University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
chgs@umn.edu
612-624-0256


CHGS

America at Dachau

Foreword.....

"At incredible Dachau, Chaplain Gaskill arranged for all the multitudinous services of the Ministry and Priesthood to be performed as necessary for many denominations in many different tongues. Although much has already been written about Dachau, this article, giving the experiences and observations of Chaplain Gaskill, paints an exceptionally vivid picture and presents it in a different light.

Signed,
AUBREY L. BRADFORD
Colonel MC Commanding."

By Chaplain John G. Gaskill
East Derry, New Hampshire

First Impressions

There are THOUSANDS who have SEEN Dachau; from the first moment of its capture it was a mecca for many sincerely curious and in some instances sordid minds which wanted to see the depth of Nazi atrocity. There are, apart from the internees, comparatively FEW WHO KNOW Dachau. They are the ones who lived in that Camp during the first few terrifying weeks after its liberation. My unit, the 127th Evac. Hosp., and the 116th Evac. Hosp., were assigned the task of living in, cleaning up and caring for the thousands of sick. As Chaplain for the hospital, I ministered at Dachau. It was the greatest challenge of my Christian ministry.

Have you ever been kissed by a bewhiskered man who apparently has not washed for weeks; whose clothing is so torn and filthy it scarcely holds together; a man who is louse-ridden and in whose hollow eyes is the glassy stare o! starvation and the eager bewilderment of one set at liberty after years of confinement? Or have you been kissed by one whose fevered voice was a parched sob and whose soul is the only thing which seems to hold the akin over enlarged joints? Do you draw back appalled at the thought? Had you been at Dachau during those first days of liberation you could not have fallen back for the crowd was so great that you would have fallen into the eager grasp of more men just like him. You could not get away from them. They crowded, and pushed, to touch, hug, kiss and cheer the Americans!

The above is only a small part of the overwhelming greeting your boys received when they enters Dachau Concentration Camp.

That was my experience of welcome, but one could not stay long In one place there was so much to see and do. There were themilling throngs in the compound eager to know what the new liberty meant for them. There were the planned and impromptu meetings of the various national and religious groups arranged for eagerly under Dr. Ali Kuci, prominent publisher of Albania; a man who speaks many languages and has been in Italian and German camps since April 1939. These meetings took place in the larger area within the compound.

There was wide spread looting of everything imaginable. from captured French toothpaste to bolts of fine Italian silk.

There were the crowded stinking barracks where men who look ed like ghosts of men, laid themselves down on shelves three tiers  high. Men lying so close together that they cannot turn over during the night, and never knowing whether it will be themselves or the man next to them who will not open his eyes in the morning. Three sleep in the place one should occupy. The barracks stink because of the fever and the human filth in which people too sick to move must lie. There ere not enough attendants to care for them and some dead are right there among the living. Behind the barracks there is a small pile of bodies that have been removed from the shelves, or bunks, by the tender hands of their comrades. Those bodies are removed daily by the "Moore Express' to the crematory where already large numbers have been stacked.

There is the "Priest Block" where some 1300 priests and pastors have been crowded together, but somehow have made room for their Chapel in the midst of it all. It is crowded beyond description, but here there is a greater semblance of orderliness and cleanliness.

There is a compound hospital. Here are the very sick cases. The doctors and orderlies (internees themselves) have worked hard and are very tired-yet they go on. There are cases of all types and kinds; dysentery, typhus, starvation, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases. There are often two in a bunk, and sometimes three bunks high. It is far overcrowded, and here alone a Herculean task confronts us..

There is another stench. It comes from the crematory area, and its source to the decaying and rotting bodies laid, stacked and thrown naked in piles. There behind the crematory, are the huge piles of clothing stripped from them. The Nazi plan would use them for other prisoners.

There is the gas chamber labeled "Shower Room" where the unsuspecting prisoners had been headed with towel and soap and given their last shower bath-of gas! Those bodies in the next room, the gasping look of horror frozen on their faces, are some of the victims.  As one looks at the emaciated bodies, whose joints have in many instances given way, they have been there so long, his heart grows sick, and he is glad to get into the fresh air once again.

There are the dog kennels, where the ferocious animals were kept to terrorize and track down escaped prisoners.

There is the "Horror Train" filled with prisoners who died there of starvation. Fifty carloads, we count them, and anywhere from 80 to 60 bodies in a car.

I went back to my room, ransacked by GI's and prisoners, and made a determined effort to clean it up. I composed my prayer; and as I knelt this first night I knelt in DDT powder, and my bed had been thoroughly dusted with it.

Dear Father of All; Here is the abyss of Human desolation; Here is the darkness of planned chaotic destruction. The way is hard, O Lord, as I looked upon a gas chamber and saw outside the pile of naked corpses stacked there, horror frozen on their sightless eyes. I agonized as I smelled the stench of rotting bodies of men thrown into those two rooms. How deep was my feeling as I looked today upon the wasted bodies in freight cars who died of starvation or feebly lived to be killed by their captors. My heart stood still to behold these living corpses milling around in the compound and watched them tearlessly remove their lousy dead from the crowded shelves upon which they must sleep.

I sorrowed as I beheld their faces without compassion gaze on the water soaked bodies of their former guards. Tear filled my eyes as I moved about the hospital and beheld typhus and tuberculosis and starvation. There were men who had nothing but skin over their bones, whose eyes sunk back in their heads and whose voices were parched for a cup of water, yet whose stomach could not receive it.

Lord, you gave them all souls. Do they have souls now? Yea, keep strong my faith that I may build anew for Thee; and as we minister to the sick, the dying and living help me to minister in Thy Name to all; for their souls are Thine and so is mine. Amen.

There ran through my mind the Hymn I always sing in communion service:
O Master, let me walk with Thee.
In lowly paths of service free.
Tell Me Thy secret, help me bear,
The strain of toil, the fret of care.

In a dim distance I heard shooting, and occasionally a shot around the camp. Exhausted I left "It all quietly with God, my Soul; Rock, Rescue, Refuge, is He". I slept.