The poet Ed Hoornik described the moment of liberation this way:
Sunday afternoon, 29 April, 1945, Concentration camp Dachau. The prisoners, over
thirty thousand of them, are in the barracks. Half of them are ill, hundreds are
dying. Or they just died, it is not easy to see. “Wer noch lebt solt sich melden!”
(Whoever is still alive, come and report) a man of the camp police yelled yesterday
when the train from Buchenwald was unloading. And look, of the eight hundred dropped
skeletons, a few of them actually made it.
The Americans have to be close now. The noise of the cannons has stopped and even
the dive bombers are gone. By the entrance of the SS camp hangs a white flag. You
can see it from the parade ground they say, but nobody can go see, because the motto
is, stay indoors. What does that flag mean? Surrender? But the watch towers are still
manned by the SS and machine guns are trained inside, towards the camp, to us. And
on the table of the commander - I don't know that yet, at that time - is a telegram,
signed by Heinrich Himmler: “Ubergabe kommt nicht im frage. Das lager ist sofort
zu evakuieren. Kein Häftling darf lebendig in die hände des feindes fallen.” (There
is no question of surrender. The camp has to evacuate immediately. None of the prisoners
are allowed to fall into the enemy's hands alive)
I am in Barrack number 14, between the Poles and the French. The room elder's clock
points to four thirty. We are not saying anything. We are aware of every sound coming
from outside. Suddenly, air raid alarm. It sounds different, longer than before.
Imagination? No. Someone who should know says: Panzerspitze im Angriff. (Tank attack).
So its true?
I feel something crawling over my rib cage and go to the dormitory. Standing up I
undress and look for lice on my body and clothes. Imagine that I would have caught
typhus at the very last minute. At that moment the first prisoners are running past
the window. I am already outside, running with them. There, from all directions,
from all little streets between the barracks the prisoners stream to the parade ground.
There is shooting from the watch towers. Not at us in the camp, but at the Americans
slinking from tree to tree, getting ever closer. They have already passed the train
yard, passed the freight train cars. Closed cars that are silent now. Five days ago
two thousand Jews were driven in here. They were to have been evacuated. It failed;
all two thousand of them are dead, suffocated. The soldiers have now passed the crematorium
where the bodies are heaped six feet high, because they ran out of coal. From the
watchtower I see a shot SS-er fall. Others are now walking with their hands in the
And then, suddenly, there at the gate of the camp, the first American. “Hello boys,
here we are!” And then it starts. The cheering, the yelling, the crying. Torn portraits
of Hitler and Himmler fly out of the windows of the commander's quarters. I feel
as if I am being lifted. I roar, I am back in the world.
But the ill, the dying in the barracks, they have heard, but they also want to see
the goings on. And then, suddenly between us stands, silently, large, not knowing
what to do, an American between the Brits. Skulls try to rise up, wooden arms reach
out to him. They want to touch him, to feel him. The man puts his machine gun on
a table and walks between the beds. He shakes hands to the left, to the right. The
third one he embraces is dead. He walks on as if nothing happened to the next one,
and the next.
When he leaves the barracks he starts to vomit. Out of revulsion, I do the same.