My grandfather was a corporal in 42nd Rainbow Division of the 7th Army. 68 years ago today he helped liberate Dachau concentration camp. He still vividly remembers what he saw, and doesn't want people to forget what happened there. Here is a picture of him standing at the gates. He's the one on the far right looking down at his camera. Unfortunately, his camera was stolen shortly after, and he never got the pics. This was taken by one of his friends. Here is another picture of him standing by a jeep after the war ended. I've also sent some proof to the mods. He got to Dachau 2 hours after it fell. He was 20 years old, and still can't forget what he saw. He will start answering question at 2:00 pm EST.

UPDATE (3:10 EST)- He's a bit overwhelmed by the huge response and a little tired. Thank you for the questions. He will probably answer some more later today. He's truly touched by hearing from many of you, especially descendants of survivors!

UPDATE (8:00 EST)- He loves reading through these comments. I will read him the list of names (there are a lot) to see if he remembers anyone. We'll also go through and try to answer all the question/comments over the coming days. On a personal note, thank you for giving me an opportunity to spend this kind of time with my grandpa... it means so much. Being able to talk to him and hear his stories. This gives me an excuse to keep the conversation going for a long time (hopefully). I've hear from many people who never got this chance. I'm not taking it for granted.

FINAL UPDATE (8:25pm 5/5/14)- My grandfather passed away peacefully with family by his side. Your questions, comments and heartfelt thanks meant a lot to him. He will be missed.

Comments: 3014 • Responses: 46  • Date: 

Yankpats2083 karma

So was my grandfather!! His last name is nickeson and he sends his best to his fellow comrade!

Ragingcow121793 karma

Same! Did he know Harry campbell armstrong? He was a Lt.

leatherneckboy860 karma

I'm upvoting both of these in hopes the grandfather sees it and remembers both of them and an emotional WWII reunion happens where they talk about experiences over seas... OP will surely delivar

uppaday408 karma

what if one of them stole his camera?

spice_taster1189 karma

He would like it back

spice_taster649 karma

Unfortunately he doesn't know him.

myrmidon771388 karma

Grandson of R. Friend, PFC Company G, 222nd Infantry, 42nd Division also wishing your grandfather well.


spice_taster1602 karma

"He was among the guys who actually captured the camp. We were over there about 2 hours later."

Becca_smashley1388 karma

I took care of a gentleman who was in Dachau. He was taken home to the swine farm of one of the guards and forced to work. He was 16 when the other guards of the camp would come by every night and attempt to bring him back to kill him. The guard told them that he "wasn't done with him yet". He was forced to sleep in the pig pens. He was liberated by a group of american soldiers who happened by him and rescued him. He would get tears in his eyes when he spoke of the men who saved his life.

He reunited with his childhood sweetheart on the boat to America. Some of the very few who survived from their town, none of their family survived. They were married for 60+ years. He became EXTREMELY successful in kosher foods. After all that time, the dementia, the sadness of it all, he STILL remembered those soldiers, his saviors.

Tell your grandpa thank you. What he did was truly an act of heroism.

I also want to clarify that a lot of what I learned of his time there was told to me by his son and daughter. They were very proud of their parents. He would recall his past in his (rare) moments of clarity and he would share them with me. He had some PTSD associated with his experience, coupled with dementia, it was very hard. He was wary of people, would try to "escape" often and was easily frightened towards the end of it all. He was a very sweet man though and I miss him very much. When his wife passed, he followed a month later.

spice_taster284 karma

"Thank you. The whole thing was a shock. It's comforting to know that we saved some lives."

wgshlah1251 karma


spice_taster1647 karma

He says "we didn't know anything about it. Basically the Army had no idea these places existed. They knew of the rumors, but did not have the proof. The concentration camps were run by the SS, of course they were worst. The SS would put the 'bad prisoners' (people who committed crimes outside of camp) would be in charge of the prisoners who followed the rules. However when we liberated them, the prisoners knew who they were and went after them. When I got there I saw two prisoners beating a third to death with a board. It changed my perspective of the SS. Most the German army was drafted and just doing a job, but the SS were the real bad guys.

NotaVirus_Click255 karma

To build upon answer to first question above, regardless of awareness or not, I am curious as to what stands out to him the most as far as memories go. (Thanks for the answer, had to be horrifying) Since he was unaware, how difficult was it to even comprehend what he was seeing? Also, does he have any ideas on how we could prevent something on a scale like this from happening again? (Not sure if my last question makes sense, but if he was unaware it is amazing to me how well these things were hidden and I am trying to ask how something like this could be made public and prevented at an earlier point)

edit: made changes to wording because my first wording made it sound like question above me was irrelevant.

