I have obtained permission from Brigadier
General Felix L. Sparks, AUS (Ret.) to add his article on Dachau to my website. I
would like everyone to know who the true liberators of Camp Dachau really were. This
is a factual account of what transpired before and after the liberation of Dachau.
Albert R. Panebianco
157th Infantry Association
FELIX L. SPARKS, Secretary
15 June 1989
DACHAU AND ITS LIBERATION
A day or so after the fall of Nurnberg, I was designated as
a task force commander, with the mission of moving with all possible speed towards Munich,
Germany. At that time, I was a lieutenant colonel commanding the Third Battalion,
157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, Seventh United States Army. Attached
to my battalion for this mission were the entire 191st Tank Battalion,, Battery C of the
158th Field Artillery, and supporting engineers from the 120th Engineer Battalion, With
the organic infantry battalion weapons, the artillery battery, and the over fifty
tanks of the tank battalion, we had a formidable array of firepower. We were able to
smash through the sporadic German resistance with ease, although the many blown
bridges caused us some problems.
By the late evening of April 28,, 1945, we were less than
thirty miles from Munich. Shortly after midnight, I received the regimental attack
order for the next day. I was ordered to resume the attack at 0730 the next morning,
with the mission of entering Munich. The order stated that, if my task force encountered
any delay because of German opposition, the following first and second battalions of our
regiment would continue the attack into Munich by bypassing the resistance area. I was
also informed that the concentration camp near the city of Dachau would be in my attack
area, but my orders did not include the taking of the camp. At that time, I knew
virtually nothing about Dachau, except that it was a concentration camp near the city
of Dachau. In order to set the scene for the events that followed, a description of
what I learned subsequently about that infamous place seems appropriate.
In 1933, the first of the German concentration camps was
established adjacent to the small city of Dachau, not far from the much larger city
of Munich, Germany. Political opponents, Jews, clergymen and so-called "undesirable
elements" were to be isolated there as enemies of the Nazi regime. It
was organized and operated by the SS and Gestapo, whose specialty was terror and
The camp was constructed originally to imprison about five
thousand persons, but it soon outgrew that number. In 1937, the prisoners were forced
to begin the construction of a much larger camp. It is not known how many prisoners passed
through the gates of the camp between 1933 and 1945, but a reasonable estimate places the
figure at around 300,000.
From the outside,, the camp appeared to be an ordinary
military post, surrounded by a high brick wall. It was garrisoned by several hundred
SS troops and Gestapo agents who lived in comfortable quarters. On the far side of
the camp from the main gate was a large rectangular confinement area, surrounded by a
water-filled moat, a high barbed wire fence and guard towers. within the confinement area
were thirty-four wooden barracks, some of which were used for administrative purposes and
the remainder to house the prisoners. Two connected larger buildings just inside the only
entrance to the confinement area contained the kitchen, laundry, storage rooms and
the "camp prison." In this dual facility, prisoners were tortured, flogged,
hung at the stake, and executed. This infamous complex now houses the camp museum
established by the present German government.
Each of the prison barracks was constructed to house 208
prisoners, At the time we arrived on April 29, 1945, each of the barracks contained the
impossible number of about 1,600 inmates, many of whom were dead or dying when we
arrived. The several barracks used as infirmaries were also filled with the dead and
Also within the camp area was an "experimental
station" operated by a Dr, Rascher, It was in this station that gruesome medical
experiments were practiced on hapless prisoners. A Professor Schilling caused prisoners to
be infected with various diseases, such as malaria, in order to observe
their reactions and resistance. Various biochemical experiments were also carried
out. Agonizing deaths were usually the common result.
Every morning and evening, the prisoners had to parade on
"roll call square." At any time that a prisoner succeeded in escaping, all
the remaining prisoners were compelled to attend a subsequent punishment roll call,
lasting a full night and half a day. Prisoners who managed to escape were usually
recaptured. They were then confined to the penal barracks for special treatment by the SS
and Gestapo personnel--torture and often death.
Outside the confinement area,, but within the post area, was
a rifle range. It is known that at least six thousand Russian prisoners of war were
executed on this range. Only God knows how many others were executed there in similar
fashion. While we were occupying the camp, one of the prisoners took me to a small area
reserved for the execution of German officers suspected of plotting against Hitler. I was
told that several German officers had been executed there in the few months before we
arrived. They were forced to kneel down with their hands tied behind their backs.
They were then dispatched by a single pistol shot in the back of the head.
It is not known with any certainty how many prisoners died
or were executed at Dachau. It is known with some certainty that over thirty thousand
human souls perished there. The actual number may have been over fifty thousand.
It was in this atmosphere of human depravity, degradation
and death that the shocked soldiers of the 157th Infantry Regiment first set foot on
the morning of April 29, 1945. The initial shock was experienced even before entering
the camp. The first evidence of the horror to come was a string of about forty
railway cars on a siding near the camp entrance, Each car was loaded with emaciated
human corpses, both men and women. A hasty search by the stunned infantrymen revealed
no signs of life among the hundreds of still bodies. Few words were spoken as
the grim-faced soldiers deployed in battle formation towards the camp itself.
At 0730 on the morning of April 29, the task force had
resumed the attack with companies L and K and the tank battalion as the assault
force. The attack zone assigned to Company L was through the city of Dachau, but did
not include the concentration camp,, a short distance outside of the city. Company I
was designated as the reserve unit, with the mission of mopping up any resistance
bypassed by the assault forces. Shortly after the attack began, I received a
radio message from the regimental commander ordering me to proceed immediately to
take the Dachau concentration camp, The order also stated: "Upon capture, post
an airtight guard and allow no one to enter or leave."
At the time I received the order, it was not feasible to
extract the two assault companies from the attack. I therefore directed the commander
of Company I. the reserve company, to attack the camp. Dachau was not included in the
original operations order for the day, but from my map I determined that it was only
a mile or so off to my left flank. I advised the company commander that I would
accompany him and would attach a section of machine guns from Company M to
his command. A forward observer team from the 158th Field Artillery was already with
the company. A small motorized patrol from the regimental I&R Platoon was also
dispatched to the Dachau area.
As the main gate to the camp was closed and locked, we
scaled the brick wall surrounding the camp. As I climbed over the wall following the
advancing soldiers, I heard rifle fire to my right front. The lead elements of the
company had reached the confinement area and were disposing of the SS troops manning
the guard towers, along with a number of vicious guard dogs. By the time I neared the
confinement area, the brief battle was almost over.
After I entered the camp over the wall, I was not able to
see the confinement area and had no idea where it was. My vision was obscured by the
many buildings and barracks which were outside the confinement area. The confinement
area itself occupied only a small portion of the total camp area, As I went further
into the camp, I saw some men from Company I collecting German prisoners. Next to the
camp hospital, there was an L-shaped masonry wall, about eight feet high, which
had been used as a coal bin. The ground was covered with coal dust, and a narrow
gauge railroad track, laid on top of the ground, led into the area. The prisoners
were being collected in this semi-enclosed area.
As I watched, about fifty German troops were brought in from
various directions. A machine gun squad from Company I was guarding the prisoners.
After watching for a few minutes, I started for the confinement area, after taking
directions from one of my soldiers. After I had walked away for a short distance, I
heard the machine gun guarding the prisoners open fire. I immediately ran back to the
gun and kicked the gunner of f the gun with my boot. I then grabbed him by the collar
and said: "What the hell are you doing?" He was a young private about 19
years old and was crying hysterically. His reply to me was: "Colonel, they were
trying to get away." I doubt that they were, but in any event he killed about
twelve of the prisoners and wounded several more. I placed a noncom on the gun and
headed towards the confinement area.
It was the foregoing incident which has given rise to wild
claims in various publications that most or all of the German prisoners captured at
Dachau were executed. Nothing could be further from the truth, The total number of
German guards killed at Dachau during that day most certainly did not exceed fifty,
with thirty probably being a more accurate figure. The regimental records for
that date indicate that over a thousand German prisoners were brought to the
regimental collecting point. Since my task force was leading the regimental attack,
almost all of the prisoners were taken by the task force, including several hundred from
The scene near the entrance to the confinement area numbed
my senses. Dante's Inferno seemed pale compared to the real hell of Dachau. A row of
small cement structures near the prison entrance contained a coal-fired crematorium,
a gas chamber, and rooms piled high with naked and emaciated human corpses. As I
turned to look over the prison yard with unbelieving eyes, I saw a large number of
dead inmates lying where they had fallen in the last few hours or days before
our arrival. Since all the many bodies were in various stages of decomposition, the
stench of death was overpowering.
During the early period of our entry into the camp, a number
of Company I men, all battle hardened veterans became extremely distraught. Some
cried, while others raged. Some thirty minutes passed before I could restore order
and discipline. During that time, the over thirty thousand camp prisoners still alive
began to grasp the significance of the events taking place. They streamed from their
crowded barracks by the hundreds and were soon pressing at the confining barbed wire
fence. They began to shout in unison, which soon became a chilling roar. At the
same time, several bodies were being tossed about and torn apart by hundreds of
hands. I was told later that those being killed at that time were
"informers." After about ten minutes of screaming and shouting, the
prisoners quieted down. At that point, a man came forward at the gate and
identified himself as an American soldier. We immediately let him out. He turned out
to be Major Rene Guiraud of our OSS, He informed me that he had been captured earlier
while on an intelligence mission and sentenced to death, but the sentence was never
carried out. I sent him back to regimental headquarters.
Within about an hour of our entry, events were under
control. Guard posts were set up, and communications were established with the
inmates. We informed them that we could not release them immediately but that food
and medical assistance would arrive soon. The dead, numbering about nine thousand,
were later buried with the forced assistance of the good citizens of the city
Fearful that the inmates would tear down the gate to their
prison area,, I posted a number of soldiers at that point. While I was standing near
the gate, three jeeps from the 42nd Infantry Division approached the gate area.
Apparently someone, without my knowledge, had opened the main gate to the camp area.
The first jeep contained Brigadier General Linden and a woman reporter, by the name
of Margaret Higgins. The general informed me that the reporter wished to enter the
compound to interview the inmates.
At that time, a sea of inmates was pressed against the gate,
awaiting an opportunity to get out. I advised the general that my specific orders were to
prevent anyone from entering or leaving the compound, until otherwise advised by my
regimental commander. While I was explaining this to the general, the woman reporter ran
forward to the gate and removed the restraining crossbar. The prisoners immediately
surged forward, creating a brief period of pandemonium. I ordered my men to open fire over
the heads of the prisoners and rush the gate, After a brief struggle, the men closed and
secured the gate.
It had already been a most trying day. I therefore requested
the general and his party to leave and directed one of my men to escort them from the
camp. The good general was a dandy who carried a riding crop as his badge of authority. As
my man approached the jeep, the general laid a blow on the man's helmet with his riding
crop. I then made some intemperate remarks about the general's ancestry and threatened to
remove him and his party from the camp by force. He then said I was relieved of my command
and that he was taking charge. I then drew my pistol and repeated my request that he
leave. He left, but only after advising me that I would face a general court-martial for
In the meantime, the men of Company I had rounded up a
number of SS troops who were dispersed throughout the camp area. From these prisoners we
learned that most of the Dachau garrison, including almost all of the officers, had fled
the scene the day before our arrival. Only about two hundred were left to guard the camp.
We captured most of those, but some were killed. The regimental history book contains a
picture of these captives, accompanied by Lt. Walsh, the Company I commander, and
Chaplain Loy. Fate was much kinder to these captured SS men than they were to the inmates
Later that day, Major General Frederick, the 45th Division
commander, and Colonel
O'Brien, the regimental commander, appeared on the scene , and I took them around the
camp. I also told them of the incident with General Linden. General Frederick advised me
that he would be able to take care of that matter.
In the original order which I received to secure the camp, I
was informed that our first
battalion would relieve me at the camp in order that my task force could continue the
attack into Munich. Late that afternoon, Company C arrived by truck and established
various security posts. I then started moving Company I out of the camp in order to
resume the attack into Munich with a full task force. Before I could again assemble the
task force, I received an order that the tank battalion,, less one company,, was to be
relieved of attachment to my task force. The 180th Infantry was encountering strong
resistance in its sector, and the tanks were needed there. Sometime later, I received
another order informing me that our first battalion would lead the attack into Munich the
next day and that I was to relieve Company C at the concentration camp. I then dispatched
Company L to relieve Company C. This relief was completed by about 10:00 p.m. that
The foregoing narrative includes all of the rifle companies
which were in the Dachau
concentration camp on the day of liberation, those being companies C, I and L. With these
rifle companies were attachments from companies D and M. along with forward observer
parties from the 158th Field Artillery. Small elements of other units were also there,
namely a small patrol from the regimental I&R Platoon which was with Company I. and
some personnel from the first and third battalion headquarters, There were some troops
from the 42nd Infantry Division somewhere in the vicinity. Earlier that morning, Company I
had reported that they were being fired upon by troops of the 42nd Division. This
information was relayed to regimental headquarters with a request that the 42nd Division
be informed that we were both on the same side.
On the morning of April 30, our first battalion resumed the
attack towards Munich. The
second battalion was also launched in that direction. Shortly after the attack began, the
first battalion came upon and occupied another concentration camp. It was a slave labor
camp and contained about eight thousand prisoners. In order that the first battalion could
continue its attack with a complete battalion, I was then ordered to relieve the first
battalion company at this second camp. I assigned this mission to Company K, where
they were to remain for the next several days.
During the morning of that day, I assembled Company I in the
city of Dachau, leaving
Company L at the Dachau concentration camp. At about 6:00 p.m. that evening, Company L was
relieved at the camp by the 601st Artillery Battalion from the 15th Corps. My battalion
then moved into Munich, minus Company K.
On May 1, the following morning, I received an order to
relieve the 15th Corps troops at the Dachau concentration camp. I thereupon sent Company L
back to the camp. During the afternoon of May 3, both companies L and K were relieved of
their concentration camp duties by the 179th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry
Division, never to return.
At this point, I should point out that Seventh Army
Headquarters took over the actual camp administration on the day following the liberation.
The camp occupation by combat troops after that time was solely for security purposes. On
the morning of April 30, several trucks arrived from Seventh Army carrying food and
medical supplies. The following day, the 116th and 127th Evacuation Hospitals arrived and
took over the care and feeding of the prisoners.
A few days after the liberation, General Frederick came to
my headquarters and informed me that General Linden was trying to stir up trouble through
the Seventh Army Inspector General. He said he thought he could handle the matter,
but he considered it advisable that I leave for the United States at once, He further
informed me that the 45th Division had been selected to participate in the expected
invasion of Japan and would soon be returning to the states in preparation for shipment to
the Pacific Theater. He said that he would see that I was reassigned to the division when
it returned to the states.
Placing a command car at my disposal, the general instructed
me to report to the transportationoffice at LeHavre, France, where orders would be waiting
for my transportation to the states, I left the following morning, accompanied by three of
my most trusted soldiers, namely Albert Turk, my driver, Karl Mann, my German language
interpreter; and Carlton Johnson, my runner and rifleman. It was a long trip to LeHavre,
taking several days.
I eventually located the army transportation. office on the
docks at LeHavre and informed a sergeant there of my mission. He immediately went to a
telephone in the back of his office and made a call. I sensed trouble and so informed my
men. Within a few minutes, an MP lieutenant appeared and courteously informed me that I
was under arrest. He stated that he was under orders to escort me back to Seventh Army
Headquarters in Bavaria. I suddenly had the feeling that General Frederick had not been
able to take care of the Dachau matter after all.
I politely informed the lieutenant that I would not submit
to an arrest but that I would voluntarily return to Seventh Army Headquarters, Glancing
around at my three men casually standing by with loaded rifles, he agreed to my proposal.
He then gave me the name of the small town near Augsburg, Germany, where the army
headquarters was located. We then began the long trip back, although we dallied for a few
days in Paris.
Some days later, I reported to army headquarters in the
small town near Augsburg. There I learned that the Seventh Army Headquarters was being
deactivated that very day. I was informed that General Patton had been appointed military
governor of Bavaria and had established a headquarters in Augsburg. The very unfriendly
and displeased G-1 of Seventh Army curtly told me that my pending court-martial was now in
the hands of General Patton. I left immediately for Augsburg.
The following morning I reported to General Patton's Chief
of Staff and arranged for an appointment with the general that afternoon. At the appointed
time, I reported to the general. He then said to me:
"Colonel, I have some serious court-martial charges
against you and some of your men here on my desk. " I replied that I had never been
advised of any specific charges but that I would like to offer an explanation of the
events that took place at Dachau.
