The American servicemen who freed the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945
found, just outside of the gate a transport train with thousands of bodies, emaciated
to the bones. It was a horrible shock for them, a horrendous confrontation with the
enormous evil that they had been fighting. Francois Bertrand, a frenchman who survived,
wrote a book about his experiences. An excerpt:
Buchenwald, 5 April, 1945
On April 7, 5080 prisoners left the camp. A forced march of nine kilometers from
the station to Weimar. 71 prisoners, who could not keep the pace, were shot by the
A train with fifty cars stands ready with some closed cars, others were open. There
were two locomotives with the inscription "Wir rollen fur den Sieg" (We roll for
victory). There is a passenger car for the commander and his staff. The last car
remained empty, for the bodies.
In spite of the weather, it is better in the open cars than in the closed ones. There
is no air and a lot of boys suffocate due to a lack of oxygen. There are no toilets
so there is an awful stench.
It is forbidden to sit or lay down. It is also not possible, because one hundred
prisoners are packed in less than fourteen square meters (about 15.5 square yards),
Which means about seven people per square meter (1.2 square yards). People are kind
of hanging on each other. Sleeping is a problem, there is no place to lay down. The
strange positions that are assumed to get some sleep cause cramps.
Every second day, bodies are taken to the corpse car. The others have a bit more
room. But because there are more cars needed for the corpses, the living are packed
tighter again. There are cases where the living "helped" a few of the ill with dying.
Lebensraum (room to live)........
In the cars the laws of the jungle rule. Things that seem inconsequential become
very important, the loss of a shoe or a blanket can mean death. Every night there
are fights in the cars, mainly between the Poles and the Russians. The kapos who
made their lives miserable in the camp were dealt with. All twelve of them were killed
by their fellow prisoners.
The commander of the transport is SS-Obersturmführer Hans Mehrbach. There are ten
junior officers and 120 guards, mostly SS-ers, but there are also soldiers from the
Wehrmacht (Army) and Luftwaffe (Air Force).
The ultimate destination of the train is the concentration camp Flossenburg, close
to the Czech border. But that plan was foiled. The railroad connections on the way
had been bombed. Because of that, a decision was made to go to Dachau, a distance
on less than 400 kilometers (249 Miles) southwest. But it is necessary for the train
to make an enormous detour. First they went east, via Leipzig and Dresden. Only after
four days they veer south, to Czechoslovakia, via Pilsen and Passau, then west from
there to Dachau. A journey that should have taken a few hours took twenty-two days.
7 April - At 8:00 a.m. the train starts to move; our trail of sorrow starts. The
transport has 5009 prisoners, my friend Emanuel is certain.
8 April - It is cold. Thick fog. Not easy in an open train car.
9 April - In the night three prisoners are murdered by Ukrainians,
Riot in Car 23. Thirty-three men are shot to death. The dead to the death car.
10 April - The transport veers to the south. We arrive in Czechoslovakia.
11 April - The train stops at the train station in Pilsen. Czech women bring us something
to eat. Most of us suffer from diarrhea. Bodies are taken away.
12 April - During the night 22 prisoners escape. The escapees are caught quickly
and are shot without much ado. Everyone has to watch.
13 April - At 9:00 in the morning a SS-Scharführer (troop leader) shoots into our
car at will. There are three dead. The train stops in Staab.
14 April - Staab. The train remains standing here.
15 April - Still in Staab. There are shots. This time in car 46.
16 April - How beautiful is the Czech countryside. Flowers everywhere, green meadows,
birds singing. A prisoner who asks a guard for water is stomped to death by a guard.
16:30 arrival in Blisova, by the German border.
17 April - 4:00 p.m. leaving Blisova, arrival in Neigedein at noon. Leave there at
18 April - At Bayrich-Eisenstein we pass the border
19 April - Nammering, a small Bavarian village. It rains, it is cold. We will remain
here for five days. There are five centimeters (two inches) of water in the open
20 April - Nammering
21 April - Nammering
22 April - Nammering
23 April - Nammering
24 April - The train is split into two pieces. One part will leave early in the afternoon,
the second part at 6:00 p.m.. During the night a Russian prisoner stabs a guard to
death. A bloodbath follows. There are five murders and three suicides. An Italian
managed to escape.
25 April - In the afternoon the train stops at a totally desolate spot. All are told
to disembark, to line up facing the train, back to the guards. The Commander gives
the order to shoot the entire transport to death. The guards refuse. The Commander
is livid and empties his own automatic weapon on us. The dead are taken away. The
journey continues. Two red planes bomb our train. Dead and wounded. At 11:00 p.m.
26 April - At 7:00 a.m. we leave for Munich. The train gets a spot on a large switching
27 April - at 10 p.m. we leave for Dachau.
28 April - at 1:00 a.m. in the middle of the night, we arrive in Dachau. The train
remains outside of the gate. The other half that left Nammering earlier is already
We leave the cars, leaving hundreds of dead and dying behind. We drink rainwater
out of muddy puddles. More dead than alive we walk into the camp. Strange though
it may seem, we see concentration camp Dachau as our salvation, a place where at
least it is possible to survive.
In the bath, the survivors are taken care of by nurses from the sick bay, amongst
whom were some Dutchmen. Their hair stops up the drain. Those who can no longer stand,
lay down in the cooling water. The living are taken to the Revier, the dead stay
The very sad balance is that out of the 5080 prisoners that left Buchenwald, only
861 reached Dachau alive. Half of them succumbed to the indignities they suffered
before they were able to go home. There are no statistics about the small group that
did make it home.
If the physiological suffering was unbearable, the psychological damage is, if possible,
even greater. A lot of the people who had to suffer through this, are damaged for
The leader of the transport, the SS-er Mehrbach, was condemned to death by the war
tribunal. He was hanged in 1949. His death was a lot softer than his victims’.