By John Blankenship
An 89-year-old Mullens U.S. Army veteran who slogged his way through World War II from Italy to the war-torn landscape of Nazi Germany was reunited with a piece of history Saturday at the Raleigh County Veterans Museum in Beckley.
Carl Green grew somber and reticent as he observed a door once used to screen prisoners at one of the most infamous death camps of the Third Reich.
“They all died a horrible death,” Green said as he pointed to photographs of bodies stacked four feet high in Dachau, an internment camp the Nazis built in 1933 to house political prisoners and other enemies of the German state.
“We’ll never know, but one of these victims could have discovered a cure for cancer; I can’t help but wonder what their lives might have been like if they had lived,” Green pondered at the museum memorial.
Sgt. Green served in the 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion with the 45th Infantry Division. He and two other soldiers who were among the first to arrive at Dachau in Germany opened the gates to the prison camp on April 29, 1945.
Green also captured the German commandant at the all-but-abandoned site near Munich; others had fled deeper into Germany to avoid capture.
“The last enemy shots fired that I heard came from the direction of Munich,” Green recalled of the final months of the war. “I wondered what the commandant was thinking when he looked at our rag-tag group from his fancy uniform and shiny boots. We put him into a holding cell where political prisoners had been incarcerated for years during the war.”
Green now says he was young in those days and he probably wouldn’t do some of the things now that he did then. “But it was war,” he said, “and you had to do your job.”
Green, an amiable conversationalist and World War II history buff, said the photos at the museum brought back terrible memories of the Holocaust. “I hope I never see that time repeated again,” he said.
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Of the door itself, Raleigh County Veterans Museum director James Toler said it was a wooden and steel gateway to the Holocaust, a mechanism once employed by Nazis to incarcerate victims of man’s most inhumanity to man.
The cell door from the infamous Dachau concentration camp is currently on display at the facility on Harper Road.
“It’s the cell door from the Bunker Block of Dachau Concentration Camp liberated by the 45th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army in April 1945,” Toler explained of the relic. “This was the block of cells used to house special prisoners such as Christian ministers and anyone else opposed to the Nazi regime.”
The historical importance of the camp cannot be overestimated, according to Toler, who has become something of an authority on Dachau since the prison door was given to the museum by an anonymous donor a few months ago.
“Dachau was the first concentration camp,” Toler noted. “It incarcerated opponents of the regime: priests, ministers, liberals, socialists, communists and labor union leaders. Over time, it became the training camp for SS guards who carried out Hitler’s iniquitous Final Solution in other camps, a practice that resulted in the deaths of millions of European Jews, communists, gypsies and other enemies of the state.”
The military museum director explained, “Dachau was not an extermination camp. Nevertheless, thousands died from abuse, neglect, medical experiments and executions at the camp.”
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