There wasn't much talk.
April 29, 2013 11:14 AM   Subscribe

On April 29, 1945, the Dachau concentration camp was liberated. Today, on Reddit, with the help of his grandson, one of the men who liberated the camp did an IAmA.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (19 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
And on the day when we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. I assume the dates aren't coincidental....
posted by Shotgun Shakespeare at 11:29 AM on April 29, 2013

If you just want to read the questions to this gentleman and his responses (and not all the reddit members' comments), this link works.
posted by HuronBob at 11:42 AM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

A recent book called "The Liberator" by Alex Kershaw tells the story of one Army officer, Felix Sparks, who was in command when Dachau was liberated. It brought that particular day to life for me in a way that previous books had not.

I find Holocaust deniers a particularly vile sort of liar, and I congratulate Reddit for this event. I only wish he could have answered more questions.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:47 AM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is it terrible that I clicked on it half hoping that someone would ask for photo proof of the 20 year old soldier at Dachau with his username? Because that's what I did.
posted by nevercalm at 11:58 AM on April 29, 2013

If there were a vote for someone to live a thousand years, there are a very small number of people I'd rather vote for than myself. This man is one of them.
posted by JHarris at 12:12 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

My grand dad liberated Dachau. We only know this because he told the family over thanksgiving. Two sentences, and then he stopped talking. No questions asked or answered.
posted by PinkMoose at 12:15 PM on April 29, 2013 [16 favorites]

"Look at the label on the top of that Dachau inmate's backpack! THIS PROVES THE HOLOCAUST WAS A FALSE FLAG", says Reddit the Wise.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:20 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

My grandfather was an MP (Canadian Forces) at this point after suffering injuries manning an AA gun in Italy earlier in the war. He was in the Netherlands when Westerbork was liberated and made his way down to Bergen-Belsen eventually.

He made me promise to remember that this really happened but wouldn't say much more. The only thing he ever really shared was the memory of standing next to a pile of skulls that was as tall as he was.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:21 PM on April 29, 2013

wenestvedt: "I find Holocaust deniers a particularly vile sort of liar"

I just finished watching the 6-part Auschwitz documentary from the BBC. There's a former SS officer who is interviewed many times who, as you expect, rationalizes his actions during the two years he spent in working in the camp (in a desk job, according to him) by saying many variations of the standard "we were just following orders" spiel. After the war he was never arrested (as the vast majority of the SS personnel who served at the camps wasn't), and lived a quite charmed post-war life, becoming quite prosperous. He displays zero remorse or guilt.

However, at the very end of the last episode he talks about why he agreed to be interviewed (I don't remember if he was asked about it by the interviewers or just volunteers that info). He explicitly says it's because of the deniers. He says he was there, he witnessed the whole thing and he won't let anyone deny it ever happened (even if he's unwilling to take any blame for it).

TL;DR: Holocaust deniers are so vile not even Nazis will have anything to do with them.
posted by gertzedek at 1:29 PM on April 29, 2013 [31 favorites]

The strange thing about Holocaust deniers is that while they claim it never happened, most seem like they wouldn't mind if it had.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:21 PM on April 29, 2013 [13 favorites]

My grandfather's division has a banner in the entrance of the Holocaust Museum as a liberating division. His division liberated the Gusen concentration camp, and while he would tell his grandson requested "war stories," he never mentioned this part of the war. Before he told me his stories, he actually never told anyone about his war experience. Even then, I had to call up the original medal citations that he had earned to learn the full stories to what happened.
posted by Atreides at 2:42 PM on April 29, 2013

So this is the place to tell our family Holocaust stories, right?

My family originally hails from Bavaria, and although my specific branch of [familyname]'s had decamped to Berlin by the 1930's, most of my cousins were killed in Dachau (I think the Berlin branch mostly went to Bergen-Belsen). Before the war, my relatives had been wealthy and well-connected and a lot of them managed to make it out of Germany one way or another. Indeed, when I was a kid, the scale of the slaughter in my extended family had been somewhat hidden from me as my parents emphasised stories of escape and survival.

