Parading the Colors
29 April 1945: Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany. Freshly liberated inmates raise the Stars & Stripes in a salute to the US troops whose arrival brought their long ordeal to an end. More than 200,000 persons had been incarcerated in the Dachau camp complex since its establishment in 1933; an estimated 45,000 perished. On 27 April, as American forces drew near, some 7,000 Jewish inmates were sent on a death march to the south, and the next day the camp commandant and most of his men fled. Approaching Dachau, US troops of the 45th Infantry Division discovered boxcars on a railway siding filled with bodies in various stages of decomposition. After a brief battle with the handful of remaining SS guards, the US troops entered the camp. There they found many more bodies and some 30,000 surviving inmates, many of them severely malnourished and ravaged by disease. In the chaos and delirium of the first hours after liberation, some thirty captured SS men were summarily shot by American soldiers. Others, along with known collaborators and informers, were done to death by inmates bent on revenge. Suggestions that the US battalion commander and other soldiers be court martialed for the shootings were quashed by General George S. Patton, to whose Third Army the 45th Infantry Division belonged. A later investigation concluded that there was probable cause to believe that US troops had committed violations of international law at Dachau on 29 April 1945. But the investigating officer recommended that no charges be brought, citing the exceptional stress and horror of the situation. Lest we forget.