The Harrowing of Hell
Publication Year: 1995
Published by: State University of New York Press
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At the end of April 1944, in Germany, Marcus Smith (then 26 years old) underwent one of the formative experiences of his life. A Lieutenant who had completed medical school and a oneyear internship before joining the U.S. Army, Marcus was the sole medical officer attached to a small displaced person...
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For twenty-five years I was unable to think about my experiences in Dachau, about the spring of 1945, when Allied forces were fighting their way into Germany, and I was medical officer of the small team sent into the concentration camp the day after its liberation from the Nazis. Our assignment: to reclaim the lives of the more than 32,000 prisoners still...
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At the end of April 1945, American troops of the 42nd and 45th Divisions entered the concentration camp at Dachau, near Munich, liberating its 30,000 inmates and the some 40,000 other prisoners at nearby Nebenlager, or auxiliary camps, who had been working at forced labor in German war-related industries...
PART I. The Beginning
1. Back to School
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Our appearance is hardly likely to inspire confidence, embraced as we are by dust, dirt, and mud, our inseparable companions. The habit of cleanliness, only a recent development in human history, is quickly lost in the combat zone because it is dependent on the availability of water...
2. The Dragon's Teeth
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I reach my collecting company by suppertime. At first I am on the receiving end of gross sallies about my future role in the Army, remarks that emphasize fundamental instincts. I will be bedecked with garlands of flowers, surrounded by dancing natives, the liberator in the midst of frustrated, grateful Cinderellas...
3. Increased Resistance
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Heidelberg, which we pass through on the last day of March, is not an archeological remnant; its buildings are not tortured, twisted skeletons. But its bridges, including the one built in the eighteenth century, have been destroyed by retreating German troops. Otherwise, the city is virtually undamaged. Even the store windows are intact. It has been a long time since I have looked at colorful displays...
4. DP Team 115
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I can forget about treating soldiers for a while. The DP situation must be serious, because orders arrive to report to Division Headquarters on April 10. A bottle of '37 champagne is opened for the brief farewell party. I am truly sorry to leave the company, a congenial outfit...
5. The Journey
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The food improves at Mosbach. Genuine eggs and Swiss cheese enliven the inevitable Spam. But eight dull days pass, while I wander, read, fidget, and watch the clock. Gin rummy, using reichsmarks, now provides the evening excitement...
PART II. The First Camp
6. The Indigenous Authority
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In Schwabach, Rosenbloom's first act is to report to an American Military Government (MG) captain who has arrived only a few hours earlier and has not yet had time to familiarize himself with the DP situation. The captain has a mountain of work to do-collect firearms and cameras...
7. The Slaves
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We make rounds several times a day at each camp. When we have time we listen to stories told by the D Ps, repetitive tales about the conditions under which they lived and worked, not only here at Schwabach, but elsewhere in Germany. They tell about their own experiences and those of other DPs. Most of the stories are about the last few years,...
8. The Russians
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The Russian leader, a civilian, is either inefficient or lacks authority. We decide this on our next visit to the camp, when we discover that nobody has collected population figures and that no work is being done except by the sentries and the camp doctor. Rosenbloom decides to replace...
9. Population Changes
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Each night Corporal Ferris, the company clerk, slaves over the Daily Displaced Persons Center Report. He huddles over his typewriter, entering onto the form-in triplicate-information about the organization, conduct, and health of the DPs, the camp sanitation, and the supply situation...
10. Dusty Days
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April 24. A public health officer, Colonel Hopkins, and a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration nurse, Miss Gregg, arrive for an unofficial visit. They are studying camp management and would like to inspect our facilities. Our visitors compliment us on the appearance of the camps, but I think they are only being friendly. I must admit, however...
11. New Orders
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DPs are being discovered all over. Reports arrive of ten Poles in a barn, forty Russians in the hills, some Italians in town and on the roads, seven Frenchmen in a field-and our men go out to bring them in, or the Military Police collect them...
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On the first leg of the trip, I am invited to be a passenger in one of the cars brought by the French. Innocently, I accept. After being wedged between an assortment of guns, oddly shaped sacks, framed pictures, a stovepipe, and an apprehensive cocker spaniel, a great truth dawns on me: survival in a Frenchman's automobile depends on the plasticity and malleability of the passenger...
PART III. Dachau: The First Week
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April 30 It is still early in the morning as we approach the I,ooo-year-old city of Dachau. In the distance we see pillars of black smoke fading away in the cold, cloudy sky, and we hear the pounding of artillery and the screaming of planes....
14. The Inspection
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Not as many inmates are standing at the fence as I had thought, probably because it is too cold. A few walk slowly over to us, and I see from their gait and then from their pinched features that they have been starved...