The general paused for a moment and then said: "There
is no point in an explanation. I have already had these charges investigated, and they are
a bunch of crap. I'm going to tear up these goddamn papers on you and your
With a flourish, he tore up the papers lying in front of him
and threw them in a wastebasket. He then said: "You have been a damn fine soldier.
Now go home. " I saluted and left. The whole interview lasted perhaps three minutes.
I then rejoined the regiment in Munich and heard nothing further about the matter.
For the past several years,, I have been puzzled about
copies of newspaper articles which a number of our members have sent me in which the 42nd
Infantry Division has been portrayed as being the liberator of Dachau. In addition to the
newspaper articles, at least two national television programs have featured members of
that division as being the liberators of Dachau. The 42nd Division was never there
at all, except for the brief excursion of General Linden and party as previously described
in this summary.
A few years ago, I learned of a publication entitled
"The Liberators," published in 1981 by the Center for Holocaust Studies
Documentation and Research, Brooklyn, New York. I obtained a copy of that publication, and
I am now quite certain that it is the primary genesis of the rash of claims made by
members of the 42nd Division. The publication features a story about Dachau by a Lt. Col,
Walter J, Fellenz, 42nd Infantry Division. A reading of the story convinces me that the
man is either a pathological or congenital liar, or both. After reciting that in his
approach to Dachau he had the impression that he was "approaching a wealthy girls'
finishing school in the suburbs of one of our great cities," his story reads in
part,, as follows, along with my editorial
"At the main gate I met Brigadier General Linden, Lt.
Col. Bolduc, and several staff officers and bodyguards. General Linden was waiting for a
report from his aide who had been dispatched inside the camp to see if the camp had been
deserted by the guards. Shortly after my arrival the aide reported that the SS had
apparently deserted the camp. In we went, fully prepared to fight, however."
COMMENT: The generals aide apparently had very poor
eyesight. There were about two hundred SS guards and other German troops inside the camp,
although at that time they were under custody. He also failed to note the presence of
about two hundred men from my battalion, who had arrived about an hour earlier. The
composition of the Linden party appears to be correct; except that, for some curious
reason, Col. Fellenz does not mention the presence of a lady reporter by the name of
Margaret Higgins, who was the solicitous focus of the group being there in the first
place. Since I had reported our entry into the camp about an hour earlier, the Linden
group already knew that we were there.
To continue with the good colonel's story, he then
"Several hundred yards inside the main gate we
encountered the concentration enclosure itself. There before us, behind an
electrically charged barbed wire fence, stood a mass of cheering, half mad men, women and
children, waving and shouting with happiness--their liberators had come! The noise
was beyond comprehension! Every individual (over 32,000) who could utter a sound was
cheering. Our hearts wept as we saw the tears of happiness fall from their cheeks."
COMMENT: When my battalion arrived at the camp earlier,, the
prisoners, except for the few who performed menial labor on the outside, were all huddled
together in their various barracks. Subsequent interviews with some of the prisoners
revealed that they were all expecting to be killed by the SS guards prior to the arrival
of Allied troops. They therefore tried to remain out of sight of the guards. Actually, we
had been inside the camp for about thirty minutes before the prisoners realized what was
happening. The scene described by Col. Fellenz then did take place, although I did
not see any children. Col. Fellenz was not present when this scene took place.
We now come to the heroic liberation part, as described by
"Amid the deafening roar of cheers, several inmates
warned us of danger by pointing to one of the eight towers which surrounded the
electrically charged fence. The tower was still manned by SS guards! Half crazed at what
we had just seen, we rushed the tower with rifles blazing. The SS tried to train their
machine guns on us, but we quickly killed them each time a new man attempted to fire the
guns. We killed all 17 SS, then in mad fury our soldiers dragged the dead bodies from the
towers and emptied their rifles into the dead SS chests."
COMMENT: Generals, staff officers and field grade officers
were not armed with rifles, much less "blazing rifles." Neither did they
carry rifle ammunition belts, although perhaps the lady reporter acted as the
ammunition bearer. The outside perimeter of the confinement area was over a mile in
distance. The guard towers were about two hundred yards apart and were mutually
supporting, They were massive steel and concrete structures and virtually
impregnable to direct infantry assault. They were also surrounded by a water-filled
moat. The outside perimeter of the moat was patrolled by some rather vicious guard
dogs, mostly Dobermans.
The simple way to dispose of the SS troops in the guard
towers was to pick them off with rifle fire from the cover of the many buildings
surrounding much of the confinement area. This is what my men did. I must admit,
however, that it would have been an inspiring sight to witness the charge of an aging
general and a few valiant officers with blazing rifles against the massive concrete
machine gun emplacements, cheered on by a lady reporter. I am very sorry that
we missed it.
The total Fellenz story as contained in the publication is
quite lengthy and grows more absurd with each paragraph. I will not therefore dwell
upon it any further,, except to point out that Col. Fellenz was also the conqueror of
Munich, as he himself recites as follows:
"The next morning, the rear echelon types and the
military government types arrived and we turned over the Dachau Concentration Camp to
their control. C Company and I rejoined the 'Fighting First' Battalion and moved into
Munich where so-called German resistance elements attempted to surrender the city to
me. I got in touch with Col. 'Daddy' Bolduc and he accepted the surrender, and that
night I slept in the famous beer hall in Munich."
But wait! Comes now a Colonel Don Downard, a fellow
battalion commander with Colonel Fellenz in the 222nd Infantry Regiment, 42nd
Infantry Division, and brands his old buddy as a liar. Colonel Fellenz commanded the
First Battalion of the 222nd, and Colonel Downard was the commander of the Second
Battalion of the same regiment. In a recent letter to one of our members Dr, Howard
Buechner, Colonel Downard writes in part as follows:
"As commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 222nd
Infantry, 42nd Infantry Division, I was at Dachau from the time the gates were
crashed until late that afternoon, at which time I was ordered to await arrival of
our first battalion, turn the camp over to Fellenz and proceed immediately to
Munich--all this a period of 5 or 6 hours. I personally pulled a live inmate
from under dead ones on the box cars. Several of my soldiers were present when
General Linden and his party were pinned down by SS fire right at the main
The letter is quite lengthy and more of less concludes with
"I relate the above, not to be critical (could happen
to anyone) but to emphasize that even the 'Thunderbirds' could be mistaken about
events of that time....... I never saw a Thunderbird at Dachau."
Any reader must be puzzled about which story to believe. In
the Fellenz account, General Linden sent an aide into the camp through the main gate,
who determined that no SS guards were present. In the Downard story, General Linden
and party were "pinned down by SS fire right at the main gate." Actually,
Fellenz is entitled to a bit more credibility. He was with the Linden party when they
entered the camp and I exchanged a few unpleasant words with him.
As of this date, at least a dozen other units have claimed
that they were the liberators of Dachau. This number will undoubtedly continue to
grow in the future as a result of the attention focused upon the many Holocaust
memorial events held annually throughout the United States. Just this year, the 20th
Armored Division was recognized by the Holocaust Memorial Council as being the
liberator of Dachau, And so the list continues to grow.
One very likely explanation of some of the claims is that
there were a number of concentration camps in the Munich area, although only one
Dachau. The other camps around Munich were slave labor camps, and they most certainly
were liberated by other units of the United States Army. One such camp was liberated
by our first battalion and subsequently occupied by our Company K for several
days" I do not know the exact number of these camps, but there were many of
them. The inmates, predominantly of Russian and Polish origin, were used as
slave labor in the many factories and other installations in the Munich area. The
prisoners in these camps received somewhat better treatment and food fare than did
the inmates of Dachau. The number of prisoners in each of these camps was generally
less than ten thousand, as compared to the over thirty thousand in Dachau.
In conclusion, and not that it makes any great difference, I
suppose the question can still be asked as to what unit liberated the concentration
camp at Dachau. At least one official publication has the correct answer, In a
publication entitled "The U, S. Army in the Occupation of Germany,
1944-1946," published by the Center of Military History,, United States
Army, Washington, D. C., in 1975, on pages 252 and 253, credits the 45th Infantry
Division with the liberation of Dachau, concluding the account with the words:
"The 45th Infantry Division troops who liberated Dachau in the afternoon on 29
April were fighting in Munich the next morning and by nightfall had, along with XV
Corps' other three divisions, captured the city that was the capital of Bavaria and
the birthplace of nazism."
