[Twelfth Armored Division, Scrapbook 6] Page: 176 of 220
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the released Russian had the run of the place. He was one of the busiest persons I
have ever seen. His working tool was a club similar to a baseball bat. He Just wan-
dered back and forth among the civilians picking out the slackers. He used that working
tool.. Occasionally he took time out to talk to us. Sometime before we got there the
soldiers brought a captured SS man to work. This particular trooper had been a guard
at the camp and had beaten the Russian many times. The trooper, it seemed, couldn't
stand the pace. His body was added to the evergrowing pile of dead awaiting burial.
He, the big husky superman, was so noticeable among the emaciated corpses.
"Other civilians were paired off and marched to the area, something more than a
mile away, to bring back the dead. Two carried one dead. (See picture number 16 which
shows several pairs of civilians carrying corpses under the supervision of the GI's.)
1 remember one fellow who claimed inability to carry such a heavy load. He was allowed
to bring back separate heads, legs, and arms found strewn about. We walked the rail-
road track to find the worst. Here some sixty had been put to digging their own graves
with spoons and dishes. For some reason the detail was interrupted. Everyone of
these were violently murdered, chopped to pieces. The ax was still there.
"As we drove from the camp we saw more horrible sights. Some prisoners had
escaped. Either the injection hadn't taken effect or else they had been skipped.
Some were lying dead two or three miles away and some were walking—walking dead.
They could barely move their legs—stooped almost double. One particular fellow I'm
never going to forget. He could hear our Jeep coming along before we got to him.
With the most painful errort he turned toward us, brought himself 10 attention ana
saluted. The amount of effort to do that was more, far more, than he could spare.
Written by Tech Hgt. Robert T. Hartwig
Company C, 134th Armored Ordinance Battalion
12th Armored Division
There are four more photographs obtained from Sgt. Hartwig. These show the
German civilians from Landsberg rounded up by soldiers sent by Lt. Col. Edward F.
Seiller, Military Government Officer of the 12th Armored Division, to make them
witness what went on in the Landsberg concentration camps. Col. Seiller was in
charge of buiying the bodies and said it was a horrifying experience.
Number 17 shows Col. Seiller (right) and ‘'*ax Beer of Col. Seiller's Staff Section
standing among the bodies facing the German civilians. Col. Seiller is talking to the
civilians from Landsberg while Mac Beer is translating his words into German. In the
foreground is a first lieutenant not from the 12th Armored Division.
Number 18 shows a man in civilian clothes standing among the bodies.
Number 19 shows Col. Seiller standing in fro* of a group of bodies with GIs in
Number 20 shows Col. Seiller standing in a different position in respect to the
bodies. Two soldiers on the other side of the bodies appear to be taking pictures.
It is likely, if the facts which have gradually unfolded are true, that the
capture of the bridge over the Danube River had a profound effect upon the shortening
of the war.
The April 1982 issue of the magazine of the 12th Armored Division Association,
reminiscencing about April 1945, stated: ''The Danube River had never before in
recorded history been crossed in force by any invader....Raiders and armies tried
for hundredSof years but none were able to cross in force until the 12th Armored
Division 'Hellcats' did that which could not be done.1'
What happened was that in the early morning hours of April 22, 1945, several of
our task forces consist! ig of tanks and of armored infantry had several bridges blown
up as they approached. One taik force came to the outskirts of Dillingen. There was
a bridge on the far side of the town. Firing all guns furiously they dashed down the
main street of Dillingen leading to the bridge. The German soldiers dived for the
basements as the task force passed. The guards at the bridge, expecting the town to
be taken first, were caught by surprise and were either shot or taken prisoners. The
explosives were defused. Then holding only the bridge and its approaches and
surrounded by German soldiers the task force radioed the division for help. The
division fought its way down a lightly defended two-lane road leading to Dillingen,
twenty-five or thirty miles away, holding only the road and as far as it could shoot
to either side. In a couple of hours or ao it rescued the task force and poured
across the bridge, quickly establishing a bridgehead six miles deep and ten miles
wide. 7th Army sent tanks, half-tracks, trucks loaded with soldiers, etc., as
fast as they could go two abreast down the two lane road further expanding the
bridgehead on the south side of the Danube.
