Dachau liberator speaks at Holocaust remembrance ceremony

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Emerald Ralston
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
The Holocaust. For many, these words bring a sense of unease, looking back on the horrors created by the Nazi regime. 

For one man, these words bring back a poignant, first-hand memory. The memory of the day he and his battalion liberated the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau. 

Dee Eberhart was there on April 29, 1945 with Company I, 242nd Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the 1st Battalion 222nd Infantry for the attack against Munich. They arrived at the concentration camp in Dachau in the late morning of the same day. With the help of his regiment, the camp was finally liberated after claiming the lives of more than 28,000 prisoners. 

Prior to stumbling upon this camp in Dachau, Mr. Eberhart was one of the few people in the unit who really knew anything about the concentration camps. 

"I saw a documentary before about the concentration camps, but had no idea what horrors were there," he said. "It is a very hardening experience. Nothing could prepare any of these men for anything they saw that day." 

One of the more horrific memories Mr. Eberhart recalls was discovering boxcars full of victims. 

"After being in the boxcars for 30 days with no food or water, they were skeletons," he said. "Whether they were alive or dead." 

Although he considered himself battle-hardened, once he returned home he spoke little of what he saw. 

"You couldn't convey it," he said. "The words weren't adequate." 

Mr. Eberhart does now speak of the events he witnessed, and shared his story with Fairchild at the base theater April 20 during a Holocaust remembrance ceremony. He said he shares these stories partially in hopes that the younger generations will not forget. 

On a recent trip back to Dachau for a ceremonial day, he was shocked at the new perception the Germans had of the Holocaust. 

"I never would have imagined I'd walk into a room full of Germans that would stand up and cheer for us as the Dachau liberators arrived," he said. "Only 14 percent of World War II veterans are still alive, and that is a dwindling number of people to share the story." 

Mr. Eberhart compared the sharing of his story to the movie Groundhog's Day, in which a man awakes each morning to find nothing has changed and he will relive the same day over and over again. 

"I won't sleep tonight," he said in closing. "The war is like Groundhog's Day. I relive it each time I talk about and it all comes back." 

Regardless of the toll it takes on him, he recognizes the importance because students need to know their country's history and must be aware that evil and injustice exist. 

"You need to know about evil to recognize it and not get caught up in it," he said.