Dachau, oldest largest and mostnotorious camp in Germany. These newspaper people weregoing up to see the camp so we decided to go up too.

  Weride in a Jeep with a guard out ahead of the boys and wewere several hundred yards ahead as we approached the Camp. The first thing we came to was a railroad track leading outof the Camp with a lot of open box cars on it. As wecrossed the track and looked back into the cars the mosthorrible sight I have ever seen (up to that time) met myeyes. The cars were loaded with dead bodies. Most of themwere naked and all of them skin and bones. Honest theirlegs and arms were only a couple of inches around and theyhad no buttocks at all. Many of the bodies had bullet holesin the back of their heads. It made us sick at our stomachand so mad we could nothing but clinch our fists. Icouldn’t even talk. We then moved on towards the Camp andmy Jeep was still several hundred yards ahead. As weapproached the main gate a German officer and a civilianwearing an International Red Cross band and carrying a whiteflag came out. We immediately filed out and I was justhoping he would make a funny move so I could hit the triggerof my tommy gun. He didn’t however, and when he arrivedabreast of us he asked for an American officer. I informedhim he a was talking to one and he said he wished tosurrender the camp to me.

  About that time the Generalarrived and got the story from the German Lieutenant (thatthe Camp was still manned by German Guards who were armedbut had orders not to shoot at us but only to keep theprisoners in check.) Well about that time somebody startedshooting from over on our left flank and ducked but made theGermans stand in front of us. Finally the fire let up andwe sent one of the guards back for a company of infantry. The newspaper people said they were going on into Camp andI got permission to go on with them with my guard leavingthe others with the General. We went through one gate andspotted some Germans in a tower. I hollered in German forthem to come to me and they did. I sent them back to theguards and General and got on the front of the newspaperpeople’s Jeep and headed for the gate.

  A man lay dead just in front of the gate. A bulletthrough his head. One of the Germans we had taken liftedhim out of the way and we dismounted and went through thegate into a large cement square about 800 squares surroundedby low black barracks and the whole works enclosed by barbedwire. When we entered the gate not a soul was in sight. Then suddenly people (few could call them that) came fromall directions. They were dirty, starved skeletons withtorn tattered clothes and they screamed and hollered andcried. They ran up and grabbed us. Myself and thenewspaper people and kissed our hands, our feet and all ofthem tried to touch us. They grabbed us and tossed us intothe air screaming at the top of their lungs. I finallymanaged to pull myself free and get to the gate and shut itso they could not get out. Then I felt something brush myshoulder and I turned to the left of the two block houseguarding the gate to find a white flag fluttering square inmy face and on the end of it inside the house eight Germans.

German Guards We Met

   I looked around the house and entered. I got the samequestion, are you an American Officer and said Yes. Theyturned over their arms, pistols and rifles to me and I toldthem to sit tight. I then went back outside and sent mydriver to get the Jeep. Then I went back into the Germansand took their arms and sent the pistols to my Jeep (I gaveall away but two). When I cam back out the General wasthere and the people inside the enclosure were all in thelarge square shouting and crying. Then a terrible thinghappened. Some of them in their frenzy charged the barbedwire fence to get out and embrace us and touch us. Immediately they were killed by an electric charge runningthrough the fence. I personally saw three die that way. Our troops arrived about that time and took the rest of theguards, Germans (who during all this time had remained inthe towers around the prison.) A number of them and Isincerely regret that I took the eight prisoners that I didafter a trip through Camp which I shall describe in aminute.

  Well the General attempted to get the thingorganized and an American Major who had been held in theCamp since September came out and we set him up as head ofthe prisoners. He soon picked me to quiet the prisonersdowns and explain to them that they must stay in the Campuntil we could get them deloused, and proper food andmedical care. Several newspaper