In light of the Governor of Virginia’s Executive Order 55, our Yom HaShoah program has been postponed to Fall 2020. We will use this opportunity to spotlight liberators and other major historical events through our website.
On April 29, 1945, the 42nd and 45th Infantry Divisions and the 20th Armored Division of the United States Army liberated Dachau. The camp held nearly 32,000 prisoners and several dozen boxcars filled with decomposing bodies.
Among those serving with the 42nd Rainbow Division was James “Pete” Pettus. Raised in Flat River, Missouri, Pettus served in the United States Army for three years and earned a Bronze Star. He talked at length about April 29 and the atrocities witnessed during liberation.
“As our troops walked by [the railcars], walking down the railroad siding, there were a lot of bodies that
were laying on the ground where if they tried to escape the Germans shot them.”
Morton Marks enlisted in the Army as an engineer in 1944 and was transferred to the 42nd Rainbow Division where he saw action in France, Germany, and Austria. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, and the Distinguished Service Cross.
Morton kept a journal of his experiences during the war. On April 29, he wrote:
“Moved into Dachau at 1700. Moved into concentration camp, largest in Germany, discovered thousands of dead prisoners, freed 32000 of them. Stayed in SS barracks.”
On April 11, 1945, prisoners in Buchenwald revolted and seized control of the camp. Shortly after, soldiers from the 6th Armored Division arrived at the camp to find 21,000 prisoners.
On April 22, 1945, the 107th Evacuation Hospital entered Buchenwald to provide medical aid. Ruth Puryear (née Motter) was a nurse with the 107th who volunteered as an Army nurse in 1942. She landed in France on D-Day + 3 and arrived at Buchenwald with the 107th.
“I thought I’d grown used to seeing suffering and death after being in a combat zone for ten months. But nothing prepared me for the shock I received when we entered the camp. I shall always remember the heaps of dead bodies lying near the crematorium, the bodies were skin and bones, many had black and blue marks and broken bones where they had been beaten.”