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April 30 1945 Headlines. Hangs in my classroom.

April 30 1945 Headlines. Hangs in my classroom.

Today, April 29th, is the anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, 71 years on.

Today, if it is brought up at all, some of us might respond with a vacant stare. More might shrug and turn away. I suppose that is to be expected. But you know me. I just think that as a nation, sometimes we allow things to slip from memory at our peril.

It was real, and it happened. And it was American GIs who overran this camp and many others in the closing days of World War II.

The men of the 42nd and 45th Infantry Division arrived independently of each other, here, in southern Germany, at Dachau, on this day. A concentration camp, they were told. Their noses gave them a hint of what they were about to uncover, miles before the camp appeared in sight.

Read the headlines, above. Note the subarticle:

Boxcars of Dead at Dachau. 32,000 captives freed.

American soldiers view the bodies in one of the open railcars of the Dachau death train. USHMM

American soldiers view the bodies in one of the open railcars of the Dachau death train. USHMM

And so after some resistance, into the camp they entered. Life changing events were about to unfold for the American soldier.

***

For me, it’s not about hero worship, or glorifying the liberator or any World War II soldier by placing him on a pedestal. Our time with them is now limited, but many of the liberating soldiers I know push back at this, to the point of rejecting the term, “liberator”- “It all sounds so exalted, so glamorous” said one. But they will all accept the term, “eyewitness”.

Witnesses to the greatest crime in the history of the world.

So instead I think it is about honoring their experiences, their shock, the horror, the puking and the crying, the rage-and then, the American GIs recognizing that something had to be done. And they did suffer for it, for trying to do the right thing. Many tried to help by offering food to starving prisoners who just were not ready to handle it, only to see them drop dead. Or having to manhandle these emaciated victims who were tearing away at each other as food was being offered.

Some guys never got over it. How could you?

I have learned so much over the past few years from these guys, just through the way that they carried themselves and tried to cope with what they witnessed. In my World War II studies and Holocaust class, we discuss these issues at length. I’m so lucky to be able to teach it.

Last year, I was privileged to teach a lesson to my high school seniors for NBC Learn, which was shared with other districts across the nation. Later, I stumbled upon this piece by the late author Tony Hays, who writes about his liberator father and his own encounter with the past. Thanks to the Get It Write folks; the original link is at the bottom.

***

Dachau Will Always Be With Us

by Tony Hays

This is not so much a post about writing as one about a writer’s education, about one of those experiences that molds us, shapes us into storytellers. I read yesterday the story of Joseph Corbsie, whose father, a World War II veteran, left him with a special legacy from the war, from the hideous Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. I feel a particular kinship with Mr. Corbsie.

My father, Robert Hays, was the son of an alcoholic tenant farmer in rural west Tennessee. If the appellation “dirt poor” fit anyone, it fit my grandfather’s family. Daddy served in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 30s. He and my mother, who was in the woman’s equivalent of the CCC, working as a nurse’s aide at Western State Mental Hospital in Bolivar, Tennessee, met on a blind date in early 1940 and married in September of that year.

But just over a year later, Pearl Harbor happened. America was in the war. My father was among the first of those drafted in 1942. I won’t bore you with the details, but he participated in the North African, Salerno, Anzio, and southern France invasions, saved by the luck of the draw from Normandy. But they slogged through France and on to Germany. On April 29, 1945, Allied troops liberated the Dachau concentration camp. I don’t know whether he entered Dachau that day or the next, but that he was there within hours of the liberation is beyond dispute. A few months later, after more than three years overseas, he came home.

In later years, he would talk occasionally about the war, providing anecdotes that showed the chaos and random chance of battle. He spoke of driving through Kasserine Pass in North Africa just hours before the Germans killed thousands of Allied troops in a stunning attack. He spoke of a friend, defending his position from a foxhole, who was thought dead after an artillery shell landed right next to him. When the dust cleared, the friend was buried up to his neck in dirt, but did not have a scratch on him. He spoke often of Anzio, where he was wounded, and of the massive German air assaults on those soldiers clinging to that tiny sliver of beach along the Italian coast.

But he never spoke of Dachau.

The bodies of former prisoners are piled in the crematorium mortuary in the newly liberated Dachau concentration camp. Dachau, Germany, April 29, 1945.

The bodies of former prisoners are piled in the crematorium mortuary in the newly liberated Dachau concentration camp. Dachau, Germany, April 29, 1945. USHMM.

