dachau concentration camp liberation

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Holocaust survivor salutes American soldier who liberated him from Nazi concentration camp hell in emotional reunion after 70 years

Repost of 2015 story.

This is the poignant moment when a man rescued from the hell he endured at the hands of the Nazis met his saviour and gave him a salute almost 70 years later.

Joshua Kaufman first saluted his rescuer Daniel Gillespie. Then he kissed his hand and finally, he fell to his feet, exclaiming: ‘I have wanted to do this for 70 years. I love you, I love you so much…’.

Kaufman, now 87, was a ‘walking corpse’ on April 29 1945 when U.S. Army soldier Gillespie, 89, marched in with his comrades to liberate the charnel house that was the Dachau concentration camp near Munich.

By the time it was liberated more than 35,000 people had been murdered there - in executions, in cruel medical experiments, starved, worked and beaten to death.

The first person he saw was Hungarian Jewish prisoner Kaufman. He was hiding in the latrines with other prisoners, uncertain if the soldiers who arrived were liberators or a Nazi death squad sent to liquidate the camp.

'We were confined to barracks by the guards. This meant most of us were marked for death,’ Mr Kaufman said.

'Then I saw the white flag flying from the watchtower and I realised then that the torture was at an end. When the Americans smashed in the door, my heart did somersaults.’

Gillespie helped the emaciated prisoner into the daylight and back into the land of the living. Both parted with tears in their eyes - both believed they would never see one another again.

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Marguerite Higgins (1920-1966) was a journalist and reporter who made a successful career as a war correspondent, and considerably advanced gender equality in the field. She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Foreign Correspondence, for her reporting on the Korean War in 1951. 

While working for the New York Herald Tribune, she persuaded the management to send her to Europe in order to report on the Second World War. She witnessed and even assisted in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in 1945. Other important events she covered were the Nuremberg trials and the Soviet Union’s blockade of Berlin. While it was widely believed that women do not belong in a war zone, her work proved that they are just as capable of the job despite the dangers involved.

Two Dachau inmates preparing to kill a fallen SS guard with a shovel. In the background rows of machine gunned German guards can be seen lying in piles along the base of the hospital wall. A large hospital building can be seen above right.

Several GIs turned their backs on two inmates beating a German guard to death with a shovel. It was said that one of the inmates had been castrated by the German they were murdering.” -  A documentary - U.S. Massacre of Waffen SS - April 29, 1945

(Photographer unknown, probably T/4 Arland B. Musser, US Signal Corps. Reproduced from “Day of the Americans” by Nerin Gun)

*The man holding the shovel is the same man with the rifle in this photo

“An emaciated 18-year-old Russian girl looks into the camera lens during the liberation of Dachau concentration camp in 1945. Dachau was the first German concentration camp, opened in 1933. More than 200,000 people were detained between 1933 and 1945, and 31,591 deaths were declared, most from disease, malnutrition and suicide. Unlike Auschwitz, Dachau was not explicitly an extermination camp, but conditions were so horrific that hundreds died every week.”

(Getty)

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John Lee’s comrades, the men of I Company, 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry (45th Div.), had seen hard combat. They had fought from North Africa through Italy, France and on into Germany, in 511 days of continuous and exhausting combat.

Ordered on April 29, 1945, to secure a local prison camp, they scaled a masonry wall to find 36 railroad boxcars of rotting corpses, inmates who had been sent to Dachau from other death camps and allowed to starve.

It was overcast and chilly as Lee, 19, and the others cautiously advanced beneath tall pines, finding more stacks of bodies and atrocities of which some still cannot speak.

By the time they began rounding up the prison guards, amid the roaring of 32,000 gaunt and sickly inmates still living, the men of I Company were “boiling mad, half out of our minds,” one soldier said later.

“I looked at the bodies as we went past - their open eyes seemed to say, ‘What took you so long?’” said Lee, now a frail 75 year old and living in West Lake, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb.

“There was a deathly silence. Somebody blurted out, 'No prisoners’ We lined up the SS guards. One of the guys cocked the machine gun. The Germans started moving and somebody shouted 'Fire!’

"To this day I do not know who that was,” Lee said.

Army investigators later summoned Lee and others to gather statements and other evidence of that day, including photographs taken by an Army photographer showing the bodies of the SS guards piled up against the wall.

Their secret report, quietly declassified in 1991, details several similar incidents at Dachau. A lieutenant ordered four German soldiers into an empty boxcar and personally shot them. Another American soldier clubbed and shot those still moaning. Several GIs turned their backs on two inmates beating a German guard to death with a shovel. One of the inmates had been castrated by the German they were murdering.

Their commanding officer, Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, said, “It was one of those situations I was unable to control for a short time.”

The report was sent to Gen. George Patton, commanding the 3rd Army. No action was taken. Among veterans of the 157th regiment, legend has it that Patton threw the report in his wastebasket, tossed in a match and barked at the investigators: “Get the hell out of here!” But a copy made its way to the National Archives.

“Nobody’s really proud of doing something like that,” Lee says today. “The Army trained you to fight. It did not train you for the psychological shock.”

- David Wood

photographs show the first American soldiers entering the camp and soldiers viewing the bodies of inmates in a boxcar