WWII Army Captain Describes Horrors at Dachau

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World War II

World War II Army Captain, David Mark Olds (1920–2009), was my father. He told me that he could never erase from his mind what he and his driver, Shady had seen in Dachau. WWII had just ended and the Dachau prisoners had been freed.


Here is the chilling description in my father’s words:

Dad Describes Dachau

We came to the town of Dachau first, a pretty little farming village, green grass, a church spire, neat little houses—a German Currier and Ives. From the village you could see the smokestacks of the ovens, just a few miles away. As we drove to the camp, up to the tall, barbed wire-topped fence, a peculiar smell filled the air, like food gone bad, mixed with body odor and smoke.

The Dachau Gates Were Open

A few MP vehicles and tanks were parked near the gates. Shady parked alongside. The gates were wide open, and we just walked into the concentration camp. It was a madhouse. Pitiful stick figures in striped pajamas, obviously the camp uniform, were milling about, limping and shuffling around, apparently unable to grasp that they were really liberated. A team of American MP’s were trying to restore some order, setting up a mess line, and a delousing tent. It was heartbreaking to look at the ex-prisoners.

WWII Prisoners Freed

All were emaciated, unshaven. Up close, they smelled nauseatingly of sickness and dirt and decay. But the worst was their eyes—hollow, staring dark circles in their pasty faces. As we walked in, we saw a commotion going on in one corner of the large open area. A bunch of the stick figures had surrounded a guard, who hadn’t left with the retreating German soldiers. He was an older man, in his fifties I judged, in a gray uniform. The Nazis had run out of younger, able-bodied men, and had scraped the bottom of the barrel to find any camp guards.

Prisoners Beat Up Nazi Guards

The inmates were screaming, faces contorted in rage, their open mouths displaying ragged, discolored stumps of teeth. They were holding pieces of wood they had picked up, iron bars, stones, whatever came to hand, as they closed in on the guard, who was on his knees, terror in his face, pleading for his life.

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The crowd began to beat him, their terrible anger lending strength to their pipestem arms. The MP’s stood by, watching, making no effort to intervene, as he was beaten to death. Then the crazed stick figures darted away, shouting, shaking their fists, looking for more of the hated guards. Shady and I walked across the forbidding, graveled square to the crematoriums. The brick ovens were cold, their doors open, the chimneys looming over them.

Bones and Ashes

It was obvious that the camp authorities had tried to rake out all the bones and ashes, but enough remained as mute witness. The ovens gave off the sickly sweet, dreadful smell of burned human flesh. Around the corner, behind a shed, we saw a pile of corpses, twenty-five or thirty, in the striped ticking uniforms, pitifully thin, like skeletons, most with mouths open in ghastly rictus, stacked up one on top of the other. The cliché came to life for me: they really did resemble piles of cordwood, ready for the fireplace. Shady turned away and threw up. I was close to it myself.


A terrible rage shook me. I wanted to find a German, any German, and kill him. Shady and I stood there, pulling ourselves together, then we walked back to the jeep. We took out all the cigarettes and candy and food we had, and came back in, distributing them to all to the outstretched hands that encircled us. Many of the liberated prisoners were crying, sobbing, holding each other, staggering about. Others, overcome by their liberation, and their hunger and fatigue, sat or lay on the ground, staring, mumbling, trying to comprehend it all.

I wanted to stay, I wanted to go, I wanted to drive back to that pretty little town and ask the people how in God’s name they could have lived their lives next door to that horror, and remained sane. There was no way they couldn’t have known what was going on those few kilometers away. I wanted to destroy the town, and all its stone-faced, stone-hearted inhabitants. But there was nothing we could do. We drove off.

David Mark Olds (seated, front, center)