 

Ever.

When he died in 1981, we found a photo in his wallet. An old sepia-toned shot like others he had taken during the war, pictures that he kept in an old brown bag. But this one was different.

It showed a pile of naked bodies. Well, really more skeletons than not, with their skin stretched pitifully over their bones. On the back, as had been his habit, was typed simply “Dachau.”

I was confused. Why would he keep this one photo in his wallet all of those years? Especially a photo of a place and event that he never spoke about. It obviously had some deeper meaning for him than the other photographs. If it had been a shot of the building he was in when he was wounded (hit by an artillery shell), I could have seen that. A reminder of his closest brush with death. Yeah, I could buy that. But this macabre photo? That, I couldn’t see.

So, for the next fifteen years, I remained puzzled.

Until the fall of 1996. I was working in Poland, and I had some time off. I took an overnight bus from Katowice, Poland to Munich. It was an interesting trip all in itself. We sat in a line of buses at midnight on the Polish/German border, waiting for our turn to cross, next to a cemetery, as if in some Cold War spy movie. I remember passing Nuremburg and thinking that my father had been there at the end of the war. And then there was Munich.

I spent a day or two wandering through the streets, drinking beer in the Marienplatz. I’m a historical novelist, so the short trip out to Dachau was a no-brainer. Of course it was as much my father’s connection with it as anything else that spurred the visit. But I’m not sure that I was completely aware of that at the time.

Dachau literally sits just on the outskirts of the Munich metropolitan area. I looked at the sign on the train station with a sadness, wondering for how many people that had been one of the last things they saw. It was only later that I discovered there had been another depot for those passengers.

The Dachau Memorial is a place of deep emotion. In the camp proper, mostly all that are left are the foundations of the barracks. One has been reconstructed to give an idea of how horrible life must have been. The camp was originally intended to hold 6,000 inmates; when the Allies liberated Dachau in 1945, they found 30,000. The museum and exhibits are primarily in the old maintenance building. I looked with awe at life size photos of prisoners machine gunned, their hands torn to ribbons from the barbed wire they had tried to climb in a futile attempt at escape.

I followed the visitors (I can’t call them tourists) north to where you crossed over into the crematorium area. It was there that the full brunt of what had taken place at Dachau really hit me. A simple brick complex, it seemed so peaceful on the fall day that I stood before it. But as I read the plaques and consulted my guidebook, as I stepped through the door and actually saw the “shower” rooms where the prisoners were gassed, as I stared into the open doors of the ovens, I felt a rage unlike any I had ever known consume me.
Covering my eyes, embarrassed at the tears, I slipped back outside. It took more than a few minutes to regain my composure. I thought then that I understood why my father kept that photo close to him for so long. It was a reminder of what one group of people had done to another group of fellow humans. The obscenity of it had overwhelmed him as it had me.

That night, I went to the famous Hofbrauhaus in Munich, to wash the images of the ovens away with some beer. I hadn’t been there long when an elderly American couple sat at the table. They were from Florida, a pleasant couple. He had been a young lieutenant in the American army on the push into Munich. In fact, it had been his pleasure to liberate the Hofbrauhaus from the Germans.

Of course, I asked the question. “Were you at Dachau?”

He didn’t answer for several seconds, tears glistening in the corners of his eyes as his wife’s hand covered his and squeezed. Finally, he nodded, reached into a back pocket and pulled out his wallet.

With a flick of his wrist, a photo, just as wrinkled, just as bent, as the one my father had carried landed on the table. It wasn’t the same scene, but one just like it.

Here was my chance, the opportunity to ask the question I had never been able to ask my father. I pulled the photo from my own wallet and lay it next to his. “Why? Why have you carried it so long? To remind you of the horror of Dachau, of what had been done here?”

His face carried the faintest of smiles as he shook his head. “No, son, to remind us of the horrors that we are capable of, to remind us not to go down that road again.”

The difference was subtle, but in that moment, I learned two lessons invaluable to a writer, subtle differences are important, and when you want to know the truth, go to the source.

As I sit here now and look at that same photograph, I realize that it was my father’s legacy to me, of Dachau. Joe Corbsie’s father left him something more tangible, a reminder of the same thing for the same reason, but more forcefully stated — a tiny box of human ash from the ovens.