That was until one day when I was going through an old photo album with my grandmother, getting her to identify all the people having picnics in the woods and starring in amateur dramatic productions and hosting dinner parties: "that's so-and-so, she died in the camps... oh that must be your cousin so-and-so, who died in Dachau... no that's his mother and her sister, they went to Belsen... died in the camps... never made it out... died in the camps..."

But there is one story of escape and survival that I think does bear repeating: apparently, one of my cousins actually escaped from Dachau. I have this story from my uncle (actually a Bavarian cousin, but he was like a great-uncle to me). The cousin in question had been a factory owner in a small village somewhere in Bavaria, a popular man and a pillar of the community. One day in 1939 the SS came to town and he was arrested, and everybody thought 'that's it for him'. The factory was turned over to the state for resale.

But some time later, it was realised that the SS goons had made a terrible mistake! This was Germany, after all, and you can't just expropriate somebody's factory without the proper paperwork. They needed to go find my cousin and get him to sign the papers!

So the townsfolk prevailed upon the SS to go find my cousin and, sometime later still, he was duly produced. He signed the papers, bureaucracy was satisfied. Then, as the SS prepared to haul him back to the concentration camp, the local police came and arrested him. The SS were told to come back and get their man after the local law had dealt with whatever crime he was being charged with and, as soon as they left town, my cousin was smuggled over the border to Switzerland.

It's unclear whether the whole 'paper signing' farce was a ruse to rescue my cousin, or whether the local cops, seeing his pitiable state, realised they had to save him from going back to the camp. It's also unclear what happened to the cops after they risked their lives to save a Jew.

What is clear is that my cousin, to his dying day, would never breathe a word of what he saw in Dachau. This was in 1939, long before the Holocaust was in full swing, when Dachau would have been only a shadow of the hell it became. But the man was haunted by it for the rest of his life, and could never bring himself to talk about it ever after.
posted by Dreadnought at 3:28 PM on April 29, 2013 [23 favorites]

There wasn't much talk.

My grand dad liberated Dachau. We only know this because he told the family over thanksgiving. Two sentences, and then he stopped talking. No questions asked or answered.

Mike Royko had a column about this once. I can't find it online. He may have been poking at veterans of newer wars and/or PTSD complaints, which believe it or not were a contentious issue in the 1980s. Anyway, he described coming back home after the war, and a short anecdote about walking into a bar, recognizing someone as another veteran, and having a conversation along the lines:

"Were you in it?"


And then they both drank their beers.
posted by dhartung at 4:45 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I found out many years after my father's death (after my mom's as well) that my paternal grandfather had exchanged annual letters with one of the doctors who treated his near-fatal TB in the Bergen Belsen DP camp after liberation, from 1947 until his death in 1958. Somewhere in my storage unit are letters from a British army medic, written in ungrammatical schoolboy french (the only language he had in common with my hungarian grandfather) that I should eventually translate and use to track him (or, at this point, his descendants) down to say hi, and thanks.
posted by elizardbits at 6:10 PM on April 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

awww... now I miss Mike Royko....
posted by HuronBob at 6:00 AM on April 30, 2013

Two sentences, and then he stopped talking. No questions asked or answered.

It's just too much to relive, I think, the line between keeping it together or not.

My grandmother told me about a month ago, offhandedly, that her Polish grandfather and his family (the ones who hadn't emigrated already, anyway), all lost their lives in the Holocaust. She had not told any of my living relatives, including her children.
posted by quiet coyote at 6:04 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Here's the TopIAmA edit
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:40 AM on April 30, 2013

Thank you HuronBob for the link. There is so much contradiction in that thread... "the gas chambers at Dachau were never used." "Yes they were." "No they weren't." ad nauseum.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:43 PM on April 30, 2013

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