© The Boston Globe 2001. Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II
PART V: VENGEANCE AT DACHAU
by Thomas Farragher / Globe Staff / July 2, 2001
Page 4 of 9
Continued from page 3
Walsh, his eyes wet with tears, his heart full of rage, could not comprehend such inhumanity. ''I'll be honest with you. I broke down,'' he says in the film. ''I started crying. The whole thing was getting to me.''
Two weeks after Dachau's liberation, in testimony before an Army investigator in Munich, Sparks's men recounted the vengeance the Americans exacted in the chaotic moments that followed.
Private Fred E. Randolph said that when four Germans, hands on their heads, surrendered to Walsh, the lieutenant was having none of it.
''Lieutenant Walsh was quite angry and upset and took them into one of these wagons and called for a machine gun,'' Randolph told an Army assistant inspector general on May 17, 1945. ''Then he changed his mind and took them in a boxcar and fired his pistol at them. We were told as soon as we saw the bodies in the train that no prisoners would be taken.''
Private Albert C. Pruitt accompanied Walsh when the four Germans were gunned down.
''Lieutenant Walsh shot at them, and they were suffering and taking on and I figured there was no use letting them suffer, so I finished them off,'' Pruitt testified. ''They were all hollering and taking on. And I never like to see anybody suffer.''
Sparks, Walsh, and their men were cautiously advancing through the SS quarters outside the concentration camp, where gaunt prisoners soon would strain against the no-longer electrified barbed wire with disbelieving eyes. Finally, their liberators had arrived.
But first, the Americans had to deal with their newly acquired German captives. Regular German soldiers were separated from the elite corps of SS stormtroopers.
The liberators marched the SS men into a power plant's coal yard, enclosed on three sides by a concrete wall.
They set up a machine gun.
''I don't think there was any definite orders given, but it was the general feeling among all of the troops when we saw those bodies and one or two skinny fellows that came out there that no prisoners would be taken,'' First Lieutenant Jack Bushyhead, who served as Walsh's top assistant, would later testify.
A general's concerns
By the time the surrendered but still-defiant SS troops stared into the barrels of American guns at Dachau, General Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, was already acutely sensitive about the handling of German prisoners of war. Just a month earlier, two almost simultaneous reports of horrible, preventable POW deaths had crossed his desk.
In late March 1945, while American soldiers were transporting thousands of German prisoners by train to two French detainment camps, 127 of the prisoners perished - essentially entombed in nearly airtight US rail cars.
Two days later Eisenhower expressed anger and deep concern in a message to General George C. Marshall, Army chief of staff.
''I have not yet found out the cause of the death of the German prisoners, recently reported to me, nor do I know who is responsible,'' Eisenhower wrote in a memo contained in National Archive files reviewed by the Globe. ''It is irritating to have such things occur because I certainly loathe having to apologize to the Germans. It looks as if this time I have no other recourse.''
US officials concluded that American guards on the train failed to take into account unusually warm weather that day. Investigators who inspected the deadly rail cars found evidence of frantic German efforts to survive. Fingernail and teeth marks scarred the boxcars' interior plywood.
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