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pp. 96 -100
Our new quarters are in the home of a former SS officer on SS Strasse, where, after a quiet supper of C rations and coffee -nobody complains tonight-Rosenbloom, Howcroft, and I get down to business. They have had a busy day too. In addition to their inspections,...
16. The Famish'd People
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Only a few hours of sleep. After breakfast, Rosenbloom briefs us. He has already been in contact with G-5 this morning. The information we transmitted through channels last night went all the way to the Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, who promises total assistance...
17. Camp Fever
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April had been a difficult month for the men, nurses, doctors, and CO, Colonel Lawrence C. Ball, of the 116th Evacuation Hospital. They had moved four times that month; none of their locations was desirable. It required a vast amount of labor and paperwork to discharge patients, close, pack, move, and reopen at its usual size, 450 beds...
18. The IPC, the Visitors, and the "Pigs"
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The International Prisoners' Committee (lPC) has been meeting regularly since April 30; copies of the minutes of their meetings, either in the original German or in their English translations, have been sent to me. After reading them, I begin to realize that control of the thousands of inhabitants here would be impossible without the tireless and continuing efforts of the members of this organization...
19. The Burial Detail
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Many of the big guns of the Medical Corps are loaded, and on May 3, seventy-two hours after our arrival in the camp, the barrage begins that will bring victory against the body lice, the misanthropic, parasitic insects responsible for the transmission of typhus fever from person to person...
20.The Last Days of Dachau
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Many of the stories we hear are about the frightening weeks before liberation, a most perilous time for the prisoners who believed that their lives were in greater jeopardy than ever before. They had endured years of cruel confinement. Now they knew they were doomed; they were certain that the victorious American troops would not reach the camp...
21. Dr. Ali Kuci
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Dr. Ali Kuci is a short, thin, dark man with a long face, whose doctorate in philosophy from the University of Florence was preceded by special training in political science at London University. He claims to have been the former minister of propaganda in Albania, or so I am told...
PART IV. Dachau: The Turning Point
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The measures taken to curb the typhus fever epidemic-the quarantine and mass dusting program-are showing results. Now, sufficient vaccine has become available, as well as an organization to administer it, so that the third step in combating the epidemic can be taken: the vaccination of all the inmates...
23. Good News and Bad News
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At our regular Team meeting, Rosenbloom tells us the news that reached HQ only today, although it happened four or five days ago. The special prisoners everyone has been interested in were rescued on May 4 by a unit of the 42d Division, perhaps some of the same men who fought here and then headed...
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In my spare time, I wander through the camp-there is always something to explore. On one of these walks, I enter a one-story building that contains laboratory counters and storage shelves. Almost everything in it has been smashed: I step over broken benches and drawers, twisted instruments...
25. The Warehouses
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As a result of the relocation of the inmates, nine different kitchens, all staffed almost entirely with Poles, are established: major ones in the prison area, the outer residential area, the satellite camp, the outer compound hospital, and the two American hospitals; small cooking units for administrative...
26. The Rabbits, the Plantage, the Chapel and the Women
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A few days ago an embarrassing situation was brought to the attention of the IPC at its meeting of May 7. The presiding officer, Arthur Haulot, explains the situation...
27. Complaint Department
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Most of the French, some of the Romanians, Germans, and Austrians, and small numbers of people from other countries have been able to move into newly furnished quarters in the outer compound. The relocation began on May 11. Eventually 5,000 people will be living here...
28. Homeward Bound
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Communique No. 30, dated May 21, is two pages long. Dr. Kuci again cautions the people to be patient, saying that if they had been permitted to return home immediately after liberation, 80 percent of them would have died. Then the big news...
29. The Townspeople
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Dr. Kuci once said it was no coincidence that Hitler committed suicide on April 30. He believed that the act inevitably followed the liberation of the camp the day before, just as the opening of the camp twelve years earlier had immediately followed Hitler's assumption of power...
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An Army dietician arrives on May 28, and I am so overjoyed to be relieved of food planning that I work with her until 9:00 P.M. on menus and large-scale recipes. I see that she is more flexible than I was, and more generous in the use of milk...
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Sergeant Louis Thompson of Crookston, Minnesota replaces Sergeant Morivant as the operations NCO; Morivant is ordered back to Division. The new arrival is distinguished by his good habits: he neither smokes nor swears...
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Our next assignment took us to a Russian repatriation center in Heidelberg located at the Grenadier Kaserne, formerly a German military post. We worked with a French-Belgian United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration team, two French Army doctors, an American Army nurse, and four liaison officers at this shipping and receiving plant...
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References and Notes
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Page Count: 250
Publication Year: 1995