Letter From Harold Porter to his Parents Describing Dachau Concentration Camp

Letter From Harold Porter to his Parents Describing Dachau Concentration Camp - Stories

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  • Dachau, Germany

Dear Mother and Father,

You have, by this time, received a letter mentioning that I am quartered in the concentration camp at Dachau. It is still undecided whether we will be permitted to describe the conditions here, but I'm writing this now to tell you a little, and will mail it later when we are told we can.

It is difficult to know how to begin. By this time I have recovered from my first emotional shock and am able to write without seeming like a hysterical gibbering idiot. Yet, I know you will hesitate to believe me no matter how objective and factual I try to be. I even find myself trying to deny what I am looking at with my own eyes. Certainly, what I have seen in the past few days will affect my personality for the rest of my life.

We knew a day or two before we moved that we were going to operate in Dachau, and that it was the location of one of the most notorious concentration camps, but while we expected things to be grizzly, I'm sure none of us knew what was coming. It is easy to read about atrocities, but they must be seen before they can be believed. To think that I once scoffed at Valtin's "Out of the Night" as being preposterous! I've seen worse

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  • Dachau, Germany

sights than any he described.

The trip south from Ottengen was pleasant enough. We passed through Donauworth and Aichach and as we entered Dachau, the country, with the cottages, river, country estates and Alps in the distance, was almost like a tourist resort. BUt as we came to the center of the city, we met a train with a wrecked engine - about fifty cars long. Every car was loaded with bodies. There must have been thousands of them - all obviously starved to death. This was a shock of the first order, and the odor can best be immagined. But neither the sight nor the odor were anything when compared with what we were still to see.

Marc Coyle (?) reached the camp two days before I did and was a guard so as soon as I got there I looked him up and he took me to the crematory. Dead SS troops were scattered around the grounds, but when we reached the furnace house we cam upon a huge stack of corpses piled up like kindling, all nude so that their clothes wouldn't be wasted by the burning. There were furnaces for burning six bodies at once and on each side of them was a room twenty feet square crammed to the ceiling with more bodies - one big stinking rotten mess. Their faces

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  • Dachau, Germany

purple, their eyes popping, and with a ludicrous (?) grin on each one.  They were nothing but bones & skin.  Coyle had assisted at ten autopsies the day before (wearing a gas mask) on ten bodies selected at random.  Eight of them had advanced T.B., all had Typhus and extreme malnutrition symptoms.  There were both women and children in the stack in addition to the men.

While we were inspecting the place, freed prisoners drove up with wagon loads of corpses removed from the compound proper.  Watching the unloading was horrible.  The bodies squooshed and gurgled as they hit the pile and the odor could almost be seen.

Behind the furnace was the execution chamber, a windowless cell twenty feet square with gas nozzles every few feet across the ceiling.  Outside, in addition to the huge mound of charred bone fragments, were the carefully sorted and stacked clothes of the victims - which obviously numbered in the thousands.  Although I stood there looking at it, I couldn't believe it.  The realness of the whole mess is just gradually dawning on me, and I doubt if it will ever on you.

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  • Dachau, Germany

There is a rumor circulating with says that the war is over.  It probably is as much as it ever will be.  We've all been expecting the end for several days, but were not too excited about it because we know that it does not mean too much as far as our immediate situation is concerned.  There was no celebrating - it's difficult to celebrate anything with the morbid state we're in.

The Pacific theater will not come immediately for this unit; we have around 36,000 potential and eventual patients here.  The end of the work for everyone else is going to be just the beginning for us.

Today was a scorching hot day after several raining cold ones.  The result of the heat on the corpses is impossible to describe, and the situation will probably get worse because their disposal will certainly take time.

My arms are sore from the typhus shot so I'm ending here for the present.  More will follow later.  I have lots to write about now.

Love,

Harold

Additional Images

  • Dachau, Germany

Some photos related to Harold Porter's account.

Photo #1 - A train at the camp.

Photo #2 - Piled clothes of prisoners

Photo #3 - Aerial photo of Dachau

Photo #4 - The gates of Dachau

    This part is interesting because he mentions how even the ending of the war could not console him, after the sight of everything at Dachau. What an incredible account.

      In 1969 at age 18, I visited Dachau. This letter is very meaningful for me as I can picture in my mind what it must have looked like. I am now age 62 and when I think of my trip to Europe and visits to 6 other countries that summer, my thoughts drift back to the sight of the crematory there and the horror it must have been to see it.