Rabbi Abraham Klausner was a US Army military chaplain. He arrived in the Dachau concentration camp in May 1945. He was attached to the 116th evacuation hospital unit and worked for about five years in displaced persons camps, assisting Jewish survivors.
Well, I came into Dachau at night, and I saw nothing except the main square coming through the big gates. And of course, I waited for the morning quite anxiously and when morning came, I walked through the barbed-wire gates into the barracks area, and selected one of the barracks. I entered it and there met the first of the survivors. It was a difficult experience for me because I was not confident that I could serve a purpose. I had nothing to offer. I had nothing to give. People needed amenities, needed attention of various kinds, and I had nothing. But nevertheless, there I was in Dachau and I felt I had to do something, and so I entered the barracks and stood there, terribly disturbed. Here we were in a period of liberation and the people were still in barracks, stretched out on shelves. There were three rows of shelves, nothing other than the shelves. There wasn't a ... a piece of linen of any kind. There wasn't a bar of soap. There wasn't a chair, place to sit down. It was just a, a dirty situation and here were the people either stretched out on the shelves or moving about listlessly. Paid no attention to me as if I didn't exist. No one came towards me to say, "Welcome," or, "What is it you want." They just, uh...I was just an apparition.
What is the significance of eyewitness testimonies in our understanding of the history of the Holocaust?
How do oral histories differ from other primary sources such as artifacts, documents, and photographs? What can we learn from different types of primary sources?
What challenges did Allied forces face when they encountered the camps? What does this oral history excerpt illustrate about Rabbi Klausner's experiences?
We would like to thank Crown Family Philanthropies and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors.