From the Gates of Hell
It is Sunday, April 29, 1945, around 9:15 in the morning. To say that life was going on as normal in the village would be an ambiguous statement. Life hadn’t been normal for some time. In the last few years, children’s laughing and the produce mongers chanting has been replaced by the short spurts of machine guns firing in the distance, and an occasional mortar shelling the square. In the distance, over the hills, a shrill whistle echoing through the hills of the Bavarian countryside echoes its way to the village. These were usually the harbingers of an air attack, but in this particular case, on this auspicious morning, the whistle was followed by the thunderous roar of a tank engine that seemed to be growing louder and louder as the townspeople hid behind their locked doors and shuttered windows. Then, slowly peeking through the sun’s rays from the edge of town, a 75 mm gun attached to the turret of a U.S. M3 Medium Tank came into view and the house doors opened and people came running into the street. On April 29, 1945, at approximately 10:00 in the morning, the U.S. 7th Army came gallantly rolling into Dachau, Germany, on their way to attack Munich. None of them could have ever been prepared for what they were about to encounter, just southeast of the village about 10 miles from their target city.
They were met by a group of reporters who told them unbelievable tales of cruelty and inhumane evils taking place at the Dachau concentration camp. The stories were so farfetched, they had to be exaggerations. So they thought. 1st Lieutenant William Cowling followed the reporters to where they claimed these atrocities were happening. After seeing for himself, Cowling gathered his tanks and men and along with the 42nd Rainbow Division they rolled through the gates of Dachau and by 11 a.m., this group of American soldiers gasped in horror as the commandant of the camp, Eduard Weiter, and his replacement, 40-year-old Martin Weiss, surrendered the keys to the gates of hell. Weiss immediately fled Bavaria and ironically was later arrested in Munich, the ultimate destination of Cowling and the 7th Army.
On this date, today, 70 years ago, 30,000 men, women and children were liberated from certain death. Jews, political prisoners, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Poles, Czechoslovakians, Germans, Austrians and Gypsy’s were among those who were crying as they saw the Allies come into the camp as an answer to their many years of prayers.
The actual number of people who died in the camp is heavily debated; however, the minimum number of “documented deaths,” according to the International Tracing Service of the Red Cross, is 31,951. There are thousands of other “undocumented” murders, suicides and medically-related deaths that have also been told of, written about and investigated. The exact number of prisoners likewise is uncertain, and their count varies, with as many as 229,000 being verified since Dachau, the Nazi’s first concentration camp opened in 1933.
The 7th Army saw, firsthand the piles of bodies, mass graves and hung prisoners. When they saw these men, women and children, they were not counting numbers that day. They were living a nightmare. As they were greeted by the survivors who reached out to them with their pale, boney hands, some wrapping their pencil-thin arms around the soldiers’ shoulders in heartbreaking gratitude, the war-weathered, battle-scared, fighting men broke down, weeping.
Among those, that had been taken from their home in Austria, three years before, were a mother, Anna, her daughters, Victoria and Elizabeth, and her 12-year-old son, Georg. They were part of a group of political prisoners captured after their neighbors turned them over to the authorities. It seems that the father of this family, Franz was very politically active and outspoken in the area. Naturally then, Franz was perceived as a treat to the Reich. When the SS came to their house the day they were arrested, Franz was not there. Consequentially, he was never captured. So, as they often did when their main objective was not met, the SS decided, the next best thing was to take Franz’s family into custody. Maybe this would even draw him out. Now, as if being politically outspoken, wasn’t enough, it was soon discovered that the family was also Catholic. So, they were taken to Dachau, as both political and religious dissidents.
While in the camp, the four of them were forced to work in various areas including the kitchen for the guards and officers, the latrines and other areas used day to day by prisoners. One day, when the prisoners on work details were brought back to the barracks, Anna did not see her daughter, Victoria. That morning was the last time the family saw her, dead or alive. The next morning, the guards came for them as if nothing had happened. Anna cooked with a heavy heart, but for the sake of her other two children, she had to go on, trying not to think about Victoria as she worked. After dark, in the barracks, however, she would mourn for her oldest child every night, and pray for the husband she thought was dead. Then came the morning of April 29 and the 7th Army. The liberation of the Dachau concentration camp! Anna clung onto Elizabeth and Georg, and thanked God for the Americans.