Dachau was but one of the many monuments left behind by
depraved and tyrannical ruling individuals and groups of the past, As I recall, we
were often told during the course of World War II that we were fighting a war to end
all wars. As I view the world scene today, it seems that very little has changed
since the end of the war. In the name of nationalism, religion,
political affiliation, greed, racial superiority, economics, or various combinations
thereof, innocent people around the world are still being killed, kidnapped or
brutalized on a daily basis. And so it shall ever be.
Felix L. Sparks
Brigadier General, AUS (Retired)
It will be 64 years, 4/29/09, that Camp Dachau was
liberated. Through all these years and to the present day, books have been written,
documentaries made, articles appearing in periodicals, about the liberation of Dachau.
Unfortunately, most of the information publicized has not been researched or
substantiated. Hence, lies become part of history. There are still a few of us left trying
to set and keep the records straight.
The 45th Infantry Division is recognized as a liberating unit of Dachau
by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the United States
Army Center of Military History
Following letters have been written recently.
By Al Panebianco
JAMES R. BIRD
57 BELLA ROAD
MEDFORD, NJ 08055-4201
609 267 5520
5 March 1999
LETTER TO EDITOR
251 WEST 57TH STREET
NEW YORK NY 10019-1894
SUBJECT: "FOLLOW THE SCREAMS" page 50, Newsweek
March 8, 1999
"Dont confuse us with facts our minds are made
Despite the admonition of my friend Curtis R. Whiteway, your
reporters, Mark Peyser, Steve Schabard, and Angili credit him and the 99th Infantry
Division for liberating the main camp, KZ Dachau instead of Dachau 3-B, one of many
sub camps of KZ Dachau many miles away. Curtis told them you would be hearing from
former members of the 42nd and the 45th Infantry Divisions who were actual
participants in Liberating KZ Dachau. It would have been far better for your
reporters to credit Curtis Whiteway and the 99th Infantry Division for liberated
the euthanasia hospital at Hadamar, Germany (a much better story) instead of forcing
their good record into a preconceived decision. Your reporters are no different than
Steven Spielbergs use of fictitious liberators to enhance his movie The Last
James R. Bird,
45th Infantry (Thunderbird) Division
c.c. Curtis Whiteway, 45th Infantry Division Association
JAMES R. BIRD
57 BELLA ROAD
MEDFORD NJ 08055-4201
609 267 5520
Honorable Joseph I.
15 DECEMBER 1998
Washington D.C. 20510
I don't know who approached you to write the
FORWARD to the book and the COMMENTARY on the back of the book jacket of
DACHAU 29 APRIL 1945, THE RAINBOW LIBERATION
Edited by Sam Dann, and published by Texas
Tech University, Lubbock, TX
but you were conned into becoming a "revisionist"
of history because this hook is replete with misinformation and distortions. Had you
checked with the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and/or the Army archives you would
have learned that a small party of the 42nd infantry Division arrived at the front
gate later in the day of April 29th 1945 after most of the action had taken place.
Barbara Distal, curator at KZ Dachau in Germany in conjunction with Professor
Wolfgang Benz wrote a History of Nazi Concentration Camps wherein she wrote,
"Colonel Felix Sparks of the Third Battalion of the 157th Infantry Association
of the 45th Infantry Division reported that he and his soldiers had been on their way
to Munich when they were ordered via radio to first liberate the concentration camp
On the morning of the fiftieth anniversary of VE-Day I heard
Brigadier General Felix
Sparks, Ret. speak at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and tell how
"revisionists" such as the Institute for Historical Review in California
attempt to deny the Holocaust ever occurred. Now we have some American veterans
revising the record to appropriate acclaim not deserved.
Soldiers from the 157th infantry Regiment, 45th Division
proceeded to KZ Dachau on
orders sent down by the XVth Corps as recorded in the corps' log. However, some soldiers
(not the several hundred you list) of the 42nd Division went to the camp at the
urging of Marguerite Higgins, a reporter who "wanted a story." Over the
years there has been quite a controversy because some veterans of the 42nd Division
claimed "more stars for their crowns" than warranted by the facts. Some
continue claiming to this day that "they" were the "liberators" at
the expense of the 45th division veterans when in fact most of the action had been
completed by the time the 42nd division soldiers arrived at the front gate. Moreover,
Ive learned that Sam Dann did not use or mention immediate post-liberation
sworn testimony of several 42nd division veterans contained in the official Army
Inspector General Report of Investigation in the archives documenting the army troops at
Moreover, your statement, "They [42nd Division
personnel] opened the eyes of the world to the horror of the Holocaust." is a
day late and a dollar short. The world was already cognizant of the Holocaust and
Dachau was one of the last camps brought under Allied control. Auschwitz, Berkenau,
Belsen, Buchenwald and others were liberated (beginning in January) quite awhile
before Dachau. And, on April 29th, 1945 only about 2500 of the 31,400 prisoners still
in camp were Jews.
Despite claims by Sam Dann and other 42nd division veterans,
the 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry division was there "the fustsest with the
mostest." And, I have a copy of the Seventh Army Inspector Generals Report
relating to the shooting of unarmed German soldiers by some of the 45th men at the
coal yard at Dachau - I know and have "broken bread" with some of these
Danns manipulation of the facts pertaining to Dachau
does not stand alone, he falsely laid claim to the divisions prowess in
Northwind, a fierce battle in the Alsace area in that the 42nd division was in the
van in the race to munchen. Danns work is pretentious and I could list more errors
and distortions but it would be "gilding the lily."
James R. Bird
Although I did not arrive at KZ Dachau until the morning of
30 April 1945, I'm recognized as a "liberator" by the Army's definition
that anyone arriving at such a camp within forty-eight hours is
a "liberator." A truck load of my buddies in the 45th Infantry Division and
led by our First Sergeant, Napoleon Drigo arrived there in midmorning. I've enclosed
a copy of Kreigserinnerungen Dachau relating my experience.
c.c. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; 45th Infantry Division
Association; Historians LTC Hugh Foster, USA Retired; Curtis Whiteway, David Israel;
Henry Kaufman, Editor, Newsletter, Jewish War Veterans, Post #113, Hollywood CA.
JAMES R. BIRD
57 BELLA ROAD
MEDFORD NJ 08055-4201
609 267 5520
ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURE ARTS AND
8949 WILSHIRE BLVD
BEVERLY HILLS CA 90211 1972
SUBJECT: Spielberg's TV documentary(?) The Last Days
This combat disabled veteran of WWII wonders why Steven
Spielberg needs to produce a so-called documentary that is based on fiction. I've yet
to see the film, but from what Ive read and been told he persists in crediting
Paul Parks as a Liberator of Dachau. I served in the 45th Infantry Division and
arrived at Dachau on the morning of April 30th 1945 and am thoroughly convinced, that
in addition to units of the 42nd Infantry (Rainbow) Division, there were no Blacks
involved in the liberation of this concentration camp.
We wonder about Mr. Spieiberg's motives to produce a
documentary which includes false information. There is irrefutable evidence that Paul
Parks was not a "liberator" of Dachau as depicted in the film. Apparently,
Spieiberg's director and editor, James Moll didn't verify his facts.
James R Bird
Enclosures: Steven Spielberg Screws Up by Mark Shulte, NEW
YORK POST February 15th; and Klawans commentary in THE NATION, March 1st. edition;
clipping from Burlington County times, 3 July 1992
c.c. 45th Infantry Division Association
I served through eight campaigns with the 45th Infantry
Division (Thunderbirds) and was awarded a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.