Edit 2: changed based on response above to clear up, and also thanks to OP for answering.

spice_taster583 karma

"Beside the man beaten to death, a big room opposite the gas chamber. It was filled with hundred of naked bodies ready to be cremated. Outside the camp was a rail yard filled with dead and dying prisoners. Many had been shot to death trying to escape."

Flatticus751 karma


spice_taster361 karma

He doesn't remember that. But he wasn't there until hours later.

lucky910590 karma

Is there an interaction with a liberated prisoner that you specifically remember?

spice_taster847 karma

"Not specifically. We weren't there that long. They were too busy trying to find something to eat or kill a guard. Several guards were dead in the moat."

bearlybaked542 karma

Hey, I don't have a question. But as a Jew can I tell your grandfather thank you.

yisroelg1201 karma

As a great-grandchild of 8 survivors: Thank you!

spice_taster48 karma

"Thank you!"

binghamsch518 karma

Were there any Nazis left at the camp when it was liberated? If so, what happened to them?

spice_taster733 karma

"Oh sure. The camp commander and his staff fled. The rest along with a lieutenant did the official surrender. They were taken off to a POW camp."

iwishiwasbillmurray447 karma

2 hours into liberation how free was everyone? Was it a simple door is open go home or doctors called in to examine health?

spice_taster800 karma

"They were not free. Some got out, but had to be rounded up because they were looting the stores. We needed to keep them in one place to get medics in there and food for them. But remember, the war was still raging so they wouldn't fared well outside of the camp at that point."

Digiguy25396 karma

I got to visit Dachau when I was in Munich for a few days. Is it true that the liberators marched the German towns folk thru the camp to see the mistreatment by the soldiers?? I vaguely remember hearing this. If so, could you elaborate on how all that went down?? Thanks!!

spice_taster633 karma

"Eisenhower's policy was that people in the neighboring town were to be brought in and see what happen. Many didn't want to know what was going on... but knew about the rumors and the camp's existence."

skikid1359 karma

How hard was it coming back to civilian life in America with the horror of war and Dachau still in your mind?

spice_taster703 karma

"I wasn't too hard for me. After the war, I was on occupation duty in Austria. It was a beautiful country and a nice rehab. I get flashbacks, but no lasting terror."

myspamhere329 karma

Hi there. How does he feel about the latest round of people calling the claims against the Nazis at best exaggerated, and at worst made up completely?

Does he stay in touch with any of the people he liberated?

Edit: Changed Germans to Nazis, as pointed out, not all Germans took part, and not all Nazi's were German

spice_taster409 karma

"It depends on what you means by Germans. Many didn't know what was going on. The problem was the Nazis, not just of German descent either. People who say Holocaust are liars. Holocaust was horrible, no question about it. They have the documentation to prove it."

jet_heller195 karma

As a follow up, how would he answer the deniers?

spice_taster622 karma

"They are liars. As people die off, more want to deny it. But there is too much documentation. They don't know what they are talking about."

FortunateMammal326 karma

How did they deal with beginning to treat the liberated prisoners? Was it difficult to get them to trust you after what they had been through?

spice_taster250 karma

"I didn't have much interaction with the prisoners. Occasionally we'd run into some after the war. They were grateful. I was in the 222nd Regiment. They moved us on quickly after turning it over to another Division."

Feydid296 karma

My grandfather was in the Rainbow Division as well, there when they liberated Dachau. He passed away a few years before I was born. Ask your gramps is he knew anyone with the last name Tobin... My grandfather never told stories of his time there and I'd love a glimpse of family history lost.

spice_taster324 karma

"Sorry don't know him, and I'm sorry you never met him."

limbodog294 karma

hi. I always feel rude for doing this, but we're supposed to: Proof?

edit verified

spice_taster209 karma

Proof sent to admins.

britt739110 karma

Are you my local news anchor??

*You totally are. You're great! Can't wait to hear the answers from your grandfather!

spice_taster94 karma


ezedubb293 karma

What was the worst thing he saw?

