Liberation of Dachau: 1945
About the Dachau photographs...

As we approach the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, we are publishing these grim prints from the day(s) immediately after U.S. troops entered the camp April 29, 1945.

Most of the Dachau photographs were scanned after being found in William L. Simpson’s personal albums after he passed on May 2, 2009. They are glossy photo prints that appear to be reprints or scans. Many of the same scenes can be seen in other photographs of the camp made April 29-May 3, 1945 after the camp was liberated by elements of the U.S. Army 42nd and 45th divisions.

William L. Simpson, a Washington, D.C. resident, entered the U.S. army in May 7, 1942 and was able to distinguish a “dit” from a “dah” and became a radio operator. He was assigned to the 45th Division, a National Guard unit based in Oklahoma that had been activated. He sailed from the U.S. via the southern Atlantic route on June 5, 1943 and arrived in Africa on June 29, 1943.

He survived taking part in four amphibious invasions: Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Southern France. Battle campaigns were Sicily, Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, Southern France, Rhineland and Central Europe. He contacted malaria in the spring of 1945 and was not present during the liberation of Nuremberg, the Dachau concentration camp or Hitler’s Eagles Nest in the Bavarian mountains.

He returned to the U.S. July 5, 1945 and was discharged August 1, 1945.

Many images of Simpson and other soldiers in the 45th Division appear to be printed contemporary with those times. The Dachau images were likely sent to him from someone in his unit much later. There is no identifying information on the Dauchau prints and all identifications have been made based on comparisons with other photographs of the camp taken during and shortly after liberation. Please feel free to add or clarify the identifications through comments.

Dachau was the first concentration camp opened by the Nazi regime in 1933. It initially held political opponents, but soon opened to other groups targeted by the Nazis throughout Europe. It was primarily a labor camp, though thousands died during its 12 years of use—some by execution, some by disease, some by starvation.

While allied hierarchy knew the grisly details of Nazi concentration and death camps, soldiers knew little about them.

Elements of the 45th Division entered the camp along the railroad tracks that harbored the “death train.” Soon after the bodies piled near the crematorium were observed and the crematorium itself uncovered. Many believed the gas-fed “showers” found in the crematorium building and the clothing hung outside them was evidence of extermination of human prisoners.

There is evidence that several incidents of summary execution of SS guards took place by elements of both the U.S. 42nd and 45th Divisions at Dachau. Upon liberation, camp survivors also apparently executed several Nazi SS guards and inmate trustees.

The photos are grim reminders of some of the reasons for the fight against fascism.
16 photos · 386 views