Monday, May 10, 2010

Dachau 1945: The Souls of All Are Aflame (Part Two)

Guards at the gate of Dachau

This is the second of four parts.  This article was written by Douglas Cramer and originally appeared in AGAIN magazine.

Rahr was one of the over 4,000 Russian prisoners at Dachau at the time of the liberation. The liberated prisoners also included over 1,200 Christian clergymen. After the war, Rahr immigrated to the United States, where he taught Russian History at the University of Maryland. He later worked for Radio Free Europe. His account of the events at Dachau in 1945 begins with his arrival at the camp:

April 27th: The last transport of prisoners arrives from Buchenwald. Of the 5,000 originally destined for Dachau, I was among the 1,300 who had survived the trip. Many were shot, some starved to death, while others died of typhus. . . .

April 28th: I and my fellow prisoners can hear the bombardment of Munich taking place some 30 km from our concentration camp. As the sound of artillery approaches ever nearer from the west and the north, orders are given proscribing prisoners from leaving their barracks under any circumstances. SS-soldiers patrol the camp on motorcycles as machine guns are directed at us from the watch-towers, which surround the camp.

April 29th: The booming sound of artillery has been joined by the staccato bursts of machine gun fire. Shells whistle over the camp from all directions. Suddenly white flags appear on the towers—a sign of hope that the SS would surrender rather than shoot all prisoners and fight to the last man. Then, at about 6:00 p.m., a strange sound can be detected emanating from somewhere near the camp gate which swiftly increases in volume. . . .

The sound came from the dawning recognition of freedom. Lt. Col. Walter Fellenz of the US Seventh Army described the greeting from his point of view:

Several hundred yards inside the main gate, we encountered the concentration enclosure, itself. There before us, behind an electrically charged, barbed wire fence, stood a mass of cheering, half-mad men, women and children, waving and shouting with happiness—their liberators had come! The noise was beyond comprehension! Every individual (over 32,000) who could utter a sound, was cheering. Our hearts wept as we saw the tears of happiness fall from their cheeks.


charlene said...

Father James,
I am captivated by three words here: "Our hearts wept". I imagine what the liberators saw that day was etched on their minds as hearts for the rest of their lives. I can imagine that Jesus' heart had been weeping for a very long time, watching His children treat their fellow man to brutality, starvation, murderand worse. Many of the Nazi soldiers identified themselves as Christians, and would later claim they were only following orders. I can understand the depravity of a single man, Hitler. But what can possibly cause the depravity of the number of men it took to contain those 32,000 prisoners? How could they turn a blind eye to a starving child, or to a parent watching his or her child dying? How can WE prevent such attrocities from happening one day here?

Anonymous said...

Well, many of them did what they did because they were afraid the same things would happen to them (or their families) if they didn't do as they were told...and they were probably right.