What was the most uplifting thing he saw?

spice_taster497 karma

Answered about worst things above. "Nothing uplifting really. When we got into Munich it was filled with thousands of German prisoners with their hands on their heads. It meant the war was going to end soon"

Snake-Doctor261 karma

How long after discovery did it take to realize exactly what kind of place this was, and the things that went on there.

spice_taster286 karma

"Some of it was obvious right away... but within a few weeks we had the whole picture."

booninvailable259 karma

How does he feel about the portrayal of the discovery of death camps in movies and television?

spice_taster389 karma

"Some of it is okay. Some of it is slanted as most Hollywood stuff is. There is no question about how awful it was, but not everything is accurate."

limbodog259 karma

This is a really simple question with what I expect might be a very complicated answer; could your grandfather please describe what he saw when he first got there?

spice_taster429 karma

"I saw two men beating another into hamburger. After that, I remember the shops they used to build ammo boxes."

DoctorYucatan208 karma

What happened to the officers and guards at Dachau? Were many of them killed outright or were most taken prisoner? How were they treated by the liberating forces?

spice_taster301 karma

"The ones they could capture were sent to POW camps. SS went to a different camps. Some guards were killed. I didn't witness them being killed, just saw the bodies."

qwhat_182 karma

I've read there was a very distinctive smell of decomposing bodies around concentration camps, and that it would travel as far as nearby towns, compromising the locals ability to claim they knew nothing about what was going on. How far out did your grandfather notice the smell?

spice_taster293 karma

"The smell I noticed there was in the room where the bodies were stacked. Most of the bodies outside were killed that day. It seemed most bodies weren't around long enough at Dachau to create a smell that would travel that far."

Hellkyte177 karma

How did your grandfather and his fellow soldiers change their views of the civilian Germans after finding this?

spice_taster369 karma

"I found no problem with the general population. Most towns and villages were glad to see Americans. They were bad told so many bad things about us, and realized we weren't. They were shocked that many of us had German names!"

LDM312176 karma

What was it like on a sensory level? Sight, sound, smell. Were the reactions of liberators mostly angry or sad?

Thank you so much for doing this!

spice_taster295 karma

"There wasn't much talk. You just stood there with your mouth hanging open. While you were in the camp it was just seeing it. It was quiet from what I remember."

netpastor173 karma

Were there any Jews serving with your Grandpa that were part of the liberation of their own people? What were their reactions when seeing their people?

spice_taster311 karma

"One of the men in my 6 man squad named Goodus (sp?) was Jewish. He didn't say a lot, but you could tell what he was thinking."

MrChivalrious142 karma

In those moments of silence, where does your memory go to in life?

spice_taster319 karma

"Once in a while I will recall incidents like the pile of bodies. Mainly I remember leaving and being passed by lieutenant Garrison in a jeep, he cut in front of me and hit a landmine in the road. Killed him and two others."

GeddyLee74131 karma

I visited Dachau about 12 years ago. It still stands as one of the most remarkable places I have ever been. The barracks, crematorium, gas chambers. There was evidence of them hanging prisoners from the rafters inside the crematorium to speed things along, and also stories of cremation as the means of execution towards the end.

The overall sense that I walked away with was that this was a DEATH camp. Run by cold, ruthless people fanatically committed to their cause of genocide.

My questions:

  • was there any clear evidence in those initial moments of liberation that the camp had ramped up production to kill as many prisoners as possible right up to the end?

  • were forces able to capture any surviving soldiers, or did they mostly find that they had committed suicide (or fled)?

  • what part of the liberation did he take most personal pride or satisfaction in?

  • did he have advanced knowledge of the plan to liberate, or were they just marching out from Munich and arrived at the camp?

Please tell him thanks for doing this AMA. He is a hero in my book.

spice_taster152 karma

"Yes. The ramped up their killing. The rooms were full and so were the train cars. We didn't know that the camp was there. We were in the area on the way to Munich when we got the word of what was happening."

jdpruitt131 karma

Hi OP, my grandfather was there with yours. His name was Frank Ingram, it's a longshot but maybe your grandfather remembers him?

spice_taster123 karma

"No. Sorry."

clothy123 karma

Do you believe that the wars people fight today are as necessary as the one you fought in?

spice_taster483 karma

"No. Absolutely not. We have no business being in many of the wars we're in. In the Middle East- they been fighting for thousands of years. We're not going to change anything."

gwar37121 karma

How did your grandfather feel about humanity after he saw just what people were capable of at their worst? Did the experience alter his life for the better or worse?

spice_taster262 karma

"I saw a lot of things. Including a 13-year-old hanging from a tree. He refused to help the SS escape. It's hard to believe people could do it. I saw terrible things after the war too, as a State Trooper."

customs101 karma

Has he ever been back? If yes, why did he go and what was it like to go back? If not, does he regret it?

spice_taster165 karma

"I have never been back. Couldn't afford to. I would have liked to have gone back to Austria, not the camp."

