The final days before liberation were extremely tense. Prisoners knew that freedom was very near. But until the moment Allied soldiers appeared, they lived in fear of death. In his secret diary, the German political prisoner Edgar Kupfer chronicled the last day in Dachau, when US troops finally liberated the remaining 32,000 prisoners (from some 30 different European nations). They had been fortunate: thousands of Dachau prisoners had been forced on death marches just days earlier.
While I’m writing there are big explosions nearby.
A very unpleasant, but apparently true, bit of news: it’s said that there’s still a whole company of SS in the camp, but no Wehrmacht. So we rejoiced too soon and are now in danger twice over: partly from the SS and partly from the war that is now raging around us. […]
Suddenly, there are shouts outside and people running about: “The Americans have arrived, they’re in the camp, yes, yes, they’re on the roll call square!”
Everybody starts moving. The sick leave their beds, those who are nearly well and the nursing staff run out into the block street, jump out of the windows, climb over the partition walls. Everybody is running to the roll call square. One can hear people shouting hurray from a long way off. They’re shouts of joy. People keep running around. The sick have excited, ecstatic faces. “They’ve arrived, we’re free, free!” […]
Hardly any violence has occurred, although we had always thought it might. Everybody’s feelings of joy were evidently stronger than their feelings of hatred […].
my life was given back to me
So, as far as the majority is concerned, what happened to the hatred, the burning hatred that everybody believed that they felt inside them? Joy trumped all that and … hatred is probably a sign of powerlessness, but now we are no longer powerless. But the fact that we are not behaving as the SS would have behaved, that’s only as it should be, but … it’s still a good thing.
The day has come to an end, this 29 April, – for the rest of my life I shall celebrate it as my second birthday, as the day that my life was given back to me.
Source: E. Kupfer-Koberwitz, Dachauer Tagebücher (Munich, 1997), pp. 443–9
Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes