“GO FOR BROKE”
JAPANESE AMERICAN SOLDIERS, 1943-1945

 

One of the units that helped liberate the Jews of Europe was of a unique background in history.

It was one of the most decorated military units in American history.  The unit was called the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and was comprised of Japanese American men who volunteered for service from Hawaii and from internment camps throughout the United States.  The 442nd was an all-segregated regiment who, because of their Japanese ancestry, served under a cloud of suspicion. 

Their parents were from Japan, but they were born in America.  They called themselves Nisei, which means second generation.  Their average IQ was 116, which qualified most to be officers.  These Americans loved their family, their community, and most of all, America.  Their battle cry was Go For Broke! which meant “give it your all.” 

The 442nd received more medals for heroism for its size and length of service than any other unit.  Eventually, 18,000 young men served their country in this regiment.  The Nisei soldiers who served in this unit originally entered military service classified as 4C (enemy aliens, unavailable for the draft).  This regiment received an unprecedented eight Presidential Unit Citations for their battles.  They earned 23 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 18,000 medals for individual heroism.

This unit suffered the highest combat casualties of any American fighting unit.  The 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team endured the astronomically high casualty rate of 314%.  The regiment had to be replaced more than three times due to killed or wounded in action.  The 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team spearheaded major campaigns, turned the tide of battle, never complained, and never took one step backwards.

This is the story of a unit whose men were barely 5'3” and weighed barely 100 pounds. 

The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 442nd would be among the early witnesses to the Holocaust.

________________________________________________



Unlikely Liberators

522nd Field Artillery at Dachau

and the Liberation of the Death March

at Waakirchen, Germany

 

 

Curated by

Eric Saul

 

Text written by:

Eric Saul

with

Solly Ganor
Survivor of the Dachau Death March
Author, Light One Candle

Ted Tsukiyama
Veteran of the 522nd Field Artillery and
Military Intelligence Service

 

In Cooperation With:

The National Museum of American History,
Smithsonian Institution

Survivors of the Outer Camps of Dachau

Japanese American National Museum

National Japanese American Historical Society

Nisei Veterans Legacy Center

Japanese American Veterans Association

522 Club of Hawaii

Club 100

442 Club

Hawaii State Archives

 
________________________________________________________________

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


The Unlikely Liberators: 522nd Field Artillery at Dachau and the Liberation of the Death March at Waakirchen exhibit was made possible with the help of the following organizations:  Survivors of the Outer Camps of Dachau; Holocaust Oral History Project, San Francisco; National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS), San Francisco; Japanese American National Museum (JANM), Los Angeles; 522nd Club of Hawaii, Honolulu; 442nd Veterans Club, Honolulu; Club 100, Honolulu; Gedenkstaette Dachau, Munich; Go For Broke National Education Center (GFBNEC), Los Angeles; Hawaii State Archives, Honolulu; Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation; Japanese American Citizens League (JACL); Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA), Washington, DC; Library of Congress; National Archives and Records Administration; Nisei Veterans Memorial Center, Maui; Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles; Sons and Daughters of the 442nd RCT, Hololulu; U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC; Yad Vashem: World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Jerusalem; African American Cultural Center, Fort Mason, Califorina; Holocaust Museum, Houston.

We would like to thank the following Japanese American veterans: Chester Tanaka, Terry Shima, Shig Doi, Senator Daniel Inouye, MH, Senator Spark Matsunaga, Paul T. Bannai, Frank Dobashi, Colonel Harry Fukuhara, Liebe Geft, Richard Hayashi, Albert Ichihara, Ichiro Imamura, Susumo Ito, Clarence Matsumura, George Ouiye, Tadashi Tojo, Ted Tsukiyama, Noby Yoshimura, George Yoshino, Chaplain Masao Yamada, and many, many others.