10390 WILSHIRE BLVD.·#901
LOS ANGELES,CA. 90024
HONORABLE SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN
Honorable Senator Lieberman,
Please accept my apologies for writing to you at a time that
you are involved in a monumental historical task, but I find myself in a dilemma
regarding my own historical involvement in a situation that just doesn't seem to go
away. I read your foreward in the recently published book "The Rainbow
Liberation Memoirs" and while I admire and respect you and those of your family
that survived the holocaust, I have to support my old war time buddy, Jim Bird,
from Medford, N.J., who was gracious enough to send me a copy of a letter he sent to
you, dated Dec.15 1998. Although I quote from Jim Bird's letter to you, stating that
"you were conned" by members of the 42nd Rainbow Division, I have to tell
you that I have encountered the same thing here in California. The only exception is
that not only the 42nd lays claim to being the liberator of Dachau, but I have a list
of several other divisions,20th Armored,442nd Regiment,76lst Tank Battalion who have
all claimed to have liberated Dachau. I must admit, it is an amazing quest that I am
on trying one by one, to disprove each ones claim. As recently as last month, there
was a Rabbi out here, in L.A. who awarded a medal to an Afro/American, from San
Francisco, who claimed he was with his unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, when they
liberated both Buchenwald and Dachau. I attempted to see this Rabbi armed with a box
full of documentation to show him that he had been "conned," but believe it
or not he didn't want to see me, or my documents. Be it as it may, Jim Bird fought
with me at the invasion of Anzio. He was badly wounded and also the recipient of the
Silver Star. I on the other hand, was captured at Anzio and spent 15 months in many
POW camps, as well as 5 days in Dachau, under sentence of death. Jim Bird arrived in
Dachau on April 30 1945,one day after the liberation and although I was a POW and had
nothing to do with the liberation of Dachau, it was my outfit, the 157th RCT, that
liberated Dachau on April 29,1945 and two hours later, at 1630 hours that day, the
42nd division came on the scene. My outfit the 2nd battalion of the 157th is recorded
in the Military Archives, U.S.Holocaust Memorial, and the 45th Infantry Museum, in
Oklahoma City, as the actual liberators. Even though we readily admit that the 42nd
came in 2 hours after the 157th liberated Dachau, the 42nd insists that they were the
"sole" liberators and very few of their statements can be substantiated. If
you request, I would be happy to send you enough documentation to convince you.
In closing, I would like to refer back to my December, l998
Newsletter, published by the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. in Hollywood,
California. You will note how I go into detail trying to disprove the many past
misleading documentation and documentaries, regarding the liberation of KZ Dachau, by
the Afro/American members of the 761st Tank Battalion. My biggest surprise came when
I walked into a bookstore recently, and saw the #1 Best Seller "The
Greatest Generation" by Tom Brokaw and again much to my surprise I noticed on
page 20l, "that although the 761st Tank Battalion had an outstanding combat
record during WWll, the military records indicate that contrary to all the false and
misleading claims made by self-serving people, the records indicate that the 76lst,
was no where near KZ Dachau or Buchenwald, as had been erroneously claimed." I'm
very glad that Tom Brokaw did his homework, because the same situation applies to the
42nd Rainbow Division, who have misled you and many other people. Good luck on the
Senate Impeachment Trial and I hope you get a chance to read some of the articles
that I have previously written, about KZ Dachau.
c/c Senator Diane Feinstein
c/c Senator Barbara Boxer
c/c Mr. James Bird
Enc. three (3) Newsletters
10390 Wilshire Blvd. # 901
February 24, 1999
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science
8949 Wilshire Blvd.
.Beverly Hills, Ca. 90211-1972
Att: Public Relations:
Subject: Spielbergs Documentary, "The Last
To Whom It May Concern;
Since 1992 when black soldiers decided to convince the world
that they had liberated
Buchenwald and Dachau, both concentration camps, the lie continued to persist no
matter how much their "yarns" were totally disproven.
In 1992 PBS had shown a film entitled "The
Liberators" supposedly, a black Tank Battalion, the 761st had liberated both
camps. There are several black ex-soldiers from the World War II era who spread these
unsubstantiated falsehoods. The 761st who had an excellent World War II record,
disavowed any responsibility for anyone making these claims. The end result was
the "liberators" was taken off the air and never again shown.
Now, at the present time we are facing renewed false,
sublimated claims in the latest Spielberg film entitled "The Last
In this film there are three different veterans, who claim
they too liberated KZ Dachau, Warren Dunn, Katsugo Miho, and Paul Parks. Although
none of these three mention the units they were with, at the time of the liberation,
the film is actually referring to the 42nd Division which Dunn was a member of, the
442nd RCT (all Japanese regiment) which Katsugo Miho was a member of, and the 365th
Combat Engineers, which Paul Parks claims to have been a member of.
What you are seeing in this film is that there were more
divisions that liberated KZ Dachau, than there were in the entire Normandy
Invasion." If Spielberg did his homework simply had to check the National
Archives in Washington, D.C. and if he checked Box 226, Records Group 338 he would
have found that a Lt.Colonel Felix L.Sparks of the 3rd Battalion,l57th RCT, 45th
Division not only liberated Dachau on April 29,1945 at 12:30 PM, but also got into
serious trouble. He and several of his men, namelyl Lt.William P.Walsh, Lt.Jack
Busheyhead, Lt.Daniel F.Drain, Lt.Howard E.Buchener, all the above were in the 157th
and being investigated at the time by the Inspector General for having shot and
killed l7 unarmed SS guards, plus the
Inspector-Generals report reads, "2 Germans were shot by inmates who used the service
rifle of PFC Peter J.DeMarzo of the 157th RCT.
Simply put, if all these aforementioned soldiers were
accused of these crimes at KZ Dachau, although they were never tried, then how can
anybody other than the 45th Infantry, claim they liberated Dachau?
I'm hoping you discredit this film, "The Last
Days" and that Spielberg is made aware that he has been "duped." My
interest in the liberation of Dachau is merely that I was in "H" Company of
the 157th, 45th Infantry Division. I fought in Africa, Sicily and Italy. I was
captured on the Anzio Beachhead, February 22,1944. After being in many POW camps in
Italy and Germany, I was transferred to Dachau for being a "trouble-maker."
I was in Dachau, November 15, to November 20,1944. Unfortunately, my outfit didn't
liberate Dachau until April 29,1945. I didn't wait for them, I escaped on April 8,
Please bear in mind that these false claims are very painful
to the 45th Infantry Division, since they have established an amazing outstanding
record of 511 days in combat and suffered 62,560 casualties during World War II,
Spielberg owes them an apology.
The following article, "DACHAU LIBERATION
CONTROVERSY" was sent to me by
my good friend and historian LTC Hugh F. Foster III (Ret.)
25 June 1999
"AN OVERVIEW OF THE "DACHAU
By Hugh F. Foster III
The Nazi concentration camp near Dachau, Germany, was
overrun and liberated
by American forces on 29 April 1945. This is perhaps the only fact of liberation that
has remained undisputed. The exact time of day that American units arrived, which
units were directly involved, and who first arrived at the gates to the concentration
camp itself are subjects of continued argument. That history does not have a full and
complete picture of the events is due to a number of circumstances, chief among
- Official and individual efforts to obscure some of the events of liberation in order to
conceal excesses by the liberating troops;
- Sensationalist and inaccurate contemporary news accounts of the liberation by a number
of newspaper reporters, unit newspapers and both official and unofficial news
releases, each seeking to garner glory for the writer or the unit.
- A decision by the US Armys Center of Military History (made long after the war)
"award" liberation credit to division size units which were actual liberators OR
subordinate elements passed through or near a concentration camp within 48 hours of
its liberation; Recollections by liberator soldiers and camp inmates many years
after the events, drawing upon fuzzy, faulty or "enhanced" memories;
- Faulty research designed to glamorize revised unit histories;
- Outright lies by people seeking to embellish their own war record.
- Also adding to the confusion is the fact that KL Dachau (KL is the German abbreviation
for Konzentrationslager concentration camp) was a "headquarters
camp," controlling dozens of smaller, subsidiary camps all over the area. Some
researchers have called the lesser camps "little Dachaus". Virtually every
American unit operating within a hundred miles of Dachau town encountered one or more
of these subsidiary camps. It is quite possible that GIs involved in liberating the
smaller camps have confused them in their memories of so long ago with the main KL
Despite official "credit" awarded to the 42nd and
45th Infantry Divisions and the 20th Armored Division for having liberated the
concentration camp at Dachau, the facts of the matter are that only small elements of
the 42nd and 45th were involved in the actual events of liberation. Regardless of
claims to the contrary the 761st Tank Battalion did not liberate the
concentration camp at Dachau. Nor did members of the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion,
engineers with bulldozers or tanks of the 20th Armored Division.