Now, nearly 70 years after that day in 1945, Dachau is still with us, and I hope the legacy left by our fathers always will be.

The late Tony Hays.

 

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April 30 1945 Headlines. Hangs in my classroom.

April 30 1945 Headlines. Hangs in my classroom.

Today, April 29th, is the anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, 70 years on.

Today, if it is brought up at all, some of us might respond with a vacant stare. More might shrug and turn away. I suppose that is to be expected. But you know me. I just think that as a nation, sometimes we allow things to slip from memory at our peril.

It was real, and it happened. And it was American GIs who overran this camp and many others in the closing days of World War II.

The men of the 42nd and 45th Infantry Division arrived independently of each other, here, in southern Germany, at Dachau, on this day. A concentration camp, they were told. Their noses gave them a hint of what they were about to uncover, miles before the camp appeared in sight.

Read the headlines, above. Note the subarticle:

Boxcars of Dead at Dachau. 32,000 captives freed.

American soldiers view the bodies in one of the open railcars of the Dachau death train. USHMM

American soldiers view the bodies in one of the open railcars of the Dachau death train. USHMM

And so after some resistance, into the camp they entered. Life changing events were about to unfold for the American soldier.

***

For me, it’s not about hero worship, or glorifying the liberator or any World War II soldier as some kind of savior. Many of the liberating soldiers I know would resist this, to the point of rejecting the term, “liberator”… “It all sounds so exalted, so glamorous” said one. But they will all accept the term, “eyewitness”.

Witnesses to the greatest crime in the history of the world.

So instead I think it is about honoring their experiences, their shock, the horror, the puking and the crying, the rage-and then, the American GIs recognizing that something had to be done. And they did suffer for it, for trying to do the right thing. Many tried to help by offering food to starving prisoners who just were not ready to handle it, only to see them drop dead. Or having to manhandle these emaciated victims who were tearing away at each other as food was being offered.

Some guys never got over it. How could you?

I have learned so much over the past few years from these guys, just through the way that they carried themselves and tried to cope with what they witnessed. In my World War II studies and Holocaust class, we discuss these issues at length. I’m so lucky to be able to teach it.

Last year, I was privileged to teach a lesson to my high school seniors for NBC Learn, which was shared with other districts across the nation. This year, I stumbled upon this piece by the late author Tony Hays, who writes about his liberator father and his own encounter with the past. Thanks to the Get It Write folks; the original link is at the bottom.

***

Dachau Will Always Be With Us

by Tony Hays

This is not so much a post about writing as one about a writer’s education, about one of those experiences that molds us, shapes us into storytellers. I read yesterday the story of Joseph Corbsie, whose father, a World War II veteran, left him with a special legacy from the war, from the hideous Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. I feel a particular kinship with Mr. Corbsie.

My father, Robert Hays, was the son of an alcoholic tenant farmer in rural west Tennessee. If the appellation “dirt poor” fit anyone, it fit my grandfather’s family. Daddy served in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 30s. He and my mother, who was in the woman’s equivalent of the CCC, working as a nurse’s aide at Western State Mental Hospital in Bolivar, Tennessee, met on a blind date in early 1940 and married in September of that year.

But just over a year later, Pearl Harbor happened. America was in the war. My father was among the first of those drafted in 1942. I won’t bore you with the details, but he participated in the North African, Salerno, Anzio, and southern France invasions, saved by the luck of the draw from Normandy. But they slogged through France and on to Germany. On April 29, 1945, Allied troops liberated the Dachau concentration camp. I don’t know whether he entered Dachau that day or the next, but that he was there within hours of the liberation is beyond dispute. A few months later, after more than three years overseas, he came home.

In later years, he would talk occasionally about the war, providing anecdotes that showed the chaos and random chance of battle. He spoke of driving through Kasserine Pass in North Africa just hours before the Germans killed thousands of Allied troops in a stunning attack. He spoke of a friend, defending his position from a foxhole, who was thought dead after an artillery shell landed right next to him. When the dust cleared, the friend was buried up to his neck in dirt, but did not have a scratch on him. He spoke often of Anzio, where he was wounded, and of the massive German air assaults on those soldiers clinging to that tiny sliver of beach along the Italian coast.

But he never spoke of Dachau.

The bodies of former prisoners are piled in the crematorium mortuary in the newly liberated Dachau concentration camp. Dachau, Germany, April 29, 1945.

