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Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
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CHGS

America at Dachau

Facts Ascertained Relating To The Mass Burial At Dachau, Germany.

The following information was volunteered by Pastor Bohumer Opocensky of Klaster Dist.:, Opocone, East Bohemia, who speaks no English and was placed in charge of all burials concerned herein. His information was interpreted by Pastor Vaciav Vyschlid of Klatovy, West Bohemia.

1. The road to the mass burial ground was built in the course of the winter by a crew of sixty internees of The Dachau Concentration Camp.

2. While the road was being built another crew of sixty men fenced in and dug the first graves which were used.

3. There were two shelters built for the purpose of storing tools, these were later removed from the site. A small round fireplace constructed of mud baked hard from the fires marks the spot where the internees heated the thin soup sent them each day from the camp and tried to keep warm in the moments they could spare from their work.

4. The cemetery itself lies in the Town of Prittlebach and was easily reached by a back road which passed only two houses.

5. Bodies were transported in covered farm wagons by the prisoners themselves. On each wagon was one man from the dissecting room and an SS guard.

6. Bodies were dumped into the graves in no particular order, the graves being about eight meters deep and filled with corpses to within four meters of the top before being covered.

7. There were graves dug under the direction of the Nazis, three in number, the first containing between 2000 and 2500 bodies, the second between 1500 and 2000; the third was not dug as deep and is larger than the first two and contains 2000 bodies.

8. Burials began on February 12th, 1945, when there was not enough coal for the crematory. The last burial made under the direction of the SS was on the 29th of April.

9. The largest grave was dug by a bulldozer furnished by the Americans after the capture of Dachau. It contains the bodies of the internees collected:
a. From the crematory where there were two large rooms filled with bodies and a large pile "stacked" out of doors.
b. The bodies of those who died or were killed on the ill-fated train.
c. Bodies picked up around the area of the camp where they had been slain by their captors.

10. There were approximately 4000 such bodies, of which 1-4 were in a bad state of decomposition. Of the above number there were about twenty women, and about ten children ranging in age from six to ten years.

11. The names, nationalities, PSN's, and dates of birth of only those who died in the camp and are buried on the hill were recorded by Pastor Opocensky. This book was secretly made and successfully hidden from the Nazis because it was placed among the diseased bodies which the Nazis did not want to handle.

12. To the northeast of the cemetery and on the camp side of the railroad track, is a large fenced in area used by the SS as a rifle range and executing ground. On occasions it was well known that internees were set loose to the field and fired upon as they ran; this, to improve the accuracy of the SS rifle fire.

13. The cemetery is fenced with barbed wire, and the graves were located by Opocensky under the personal direction of this Chaplain, Said graves had been staked and taped off.

I believe the above information to be entirely correct and authentic, with the exception that the official count in the last mentioned grave is 2100.

The meeting with Opocensky was indeed a most fortunate one, for had he gone home before, it would probably have taken weeks to acquire all the Information he gave. Before he left, he gave me what is perhaps one of the greatest yet most gruesome treasures to come out of Dachau, the book which he had hidden among the dead bodies which recorded those who died each day. Said he, "I want you to have it, for you have shown me more of Love of God in these few hours, than I have experienced since I came". I felt very much humbled by the greatness of his heart and earnestness of his spirit.

There is another thing which I treasure; an iron sign which was on the fence next to the gate of the hilltop cemetery. It announces that this is SS territory and trespassers will be severely prosecuted.

Shortly thereafter we erected a large Cross and Star, made by the internees, on the hill at the site of the largest grave. These were to serve as temporary monuments until a new, more imposing, and permanent memorial would be erected. This was soon planned and work was immediately begun. .

No name had been given to the cemetery, and Opocensky, after conferring with other priests late that night suggested the name "Field of Martyrs". I do not know whether or not this name was later accepted.

With the closing of the above cemetery it was necessary to locate new ground for a cemetery adequate to meet the needs of those who were dying in the compound. For although the death rate was falling, there would be deaths until the camp was closed and the hospital removed. An unsatisfactory site was provided by the town, but due to a most providential inspection by the 7th Army Chaplain, Col. C. L. Donnelly, the day that work began, work was halted; and a new site selected.