Mislabeled by the authoring office, the most important
historical document covering the events of liberation lay misfiled in the US National
Archives (and therefore unavailable to researchers) until it was discovered by
accident in the late 1980s. This document is one of only three copies prepared
of the XV Corps Inspector General Report of "Investigation of
Alleged Mistreatment of German Guards at Dachau". On 2 May 1945 (three days
after the liberation), Lt. Col. Joseph M. Whitaker was directed to conduct an
investigation to determine the facts of allegations that several German soldiers were
murdered by US troops during the liberation. Colonel Whitaker began his investigation
on 3 May and tendered a written report on 8 June. During the course of investigation,
Colonel Whitaker compelled sworn testimony from 23 members of the 45th Infantry
Division (all from the 157th Infantry Regiment), 10 members of
the 42nd Infantry Division (from the group escorting the Assistant Division Commander
and from members of the 222nd Infantry Regiment), two former civilian inmates of
the concentration camp, and an American OSS officer who was also an inmate at the
time of liberation.
While Colonel Whitakers mission was not to determine
who arrived first at "Dachau," it was necessary for him to make such a
determination in order to identify potential witnesses to the shooting of the German
soldiers. It is obvious from the witness statements that nearly everyone interviewed
was uncomfortable with the process and was anxious not to reveal witnessed events
unless specifically prodded by Colonel Whitaker, i.e., nearly everyone questioned
had something he wished to conceal. In all of the witness statements, however, there
is no mention of any unit participating in the liberation other than members of the
42nd and 45th Infantry Divisions. Colonel Whitakers finding concerning who was
there is contained on the first page
of his report: "The German Dachau Internment Camp was overrun 29 April 1945, by
elements of the 3rd Bn, 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division. A small party of the
42nd Division also entered the area from the front at approximately the same
time." The text of the investigation further identifies the two groups as I
Company, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division and members of the battalion
headquarters, including Lt. Col. Felix L. Sparks, the Battalion Commander; and a
party of the 42nd Infantry Division headquarters personnel led by the Assistant
Division Commander, Brigadier General Henning Linden.
Colonel Whitakers statement is, unfortunately, not
completely correct in at least three
1. He was informed of the presence of two American and two
Belgian journalists. Sergeant Peter Furst of the Stars & Stripes newspaper and
civilian correspondent Marguerite Higgins rode together in Fursts jeep. The two
Belgians, Paul Levy and Raphael Algoet, were in a separate jeep. Depending upon which
account one chooses to believe, the correspondents either led, accompanied or
followed General Lindens party to the concentration camp. Strangely, there is
no mention of the correspondents in the sworn testimony of any of the investigation
2. Although he was aware that US Army combat photographers
the 45th Division elements, he did not interview or identify them.
3. He clearly stated that the "Internment Camp"
was overrun by members of the 45th Division and that a small party of the 42nd
Division "also entered the area from the front at approximately the same
time." However, the terminology he used was not exact. The concentration camp
(which Whitaker calls the "Internment Camp" was a separate facility
inside an outer, military complex. There was only one entrance to the concentration
camp, and that was from within he surrounding military camp. A detailed reading of
the investigation text and the interview texts shows the Colonel Whitaker was not
specifically of the concentration camp, but the whole complex, i.e. the military camp
and the concentration camp, when he wrote that the place was overrun by members of
the 45th Division while at the same time a party of the 42nd Division entered from
the "front". What he meant was that the 45th Division men
entered the outer complex - the military camp - first and that very shortly thereafter,
the 42nd Division men entered the out complex from a different location. Whitaker
never did specifically address which unit arrived first at the gate to the
Further, Colonel Whitaker did not use the word
"liberation" when describing the
arrival of the American soldiers. We shall see that how one chooses to define
"liberation" is at the heart of the "controversy".
It is important that the reader understand some basics about
the use of the name
"Dachau" and the term "main gate". "Dachau" is used by
various writers to mean the
actual town by that name, the overall SS military camp by that name and/or the
concentration camp. The town of Dachau sits astride the Amper River, and in 1945 it
was completely separated from the military camp and the concentration camp, which lay
about one kilometer northeast of the town. The SS military camp, called Dachau
Lager, encompassed a rather large area, with the main area (cantonment,
administration, medical facility, industrial areas, etc.) on the eastern side of the
Amper River, and with training and weapons ranges, etc, on the western side of the
river. Within the confines of the administrative part of Dachau Lager was the
prisoner compound of the concentration camp, Konzentrationslager (abbreviated KL)
Dachau. The prisoner compound was separated from the rest of the rest of the complex
by a masonry wall around three sides, a barbed wire fence on the fourth side and
seven guard towers. The prisoners worked at various factories and facilities located
within Dachau Lager, but outside the prisoner compound. (See attached schematic,
which depicts the prisoner compound and a portion of Dachau Lager.)
The term "main gate" has been used interchangeably
and confusingly by writers to identify both of the two southern entrances to Dachau Lager
AND the entrance to the prisoner compound KL Dachau. In fact, there was only one
"main gate" to Dachau Lager, a very imposing two-story structure with a two-lane
roadway tunnel passing through it, flanked by two tunneled walkways this was the
formal entrance to the complex and is the gate General Linden and his party passed
through. There is another entrance to Dachau Lager along its southern periphery,
consisting of a "gate house" between a railroad entrance and a road entrance.
The rail line entered Dachau Lager through a fence or gate (which was open when the troops
Immediately to the right (east) of the railroad gate stood (and still stands) the three
story "gatehouse" building. Attached to the right (east) of this building was a
gated stone portal spanning a road leading into the Lager. For simplicity, I will call
this the southwestern gate. The 45th Division men entered Dachau Lager here, along the
railroad tracks and, later, through the nearby road gate.
A building known as the Jourhaus was the only entrance to
the concentration camp prisoner compound, and it was accessible only from within Dachau
Lager. The entrance to the prisoner compound was via a one-lane tunneled roadway through
the Jourhaus. The roadway was blocked by a wrought-iron fence with a single door-sized
gate into which the words "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" were worked in iron. This was the
"main" (and only) gate to the prisoner compound, but it was not the "main
gate of Dachau". To review: There were two southern gates to Dachau Lager (the
overall complex), the southwestern gate (rail and road) and the main gate, and one
entrance to the prisoner compound, the Jourhaus gate.
Some things are very clear from the Inspector General Report
of Investigation and its sworn testimony: the general routes of advance of the two units
involved and a rough sequence of their arrivals. Beyond that, there is a great deal of
The 42nd and 45th Infantry Divisions were advancing
generally southeast, their goal being the city of Munich. Both divisions were advancing
rapidly, against very light resistance and most troops were aboard trucks or armored
vehicles. They were, therefore, roadbound. The 42nd was on the right, and the boundary
between the two divisions neatly bisected the town of Dachau. Third Battalion, 157th
Infantry, 45th Infantry Division was the divisions right-most element (to its right
was the 42nd Division). Both divisions had been notified that the concentration camp was
somewhere to their front and instructions from corps were that the division locating the
camp was to seize and secure it. None of the advancing troops, however,
knew exactly where the camp lay, or what actually constituted the "prison camp".
As the rightmost company of the 3rd Battalion, 157th
Infantry (aboard tanks and trucks) approached the Amper River near Dachau Lager, the only
bridge in the area was blown up. The company then began to follow the river to the
southwest (toward the town of Dachau) looking for an undamaged bridge. In the meantime,
the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Felix L.Sparks, directed Company I to move into the town
of Dachau also, and to try to locate a bridge. Ultimately, a railroad bridge was found to
have been partially destroyed. Foot troops and light vehicles, but not tanks or trucks,
could cross. Company I was directed to cross the bridge and then to head back to the
northeast, basically to get back to the point where the destroyed bridge had halted the
advance. Colonel Sparks and a couple of his radio operators accompanied Company I.
Company I crossed the bridge, came upon a railroad spur
leading to the northeast, and followed it to the southwestern gate to Dachau Lager. On
that spur, but outside the Lager, the men came across the first railroad cars of what
would become known as the Death Train. There were several cars in this train, and
part of the train extended through the railroad gage and into the Lager. Sickened, shocked
and enraged by the sight of several hundred emaciated, brutalized, dead prisoners in and
around the rail cars, the men of Company I, 157th Infantry followed the rail line and the
parallel road deeper into Dachau Lager.
Although it is known that the three platoons of Company I
moved off in different directions once they entered the Lager, the actual routes of
advance within the complex and the times of subsequent events have been lost to history.
It is known that some of the men followed a rail spur leading generally toward the
prisoner compound, that others continued farther along the main rail line before turning
to the east, and that others initially were fully occupied in accepting the surrender of
numerous German soldiers.
Inside Dachau Lager, but long before the prisoner compound
had been discovered, the 45th Division men began to round up dozens of surrendering German
soldiers. Those who could be readily identified as SS men, were separated from the others
and were collected in a walled area of the coal yard for the Lagers power house.