The bodies of former prisoners are piled in the crematorium mortuary in the newly liberated Dachau concentration camp. Dachau, Germany, April 29, 1945. USHMM.

 

Ever.

When he died in 1981, we found a photo in his wallet. An old sepia-toned shot like others he had taken during the war, pictures that he kept in an old brown bag. But this one was different.

It showed a pile of naked bodies. Well, really more skeletons than not, with their skin stretched pitifully over their bones. On the back, as had been his habit, was typed simply “Dachau.”

I was confused. Why would he keep this one photo in his wallet all of those years? Especially a photo of a place and event that he never spoke about. It obviously had some deeper meaning for him than the other photographs. If it had been a shot of the building he was in when he was wounded (hit by an artillery shell), I could have seen that. A reminder of his closest brush with death. Yeah, I could buy that. But this macabre photo? That, I couldn’t see.

So, for the next fifteen years, I remained puzzled.

Until the fall of 1996. I was working in Poland, and I had some time off. I took an overnight bus from Katowice, Poland to Munich. It was an interesting trip all in itself. We sat in a line of buses at midnight on the Polish/German border, waiting for our turn to cross, next to a cemetery, as if in some Cold War spy movie. I remember passing Nuremburg and thinking that my father had been there at the end of the war. And then there was Munich.

I spent a day or two wandering through the streets, drinking beer in the Marienplatz. I’m a historical novelist, so the short trip out to Dachau was a no-brainer. Of course it was as much my father’s connection with it as anything else that spurred the visit. But I’m not sure that I was completely aware of that at the time.

Dachau literally sits just on the outskirts of the Munich metropolitan area. I looked at the sign on the train station with a sadness, wondering for how many people that had been one of the last things they saw. It was only later that I discovered there had been another depot for those passengers.

The Dachau Memorial is a place of deep emotion. In the camp proper, mostly all that are left are the foundations of the barracks. One has been reconstructed to give an idea of how horrible life must have been. The camp was originally intended to hold 6,000 inmates; when the Allies liberated Dachau in 1945, they found 30,000. The museum and exhibits are primarily in the old maintenance building. I looked with awe at life size photos of prisoners machine gunned, their hands torn to ribbons from the barbed wire they had tried to climb in a futile attempt at escape.

I followed the visitors (I can’t call them tourists) north to where you crossed over into the crematorium area. It was there that the full brunt of what had taken place at Dachau really hit me. A simple brick complex, it seemed so peaceful on the fall day that I stood before it. But as I read the plaques and consulted my guidebook, as I stepped through the door and actually saw the “shower” rooms where the prisoners were gassed, as I stared into the open doors of the ovens, I felt a rage unlike any I had ever known consume me.
Covering my eyes, embarrassed at the tears, I slipped back outside. It took more than a few minutes to regain my composure. I thought then that I understood why my father kept that photo close to him for so long. It was a reminder of what one group of people had done to another group of fellow humans. The obscenity of it had overwhelmed him as it had me.

That night, I went to the famous Hofbrauhaus in Munich, to wash the images of the ovens away with some beer. I hadn’t been there long when an elderly American couple sat at the table. They were from Florida, a pleasant couple. He had been a young lieutenant in the American army on the push into Munich. In fact, it had been his pleasure to liberate the Hofbrauhaus from the Germans.

Of course, I asked the question. “Were you at Dachau?”

He didn’t answer for several seconds, tears glistening in the corners of his eyes as his wife’s hand covered his and squeezed. Finally, he nodded, reached into a back pocket and pulled out his wallet.

With a flick of his wrist, a photo, just as wrinkled, just as bent, as the one my father had carried landed on the table. It wasn’t the same scene, but one just like it.

Here was my chance, the opportunity to ask the question I had never been able to ask my father. I pulled the photo from my own wallet and lay it next to his. “Why? Why have you carried it so long? To remind you of the horror of Dachau, of what had been done here?”

His face carried the faintest of smiles as he shook his head. “No, son, to remind us of the horrors that we are capable of, to remind us not to go down that road again.”

The difference was subtle, but in that moment, I learned two lessons invaluable to a writer, subtle differences are important, and when you want to know the truth, go to the source.

As I sit here now and look at that same photograph, I realize that it was my father’s legacy to me, of Dachau. Joe Corbsie’s father left him something more tangible, a reminder of the same thing for the same reason, but more forcefully stated — a tiny box of human ash from the ovens.

