Dachau Liberation — Drawing WWII to a Close
In April of 1945, Allied Forces were making what would be the final surges against German troops. As they retreated, the Nazis hastily moved thousands of prisoners away from concentration camps along the battlefront to the camps outside of Dachau.
This massive influx of prisoners exacerbated already horrific conditions, overcrowding the cramped camps and creating a hurricane of in-camp epidemics of typhus, malaria and tuberculosis.
United States Army Marches In, Finds a Surprise
On April 29, 1945, the "Rainbow" Division of the 42nd Infantry marched into Dachau expecting to find an abandoned training center and perhaps a few straggling SS recruits. What they found was altogether different — 32,000 or so camp survivors deemed "walking skeletons" because of their emaciated appearance, and train cars packed to capacity with victims in varying postmortem conditions; the infantrymen were face to face with physical evidence of both the atrocities of the Nazi regime and their imminent defeat.
The next day, April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide and his successor, Karl Dönitz delivered an act of surrender on the part of Germany, effectively ending hostilities in Europe.
A Hasty Conclusion in Europe
While the war would rage on for another three and a half months in the Pacific, news of the Dachau Liberation spread throughout Europe and the United States, bringing new understanding of the horrors inflicted by the Nazis.
On viewing the Dachau camps, General Eisenhower once said, “The things I saw beggar description. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick ... . I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’”
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