As I mentioned in a previous post, my sister and I had the honor of meeting a WWII veteran at a recent reenactment. Guy Prestia served with the 45th Infantry Division, the first liberators of Dachau concentration camp. I was talking to a man who had seen the horrors of the holocaust, who saw the gas chambers, saw the piles of bodies. I was talking to a liberator, a fighter, a hero. I would have loved to visit with him longer, but the train battle was just about to begin. Thankfully, he told us about his hour long video interview. It was amazing to hear about the liberation of Dachau in his own words.
(Photo via Ellwood City Ledger)
We had to take out four big towers with machine gunners up on top. The camp was run by Heinrich Himmler. He had left and taken a lot of the SS men with him, but he left a lot of guards there.
It was a terrible place. We were hardened soldiers. We had seen a lot of people die, we’d seen people wounded. But when we saw that, we could not understand ….
There were over 2,000 bodies on those rail cars that were being taken to the ovens to be cremated. We saw the gas chamber. When our people saw that, a lot of our guys cried, and a lot of them vomited. Many of us did both. We had never ever saw anything like that … we could never imagine human beings treating somebody else that badly.
When we liberated that place, there were over 31.000 at the camp. But there were thousands of them that were dead. People were sent into the gas chambers to take a shower. The water came on for a few seconds, then automatically the water turned off and then gas came through there. That gas was so poisonous that nobody survived more than eight minutes. We went into the chambers and saw everything. Some of the prisoners explained to us what happened. Some had blue and white pajamas. Some of them had a shirt, some didn’t have a shirt. A lot of them were just naked bodies all together. You could see all the ribs on them. They were so malnourished.
General Eisenhower had a lot of congressmen come over there to see the camps. His soldiers took photographs from Buchwald to Auschwitz and from all these other places. He said someday there will be people who won’t believe what happened here. And even today there’s a lot of people who don’t believe there ever was a holocaust. They think it was some sort of a story that was made up. The government got the citizens from that little town to do a lot of cleaning up at Dachau. They can’t say they didn’t know what was going on. Whenever you came near that place, when you saw the smoke coming out of those ovens and smelled that burning flesh, you knew there was something bad going on in there.
Every once in awhile, if I think about it, I can get that smell. It never leaves you. That burning flesh … you never forget about that.