There, under conditions that are still clouded in mystery, several Americans opened fire
on the SS men, killing about 17 of them and wounding several more. Colonel Sparks, who was
nearby, heard the firing and rushed into the area and by force of his presence stopped the
At some time after the men of Company I had cleared the
Death Train, but probably before the shooting in the coal yard, three jeeps, (or four
or five depending upon whether Sergeant Fursts jeep, containing Furst
and Maggie Higgins, preceded, accompanied or followed this group, and whether or not the
jeep carrying the two Belgian correspondents Algoet and Levy was there, too) carrying
members of the 42nd Division headquarters encountered the train. This party had been in
Dachau town, purportedly attempting to find elements of one of the divisionss
regiments, when they heard the concentration camp was nearby and set out to locate it. (In
fact, there may have been as many as seven jeeps in this group, as recent research by 42nd
Division veterans indicates that two jeeps carrying six men from one of the regiments
tagged on to the end of the convoy.)
The 42nd Division group halted briefly to examine the Death
Train, then turned east and drove down the road paralleling the southern wall of Dachau
Lager. About one-half mile down this road, the party arrived at the main gate to the
Lager, which was decked out with white flags. A Red Cross representative and a couple of
SS men came out of the gate carrying white flags and surrendered the camp to General
Linden. During the surrender discussion, firing broke out from within the Lager, and
Lindens party took cover behind their jeeps until it stopped.
The firing might have been the shooting of the SS men in the
coal yard by members of
Company I, 157th Infantry. However, at least one post war account of the event mentions
bullets flying through the air near the Linden party. If this is true, the shooting heard
at this time was probably not from the coal yard, as the direction of the shooting would
have precluded bullets coming anywhere near the main gate. As the men of Company I, 157th
moved through the Lager, there were various incidents of shooting: at running Germans, to
kill the guard dogs, which were chained near the crematory; cases of reconnaissance by
fire at suspicious areas;and even some shooting at the Germans in the guard towers of the
prisoner compound. While
the exact nature of this fire has never been determined, it does clearly show that members
of the 45th Division were already inside Dachau Lager and were moving toward the prisoner
compound if they had not already reached it by the time the Linden party
accepted the surrender at the main gate.
When the firing stopped, General Linden ordered his aide,
Lt. Cowling, to enter the Lager and look around. Cowling entered through the main gate,
looked to his right and saw guards in Tower G. He yelled to them to come down out of the
tower and come to him, which they did. Cowling sent these prisoners out through the
main gate under guard and then climbed into a jeep with a German prisoner guide; they
drove straight through the main gate for a block, then turned right directly to
their front, at a distance of about 100 yards, was the Jourhaus. Cowling approached
the Jourhaus, took more prisoners and then sent for General Linden to come forward.
At about the time Linden arrived at the Jourhaus, the
prisoners, who had been inside their barracks, fearing they would be shot by the guards,
discovered that Americans were on the scene. The prisoners swarmed out of the barracks and
rushed the Jourhaus screaming and yelling with joy. Some were killed on the electrified
fence before a soldier managed to turn off the power. Linden ordered his men to fire over
the heads of the prisoners to get them under control and to keep them inside the compound.
Almost all account agree that men from both divisions were at the Jourhaus when Linden
ordered the firing. However, whether Lt. Cowling was the first American to arrive at the
Jourhaus, or if the 45th Division men were already in the
vicinity remains one of the many facts in dispute.
Once the prisoners had been generally calmed down (at least
temporarily) the GIs noticed that there were still German guards in the towers. A group of
the 42nd Division men ran down to Tower B, ordered the Germans to come out lined them up
and then shot them all to death, perhaps finishing off some who were only wounded in the
initial volley. Between 7 and 17 Germans were killed in this incident. Since several of
the bodies fell into the canal and were washed away, an exact count of the dead was never
recorded. Some accounts state that 45th Division men participated in this shooting.
Essentially, after the shooting of the Tower B guards, the liberation was completed, for
the Americans were in control of the whole complex.
Still, there is controversy. Clearly, the 45th Division men
were already inside the outer complex at the time General Linden and his party arrived at
the main gate Linden himself reported hearing firing from within the complex. It is
also clear that it was General Linden who accepted the formal surrender of the complex.
Men from both divisions, however, have claimed that it was their unit that "liberated
Dachau" (45th Division was first inside the Lager; 42nd Division accepted a formal
surrender), and men from both divisions are adamant that men from their unit were the
first to arrive at the Jourhaus,
It is highly likely that the answer to who arrived at the
Jourhaus first will never be factually determined. The question, however, is more complex
than merely who arrived at the Jourhaus first. The question at the heart of the
controversy is "who liberated the concentration camp?" Does the formal surrender
to members of the 42nd Division equate to "liberation"? Does the fact that 45th
Division men were already in control of the Lager and were very near, if not
already at the concentration camp at the time of the formal surrender negate the
effect of the surrender? (in effect, was the SS officer "surrendering" something
that had already been seized
and occupied?) Veterans from both divisions have made up their minds; and they do not
The arguments continue. They are fueled in the main by
personal animosity. Veterans have called others liars, and have disparaged their
character. "Family names" are seemingly at stake. Some have been exposed after
years of embellished stories. Even descendants of some veterans have "taken up the
fight" to clear the name of a relative long dead. To some it has become an
Many find this squabbling among victors to be senseless, and
at times comical. To the people who were most affected by the liberation the
inmates it did not matter what shoulder patch was on the uniform of the first man
to arrive at the Jourhaus. It was an American soldier, who with his buddies had come a
long way, risking life and limb countless times on the journey. He was there to free them
from their Nazi jailers, to return to them freedom life and that was ALL
that mattered then. And it really is all that matters now.
DACHAU - BUCHENWALD LIBERATION
April 2002 will be 57 years since the liberation
of Dachau and Buchenwald Concentration Camps. The controversy continues on as to which
American military units liberated these camps.
end - and no end to "Liberators" written by Ulrich Koch, Berlin,
expresses thoughts on this ongoing problem.
Who liberated Dachau, Buchenwald and other
Please refer to:http://www.shoa.de
for his complete report.
25 January 2002
Jewish prisoner, U.S. liberator recall
By Jim Sheeler, Rocky
April 29, 2003
In the shadow of Dachau, the man they
called 69970 finally fell.
"Go ahead. Shoot me," the Jewish prisoner
defiantly told the German soldier bearing down on him.
By the end of April 1945, the 21-year-old had made it
through three concentration camps. At Sachsenhausen, his uncle and cousin were killed. At
Auschwitz, his father was shot, his mother was gassed to death and he was tattooed with
the number that would follow him the rest of his life.
In the nearly six years since his arrest, he had seen women
and children tortured and had lost everyone he knew. He had seen thousands of walking
skeletons, then became one.
After being marched around the massive Dachau complex for
days, 69970 was ready to die.
"Get up!" commanded the German soldier.
The prisoner looked back, confused. For the rest of his life
he would wonder why he was given a second chance.
"It won't be long, now. The Americans are almost
here," the soldier told him.
"The Americans are right around the corner."
In the shadow of Dachau, 69970 slowly stood, and continued
About a mile from the barbed wire, 27-year-old Lt. Col.
Felix Sparks received a call on his military radio.
"You are to proceed immediately to the concentration
camp at Dachau. Once inside, you are to secure it and let nobody in or out."
By the end of April 1945, Sparks and the 157th Infantry
Regiment had slogged through thousands of miles, all the way from North Africa. At the end
of the war, the 157th - which had it roots in the Colorado National Guard - spent more
time in combat than almost any other unit.
On the afternoon of April 29, Sparks and his men smelled
death. Then it glared back at them, from boxcars filled with bodies.
The trains had arrived from Buchenwald, where, weeks
earlier, the Nazis had sent prisoners away in an attempt to hide them from the advancing
Allies. Very few prisoners survived the trip. None survived Dachau.
At the edge of one of the railroad cars, Sparks saw the body
of a man who managed to crawl a few feet from the train. A guard had crushed his head with
a rifle butt.
As they passed each rail car, the soldiers' anger boiled. If
they found the men who did this, a few swore, there would be hell to pay.
Honoring men of
Inside his home in Lakewood, 58 years after he got the order
to take Dachau, Sparks watched as an old friend rolled up his sleeve to expose a tattoo.
The Nazis called him 69970. His name is Jack Goldman.
As they sat together last week, the two men talked about the
day that would end the war for both of them and about the people who weren't there to see
"These are the ones in railroad cars," Sparks said
as he took out a stack of photos.
"This girl. I can still remember her face. Boy, I
remember her face," Sparks said.
"There were a lot of photos taken of that young girl.
She just happened to be on top of the other bodies."
Though they never met each other at Dachau, the two men have
spoken out for years about their experiences from both sides of the prison gates. This
year, to commemorate the 58th anniversary of Dachau's liberation, Goldman suggested
At a special ceremony, the Hebrew Educational Alliance plans
to remember the men of the 157th and their successors in the Colorado Army National Guard.
Tonight, the group plans to unveil a memorial boulder designed by Goldman, etched with the
logo of the 157th alongside a Star of David. The symbols are joined by barbed wire.
Inside Sparks' home last week, the two veterans - Sparks is
now 85 years old, Goldman is 79 - continued to look through the stacks of pictures. Their
memories are nearly as tangible.
In another famous photo, a young lieutenant colonel stands
with his pistol raised in the air.
He is screaming at his men to stop shooting.
Once inside the gates at Dachau, Sparks and his troops
quickly rounded up most of the German soldiers that had not already deserted. Members of
the SS were taken to a coal yard, and a young private was told to guard them with a
"I told him to just keep 'em there," recalled
Sparks, who then left to secure the rest of the camp.
"Then the machine gunner cut loose on those prisoners.
Why he did that, I don't know.
"I ran back as fast as I could, I kicked him down with
the back of my foot. I grabbed him by the collar and said, 'What the hell were you doing?'
He said, 'But, colonel, they were trying to get away.'
Sparks shook his head.
"They weren't trying to get away."
At that point in the war, the troops had seen 511 days of
combat. Dachau was different. For a few of them, it was too much.
"I'll tell you a story that I haven't told, but I can
tell it now since the guy's dead," Sparks said.
"At one point, I came around a corner and saw my
company commander running after a German, hitting him in the head with the barrel of his
carbine. He kept chasing him and hitting him and saying, 'You sons of bitches. You sons of
bitches. You sons of bitches.' That's all he could say.
"I ran forward, and he wouldn't stop, so I hit (the GI)
with the butt of my .45 and knocked him down.
"He laid down there and started crying. Just
killings of SS
"Q: Do you remember the taking of the Dachau
So begins the questioning of dozens of American soldiers,
during a military investigation following the camp's liberation. After the war, the
documentation of the incident was filed away for decades in the National Archives in
"About 20 years ago, I decided to hire someone to find
that report," Sparks said. Books had been written about what did or did not happen
during the liberation - most of them inaccurate, Sparks said. By then, Sparks had retired
from the military as a brigadier general and served as a justice on the Colorado Supreme
These days, Sparks is known as an outspoken advocate for the
prevention of handgun violence - a cause he took up after his grandson was shot and
killed. Meanwhile, veterans from his unit - along with others in the National Guard - are
asking the government that he receive the Medal of Honor for his achievements during the
Each year, about this time, it all returns. In his home, he
still keeps the stacks of investigations he was never shown.
"Q. Who ordered the killing of these SS men?" one
of the investigators asked one of the soldiers during the inquiry.
"A. Well, I don't think there was any orders given, but
it was the general feeling of the troops when we saw those bodies and one or two skinny
fellows that came out that no prisoners would be taken among our own troops."
"Q. What did (another officer) tell you about what
happened?" a different GI was asked.
"A: He told me that some of our men had lined some SS
troopers against the wall and used their machine guns to kill them with. He said that some
of the SS troopers were not killed by the machine gun fire and that one or two had cut
their own throats. He said it was the worst thing he had ever seen since being in the
After the war, Sparks was called into the office of Gen.
George S. Patton to account for the incident.
"(Patton) said, 'Colonel, I have some serious charges
here against you and some of your men,' " Sparks remembered.
"I said, 'Yes, and I'd like to explain them.'
"He said, 'I've had these g-damned charges
investigated, and they're a bunch of crap. You've been a damn fine soldier. You go on
"I never heard another word about it. Never heard
another damn word."
Accounts differ on how many German prisoners were killed
after surrendering. Sparks says his men killed 30. Others, Sparks maintains, were killed
by other troops not under his command.
Some of the Germans were literally torn apart by the newly
"Testimony of Walenty Lenarczyk, Inmate No. 39272 at
Dachau, formerly of Warszaw, Poland.
"After the shooting, prisoners swarmed over the wire
and grabbed the Americans and lifted them to their shoulders among many cries. I helped to
lift the soldiers . . . And while this was going on, other prisoners caught the SS men . .
. The first SS man elbowed one or two prisoners out of his way, but the courage of the
prisoners mounted, they knocked them down and nobody could see whether they were stomped
or what, but they were killed. All we cared about was the Americans. For the past six
years we had waited for the Americans, and for the moment the SS were nothing. We were,
all these years, animals to them and it was our birthday. It was ordered by Himmler that
the SS kill all prisoners before the Americans arrived and so when they came fast it was
truly our second birthday."
Out of tears
Over the years, historians and authors have debated the
impact of what happened during the liberation at Dachau. As a U.S. veteran of the Korean
War (he enlisted shortly after emigrating), Jack Goldman says he understands the
importance of following the Geneva Conventions, the necessity of remaining above the level
of the murderers.
He also wants to make sure nobody forgets the real prisoners
in the camp and the millions who died before them.
"I don't blame (the Americans) for shooting (the German
soldiers). They deserved it," Goldman said. "They should not feel bad for having
"If I was there (in the machine gunner's position), I
suppose I could have done it. I don't know if I would have. I don't know. I just don't
When Goldman heard about his father being killed at
Auschwitz, he said he didn't cry. By then, he said, he was out of tears. Instead, he
clenched his hand into a fist. He didn't hear about his mother's death until after the
war. By then, his fist had begun to open.
"Vengeance is . . . " he began, and then stopped
"I knew men in camp who had sworn by everything that
was holy to them that if they ever got out that they would kill every German in sight.
They had to watch their wives mutilated. They had to watch their babies tossed in the air
He stopped again.
"My philosophy is that I will not blame Germans for
something that their parents may or may not have done.
"I have never preached hatred. Just the opposite.
Hatred doesn't get you anywhere."
One vivid memory
In the shadow of Dachau, Jack Goldman still stands.
When survivors are asked about their memories of the
liberation of the camp, some prisoners remember the cheers as the Americans arrived. Some
recall their first time outside the gates. For the man who was once 66970, all of that
remains a blur.
As he stood near one of the liberators nearly six decades
later, Goldman uncovered a memory he holds above them all.
"After the Americans arrived, they took our names. For
the first time, we were no longer numbers," he said.
"They asked for our names."
Our sincere thanks to Mr. Cizewski for his contribution, 45th Division News dated
May 13, 1945, to our website. Articles like this will keep the memories, stories and
experiences of WWII ongoing.
Hi Mr. Panebianco,
Thank you for your support. And thank you for your service. I can't think of a better way to honor
and remember my late father and his service than by sharing what he chose to save from
his WW2 experience.
Thank you for your website. Not only as you discovered there is very little information about the
45th on the web, there is shortage of information on many other units. I hope to help fill a tiny
piece of that gap by sharing what I found in my late father's collection
I doubt you would have met my father. He recovered enough from frostbite to get out of the
hospital and be reassigned to the 45th Signal Company about the same time you went in the
hospital. My understanding is that men like my father would have been just behind riflemen like
you, setting up communication lines and bringing up supplies.
I looked at your website and saw the picture of you in Munich. Did you see the picture of my father
I've finished adding the other four pages to the May 13, 1945 edition of The 45th Division News.
Page 6 has the photo of the 157th command post in the Hofbrauhas that you have on your website.
I've also added the May 9, 1945 Extra edition reporting the end of the war in Europe.
You are welcome to link to any of these pages.
Again thank you. And tell your grandson he did a great job teaching you how to use a computer!
Leonard H. Cizewski, Madison, Wisconsin
Son of the late PFC Felix A. Cizewski, 45th Signal Co., 45th ID
Please note: By clicking on the following images, you
can access a more easily read version with larger type.
45th Division News,
Vol. V, No. 32, Page 1, May 13, 1945