76 years ago: Dachau Concentration Camp Liberated

April 29, 2021

On April 29, 1945, Dachau Concentration Camp was liberated by American soldiers.

Native Americans Bennett Freeny (left) and his identical twin brother Benjamin were born on January 21, 1922, in Caddo, Oklahoma. The Freeny family is of Chickasaw and Choctaw descent. Bennett was a medic with the 45th (Thunderbird) Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, one of the first units to enter Dachau Concentration Camp, where they helped liberate tens of thousands of prisoners.

Bennett Freeny stripped a German officer of this Iron Cross* (pictured right) shortly after the liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp. Fellow soldier Ace Caldwell, who witnessed the incident, sent this account to Bennett’s daughter:

“… Bennett and I were both medics with the 45th and we encountered a great many prisoners who had contracted Typhoid and other ailments, and even more who had been starved … We were very disheartened by the condition of these poor souls and still enraged by the evil and carnage we had encountered liberating the camp.

A German SS officer walked through as though still in command and eyed us arrogantly and with a sort of sneer. Your dad stood, walked up to him, and pulled out his knife. A couple of our boys stood by and prevented the officer from moving. Your father, one at a time, cut his medals and insignias off his uniform – Death Head, Edelweiss insignia, various patches and came to the Iron Cross hanging around his neck. Bennett grabbed it, cut the ribbon, and said ‘this is the sign of a hero – there are no heroes here’ and stuffed all the medals and patches in his pocket. A few of the prisoners who were able, clapped.

We were young men who had a lifetime of horror and violence visited upon us by age 23. None of us would ever be the same, but that day your father was bigger than life... "

* This Iron Cross and photograph are part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's archival holdings.

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