It could be that the German soldiers cut off on the north side of the Danube
River by the blowing of the bridges acted similarly to the German soldiers when we
spearheaded General Patton's drive to the Rhine. When the bridges over the Rhine were
blown the German soldiers trapped on the west bank felt that the war was over for
them. They surrendered in such droves that we simply pointed in the direction of
the prisoner of war enclosures. They walked to them without guards and turned
themselves in. There is no reason why the German soldiers, who were to retreat
across the blown bridges to defend the south banff did not do likewise. The
Danube Hirer defenses were overcome actually before they were set up—particularly
as the German High Comoand probably figured that the Danube River would hold us
as it had held invading armies for centuries.
The blowing of the bridges over the Danube and the capture of the bridge at
Dillingen could have been a matter of great importance to the ending of the war. The
Germans were greatly strengthening the defense of the Redoubt Area in the Bavarian Alps
where Bertchesgarten was'located. They expected the Danube to hold our forces for
weeks, possibly for months, since it had never been crossed in force in recorded history.
Meanwhile, they probably expected to bring a large number of the German troops throggh
the Brenner Pass into the Redoubt Area. They probably felt that the larger.hmmber of ^
the German forces facing us north of the Danube could be brought across the river before
the bridges were blown. When this happened we would be stopped at the north bank, of-
But the capture of the bridge at Dillengen changed all that. *t caused the bridges
over tne Danube to be blown before the troops on the north bank could cross. The defense
of the south bank of the Danube and the Redoubt Area was deprived of their services. .
Mountain fighting is very difficult for the attacker. Had the reinforcements reached^
the Redoubt Area we would have had a most difficult time.
Five days after capturing the bridge over the Danube, on April 27th, we liberated
the eleven concentration camps at Landsberg. Seven days later on May 4th we played
the major part in completely closing the Brenner Pass, getting five of the six exits ,
while the 14th Armored Division got the sixth. This trapped over a million German sol-
diers in Italy and the war drew to a close. Th? Air Force had been bombing the Bremer
Pass~but theOermans had been reopening it,possibly allowing German soldiers
to escape from Italy into Germany to bolster its defenses.
The war in Europe was officially over on May t, 1945. I "anted to visit
Oberelsbach, Bavaria, which was the birthplace of my father. He had emigrated
as a child to the United States in 1«75. I was able to go on Sunday, June 17th,
1945. Sgt. Ellis Smith, Pvt. DuBois who drove us, and I left very early in the
morning. Enroute we stopped at Munich for about an hour. We visited the "putsch
beer hall" where Hitler conspired to make the "putsch" by which the Nazi party took
■over the German government in, I believe, 1933. Picture number 22 shows the en-
trance from the street to the grounds on which the Burger Brau Keller, the putsch
hall, was located. : I am standing to the right of the-sentry in.the picture.
Picture number 23 shows the entrance to the actual beer putsch hall with GI's
lounging around. We went to the enormous opener stadium at ,-taich where Hitler
spoke to tremendous crowds. This is shown in picture number 24.' Note the size
of the stadium and the statue in relation to the people moving about.
We then proceeded toward Oberelsbach. But enroute we noticed a sign that
Dachau was only a few idles out of the way and decided to see what it looked like,
we arrived about midmorning. Picture number 25 shows Sgt. Smith and two guards
at an entrance to Dachau.
We started through the camp unescorted as the tours had already begun. The
camp had been cleaned up. Ke fell in behind a tour being conducted by a
lieutenant. I recall that about halfway through he stopped at an execution place
which had banks of dirt around it. There were ditches about eighteen inches deep and
about two feet wide with wooden gratings over them. The prisoners to be executed
kneeled with their heads over the grating and were ahriinthe back of the head. The_
blood_went through the grating into~T^ch. The lieutenant had ridden into the
camp on the back of a tank when the camp hri been captured. No one had any idea of
what was going to be encountered. The American soldiers were first shocked and then
angry. They shot whatever guards they could find. The inmates picked up the guards'
weapons and started hunting other guards and prisoners who had cooperated with the
guards. It was a real mess until all of the guards that could be found were dead.
The soldiers four* bodies stacked like cordwood outside the crematorium and a train
load of bodies waiting to be unloaded. For sanitary reasons the U. S. Army used bull-
deziers to bury the bodies in mass graves. But to show visiting troops one crematorium
was kept operating for a few days by a Jugoslavian inmate, who had been forced to operate
it for the SS troops. The stench often caused the onlookers to vomit.
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United States. Army. 12th Armored Division. [Twelfth Armored Division, Scrapbook 6], book, Date Unknown; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth639084/m1/176/: accessed August 10, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting The 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum.