Floyd Dade, private, 71st Infantry Division, was among the first US soldiers who entered Gunnskirchen concentration camp, a sub-camp of Mauthausen.

“It was a black division. We fought together but could not live together. On the battlefield we fought together.”

His unit arrived at Gunnskirchen on May 5th, 1945. About 2,500 were housed in the barracks the Germans had attempted to burn—with them the people in it—before the guards escaped the camp in advance of the US forces.

“It was one purpose of this war, to stop that. It was the first camp we run across. We stayed on the camp-site for five hours. People looked like skeletons. We tried to give them food. Then we were told not to do that for it may cause harm to their bodies. So we gave them cigarettes. Tent hospitals were set in the camp. The camp inmates had not seen many blacks before, so we made a joke about that: ‘We are night fighters.’ We did not know about the Nazi camps, we did not understand how it could happen to people. Our officers did not know about the camp either. We were absolutely unprepared for what we had seen.”

Dr. Leon Bass, corporal 183rd Combat Engineers Battalion, approached Buchenwald on April 11, or 12, 1945, with four other soldiers and a lieutenant. A young man who spoke English took Corporal Bass around the camp explaining to him how the camp was organized and how the Nazis supervised and administered the prisoner population.

“I knew very little about Nazism. Nobody mentioned about concentration camps in the training. I was not ready for what I was to see. I said to myself, what is all this insanity? I walked around the camp entering the barracks. In one of the barracks I noticed a man on the lower bank. He was emaciated; he was skin and bones, dressed in filthy rags. He desperately was trying to look at me. It was a struggle for him, just to look at me. But, finally, he did, said nothing, so did I. I left and closed the door. Then another man came along, also skin and bones. He wanted to live. I went into the barracks where Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments. I saw the parts of human bodies in the jars. I also saw the clothing of thousands of little children in piles. I have also seen the six ovens with human remains. I became a different person; I knew we had to do something to stop this evil. I did not speak about what I saw in Buchenwald for twenty-five years.”

Dr. Paul Parks, a member of the 365th Unit of the Quartermaster Corps, liberated Dachau Concentration Camp on April 29, 1945. Dr. Parks was given a special assignment to deactivate mines in Munich and this is how he came to be at Dachau when the camp was liberated.

“We thought we were going to be in a war, a skirmish with the Germans. We thought we were going to an army military camp. We knew nothing about concentration camps. The Rabbi at the camp explained to me that they were being killed because they were Jews. As I sat there looking, I began to understand. I remember my mother, and in particular, my grandmother, telling me about what happened to black people in slavery. We were totally at somebody else’s mercy. If somebody wanted to kill you, they could kill you without having to pay any price for it. I think he mentioned something about slavery and that is what I hung onto while he was talking. I knew that I was fighting on two fronts. I knew that when I came back home, that was the other front. Just being black in America, at one point I knew I never wanted to get married, have children, because I didn’t want to bring black children into a world where they were going to be hated from the moment they were born.”