Special thanks to veterans of the 522nd Field Artillery for sharing their eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust and their memories of wartime service to their country: Susumo Ito, George Ouiye, Ted Tsukiyama, Clarence Matsumura, First Lieutenant Albert Binotti, George Goto, Mas Hamamoto, Mike Hara, Royce Higa, Minabe Hirasaki, Fred Hirayama, Walter Inouye, George S. Ishihara, Katsugo Miho, Yuki Minaga, Hideo Nakamine, Joe Obayashi, Roy Okubo, Takeyo Susuki, Captain Billy Taylor, Tadashi Tojo, and Shiro Takeshita. Thanks also to Lyn Crost Stern, Special Correspondent, Honolulu Star Bulletin.

Thanks to the numerous Holocaust survivors who were liberated by Japanese American soldiers and who shared their stories: Solly Ganor, Uri Chanoch, Ernie Hollander, Zvi Katz, Larry Lubetsky, Josef Erbs.

We would also like to thank: Daisy Satoda, S. Dillon Ripley, Norman Mineta, Abe Cooper, Loni Ding, Barbara Distel, Yo Doi, David Fukuda, Pola Ganor, Phyllis Hironaka, Mae Isonaga, Don Koppel, Peggy Mizumoto, Darice Mori, Pierre Moulin, Sheila Newlin, Toshio Okamoto, Katriel Schorey, Cookie Takeshita, David Tanaka, Masako "Missi" Tanaka, Mark Cotta Vaz.

The Unlikely Liberators: 522nd Field Artillery at Dachau and the Liberation of the Death March at Waakirchen exhibit was curated by Eric Saul and shown in Honolulu and Maui and was donated to the Nisei Veterans Legacy Center (NVLC) in Hawaii.  The exhibit was presented in a number of important venues, including the Hawaii State Capitol.  Special thanks go to the officers and members of the NVLC: Wes Deguchi, Glenn E. Goya, Lawrence M. G. Enemoto, Mark Matsunaga, Phyllis Hiranoka.

EVACUATION AND INTERNMENT

 

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066.  Without due process of law and in violation of the principles of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Roosevelt denied Japanese Americans their basic rights as citizens of the United States.  By this unprecedented action, Roosevelt implied that Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were disloyal.

Under the guise of “military necessity,” all Japanese Americans living within 500 miles of the West Coast were to be forcibly removed from their homes and property.  This was physically, financially and emotionally devastating to the Japanese American community. 

More than 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned for the duration of the war.  Forced from their homes, they were sent to ten remote and desolate camps located in America’s West.

Japanese Americans were given just several days to prepare for this forced removal.  They were allowed to take only two bags with them.

Businesses, farms, homes, furnishings, cars and a lifetime of property were all lost.

There was in fact no evidence of disloyalty by any Japanese American.  The internment was carried out even against the recommendation of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and U.S. Naval intelligence on the West Coast.  Japanese Americans were told that they were being interned “for their own protection.”

These ten internment camps were located in desolate and remote deserts, mountains and plains.  The camps were surrounded by barbed wire, guard towers with searchlights and machine guns.  Japanese Americans were guarded by their fellow citizens.

Life in the camps was harsh and demoralizing.  People lived in rows of black tar paper barracks.  These barracks were without insulation against the cold winter climates or the incessant dust storms.  Family life and social structures of the Japanese American community broke down.

Many of the Japanese American soldiers who fought in World War II volunteered or were drafted from these internment camps.

Many of the soldiers of the 442nd RCT had volunteered from Hawaii.  Some were from the cities like Honolulu, and others were from the rural pineapple and sugar cane plantations.  For the Nisei of Hawaii, their service in the war would take them on their first trip outside of Hawaii and the United States.

BASIC TRAINING

 

The US Army selected Camp Shelby, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, as the training center for the 100th/442nd/522nd.  Camp Shelby was in the heart of the segregated South.  Many Niseis were shocked by the Jim Crow segregation and discriminatory laws that they witnessed there.  When they first arrived in Hattiesburg, the young Japanese Americans did not know which rest rooms, water fountains or restaurants they would be allowed to use.  Would they be considered “white” or “colored”?  The local community and military commanders decided Japanese Americans would be considered “honorary white people.”

