‘Have you ever heard of Dachau?’
Vail CO, Colorado
One afternoon, the Colonel called Frank in to headquarters. Frank entered, saluted, and stood sharp.
“At ease,” the Colonel said. He had bushy brows which nearly met when he frowned. “You have orders to move out again, Frank.”
“Have you heard of Dachau?”
“No, sir,” Frank replied.
“It’s a concentration camp. The Nazis have been moving a lot of prisoners there from the other camps to Dachau. The 42nd is going to take the camp, but they need artillery for support.”
“If successful, this will be the second camp liberated by the British and American forces.”
“When do I leave?”
“Right away,” the Colonel replied.
As First Lt. Frank Doll, he was in charge of communications for the 989th Artillery Battalion. The most common gun in his command was a 155 mm gun, which was a long barreled rifle. This gun was so accurate that a gunner could shoot a target three feet away from where he shot his previous bomb with just a simple adjustment. Most of these big guns were towed behind tractors.
Dachau Concentration Camp, located some 10 miles north of Munich, was a dismal place of death. Constructed from an unused gunpowder facility, the camp was retrofitted with crematoriums to burn dead bodies and barracks where horrific surgical experiments were performed. However, most of the 200,000 prisoners ” from more than 30 countries and one-third of those Jews ” died from disease, malnutrition and suicide. More than 30,000 prisoners perished at Dachau. A vile black smoke constantly settled over the camp, filling every crevice with the odor of death.
Because the Nazis were losing the war, many prisoners from other camps had been removed and loaded on train cars for the trip to Dachau. These prisoners were packed into the rail cars and given nothing to eat and most of them were already half-starved and many fatally ill. Very few arrived at Dachau alive.
So it was to this camp that the 42nd arrived with Frank and his artillery along for assault support. It was April 29, 1945, and inside the camp were some 45,000 miserable souls. One person, however, was missing: Camp Commander Martin Weiss had left the camp the day before along with most of the regular guards. Weiss left his camp in charge of “trustees,” military recruits put in trust and who acted as guards. These trustees were the most hated people in the German army.
When the 42nd Division arrived with Frank’s artillery, the camp was ablaze from giant floodlights, and all around was barren ground. It air smelled foul, of death and misery.
Huge wooden doors stood as sentry to the outside world. Tanks moved into position and blew the doors to smithereens. Chaos erupted. Skeletal looking prisoners, men and women with only a hint of flesh on their bones, their eyes hallow and deep set, poured out of the doors of Dachau. Those trustees who had been left in charge took flight and those prisoners capable of chase did so until they caught and killed the men who had tormented them, starved them, and committed unhuman acts. When order was finally restored, an inspection of the train cars on the tracks showed thousands of dead bodies, those poor souls who did not make the trip alive from other concentration camps and who were simply left to rot.
To this day it is difficult for Frank to express in words the horror that was Dachau.
However, thanks to the men in the 42nd ,First Lt. Frank Doll, and his artillery, the camp was liberated.
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