Letter from Katherine Fite to Mr. and Mrs. Emerson Fite, September 17, 1945. K. Lincoln Papers, War Crimes File. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum & Library)
Page 11 of 1
Monday, Sept. 17.Dearest Mother and Daddy,
No letter yesterday because I went to Munich and the Dachau concentration camp and we didn't get back until after 10:30. Munich is about 100 miles to the south - and we went down in auto trucks, over one of Hitler's famous autobahns which cuts across country like any of our parkways. Mostly it's two lanes separated by a broad grass strip, but from time to time it's solid concrete, to provide runways for airplanes. The Germans systematically blew up every bridge, big and little, which the Army has in most cases replaced at least one lane. They also, i.e. the Army, strung wires, which go through, they say, to Plymouth, England.
The countryside is lovely - fertile and rolling - many pine forests and other kinds of forests, all methodically planted. The gardens - truck gardens - look well cared for. You see some cows, some geese and no chickens. Munich is less badly hit than the other cities I have seen; though it has some bad spots, the core remains. It must have been a lovely city. We saw the famous beer hall of the putsch, the remains of the Brown House, and other Nazi party buildings and monuments. We lunched on doughnuts and coffee at a Red Cross canteen (free) and dined at the transient Mess for $.30. Packed. German orchestra playing. Talked with two South African nurses just in form Vienna which added a cosmopolitan touch. Dachau is about 10 miles out of Munich - beautiful fertile gardens, and on the horizon the foothills of the Alps. The gardens might well look fertile - human ashes were readily available for fertilizer.
The camp has, I believe, still some former inmates, in the hospital, and DP's (displaced persons). And behind their own barbed wire the former SS guards looking entirely too well fed as they sunned themselves. Our guide was a former inmate - Polish, and also Jewish, I should judge, tho he made no reference to it. He spoke very easily and with great dignity and objectivity. A group of low buildings constituted the horrible part of the camp - the torture chambers - the crematoria - the gas chamber and a place where they piled the unburned corpses. The last two were the worst - for after all, once you've killed a man, it's not so bad to burn his body, except that they did it inter alia to dispose of the evidence.
The gas chamber was a small room, which was labeled a shower room and they actually did have showers in it which they turned on before the gas. The prisoners were told they were going to a shower. Outside the room was a sign stressing the importance of cleanliness, and telling people to wash their hands! They killed the weak and feeble no longer fit for work. Also the prisoners were brought into Dachau from other camps to be killed and those at Dachau sent elsewhere to be killed, presumably to keep the prisoners in the dark as to what went on. However, the guide said the prisoners did know what went on in the buildings and there must have been some local selections because he said the SS men would come through and pick them out at random, but I suppose that could be picking out to be sent away. And he said, scornfully and emphatically, of course the Germans on the outside know what was going on. The prisoners worked round about in their fields and factories. It is really impossible to believe that the neighborhood didn't know about it.
The room where they stored undisposed of corpses, as things crowded up towards the end, still had blood on the walls and even the ceilings. And the most awful stench - I couldn't stand it but make for the outside door. Outdoors were banks against which the prisoners kneeled to be shot in the back. Another trick seems to have been to hang men in the trees and set the dogs on them - a GI told us there were corpses still hanging when the Americans came in. Carloads of prisoners were brought down from Buchenwald as the Americans advanced - many just died in the freight trains. Dachau, so help me, was not one of the worst. I can't decide whether I think it should be razed or left as a monument. There is an atrocity exhibit which we didn't see at the Judge advocate's office in Munich - one of our officers has been there. He says whenever he feels sorry for the Germans he remembers a photo of a man hanging by his testicles and a woman by her breast. He also saw the famous shrunken heads they made, like the headhunters in the Pacific, and the human skin lampshades.
No wonder the Germans look hard and drawn. Curiously they all look alike to me - there's a similarity in expression, a pinched, unpleasant look. Most but not all of the children have it. The children, incidentally, spend their time picking up cigarette butts to take home. Even the adults pounce on your butts as you throw them away.
Earlier in the week an officer I know in Washington invited me to his interrogation of Von Ribbentrop. There he sat in his prison clothes - very suave - very clever - very charming and very polished and also, unless I miss my guess, a very scared man. The interrogator has a translator and a stenographer. Von R. speaks excellent English, but his vocabulary is somewhat limited. Towards the end he betrayed his curiosity and looked in my direction and when he left with his MP guard, the grateful recipient of a pencil and a cigarette, he suavely bade the Colonel goodbye and shot me a venomous look as he half bowed at me. I half bowed at him in return. There he was, the great Ribbentrop, on exhibit like a lion or a tiger.
Life in Nuremberg is confused. We take our three meals at the hotel, where there is a bar and a night club. We are bussed two miles to the court house which is enormous and chilly and dirty with SS all over the place with GI guards superintending their labor. Army trucks with no mufflers tear down the streets and their roar is shattering. I am profoundly thankful to have bought two woolen shirts with my uniform.
I must stop while water is hot to bathe.
Lots and lots of love,