April 29, 1945: American troops liberate Dachau concentration camp.

By this time, Adolf Hitler’s “Thousand-year Reich” was nearing its end, and it was only now that the dreadful and shocking truths of its concentration camps were now fully being revealed. Auschwitz had fallen in January to the Soviets, while Buchenwald fell in early April to American forces. The women’s camp at Ravensbrück was liberated on April 30, a day after Dachau. 

So great was the horror of the liberators of Dachau at the condition of the camp and its prisoners that some of them participated in a regrettable “massacre”, in which at least a dozen German POWs were executed. However, more guards probably died at the hands of recently-freed prisoners than American soldiers, and General Patton chose later to dismiss any charges related with these killings. 

Although Dachau was not an extermination camp, an estimated 30,000 people died there between 1933 and 1945, mainly from malnutrition and disease, which, in turn, were brought on by the camp’s incredibly overcrowded conditions. As the Reich’s earliest official concentration camp, Dachau had special symbolic importance, and accordingly, so did its liberation. 32,000 prisoners were freed that day - Poles, Russians, French, Jews, political prisoners, criminals, religious figures - a diverse group of people who shared perhaps only one thing in common - misfortune. 

Like their countrymen at Buchenwald, the disgusted American liberators of Dachau forced German civilians (who claimed ignorance of the reality of the camps) to view the bodies and the consequences of their indifference for themselves.

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