Now, nearly 70 years after that day in 1945, Dachau is still with us, and I hope the legacy left by our fathers always will be.

 

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Slide17NBC Learn came to town and filmed in my classroom in late April. We were learning about some pretty heavy stuff, the liberation of the camps, in this case Dachau.

It was a good experience for my kids to kind of demonstrate what they learned and why the study of this particular segment of history is something that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Slide24From the producer:

“Our site is accessed by thousands of teachers and students…. [for use as] on-line curriculum for middle school students on World War II.”

“I owe a debt to you and your students for your help on the video… By allowing us to film in the class and setting it up for us, you and your students provided a context that was so essential to tell Rich’s difficult story.”

 

You can also click here for the High Def version, “Richard Marowitz, a Liberation Story.”

http://static.nbclearn.com/files/nbclearn/site/video/widget/NBC_Learn_Video_Widget2.swf?CUECARD_ID=70738

It’s pretty well done and the kids did a great job.

UPDATE: Richard passed shortly after this interview was released. It was his last one. God speed, Rich.

Here are some stills:

Slide5

Slide22

Slide13

Slide4

Slide14

Slide18

Slide16

 

 

 

Slide11

For more about the original visit by NBC, click here.

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April 30 1945 Headlines. Hangs in my classroom.

April 30 1945 Headlines. Hangs in my classroom.

Today, April 29th, is the anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, 69 years on. Today, if it is brought up at all, some of us might respond with a vacant stare. More might shrug and turn away. I suppose that is to be expected. But you know me. I just think that as a nation, sometimes we allow things to slip from memory at our peril.

It was real, and it happened. And it was American GIs who overran this camp and many others in the closing days of World War II.

The men of the 42nd and 45th Infantry Division arrived independently of each other, here, in southern Germany, at Dachau, on this day. A concentration camp, they were told. Their noses gave them a hint of what they were about to uncover, miles before the camp appeared in sight.

Read the headlines, above. Note the sub article:

Boxcars of Dead at Dachau. 32,000 captives freed.

American soldiers view the bodies in one of the open railcars of the Dachau death train. USHMM

American soldiers view the bodies in one of the open railcars of the Dachau death train. USHMM

And so after some resistance, into the camp they entered. Life changing events were about to unfold for the American soldier.

***************************

For me, it’s not about hero worship, or glorifying the liberator or any World War II soldier as some kind of savior. Many of the liberating soldiers I know would resist this, to the point of rejecting the term, “liberator”… “It all sounds so exalted, so glamorous” said one. But they will all accept the term, “eyewitness”.

Witnesses to the greatest crime in the history of the world.

So instead I think it is about honoring their experiences, their shock, the horror, the puking and the crying, the rage-and then, the American GIs recognizing that something had to be done. And they did suffer for it, for trying to do the right thing. Many tried to help by offering food to starving prisoners who just were not ready to handle it, only to see them drop dead. Or having to manhandle these emaciated victims who were tearing away at each other as food was being offered.

Some guys never got over it. How could you?

I have learned so much over the past few years from these guys, just through the way that they carried themselves and tried to cope with what they witnessed. In my World War II studies and Holocaust class, we discuss these issues at length. I’m so lucky to be able to teach it.

 

Class of 2014 in my classroom. Watching archival footage of the liberation.

Class of 2014 in my classroom. Watching archival footage of the liberation.

So yesterday, a film crew arrived from NBCLearn, a division of NBC News, all the way up from New York City. No, I did not call them. They found me. They were doing a related story, so I talked them into coming up (shout out here to the producer, Norm).

They decided they wanted to learn something from our kids- ultimately, I think, whether or not history really mattered anymore.

We have had many lessons on the Holocaust, on the victims especially, but also on the  perpetrators and the bystanders. Lessons on the liberation, and what we have been studying all along.

These kids have witnessed soldiers’ and survivors’ testimony. They have interviewed their own subjects, firsthand, and established relationships with this generation. And therefore, they become the new witnesses to the deeds of this generation. And with this, they will carry a new responsiblity. To never forget, and to not let others forget, the lessons of the past.

***************************

The raw film is rolling in the classroom. I guess it’s time for me to see what has happened to change the kids. What have they learned, and how have they grown? But today it is time to set the written exam to the side.

We watch the testimony of the  liberator who had visited our school in the past, and viewed the archival footage and photographs from 69 years ago.

