Tracing the trail to Dachau


Vivian Blevins - Contributing Columnist



Military veterans smile and nod their heads in agreement when they hear the command, “Hurry up and wait.” They have been there, done that, and fully understand the meaning.

The assumption is that these words originated sometime during World War II, and became famously popular with service men and women.

In his journal, Chester Peter Braun (1920- 1993), 93 Ordinance Maintenance Company, U.S. Army, began to record his service to his country on the day on which he had his physical in Columbus, followed by his induction into the Army.

Braun wrote of the routine of getting up early, going to breakfast, attending training, being tested and receiving his scores, going to bed, determining whether to attend church on Sundays, writing letters to his girlfriend, Evelyn Wiessinger, and hoping to get one from her at mail call.

Once he indicated in his journal that he was in Europe, I referred to my map to follow the trajectory of his journey. I also was reading declassified military documents of his unit’s travel.

Then Braun stopped writing. The last lines of his journal were, “That night at eleven o’clock the infantry shoved off. You could tell they had a lot of artillery up front for the sky was one continuous flash.”

As the writing stopped, his camera came out, according to Braun’s son, Richard. The photographs in the scrapbook his greatgranddaughter, Karma, a student in my class at Edison State, let me borrow show what Braun witnessed at Dachau: piles of bodies waiting to be burned and the furnace itself, still burning with human remains feeding the fire.

Braun’s son says that his father’s job at Dachau during and following the liberation was to deliver supplies, and all military men and women know that without food and ammo, not much can be accomplished. At times, Braun was ordered to stand guard, and it was during one of these times that an enemy sniper shot him. When his son Richard was 12 years old, Braun showed him the 2-inch scar on his leg. That memory remains because his father was reluctant to discuss what he witnessed at Dachau, one of the most excruciating times of World War II.

My job as a columnist is to use words to convey meaning, so I want to share with you the horror of Dachau from the point of view of one of my World War II friends, Robert Tweed (1921-2018), of Troy. After the main camp was liberated by Americans on April 29, 1945, Tweed and two other soldiers were sent by their commanding officer to bear witness so that the Germans could never deny the atrocities they had committed there.

When I first approached Tweed for an interview, he informed me that he would only talk about meeting Erica, the love of his life. Much later, he talked with me and my students about what he witnessed at Dachau hours after the liberation: bodies floating in a moat, disease-ridden prisoners who were emaciated, bodies stacked like cordwood in a train siding as the crematoriums the Nazis had built were unable to handle the ones who had died of disease or starvation. And there was murder, following the written command of Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler, “No prisoner shall be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy alive.”

Flash forward to 1995, when Tweed went with members of the 42nd Rainbow Division, part of the liberation forces, to traverse once again the trail they had taken in 1945. In his written account of that trip, Tweed “decided to go through the one remaining barrack – turned museum … I did a fast walk-through and found it to be mostly pictures of camp life and activities. The pictures had been made by the Nazis and dealt mostly with the problems they faced trying to get thousands of people interned, fed and housed, and to extract some labor from them before disposing of them.

“I did experience a real feeling of depression from the time we arrived until we left. It was as though by entering onto those grounds, one took on some small share of the burden of suffering and grief that was expended there. I was ready to leave that solemn and sad place soon after I arrived… .”

Of those there that day, Tweed wrote that some had lost all of their family members at Dachau, “I ask myself the question, ‘Why would so many people come such great distances to commemorate that part of their life that they would only hope to forget?’” And then he concluded, “They must come and add their voices to the many who say, ‘This must not happen again.’”

Our executive and legislative branches of government should examine “Just War Theory,” which sets out the conditions for entering a war, and the Geneva Conventions, which establish war protocols once a country is involved, before making a decision on war. To do otherwise is to be remiss.

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Vivian Blevins

Contributing Columnist

Dr. Blevins has taught undergraduate and graduate students as well as prison inmates, and now teachescommunication and American literature classes at Edison State Community College. Reach her at (937)778-3815 or vbblevins@woh.rr.com.

Dr. Blevins has taught undergraduate and graduate students as well as prison inmates, and now teachescommunication and American literature classes at Edison State Community College. Reach her at (937)778-3815 or vbblevins@woh.rr.com.