Dan Baker, a member of Desert Palms, in Sun city West, Ariz., since 1991, wais honored in Amsterdam, Holland, on April 29. On that date in 1945, 1st Lt. Baker helped liberate the infamous death camp, Dachau, near Munich, Germany. He has never forgotten that nerve-wracking event.
Some of the prisoners of Dachau were Dutch citizens, persecuted for their political views. A support group in Holland, called Friends of Dachau Survivors, recently contacted Dan and asked him to write an account of his part in liberating the skeletal prisoners he remembers from that horrible labor camp west of Munich. His written account will be translated into Dutch and read aloud at a commemorative banquet in Amsterdam in April of 2012.
Dan was invited, but will not be able to attend. Below is his written account:
Dan Baker's memory
of the liberation of the Dachau camp
It was late in April, 1945. My Army unit, Co. H, Heavy Weapons, 2nd Bn, 242nd Reg, 42nd Rainbow Infantry Div, had just occupied an abandoned German airfield near Munich. I was a heavy machine gun platoon leader, who had received a battlefield commission during the heavy snows of the Battle of the Bulge. We had been through battles in Schweinfurth (where I got a Bronze Star "for valor"), Furth and Nuremburg, and now were wondering "what's next?"
On April 29, an order came to our battalion headquarters direct from General Eisenhower's SHAEF Hq. In effect, it said that our G.I.'s had liberated the infamous Dachau concentration camp and any of our soldiers who could be spared should report to Dachau to witness the despicable conditions. Our Rainbow's General Linden was there with a task force to accept the surrender of the camp commander. I immediately was granted permission to head my jeep for Dachau.
It was now April 30, the day after our first on scene had killed all camp resistors. Once inside the entrance I could see several German SS officers lying dead, under water, in moats that divided parts of the camp. I was allowed to enter a barracks where I saw pathetic, starving prisoners, still in their crude wooden bunks, four-high. I was not to touch their bodies or give them anything to eat, drink, or smoke. A terrible stench was spilling over with arms and legs of corpses, waiting to be cremated. The sound of buzzing flies was so loud I can still recall it. Ike had urged witnesses to take photos. I had no camera, but luckily other witnesses did.
When I realized now that there were many more camps like this, I am overwhelmed with the realization that Germany, the country where my father's people came from, would use brutal force to subdue, humiliate, and put to death several million human beings they just did not happen to like. Up to this point I thought war itself was hell. Now I saw senseless horror that topped front lines fighting. I was a witness. I must always remember and somehow help others to believe it really happened.
My first opportunity came as a university professor. I was in the film/TV Production area. A professor of philosophy (wouldn't you know!) wrote an article refuting the holocaust. He had never been over there to witness it, yet he knew it did not happen. I wrote a scathing rebuttal that was published locally, in Long Beach, California.
My second opportunity came recently when the National Army Museum in New Orleans asked me to relate my Dachau witness in a DVD interview that is now in their archives. I was invited to attend a holocaust commemoration in Washington, D.C., held at the National Holocaust Museum.
What would I tell young people who may never learn of this misuse of force? I would urge them to see the move that best shows an example of this misuse of fatal force. It is "Schindler's List," directed by a man who was a student in my Educational TV Production course at California State University, Long Beach, in 1967. His name is Steven Spielberg.
Dan F. Baker, a Marietta native, was among those American soldiers who liberated the Dachau concentration camp near the end of World War II. He currently lives in the Phoenix, Arizona, area.