And then editor poses the questions for the kids. “Why is it important to study the Holocaust? “What difference do you think it makes to know about this, our past? What do you think motivated our soldiers to go off and fight? Was it just “patriotism?”

What did your class learn? What have YOU learned?”

The completed video will be shown in schools across the country. Below are some of the kids of Hudson Falls, who make their small town  proud.

Meg V.

Meg V.

 

 

 

Koreena H

Koreena H

Klayton S.

Klayton S.

 

Class of 2014 in my classroom, April 28, 2014. NBC News has arrived.

Class of 2014 in my classroom, April 28, 2014. NBC News has arrived.

 

 

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“On April 30, 1945, Jewish-American G.I. Richard Marowitz  stormed into Hitler’s bedroom looking for anything he could bring back to headquarters.

Richard Marowitz of Albany , NY was on the scene for the liberation of Dachau. The following day he was at Hitler’s villa in Munich. Here is his story as told to Matthew Rozell and a group of students at Hudson Falls High School ten years ago.  Marowitz is a Jewish war veteran. Read the postscript to learn more about Hitler’s hat.

Richard M. Marowitz-42nd Rainbow Division-

The Liberation of Dachau

interviewed at Hudson Falls High School.

On the 29th of April 1945, my platoon was called into the command post, we were in a little village, I don’t remember the name of it, but it was probably about 25-30 miles from Dachau.  We were given new maps which showed Dachau, and we were told that the 20th Armored were already on the road to Dachau and our job was to take off and get to the tail end of the 20th Armored and be liaison between the 20th Armored and the infantry that would be coming down behind us in two and a half ton trucks, which is kind of idiotic but that’s the way the army was. The reason for that was we were having a race with the 3rd Division on one side of us, and the 45th Division on the other side of us, and they wanted the 42nd to win the race. So we took off on the road going very quickly like we usually do – if we came to a tree, the woods, or a village, we would stop and reconnoiter and find out if it was ok to go through without getting killed – and we kept getting pushed on the radio, ‘where are you,’ ‘what are your Greek coordinates,’ and ‘what’s taking so long? We are going to lose the race.’  After awhile of this kind of nonsense, Lieutenant Short stopped us and he said we to have to make a choice, either we’re going to have to step on the gas and go like hell and let surprise be on our side, or we’re going to lose the race and then everybody is going to get mad at us.  So we decided to step on the gas and go like hell, which is what we did. In the process, we ran into a whole lot of little hornet’s nests – it would have made a movie you wouldn’t have believed anyways – for example, we cut a German convoy in half that was going across a road that we were on, firing as we went through they didn’t know what happened because we weren’t supposed to be there and they were driving off the road. We did the same thing with another convoy that was going on a road in the opposite direction and parallel to ours, and we just fired on them as we went.  We came upon a village, and somebody fired on us and we went up on a small knoll next to the road and we dragged all the junk we had accumulated on the bottom of our jeeps like bazookas, mortars, etc. We fired on them and they probably thought they hit the front of the division. There’s no way they could’ve assumed it was only 28 men. Lieutenant Short stood up, honest to God, he actually said this: “Three men assault the town.” Three of us went in, Larry, myself and Howard Hughes, that’s his real name – great BAR man, Browning automatic rifle …and we claimed the first few houses, we accumulated 160, 170, 180 prisoners who looked around expecting to find more of us.  We broke up their weapons, told them to put their hands on their heads and walk back up the road.  They looked at us like were crazy; we looked back like we weren’t.   We went through another village and a German fired a panzerfaust, which is like a German bazooka, it landed on the other side of us and blew us out of the jeep. We dispatched quickly and we got back in the jeep and took off again.  These are the kinds of things that happened on the way to Dachau. 

When we got close to Dachau, you see there are a lot of smells in war, you smell the death smell all the time, but it’s usually farm animals who were rotting in the fields who were killed, rotting or whatever.  As we got closer to Dachau, we got this awful smell and we assumed it was farm animals, that we were going to pass a farm, or whatever. We finally got to the outskirts of Dachau and were pinned down.  Dachau was a favorite camp of the Germans, their first major camp, it was in Germany.  They didn’t want to give it up the other camps were walkovers.  The Germans just left them, and that was it.  But in this case at Dachau, they didn’t want to give it up too easily, there were a lot of SS guys around.  They were dropping some SS on us, and a lot of snipers – at one point an American tank came out of Dachau.  We were stuck in the ditch at that point, we stood up and realized we made a mistake when the gun came down on us – but at that instant, an American tank destroyer came up behind us and blew the tank away.  It happened to be an American tank that had been captured by the Germans and the guys in the tank destroyer knew that we didn’t have any tanks in there so therefore it had to be a captured tank.  I kissed a tank destroyer that day.     