The 442nd trained for nearly a year and a half.  It broke every training record for excellence. 

Initially, not all Japanese American soldiers understood each other.  Those who had volunteered from the mainland, often from the relocation camps, were quiet and reserved.  The volunteers from Hawaii were confident and outgoing.  This difference caused misunderstandings that led to fights that were so intense that it jeopardized unit morale of the newly created regiment.

In order to end the fighting, the white officers of the 442nd encouraged the Niseis from Hawaii to visit the nearby internment camps in Rowher and Jerome, Arkansas.  For these Hawaiian Niseis, it was the first time they witnessed firsthand the discrimination experienced by their mainland brothers.  They saw the conditions in the camp, and knew that they were in a fight together to overcome this discrimination and to prove their loyalty once and for all.  With this new understanding and cooperation, the regiment was soon to become the most highly decorated fighting unit in US military history.

INTO THE WAR

 

The 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 522nd Field Artillery participated in eight major campaigns.  They were attached to the renowned “Red Bull” 34th Division, where the 100th landed on the beaches of Salerno, Italy.  The 100th participated in the fierce fighting at the Rapido River, Volturno, Cassino and at the final breakout from the Anzio beachhead.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team followed the 100th into battle on June 10, 1944.  In the early phases of fighting, the 442nd was instrumental in the capture of Livorno, Italy, and in pushing the German Army north of the Arno River. 

The 442nd moved up to the Rhone Valley to Epinal, in southern France.  There, they were attached to the Texas 36th Division.  While there, they fought their bloodiest battle.  They liberated several French towns, including Bruyeres, on October 18, 1944.  On October 26, they received orders to rescue a battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment.  In a week of unbelievable fighting, they rescued their Texas fellow soldiers.  One company suffered such severe casualties that it only had eight men left out of 200 at the end of the fighting.

Toward the end of the war, General Mark Clark requested the return of the 442nd.  On April 5, 1945, the 442nd participated in breaking the Gothic Line, which had withstood Allied assaults for nearly six months.  They accomplished this goal in less than one hour!

In less than two years, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Combat Team had successfully fought in eight major military campaigns:  Naples-Foggia Campaign; the Rome-Arno; Southern France (Operation Anvil); the Rhineland; the North Apennines; Central Europe Campaign; and the Po Valley.  The Congressional Record reported that they had received, among other awards and citations, “...a Congressional Medal of Honor*; 52 Distinguished Service Crosses; 1 Distinguished Service Medal; 560 Silver Stars plus 28 Oak Leaf Clusters; 22 Legions of Merit; 15 Soldiers Medals; 4000 Bronze Stars with 1200 Oak Leaf Clusters; 9486 Purple Hearts; 7 Presidential Distinguished Unit Citations; 2 Meritorious Unit Service Plaques; 36 Army Commendations; 87 Division Commendations; 18 decorations from allied nations; and a special plaque of appreciation from the men of the ‘Lost Battalion.’” 

Several years after the war, Governor John Connolly of Texas issued a proclamation officially making all former members of the 442nd, “honorary Texans.”  Altogether there were 18,143 individual decorations for valor, thus making the 100th and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team “the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of the United States.”

 

*President Clinton and the Department of Defense issued 22 belated Medals of Honor to the Niseis.

THE HOLOCAUST IN EUROPE, 1939-1945

 

The event called the Holocaust, or Shoah, was the systematic state-sponsored murder of six million Jews and five million others by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II.  The Nazis called the murder of the Jews “the final solution to the Jewish problem.”  It was their way of speaking euphemistically.  The word “final” was only too accurate.  Their intention was to end the Jewish people and their history.

In 1933, Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany.  Almost immediately, racial and religious policies against the Jews were instituted.  Hundreds of laws were enacted against the Jewish people.  These laws would increasingly exclude Jewish people from German life.  These laws were called the Nuremberg Laws, and would eventually strip German and, later, Austrian Jews of all of their rights and protections.  Jews were permitted to emigrate if they were willing to turn over their money and assets to the Nazi government. 

