Foreign Correspondence

More letters from the battlefield: A Phoenix soldier witnesses the destruction of Europe in 1945

Opened in 1933, it was the oldest of Hitler's solutions for undesirables and his political opposition. That morning, it held an estimated 32,000 prisoners. Many were sick and dying. On a rail line that terminated not far from the camp's metal gates inscribed with the Nazi slogan Arbeit Macht Frei -- [Work Makes One Free] -- was a 40- to 50-car train that reportedly had left Buchenwald earlier that month with a load of inmates. All but one of the estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people packed into its cars were dead when the Americans liberated the camp. Most had died of starvation and exposure in the cold. Others had been shot.

Creasman spent all day April 30 escorting Associated Press writer Louis Lochner through the camp. They toured the wooden barracks that still held many of the prisoners. They spoke with prisoners and walked through the crematorium. They visited the laboratories where Nazis had tortured prisoners in the name of medicine.

Creasman clipped an SS patch off the uniform of a dead German soldier, folded up a site plan that the Germans had drawn of the camp in 1944, and went back to write an account of what he had seen there. It appeared in the next day's edition of the Rainbow Division's "World News":

Creasman trained in Texas, then joined the Army's Rainbow Division in Oklahoma.
Creasman trained in Texas, then joined the Army's Rainbow Division in Oklahoma.
Jimmy Creasman's favorite photograph of himself from the war, taken in Germany after weeks of no showers and continual advances by his infantry division.
courtesy of Dorothy Creasman
Jimmy Creasman's favorite photograph of himself from the war, taken in Germany after weeks of no showers and continual advances by his infantry division.

"Dachau is no longer a name of terror for hunted men.... The crime done behind the walls of this worst of Nazi concentration camps now live only in the memories of the Rainbowmen... who first saw its misery...

"But no human imagination fed with the most fantastic of the tales that have leaked out from the earliest and most notorious of all Nazi concentration camps, could have been prepared for what they did see there.

"The keen descriptive powers of a score of ace correspondents who entered the camp while the battle of liberation was still in progress, and through whose eyes the whole world looked upon that scene, could not do justice to this story. Seasoned as they were by long acquaintanceship with stark reality, these trained observers gazed at freightcars full of piled cadavers no more than bones covered with skin and they could not believe what they saw with their own eyes.

"Riflemen accustomed to witnessing death had no stomach for rooms stacked almost ceiling-high with tangled human bodies adjoining the cremation furnaces, looking like some maniac's woodpile.

"And when an officer pressed thru mobs of the forgotten men of all nations inside the electric barbed wire enclosure and entered a room where lay the dying survivors of the horror train, he wept unashamedly as limp ghosts under filthy blankets, lying in human excreta, tried to salute him with broom-stick arms, falling back in deathly stupor from which most would never rouse.

"Ten days before the arrival of the Rainbow Division, fifty carloads of prisoners arrived at Dachau from the Buchenwald concentration camp in a starving condition after 27 days without food. 27 days later -- days of exposure to freezing weather without anything to eat, a trainload of human suffering arrived at Dachau only to be left to die in the railyard leading into this extermination camp.

"In those stinking cars were seen the bodies of those prisoners too weak even to get out. A few tried, and they made a bloody heap in the door of one of the cars. They had been machine gunned by the SS. A little girl was in that car.

"In another car, sitting on the bodies of his comrades, his face contorted with pain frozen by death, was the body of one who completed the amputation of his gangrenous leg with his own hands and covered the stump with paper. Underneath was one with a crushed skull. 'He's better off now' was the comment of one newsman. Close by was one who had been beaten until his entrails protruded from his back.

"But most of them had simply died in the attitudes of absolute exhaustion that only starving men can assume. Curled up with their faces resting in fingers tipped with blue nails. With naked buttocks angling up to pivot on a skeletal pelvis. Or twisted over to show an abdomen stretched drum-tight against the spine with ribs making an overhanging bulge.

"Some of the cars had been emptied and the bodies carted to the crematory. In one room adjoining the furnace-room on the left they were neatly stacked. The stripped corpses were very straight. But in the room on the right they were piled in complete disorder, still clothed.

"With the help of a husky Yugoslav inmate, who worked at the furnaces and who told that all four of them had been going tag und nacht 'day and night' with a capacity for 7 bodies each, the explanation partially unfolded. The straight neat ones had probably been brought in alive, showered in the Brausebad or shower-room, then gassed or hanged from hooks on the rafters in front of the furnaces. Those on the right were just as they were dumped out of the freight cars where they had died of starvation.

"It was incredible that such things could happen today, but there was the visible proof...."

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