The 522nd Opens the Gate to Dachau

    Two liaison scouts from the 522d Field Artillery Bn, 100/442 RCT, were among the first Allied troops to release prisoners in the Dachau concentration camp. I watched as one of the scouts used his carbine to shoot off the chain that held the prison gates shut. He said he just had to open the gates when he saw a couple of the 50 or so prisoners, sprawled on the snow-covered ground, moving weakly. They weren ' t dead as he had first thought.

    When the gates swung open, we got our first good look at the prisoners. Many of them were Jews. They were wearing black and white striped prison suits and round caps. A few had shredded blanket rags draped over their shoulders. It was cold and the snow was two feet deep in some places. There were no German guards. They had taken off before we reached the camp.

    The prisoners struggled to their feet after the gates were opened. They shuffled weakly out of the compound. They were like skeletons — all skin and hones.

    Outside the compound, there were a couple of dead cows lying on the road. In minutes, the prisoners had cut off strips of meat, roasted them over a small fire and were gobbling the food down. They were starving. After they finished eating, they moved on down the road and took shelter in a large stable. They insisted on staying in the stable and refused to spend another night in Dachau.

    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.

    We stayed near Dachau for several days and then got orders to move on. During this time, I found some large chalk-like bars, sort of oval-shaped, with numbers stamped on them. I was about to "liberate" a couple of them as souvenirs when an MP told me they were the remains of prisoners. The numbers were for identification. I put the bars back.

Chester Tanaka, Go For Broke, Presido Press, Novato, CA (1982)

Manabi Hirasaki

    When we separated from the 442nd to go into Germany, we of the 522nd felt like orphans. We were now attached to different units that we weren't that familiar with. But, whether we felt comfortable or not, we continued to do our jobs.

    Once we hopped over the Rhine River, we moved fast—faster than even the infantry units since we traveled in trucks and jeeps. Sometimes we moved two, three times a day and all throughout the night. Every time the infantry moved, we would have to leapfrog up. Our shooting range was now much shorter: about five miles. The Germans were retreating and we were breaking loose.

    Just before the war ended in Europe in May 1945, we moved to a thirty- to forty-mile area called Dachau, northwest of Munich. I was laying down telephone wire with another group, so I was dealing mostly with battery and battalion headquarters. But other men who were part of some forward observer teams traveled through a wider area. They were the ones who came across the Dachau death camp.

    Later we all heard about the ovens and gas rooms in which Hitler had killed Jews. It was so hard to believe. Being a hometown boy from Gilroy, I didn't even know what a Jew was. To me a Hakujin was a Hakujin; I didn't know the difference between a Jew and an Anglo-Saxon. In fact, when I first saw a Jewish Holocaust survivor, I thought he was a German prisoner of war.

    We weren't supposed to give the Jewish survivors any food because they were weak and their stomachs could not handle anything solid. One day, after cleaning our mess kits, I noticed some Jews were picking leftover food out of the soapy dishwater we had thrown out. They were that hungry.

    After Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, five hundred and fifty of us in the 522nd were spread all over the country. Many times we set up our communication switchboards in personal homes. Once, we took over a German chicken ranch and for the next few days cooked chicken as many ways as you can prepare it —barbecued, stewed, roasted. All we ate for a few days was chicken and eggs. Chickens were so valuable on the war front that we even saw other 442nd men carrying around live hens or tying them up like pets. Fresh food and vegetables, as well as canned meat like Spam and corned beef, were valued at a premium. One time I even saw a soldier pick some sugar beet leaves, thinking they were greens. He must have been surprised when they turned pitch black when stir-fried over a flame.

    On our way from R&R, we stopped by the main concentration camp in Dachau. It was about August or September, so everything was fairly cleaned up. The only thing left were some leather shoes laying on the ground. We saw the gas room and furnaces, and I took a roll of pictures. I even laid down in one of the caskets and pretended I was dead. Later, when I saw the developed pictures, I wondered what I could have been thinking and threw the film away.

Manabi Hirasaki and Naomi Hirahara, A Taste for Strawberries, The Independent Journey of Nisei Farmer, Manabi Hirasaki, Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, CA (2003)