Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A story of local interest is the liberation of Dachau by Morris Hoffman, a Navasotian and local business man.  He spoke to my class probably close to 15 years ago and typed up the following to leave with the students.  He has since passed away, but his legacy lives on through my history classes.  

My name is Morris Hoffman.  I live in Navasota, Texas with my wife Sarah Silverstein Hoffman.  I have been in the grocery business and a Pecan Broker for the last 40 years.  I was part of the American forces that liberated Dachau Concentration Camp on April 30, 1945.  It was the blackest and most horrible day of my life.
I was 21 years old and lived in Marshalltown, IA when I entered the army in World War II.
In 1944, I was shipped overseas on the Queen Elizabeth, landing at La Harve, France.  I joined up with the 157th infantry, 7th Army, 45th Division called the “Thunderbirds”.  At that time my rank was a Staff Sgt.  During the European Campaign, I received the Bronze Star for Meritorious service in the European Theater of WW II.  The men in my unit knew that I was an Orthodox Jew, and traded C-rations with me so that I could keep our dietary laws.
We fought a three day battle through the Ziegfried Line called “The Tiger Teeth”.  We also fought the Battle of the Rhine River and drove the Germans across France back into Germany and we ended up in Munich.
A week before this came about, we were told we were going to liberate a prisoner of war camp.  Little did we know what was in store for us.  We thought we were going to liberate some of our own prisoners.
It was April 29, 1945 at 10:00 in the morning when our company moved out to take a small town northwest of Munich.  My army unit surrounded the camp located inside the Dachau city limits.  AS we approached the concentration camp, we saw the towers, electric barbed wire fences, and moat that surrounded the camp.  Other members of our unit knew that I was of the Jewish faith and came back to tell me to be prepared to see all the terrible things the Nazis had done to our people.
As Sgt. I was leading a squad of soldiers when we entered the gates of Dachau.  When we reached the parade grounds, the stench made us sick.  We saw the barracks with naked dead bodies stacked like cordwood.  They looked like sacks of bones.  As we entered other parts of the camp we saw a railroad spur with 8 box cars half full of naked bodies being shipped out by the Nazis, but we did not know where.  The prisoners that were still living in the barracks were half dead from torture, disease and starvation- emaciated faces and bodies.  The prisoners had their heads shaved and wore black and white striped uniforms.  Jewish prisoners wore patches – a yellow star of David—with letters in Germany saying Jude (Jew) on their clothes.  There were other prisoners of many faiths and countries.  Some of the prisoners were so weak that they could not stand up.  Some had work duty, but were given very little food.  There was a pit filled with naked dead bodies, but the Nazis were unable to cover them because our American soldiers advanced so fast.  They also buried bodies next to the railroad tracks hoping no one would see them.  We found corpses not completely consumed by flames in the furnaces of the camp crematoriums.  There were also baskets of gold eye glasses and gold fillings that the Nazis left behind.  In the barracks, there were prisoners still alive that were stacked in bunks 4 high.  All had numbers tattooed on their arms with blue dye so that the Germans could keep records
Two Jewish students who were prisoners asked to speak to a Jewish soldier, so they brought them to me, being the only one they could find.  They were Americans studying at the University of Munich and were captured and brought to Dachau.  They wanted to join our unit, but our Captain said that they could not as they were not trained as soldiers and needed medical attention.  Documentation also had to be sent back to the US.
All prisoners at the camp were told that we could not let them go until the medical team got to the camp to examine them.  The Army set up field kitchen to serve them something to eat and drink, but some were so weak that nothing could save them.
It was very difficult to keep Americans soldiers from shooting the Nazis that were captured after seeing the horrors that had taken place in the camp.  The American officers brought the Mayor of Dachau and its citizens to view all of the atrocities that the Nazis had committed.  They denied knowing that any of this had happened.
Since I was a leader of my squad, the Captain asked my to lead an honor guard across the parade ground.  I was given the honor of carrying the American flag.  Three other soldiers carried rifles and the Battalion flag.  The sound of the prisoners hollering rings in my ears, even though it has been almost 49 years ago.  They were so excited that I was afraid we might be hurt if they got over the fence.
The memories I have of Dachau are still impossible for me to comprehend or forget.  It was many years before I was able to talk about them.  I am still unable to believe that one human being could do such horrible things to another.  I hope and pray these atrocities will never be seen again.

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