DACHAU AND IT’S LIBERATION: Personal account by Felix L. Sparks Brigadier General, AUS(Retired)
Excerpts from General Sparks personal account of the liberation of DachauConcentration Camp, edited by Charles V. Ferree
The following is a page from the World War II history book of the 157th.Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, Seventh United States Army. Dachauwas liberated on Sunday, April 29, 1945 by troops from Company I, 157th InfantryRegiment. Thousands of dead and emaciated bodies of civilian prisoners from manycountries were within and in the proximity of the Dachau Concentration Camp.
There are no words for Dachau, and even the pictures of its horrors arepale beside its realities.
Veterans of six campaigns to whom death was commonplace, sickened andvomited at Dachau. Not the sight and smell of death did this, but thedecaying evidence of human cruelty that was beyond the understanding of the normal mind.
Dachau was rot and stench and filth.
Dachau was Hitler and the SS.
And, deny it though its people did with every breath, Dachau was Germanyof 1933-45.
Let Dachau live in our memories ….
DACHAU AND IT’S LIBERATION
At 0730 on the morning of April 29th, the task force had resumed the attackwith companies L and K and the tank battalion as the assault force. The attackzone assigned to company L was through the city of Dachau, but did not includethe concentration camp, a short distance outside of the city. Company I wasdesignated as the reserve unit, with the mission of mopping up any resistancebypassed by the assault forces. Shortly after the attack began, I received aradio message from the Regimental Commander ordering me to proceed immediatelyto take the Dachau concentration camp. The order also stated: “Upon capture,post an airtight guard and allow no one to enter or leave.”
As the main gate to the camp was closed and locked, we scaled the brick wallsurrounding the camp. As I climbed over the wall following the advancingsoldiers, I heard rifle fire to my right front. The lead elements of the companyhad reached the confinement area and were disposing of the SS troops manning theguard towers, along with a number of vicious guard dogs. By the time I nearedthe confinement area, the brief battle was almost over.
After I entered the camp over the wall, I was not able to see theconfinement area, and had no idea where it was. My vision was obscured by themany buildings and barracks which were outside the confinement area. Theconfinement area itself occupied only a small portion of the total camp area. AsI went further into the camp, I saw some men from company I collecting Germanprisoners. Next to the camp hospital, there was a L-shaped masonry wall, abouteight feet high, which had been used as a coal bin. The ground was covered withcoal dust, and a narrow gage railroad track, laid on top of the ground, leadinto the area. The prisoners were being collected in the semi-enclosed area.
As I watched about fifty German troops were brought in from variousdirections. A machine gun squad from company I was guarding the prisoners.After watching for a few minutes, I started for the confinement area. After Ihad walked away for a short distance, I hear the machine gun guarding theprisoners open fire. I immediately ran back to the gun and kicked the gunner offthe gun with my boot. I then grabbed him by the collar and said: “what the hellare you doing?” He was a young private about 19 years old and was cryinghysterically. His reply to me was: “Colonel, they were trying to get away.” Idoubt that they were, but in any event he killed about twelve of the prisonersand wounded several more. I placed a non-com on the gun, and headed toward theconfinement area.
It was the forgoing incident which has given rise to wild claims in variouspublications that most or all of the German prisoners captured at Dachau wereexecuted. Nothing could be further from the truth. The total number of Germanguards killed at Dachau during that day most certainly not exceed fifty, withthirty probably being a more accurate figure. The regimental records for thatdate indicate that over a thousand German prisoners were brought to theregimental collecting point. Since my task force was leading the regimentalattack, almost all the prisoners were taken by the task force, including severalhundred from Dachau.
During the early period of our entry into the camp, a number of company Imen all battle hardened veterans, became extremely distraught. Some cried, whileothers raged. Some thirty minutes passed before I could restore order anddiscipline. During that time, the over thirty thousand camp prisoners stillalive began to grasp the significance of the events taking place. They streamedfrom their crowded barracks by the hundreds and were soon pressing at theconfining barbed wire fence. They began to shout in unison, which soon became achilling roar. At the same time several bodies were being tossed about and tornapart by hundreds of hands. I was told later that those being killed at the timewere “informers.” After about ten minutes of screaming and shouting, theprisoners quieted down. At that point, a man came forward at the gate andidentified himself as an American soldier. We immediately let him out. He turnedout to be Major Rene Guiraud of our OSS. He informed me that he had beencaptured earlier while on an intelligence mission and sentenced to death, butthe sentence was never carried out.
Within about an hour of our entry, events were under control. Guard postswere set up, and communications were established with the inmates. We informedthem that we could not release them immediately but that food and medicalassistance would arrive soon. The dead, numbering about nine thousand, werelater buried with the forced assistance of the good citizens of the city ofDachau.
On the morning of April 30, our first battalion resumed the attack towardsMunich.
At this point, I should point out that Seventh Army Headquarters took overthe actual camp administration on the day following the liberation. The campoccupation by combat troops after that time was solely for security purposes. Onthe morning of April 30, several trucks arrived from Seventh Army carrying foodand medical supplies. The following day, the 116th and 127th EvacuationHospitals arrived and took over the care and feeding of the prisoners.
In a letter from General Sparks mailed to me from his home in Lakewood,Colorado on March 13, 1997, the General writes: “Note: The actual body count ofdead German guards killed at Dachau (by machine gun fire) was 30. This count wasmade by the Inspector General who conducted the investigation. The wall at whichthe men were killed contained 22 bullet holes. This count was also made by theInspector General.”
Charles V. Ferree
“Let any doubter, in all the generations to come, comtemplate what it wouldbe like to live in a world dominated by Hitler, the Japanese warlords, or anyother cruel dictator or despot.”
IRA C. EAKER Commanding General, United States Eighth Air Force