GIs Remember

Eli Heimberg - Dachau


Eli Heimberg, from Dartmouth, Massachusetts, entered the Army in Au, gust 1943. Initially he was with a heavy weapons company of the 42nd Infantry Division and later became an assistant to Chaplain Eli Bohnen, serving in several campaigns in Germany.

"On April 29, 1945, after a battalion of the 222nd Infantry Regiment helped liberate Dachau, I entered the camp with Chaplain Bohnen.

I had heard of concentration camps, but thought they would be similar to the internment camps the United States had to incarcerate Japanese civilians. I never expected to see what we saw at Dachau.

Before we crossed the moat leading into the camp, we encountered a stench that permeated the air. As we entered, we saw pyramids of clothing and shoes piled fifteen feet high-the victims' belongings. When we turned around the comer, we saw opened railroad box cars with people who had perished.

Driving further into the camp, we asked directions to the Jewish barracks. When we entered, we saw emaciated people whose skin was so close to their bones, it looked as if silk stockings were pulled over skeletons. Some were sitting on the ground, others lying in their wooden slatted bunks, three tiers high.

Chaplain Bohnen announced in Yiddish, 'Ich bin ahn Americaner Rabbiner.' At that moment, it was as if all the pent-up emotions of the years in misery were unleashed in that room. There was a burst of wailing and crying. We stood there for a moment, unsuccessfully trying to control our emotions as the victims, who were able to, surged forward to kiss our feet and hug our hands. I felt humble and uncomfortable, for it was I who should have been hugging and kissing them.

For a long time we took their names and messages to send to their families who were in the United States. In memory of those who had not survived, Chaplain Bohnen recited the El Mole Rachamim, the memorial prayer for the departed. I wept unashamedly. Before leaving, our one thought was to reassure our brethren that they were not forgotten and that aid was on the way.

Subsequently, I served under Chaplain Bohnen as liaison between the military and displaced persons in Salzburg, Austria, from September 1945 to March 1946, when I returned home.

Despite the horrors of the Holocaust a new spirit arose among most of the survivors. From out of the ashes of despair, I witnessed the resurgence of a people taking their place once more in society, retaining their compassion and a continuing will to learn and pursue their culture."

 


Source: GIs Remember, (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Jewish Military History, 1994).