The new and adequate site was that of the most beautiful part of the town cemetery itself, from which one could readily see, in the distance, the corner of the Mass Graves Cemetery. The new cemetery was composed of a series of eight terraces with room for four rows of forty-one graves each, making a total of 1312 graves.

Work for this was done by the townsmen; but there were not enough workers, and it was necessary to get German PW's to dig the graves. The townsmen could then keep up with the work. Each grave was individually mounded and graded, and crosses and stars provided according to the faith of the individual.

On the 16th day of May the new cemetery was first used and the first service was held. How I wish America might have seen those first simple services; Mass and Consecration by Fr. Jules LaPorte of the French Vatican Mission; the Jewish service by Capt. Seymour Goldenberg of the 127th Evacuation Hospital; and the Protestant service by this Chaplain. Each day thereafter at six o'clock each evening it was a ritual for the Chaplain's jeep to make a tour through the town on the way to the cemetery for the services of the day. Each day the Roman Catholic services were read by a different interned priest, and Mass was said twice a week, often by a chaplain. The Jewish services were held by Judah Srebrnick whom I mentioned earlier in this article; and I held the Protestant services. After the first day there was scarcely an evening, except when it rained, that we did not have a congregational of interested townsfolk.

One evening I noticed a lovely bouquet of flowers on one grave, and nearly each day following, bouquets were to be found on the various graves. It was probably a touch of sympathetic understanding on the part of some townsman or townswoman who, when they saw the number of graves increasing each day, realized to what depth Nazi atrocities at the camp really had sunk; and also the valiant effort the Americans were making to bring life to the living dead of whom there were so many.

In talking with the Graves Registration Officer of the new cemetery one day I heard General Adams remark, "We want this cemetery one to be proud of. I want to be able to look the people of any nation in the eye and say: "We did our best for your living and for your dead". The Neu Walfriedhof fulfills his desire.

The Chaplain's office was the center for many callers, and there were many. Some of the men of our own or visiting units or men on Detached service had problems which must be dealt with. There were many callers of different countries who came to see what was being done or could be done for some patients or particular friend.  There were just plain curiosity seekers who thought the Chaplain would be willing to show them around. The very first few were gratified; those who called later were not. The three chairs, which were first in my office, were too few, and six were often necessary to meet the various committees and others who had difficulties which the Chaplain could meet. Oftentimes callers would arrive mornings as early as quarter of eight, and others would come as late as nine or nine-thirty, and even ten o'clock, at night, feeling that would be the strategic hour when others would not be present.

The need for an interpreter was almost constant; especially when it came to Czechoslovakian, Polish, and Hungarian folks. But we found my laughable French came in handy many a time.

Often callers with problems were priests or pastors; and there soon was growing up warm friendships between us. There problems were difficult, to say the least, but often as we talked and prayed, the doors of the answer seemed to open.

The few days before we left, an increasing number of these priests and pastors came to express themselves to me. I'll have to admit that just as many of them had tears in their eyes, so I had tears in mine. It was hard to say farewell to such loyal friends, to whom I had acted as confessor and counsellor

This record would not be complete without mentioning the aid of my assistant, T-5 Lee M. Morton of Elizabethtown, N. Y., whose loyalty, quiet and efficient manner of doing things, and willingness, enabled us to accomplish so much.

One day, early in our stay at Dachau, I met a Polish craftsman who was an expert on the lathe. He was an elderly man who was rejoicing in the new found liberty which he had. Some 30 years before he lived in America, a city called Detroit, he said. He had returned after the last war to Poland and had been taken as a political prisoner to Dachau. He showed me the latest pictures (1939) of his family and grandchildren. Pictures were the moat precious things the prisoners could possess. And then he turned to me and declared that he wanted to do something, to make something, in appreciation for the freedom which the Americans had brought him. After thought I requested that he make an Altar Set, which he did; a lovely one of pear wood with a high polish. I used that set for each service at Dachau, and then sent it home. For me in years to come it will always be connected with the memory of a man who found a joy in the freedom of worship, which America brought to him again after years of incarceration; also with the memory of toil with so many other laborers as Chaplain at Dachau.