In September 1939, Hitler began the Holocaust with his invasion of Poland and other European countries.  During these invasions, special military and police units, known as Einsatzgruppen, murdered entire towns and villages of Jewish people.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews were brutally killed.

Soon, Hitler instituted a far more murderous plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe.  He established six death camps and thousands of concentration camps which were designed solely for the murder of millions of people.  Most of these camps were located in Poland.

As Hitler implemented these actions, he watched the world's reaction to this policy.  The world did nothing to stop the murder.  Hitler soon intensified this genocidal war. 

By 1941, most of the Jews in occupied Eastern Europe had been forced into ghettos.  These ghettos were designed for the purpose of isolating and transporting Jews to the various murder camps throughout Poland.  Tens of thousands of Jews died in the extremely harsh conditions in these overcrowded ghettos.

By 1942, thousands of Jews were being deported from these ghettos to major killing centers throughout Poland.  In the death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, as many as 15,000 people were killed in a single day.  The mass deportations and killings continued until the winter of 1944, when the Russian armies liberated many of the Nazi murder camps located in Poland. 

During the winter of 1944-1945, Jews were taken to slave labor factories in Germany to produce armaments.  In these camps, Jews were worked to death.  The average life expectancy in one of these camps was less than four months. 

As the Allies on the eastern and western fronts closed in on Germany, many of the concentration camps were emptied in a series of devastating “death marches.”

There were thousands of concentration camps located in Germany.  In April 1944, the American and Allied armies began to liberate many of these camps.  The world now had ghastly images of the Holocaust in Europe.  These images would be burned into the conscience of the world forever.

By the war's end, millions of innocent people had been deliberately and ruthlessly murdered.  Six million of these were Jews.  Over nine thousand Jewish communities in over 21 countries were destroyed.  More than 75 percent of all Jews in Europe were murdered.  One and a half a million were children. 

Countless Allied soldiers had given their lives to bring an end to the war.  This exhibit is gratefully dedicated to them.

THE 522nd FIELD ARTILLERY BATTALION

 

The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion was activated on February 1, 1943, in Camp Shelby, Mississippi.  The objective of the artillery was to provide supporting fire for the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. 

The 522nd was comprised of five batteries.  Each battery was comprised of more than one hundred men.  There was a headquarters battery, for command and administration, and a service battery, which was responsible for maintenance of equipment, vehicles, weapons, supply, and logistics.  There were three “firing” batteries, designated A, B and C, which each had four 105 mm howitzers.

Each firing battery was assigned to one of the three battalions of the 442nd RCT. 

The firing of an artillery weapon is a complex process.  Artillery is generally placed several thousand yards behind the fighting infantry.  The batteries provide cover and bombardment of enemy positions in support of infantry.  Firing had to be extremely accurate, because they were almost always firing over the heads of their own unit.

The 522nd FA was known for extremely accurate firing. 

The most dangerous job in the artillery was that of the forward observer, who had to be very close to the enemy--close enough to spot targets.  The forward observers were responsible for targeting and aiming the guns at the enemy.

The 522nd Field Artillery was a truck-drawn unit.  The truck was the “deuce and a half” (2 1/2 ton truck) which pulled the cannons and hauled equipment and ammunition.  Each battery would have a command car and several jeeps for scouting the terrain and planning the advance toward the enemy.

The 522nd could locate a target, set up its guns, and complete a firing mission within minutes.  Its accuracy became famous throughout the 5th and 7th Armies. 

The 552nd achieved such a reputation that the 7th Army asked that it remain attached to it for the campaign in southern Germany.  The 100th/442nd was reassigned to the 5th Army for the last campaign in northern Italy.  The 100th/442nd and the 522nd never saw combat together again.