UR2Lat394 karma

First of all: Thank you for doing this AMA. I'm a german student who is very interested in our history. Two questions.

What would he do, if he see a guard from Dachau today?

I know we can never recompense it (I hope these are the right words), but does he think, Germans do enough to clear their debts compared to the things the Nazis did to those people?

spice_taster140 karma

"Depends on what his job was. If he was a Nazi guard, I don't want anything to do with him. They are evil."

wooly_bully93 karma

What, do you find, is the biggest misconception that people today have about the liberation of the WW2 concentration camps?

spice_taster345 karma

"I don't like the quacks who say it never happened."

Jabberwonky92 karma

I used to do transcription work for holocaust survivors and the soldiers who encountered the camps. I've heard over and over that soldiers gave the prisoners food and the shock to their systems killed many people. Was he told not to feed the prisoners? What was that like? I can't imagine looking at living skeletons and being told not to give them what they most need.

spice_taster141 karma

"We had K-rations and they had chocolate in it. They wanted the chocolate and it would make them sick. We had to ration the food so they wouldn't get sick."

MilotheCavalier90 karma

What percentage of the prisoners were Jehovah's Witnesses? At the time they were known as Bible Students and they wore a purple triangle instead of the star.

Also, did he get a chance to interact with any of the prisoners on a personal level/hear their stories?

spice_taster208 karma

"Never saw them personally. There were a few protestant prisoners, but lots of Catholic priests. Thousands, most were dead or dying."

huckflen75 karma


spice_taster74 karma

"It was a pleasure to see that the survivors were free and it was over. It was nice to be part of that. I played a very small role."

syllab55 karma

My grandfather was a sergeant in 42nd as well. Throughout his life he was vocal about his war experiences, but never about Dachau. The terrible memories of the atrocities committed there were too much for him to describe, but he always reminded us of the importance of remembering what happened at places like this so that they will never happen again. Thank you for doing this AMA and reminding people never to forget.

spice_taster91 karma

"If he was stationed there, I can imagine why he didn't want to talk about it. It's hard to accept that people were treated that badly. How can the guards watch people starve to death. There are bad people in the world."

johnnylogic45 karma

Thank you for doing this. From living through it, do you think that the people of Germany were manipulated and brainwashed by Hitler and his propaganda, or do you think that deep down human beings have a lot of evil in them and things like that will always continue?

spice_taster111 karma

"They were brainwashed. But remember, when people objected in Nazi Germany, the repercussions were horrible. There were many good Germans."

LDM31245 karma

Also, how did you cope with any PTSD? How did other soldiers and how did the prisoners cope?

spice_taster116 karma

"I've gotten over that. The big helpful thing was being in peaceful Austria after the war. Good rehab. Smoking was also a big help."

a1will35 karma

Did he take any souveneirs? If so what?

There is a saying, "The French fight for glory, the English fight for land, and the Americans fight for souvenirs."

spice_taster45 karma

"I had a German helmet, air force cap and a Nazi flag. It was on a school house that was being used by an artillery unit. There was also an artillery saber that I took, but someone stole it out of my jeep. I also took an iron cross, but sold most of it."

mjh062835 karma

How has the American culture changed in your lifetime?

spice_taster128 karma

"I don't agree with a lot of the crazy music. I can't stand it. I think there is a whole element of the population who doesn't give a hoot nowadays. I'm surprised by how little some know about this country. I am not happy with the education system. They couldn't tell you who Thomas Jefferson was, and it's a shame."

Lodom27 karma

What kind of condition were the people in you found and how did they react when they saw you? Did they talk to you, smile, act scared, etc. Also one last question, did anyone in your unit let one of the prisoners kill a nazi?

Sorry these might be a little too personal, but thank you for doing this AMA!

spice_taster56 karma

"They were in shock. They just wanted to hug an American."

ClonialTrial20 karma

Did you ever get angry? If so, how did you cope with it?

spice_taster41 karma

"I did get upset, but there was no one to take it out on."