Two years later, in some miraculous turn of events, the three were reunited with Franz and arrangements were made for them to come to the United States. After only one year in the U.S., they had all become citizens. The group lived on a ranch in Colorado and worked as a maid, a cook, a blacksmith and a cowhand. After their four-year contract with the ranch ended, they headed east and settled in of all places, Indiana, near Lake Michigan and Chicago. That’s where, when he was 20 years old, Georg met an Irish girl named Beverly Neill, my mom.
Ruby Regina Witcraft
Gracie was a little Jack Russell Terrier that I picked up at a no-kill, rescue home. On first impression, it was hard for me to understand how someone could give up such a cute, roly poly, energetic, charismatic, precious little two-year-old pup. Little did I know. But, I was smitten and took her home to have a dog to love which, come to find out, wasn’t easy.
A little history may explain why she was so tough. An English fellow by the name of Jack Russell bred these little killing terriers to go down into the foxholes and pull out the fox because the hounds were too large to do the job. Naturally, he bred the most tenacious terriers he could find and this has been in practice ever since the first fox got into the laird’s henhouse and killed all of his chickens. I rode with the hounds in Oklahoma but we chased coyotes which made Jacks useless as the hounds could never outfox or outrun a coyote. This made the hunt very fun and fast paced and I was thankful that nothing was killed. However, the buggers did kill all of my chickens.
Now Gracie was a very endearing little rascal in that she would invite you to rub her tummy just before she bit you. Probably, because it felt so good to her but not to me. Surprisingly, once while watching a dog-training program with her sleeping next to me, she bit the end off of my thumb. I have no reason for this but she may have been dreaming of chasing a fox. Who knows! But, since I was on a blood thinner the thought of my bleeding to death became a very real possibility. Only Gracie knew where the tip of my thumb went and I rather not think about it.
That experience and all of the other occasions made me decide that something had to be done. I explained to her that I loved her and was capable of throwing a 1600-pound horse down and that no puny little eight-pound menace was going to get the best of me. I won’t explain my method but it would not have been acceptable to the gentleman who was giving directions, on the T.V. when she took off the end of my thumb. I’m sure the SPCA would not approve of my discipline method. However, it worked and we had many years of renewed attitude on her part.
She altered her attention on killing foxes and our cat to chasing the ducks on a pond behind our house. Trouble is, if I let her go, she would swim all over the pond and make it impossible for me to catch her. I solved this problem by tying a 50-foot rope onto her harness so that she could retrieve a thrown stick from the water. This seemed to solve all of her needs and most of my problems.
The only thing that was impossible was her raging desire to kill our cat Peppie, as in Pepé Le Pew. He spent a good bit of his life in a spare room looking out of a window. Otherwise, letting him run up the drapes to sit on the cornice boards while I held Gracie was the only other alternative. This was fun for all of us but Peppie started teasing Gracie and the odd were that she would, eventually catch him. Since Jacks never let go of a prey, Peppie’s life was saved as I retired him to a friend’s farm to save his life.
You may wonder why I loved an animal as ornery, such as, Gracie. So do I but I still do. Also, wonder where the tip of my thumb went.
When Tomorrow Meets Forever
Gary Alan Rose
Why is there such divide, what is there to gain; can’t we pull together and thus avoid the pain?
Weren’t we once but children, and together we would play; and wasn’t it more lonely when someone couldn’t stay?
What happened to the fun we had, whether winning or we lose; we let each one be different, regardless of what they choose?
When I should fall to the ground, will you help me to my feet; I’ll do the same for you I vow, although we both compete?
Why did things change so much, demanding the champion’s cup; what happened to good sportsmanship and the pride of runner up?
While I pose these many questions, there will come a day; when true answers will be given before we end our stay.
When tomorrow meets forever, and the time is nearly gone; what will we still cling to, before our moving on?