As President Harry S. Truman pinned the final Presidential Unit Citation to the 442nd colors, he said “...I can't tell you how much I appreciate the privilege of being able to show you just how much the United States thinks of what you have done...You fought not only the enemy but you fought prejudice--and you won.”

522nd FIELD ARTILLERY AND THE WAR IN GERMANY

 

Near the end of the Champagne Campaign, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion continued service with the 7th Army and moved back up the Rhine Valley.  They joined the 63rd Division from 12 March to 21 March in an assault on the Siegfried Line between central France and Germany.

The 522nd was then shifted to provide supporting fire to the 45th Division when it crossed the Rhine River into Germany.

Several days later, the 522nd moved across the Rhine Rivers with the 44th Division and provided supporting fire in the attack on Mannheim.  When Mannheim fell, the 522nd returned to the 63rd Division for the Neckar River crossing and contributed to the fall of Heidelberg.

On 1 April, still moving east (deeper into Germany) and now working with the 4th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, their accurate supporting fire helped pave the way for the drive on Rothenburg.  The 522nd had so many attachments it was gaining notoriety.

On 26 April, the 522nd joined the 4th Infantry Division and crossed the Danube to take the town of Morlbach.

From the 26th to the 30th of April, the 522nd fought with the 4th Division in the drive for Salzburg, Austria.  The mission of the 522nd was to act as the eyes and ears of the advancing Third and Seventh Armies. 

Their objective on the 27th and 28th of April was to advance on a line in the general direction of Munich, Germany.  Munich was an important military and industrial center. 

During this period, the 522nd was attached to various other units, including the 3rd and 7th Armies, the 4th, 42nd and 45th Divisions, the 20th Armored Division, and other units.

Later, they supported the 101st Airborne Division in their campaign in southern Germany and Austria.  In the first week in May 1945, elements of the 522nd, along with the 101st Airborne Division, captured and entered Hitler's home at Berchtesgaden and occupied the area for several days.

By the end of the war, the 522nd Field Artillery had fired over 100,000 rounds in support of seven different US Army Divisions and units and achieved every objective assigned.

From May 2 to November 1945, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion set up roadblocks and maintained sentry posts near Donauworth, Germany, to apprehend fleeing Nazis.  They later became part of the occupation army of Germany from May 8 through late November 1945, when they returned to the United States.  The 522nd was de-activated January 2, 1946.

THE 522nd FIELD ARTILLERY
WITNESSES TO THE HOLOCAUST

 

The 522nd Field Artillery fought in the last campaign in Germany.  The Nisei soldiers witnessed the final defeat of Hitler’s army.  The campaign in Germany was fought at high speed.  By April 1945, the German Army was in full retreat.  The advancing 3rd and 7th Armies could not even keep up with the retreating German army.  The 522nd Field Artillery used the German Autobahn.  Often, they would stop only for a few minutes in German towns, and would see white surrender flags flying from many of the buildings.  At that time, thousands of German soldiers were surrendering, many of them to the 522nd.

The immediate objective of the 522nd in the last week of the April was to provide forward observation and harassing artillery fire to bridges and roads to prevent the German troops from retreating in the area of Munich, Germany.

In the campaign in southern Germany, the 522nd fired over 15,000 rounds.  The 522nd Field Artillery was attached to the 3rd, 4th and 7th Armies, as well as numerous tank and infantry divisions.  On their advance, the 522nd was spread over nearly a sixty-mile front, as the US Army advanced into Munich.  During a four-day period, it is recorded that the battalion traveled over 92 miles and completed 14 missions.

What these young Nisei soldiers would soon discover was something for which they and the other Allied soldiers were completely unprepared.  Few soldiers in the US army had heard of the existence of Nazi concentration camps.

Several Caucasian officers serving in the 522nd Field Artillery were Jewish.  One of them was Captain Charles Feibelman.  Captain Feibelman had left Europe in the 1930's and studied law in the United States.  Several members of his family were murdered in Auschwitz.  Captain Feibelman, as a forward observer, was one of the first American soldiers to witness the Jewish survivors who were just liberated from the Dachau death march at Waakirchen, Germany.  He was accompanied by several Niseis, including Sergeant Joe Obayashi.  The captain remarked to a Nisei that they must have been one of the first to get there.  They noticed a large group of prisoners in striped uniforms who were milling around an open field in the snow.

