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GIs Remember - Abe Cheslow - Dachau

Abe Cheslow started his college studies in chemical engineering in New York, but soon became a tank gunner with the 20th Armored Division. The 20th entered Germany right after the Battle of the Bulge and was involved in heavy fighting. Cheslow's tank was destroyed, the tank commander was killed and the assistant gunner severely injured.

"As the 20th was proceeding down the road near Munich on April 29th, 1945, 1 had no idea of what we were about to come across. My tank was one of the first into Dachau. At first, I saw the smokestacks, then all of a sudden I saw thousands of bodies-bodies inside, outside, hanging over the edge of freight cars; they were in the last stages of hunger and emaciation. The forty freight cars contained the freshest inmates brought to the camp. More than half died.

I knew these people were Jews. You do feel a kinship. I said 'Ich bin ein Jude.' They took my hand and cried.

The survivors who were strong enough killed some of the camp guards. The rest of the men in my company were impressed that the survivors got up the guts and killed the Germans.

Our higher-ups wanted to show the Dachau townspeople what had been going on. Because I spoke some German, I was sent to lead a group of five, including a school teacher and a banker. I showed them the gas house. It was like taking them to Disneyland. They were laughing and giggling. When we came to the ovens one of them said: 'a great place; I'd like it for my mother-in-law.' I became so infuriated, I jumped the man and would have killed him. My buddies pulled me off.

Chaplain David Eichhorn conducted a service on May 5, 1945, for 1500 survivors of Dachau, relating the Torah portion for that week and the section 'proclaiming freedom throughout all the land and the inhabitants thereof.' I was deeply moved.

For more than forty years I did not want to talk about this experience. I finally agreed when my daughter asked me to speak about it in the schools. As far as the effect on my life, it made me look over my shoulder to see who was doing what to Jews.... It made me loyal to Jewish culture and heritage. It didn't make me deeply religious, but I do support a synagogue and I have worked for Israel."

GIs RememberNational Museum of American Jewish Military History