April 19: The Liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp
"You need to know about evil to recognize it and not get caught up in it."
Dee Eberhart graduated from Toppenish High School near Yakima in May, 1943. Ten days later, at the age of 18, he was called to service by the U.S. Army. He trained as a rifleman at Camp Roberts, California and went overseas with the 42nd Rainbow Division, where he served in France, Germany and Austria in 1944 through 1945.
On April 29, 1945, his platoon was attached to the first Battalion 222nd Infantry for the attack against Munich. They arrived at the large SS compound and concentration camp complex in Dachau that same day. The Rainbow Division is the group often credited for liberating the Dachau concentration camp. Dachau, the first major Nazi concentration camp, was responsible for the deaths of more than 28,000 prisoners.
Although he considered himself battled-hardened, Dee was unprepared for what he witnessed: thousands of emaciated prisoners, crematoria, and stacks of bodies. After he returned home, he spoke very little of what he saw. “You couldn’t convey it; the words weren’t adequate,” he says.
Close coordination between the Rainbow Division’s commanding officers and the International Dachau Committee (a group of prisoners organized from within the camp from many nations) was quickly established so that hospital care and food deliveries to the newly liberated prisoners could be expedited.
Dee’s platoon spent the night of April 29th in the town of Dachau and on the next day, participated in the capture of Munich. Dee was in the Army of Occupation in Austria until he returned home for discharge in the spring of 1945.
Dee began speaking publicly about his experience in 1992, after being invited to the Dachau Museum, where he met and befriended Dachau survivors. He has since spoken to many U.S. students as well as to German students in Munich and Dachau. Dee he tells the story of the Holocaust in terms of what he witnessed, weaving the story around three related themes: the perpetrators, the victims, and the liberating armies.