The Niseis were told not to feed the prisoners, but many could not resist.  Sergeant Imamura reported, “We had been ordered not to give out rations to the Dachau prisoners because the war was still on and such supplies were needed to keep our own fighting strength up, but we gave them food, clothing and medical supplies anyway.  The officers looked the other way.  These prisoners really needed help and they needed it right away.  They were sick, starving and dying.”

“I saw one GI throw some orange peelings into a garbage can.  One of the prisoners grabbed the peelings, tore them into small pieces and shared them with the others.  They hadn't had any fruit or vegetables in months.  They had scurvy.  Their teeth were falling out of their gums.”

PFC Hideo Nakamine remembered, “It was terrible.  We were under strict orders not to share or give away our food rations, but we disobeyed and gave them out anyway, because those people were starving to death.  The suffering was horrible.”

Niseis were able in some cases to communicate with the prisoners.  Mike Hara of Headquarters Battery remembered a conversation with one of the inmates, “He told me that he hated Hitler and what he stood for, and was placed in Dachau for his political convictions.  I shared some army food rations with him.”

PFC Roy Okubo, of B Battery, said, “A little old bearded man came up to me, smiling ear to ear.  I think he was happy to be alive.  I think he was Jewish, but I’m not sure.  I gave him a cigar.  He offered to wash dishes in exchange for food.”

Many reported that after having seen the Jewish survivors of the death march, they would “never be the same again.”  For the last fifty years, PFC Neil Nagareda has always wondered “how people could be that cruel to human beings.”  Many of the Niseis were changed for life.  It is believed that these Nisei men were among the first Allied soldiers to liberate the Dachau death march on the morning of May 2, 1945.

Some of the soldiers of the 522nd were told by their officers not to talk about these events.  Many Niseis would not talk, even to their families, about what they had seen in the last weeks of the war.  They felt that this was a terrible burden and it continued to cause them great anguish.

THE 522nd FIELD ARTILLERY LIBERATES THE LANDSBERG-KAUFERING DACHAU DEATH MARCH,
MAY 2, 1945

 

Sub-camps of Dachau were located around the German cities of Landsberg and Kaufering, near Munich, in the German state of Bavaria.  These camps were only for Jewish slave laborers.  These eleven camps of Landsberg-Kaufering were built and opened in the spring of 1944.  The purpose of these concentration camps was to build giant underground airplane assembly factories for the newly developed ME 262, the first jet fighter aircraft in the world, for the German air force. 

The slave labor camps of Landsberg and Kaufering were extremely deadly.  In the one year that these camps were open, tens of thousands of Jews were worked to death.  In fact, most prisoners lasted less than four months.  More people were killed in these eleven camps in less than a year than were murdered in the main Dachau camp in more than 13 years of its operation.

The Jewish slave laborers of Landsberg-Kaufering, which included the concentration camps at Utting and Muhldorf, were from Hungary, Poland and Lithuania.  More than 30,000 Jewish laborers were exploited in the 11 camps of Landsberg-Kaufering.  By the end of one year, fewer than 15,000 of these Jewish men and women had survived.

In the last week of April 1944, Hitler and Himmler had issued an order to concentration camp commanders to march the pitifully few survivors of these camps to the southern Bavarian-Austrian border.  This order was for the purpose of evacuating Jewish prisoners from the advancing Allied armies.  In addition, they were to be used to build fortifications against the advancing Russian armies.  It was the ultimate intention of Hitler and Himmler to murder the last remaining Jews of these camps.  After they had finished their final task, they were to be taken to remote areas and murdered, and their bodies burned and hidden.

On April 24, this infamous death march started out with over 10,000 Jews.  Those who could not march were immediately shot. 

On April 26, the prisoners from the outer camps of Dachau were marched to the main concentration camp in Dachau.  From Dachau, the prisoners continued on a brutal death march, where thousands of Jews perished from starvation, thirst, exhaustion, and the brutality of the SS guards.

These Jews were marched through many of the towns of Bavaria in Southern Germany.  Germans who claimed they knew nothing of the Holocaust were now confronted with the irrefutable evidence of Nazi brutality and murder. 

If a Jewish prisoner fell on this death march, they would be immediately shot by the German, Ukrainian or Hungarian guards or torn to pieces by the fierce guard dogs.  In five days, over half the Jews who started off on the death march were murdered.

The death march was unimaginably brutal.  The prisoners were not fed for days and were near exhaustion and death.  They were forced to march 10-15 hours per day, wearing just tattered striped uniforms and worn out wooden clog shoes.  Jewish survivors, who had suffered under the Nazi yoke for five years, were barely alive.

Zwi Katz, a young Jew from Lithuania, remembered, “Our German and Ukrainian guards were unbelievably cruel and brutal.  If you couldn't walk, they would simply shoot you in the head and leave your body lying in the road.”

Many of the Jewish marchers weighed less than 80 pounds.  Some were just teenagers, like Solly Ganor, who was barely twelve years old in 1941 when the Holocaust began in Lithuania.

Ganor recounted his experiences on the death march.  “We had heard the Allied planes bombing Munich for weeks, and we suspected that something would happen soon.  In the last week of April, the Nazis began to evacuate our concentration camp located in the small German town of Utting.  We didn't know why.  We guessed the war would be over soon, or we might be dead soon.  We marched for more than five days.  It was cold and it rained heavily.  We were starved and tired and afraid.  I witnessed many people murdered along the way.  I don’t know how I was able to survive.  We hadn’t eaten for days.  I remember just putting one foot in front of the other and somehow finding the strength to live for another minute, an hour, a day.”

By May 1, the death marchers had reached the area around the German town of Bad Toltz.  After nearly a week of marching, there were fewer than 6,000 Jews alive, and they were just barely hanging on to life.  On May 1, the death march had passed through the small towns of Wolfratshausen and Reichesburren.  On May 1, there was an unusually heavy snowfall, which covered the Bavarian countryside in a thick blanket of snow.

On May 2, the death march was just outside the town of Waakirchen, Germany, near the Austrian border.  The SS Guards had camped the few thousand souls hanging onto life in a small wooded area.  That evening, the German guards began murdering the last of their terrified captives.  They indiscriminately fired at the surviving Jews.  Some died where they stood, and a few were able to hide in the snow.  Many were able to avoid the murderous machine gun fire.  After a short while, the firing mysteriously stopped, and it remained quiet.

Ganor recalled, “We eventually wound up in an open field, where our worst fears were confirmed.  The SS guards began shooting us down...  Luckily, I wasn't hit.  Soon the shooting stopped, and we had no idea why.”

“As frightened and hungry as I was, I managed to fall asleep, totally exhausted.  I woke up the next morning covered with a blanket of snow.  When I looked up, all I saw was white, and I assumed I was dead.  Actually, in my weakened condition, the snow served as a sort of an insulation and may have saved me.  I awoke to the sound of a truck in the distance.  I strained my eyes in fear, wondering who it was.  I made out that they were American uniforms and I felt unbelievable relief.  As these American soldiers walked towards us, I noticed that they were not Caucasian soldiers; they were Oriental.  I immediately began to fear that they might be, in fact, the Japanese Army here to finish us off.  I was too tired, and I couldn't run.”

“One of them came up to me and, with a sadness and compassion in his eyes, tried to comfort me.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a candy bar that said ‘Hershey’ on it.  At that moment, I realized it was the American army and these were our liberators.  I had somehow managed to survive the war.  It was the first time in over three years in a ghetto and one year in a concentration camp that a person in uniform showed kindness to me.  These men with their strange faces were like angels of mercy, who descended from Heaven to lift me out of my Hell.  I can never thank them enough.”

The German SS and Ukrainian guards had heard the approach of the Allied army and abandoned their deadly mission of murdering the Jewish death marchers.  Exhausted, the marchers lay in the forest clearing and open fields surrounding the town of Waakirchen.

On the morning of May 2, 1945, advanced patrols of the 522nd Field Artillery found hundreds of survivors of the Holocaust, that they first saw as “lumps in the snow” just off the main road.  After a closer investigation, the young Japanese American soldiers determined that these lumps were people, and many were alive.

George Goto remembered seeing the Jewish survivors.  “You can't imagine how really pathetic it was to see these people walking with shallow faces, their eyes sunk in.  They were just beaten human beings.  Actually, everything was gone out of these human beings--they were destroyed and no amount of food or anything like that was going to bring them out of it...But they looked so gruesome.  People can't imagine what it was like to see people who were actually nothing but skin and bones.  You can't imagine a human being starving other human beings so badly they would get in that condition.”

The Jewish survivors were astonished to discover that their liberators were American soldiers of Japanese descent.  The survivors remember the kindness of their faces.  The Japanese American soldiers offered them small amounts of food.  This was the first act of compassion the survivors had seen in over four years.

Clarence Matsumura was in Headquarters communications, and was responsible for radio repair and maintenance.  He remembered, “We were patrolling around May 1 or 2.  I remember those dates, because it was near my birthday.  We were about forty or fifty miles south of Dachau, in a little town that I remember being called Waakirchen.  In an open field, we found several hundred prisoners lying, in many cases unable to move.  Some were shot, and some were dead from exposure.  Several men from my radio section, including David Sugimoto, saw that these people were starving, and we tried to feed them.   I didn’t know that they were Jews, or anything about them.  Some were able to speak broken English.  They asked who we were, and I told them we were Americans.  I told them, ‘You’re free, you’re liberated.  The war is over.’  Even though they didn’t speak English, they seemed to understand what we were saying. 

“They were obviously starving to death.  We tried to feed them, and they couldn’t take the food.  Some of them died in my arms, unable to swallow the food that we had given them.  I cried.  I still feel guilty to this day.” 

Matsumura hardly took time out to feed himself during those days.  After a while, he had fainted from exhaustion, and remembers being awakened by the survivors, now feeding him.

“For the next three days, we camped in the small town of Waakirchen.  We worked day and night to carry these ex-prisoners into barns and into buildings.  We even kicked out German families from their homes in order to house the prisoners.”

PFC Minabe Hirasaki of Charlie Battery remembered, “We took over a German chicken ranch in that town and killed all the chickens.  We fed the Jewish prisoners with these chickens for days.  These people were in terrible condition, so skinny.  I can never forget what I saw.”

Katsugo Miho of B Battery remembered, “…seeing Jewish families in Italy and feeling sorry for them.  I had no idea this was going on, and that people were being killed.  I was told not to feed them, but I fed them anyway.”

The Jewish survivors of the Dachau death march credit the Japanese Americans not only with their liberation, but also with saving their lives from the German guards.

For the next three days, Japanese American soldiers continued to carry the survivors to the nearby town of Waakirchen.  There, they put them in warm houses and barns.  They provided them with blankets, gloves, hats and socks.  Some survivors were given army rations and perished from the effect of eating too much too fast.  Some of these survivors were not even able to swallow whole food, and had to be given soup or soft food, such as powdered eggs, milk and soft pancakes. 

The 522nd Field Artillery left the area around Waakirchen, Germany, on May 4, 1945.  Along with the 101st Airborne Division, they participated in the capture of Hitler's headquarters at Berchtesgaden in Obersalzberg, Austria.

The 522nd was given one last assignment as part of the occupation of Germany at the end of the war.  Before being deactivated and sent home, they spent several months in the German town of Donauworth.  There, they got to know first-hand some of the townspeople, who befriended the Nisei soldiers.