(This article is reposted with permission of NOC.
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The war in Europe was coming to a close as the Allies raced across Germany to Berlin. Elements of the US 7th Army chased the remnants of the German army retreating into Germany. Among the fastest moving units was the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion a Nisei (Second generation Japanese American) unit that was originally attached to the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The 442nd won the most decorations for any American unit for its size during WW2. The unit would win 7 Presidential Citations (5 while rescuing the Lost Texas Battalion in France 1944), 20 Medals of Honor (America’s highest decoration for valor) and over 9000 Purple Hearts (decorations for wounds suffered in combat). The 522 had a reputation for having the fastest and most accurate fire in the US Army. They were hand picked by Gen. Eisenhower (Commander of Allied Forces in Europe) to help lead the attack into Germany.
The 522nd liberated several of the sub camps near Dachau and actually opened the main gate at the Dachau concentration camp. Some 5000 survivors of the Dachau concentration camp were liberated by elements of the 522 on April 29th 1945.
Dachau was established in 1933 as the Nazi regime rose to power. The infamous camp was in 12 years of existence with some 206,000 prisoners .Dachau had some 30 sub camps (smaller forced labor and/or POW camps) located near adjacent towns. It was the site of mass exterminations, executions, and death marches. Some 5000 inmates were liberated mostly Jewish, Russian, French, Polish civilians and Allied POW’s.
The Story of Sgt. Oiye
On April 29th 1945, Staff Sgt. George Oiye was member of a forward observer team (patrols to search for targets for artillery to shoot ) for artillery battery C leading the 7th Army racing into Germany. Elements of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion were spread out over a 30 mile radius. They had orders to destroy military targets in Munich and to demolish the headquarters of the dreaded SS. They also had warnings to be on the look out for top Nazis such as Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun (Hitler’s mistress). They chased the retreating German units,captured and disarmed them. According to 522 records they were the first Allied unit to reach Dachau.
“We weren’t supposed to be there” said Oiye. Since they were spread out over such a wide area (30 KM) and Dachau was so big they simply ran into it. Japanese American soldiers shot the lock of the main gate of the outer perimeter fences. Then opened the barbed wire gates of the infamous crematorium the site were thousands of Jewish prisoners bodies were burned into ashes. The building had tall smoke stacks and large ovens with bodies smoldering still inside. Prisoners were often gassed or died of the harsh slave labor conditions at Dachau.
“A Hard Thing”
Oiye explained his reaction to visiting the infamous camp: He was mainly on the muddy roads out side the camp when it started to snow. “It was very cold and he saw the prisoners shivering. Some were in very bad shape,”emaciated, sick, diseased, bugs crawling on them and dying” He recalled the stripped suits they wore and some had no shoes. Oiye and his fellow soldiers gave the prisoners their extra gloves, bed rolls, and food. His reaction to the prisoners: “we were not prepared to deal with coming across a concentration camp.” “We came across by accident and were not prepared. It was a hard thing” He remembered that he ” felt bewildered, then angry and fearful. ” Oiye explained the sense of guilt “that mankind had transgressed so far…. the worst case of sin I know of.”
“War was one thing but that kind of treatment of mankind; thats is not normal” Oiye stated. Some of the 522nd soldiers found ladies handbags made of human skin. He could remember seeing “intricate” tattoos on these handbags. Gloves and lampshades were also found to made of human skin. Other soldiers reported that dozens of prisoners that were horribly tortured and murdered.