The day had dawned and the Rainbow was in pursuit of evil as they crossed the Danube River. On April 29, 1945, the 42nd Rainbow Division came right into the path of the Nazi's Dachau concentration camp. It was on April 29, that Brig. General Linden and his party accepted the formal surrender of the Camp (Daly 96). Prior to the 42nd and the 45th Divisions attacking the camp, most of the German military and its officers had already left. Some German officers changed into prison garb to blend with the 33,000 inmates in an escape attempt (Daly 99).
Upon the confusion and excitement of seeing American troops, this initial group of inmates were pushed and shoved into an electrical compound fense. Several were killed. Other inmates wildly fought against remaining German guards clubbing, stoning and beating them to death (Daly 99). Other German soldiers were thrown in the moat and shot with their own guns.
These inmates had been starved, tortured and witnessed their families being murdered. To stop the frienzy Rainbowers had to shoot over the inmates heads (Daly 99).
The sights of this camp were beyond horror. Outside the camp proper, 1500 bodies were found in 50 boxcars.
These naked and barely clad inmates had been transferred from Camp Buchenwald. Due to lack of housing room, these inmates were left in the boxcars whithout food until they died. Rainbowers found only one survivor (Daly 99).
Prior to the German evacuation of its soldiers the night before, they killed important prisoners first then randomly others. Over 2,000 bodies were scattered everywhere. Inmates had stacked the bodies "like cordwood" (Daly 99).
This death camp opened in 1933. It systematically killed up to 200 men, women and children daily. They were stripped naked, led to gas chambers to die, their bodies thrown in a room to await cremation (Daly 99). However, the Nazis had no more coal and were unable to cremate the bodies (Daly 99).
They continued to either starve or gas the inmates. Now the bodies went to open graves or in the moat, causing a human dam of the water (Daly 99).
The stench was nauseating and overpowering everywhere. The hospital was a place where inmates died either on board beds with no linens or on the floor. Living conditions were worse than that of animals (Daly 99).
Within hours of liberation, medical personnel, food and supplies were brought in and the dead were buried. The camp was a living nightmare. It was worse than anything witnessed on the battlefield.
The average age of the Rainbower was 19 - 20. Tours of the camp were given so these young men would not forget. "Now I know why we are fighting," Rainbowers said (Daly 104).
-Written by EMT
Citations: Daly, Hugh C. 42nd Rainbow Infantry Division: History of World War II. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Army and Navy Publishing Building, 1946.
The Photo: The boxcars were filled with victims murdered by German officers. (Photo courtesy of 42nd Rainbower Al Fontana)