    At that point, they told us to clean out the snipers and then proceeded to go into the camp.  At the outskirts of that camp, we went into a house – we banged on it, it was like a little small farm on the outskirts.  The door opened and there was a mother, a father, a daughter and a dog.  The mother had buckteeth, the father had buckteeth, the daughter had buckteeth, and when I looked down and saw that the dog had buckteeth, I was just hysterical.   It was the funniest sight, I was tense you know, and I could use anything at that point for a laugh.   Of course the other guys looked at me like I was nuts! Anyway, we did find some snipers – one we did away with that was firing away from a house nearby.  After we silenced him, we went up to see who it was.  He was eleven or twelve years old, one of the Hitler youth, who were actually worse than the SS.  They were just so brainwashed … we ran into a lot of those kids in their short pants. 

On the siding, you saw pictures of it in the slides, outside of the camp, adjacent to the camp, there were actually forty boxcars of bodies and

American soldiers of the U.S. 7th Army, force boys believed to be Hitler youth, to examine boxcars containing bodies of prisoners starved to death by the SS. USHMM

we found one man alive in that forty…there are some pictures of that one man, I don’t know whether he survived or not.  The prisoners were just walking skeletons, and they just dropped where they were and died.  There were piles of bodies, of bodies that had been gassed and readied for the ovens.  Some of them still lived because those boxcars were brought to Dachau to burn those bodies.  It was a total mess.  And the smell was not a farm; it was Dachau that we had smelled miles before we got there.  And yet, people in the village who were right next to the camps said they didn’t know what was going on.  People in Munich, which was actually only nine miles from Dachau, didn’t know what was going on.  Now if you want to believe that, the Brooklyn Bridge is still for sale.

    I never went back and I don’t intend to, I don’t feel like I want to.  But it is almost impossible to describe the feelings, so I’m not going to try.  But when you looked around some of these tough soldiers were throwing up and crying all over the place.  It is not possible to really describe the number of feelings you get when you walk into something like that.  Because that’s a scene that … well, first of all nobody told us about the camp!  We had no idea what a concentration camp did.  We were going to Dachau, period.  It was another village as far as we were concerned.  That’s kind of a shock to get all at one time. 

Interview recorded on May 3, 2002.

See Rich and I in a 2014 NBC LEARN video here.

POSTSCRIPT:

“On April 29, 1945, the 42nd Rainbow Division 222nd I&R platoon entered the gates of Dachau. One of many units sent to liberate the death camp, they saw first-hand the horrors of Hitler’s death machine.

The next day, 12 men of the I&R were ordered to search Adolph Hitler’s Munich apartment for military intelligence. Jewish-American G.I. Richard Marowitz, self-appointed wiseacre of the unit, stormed into Hitler’s bedroom looking for anything he could bring back to headquarters.

All he found was a black top hat.

Still angered by what he had seen at Dachau, Marowitz flew into a rage and jumped on the hat, crushing it, imagining Hitler’s head still inside. Then Marowitz, known for his comic antics even under stress, put Hitler’s crushed hat on his head and marched through the apartment with his best imitation of Charlie Chaplin doing Hitler from The Great Dictator. Tense from the day before, the I&R unit cracked up. Years later Marowitz found out that the same day he stomped Hitler’s hat, the Führer committed suicide in his bunker.

Marowitz returned home to Albany, N.Y., with the ultimate war souvenir stuffed into his duffel bag. He became a clothing manufacturer and professional magician and rarely talked about his war experiences. For the next 50 years, Hitler’s hat fittingly sat in a brown paper bag, buried at the bottom of his magic trick closet.

Following Marowitz to a Rainbow Division reunion, Hitler’s Hat interviews his I&R unit buddies to retell the story of Hitler’s hat. Daring and innovative, the documentary presents a rare mix of humor and history in an original take on World War II.”


“The Story of Hitler’s Hat”,
http://www.jeffkrulik.com/hitlershat/index.html

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