James Garner

Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Born: 1917 Manchester, Tennessee

Liberator: Dachau Concentration Camp

“I had no idea what was happening to the Jews. I knew there was a war, I knew about Hitler, but I really wasn’t prepared for what I saw.” Moving into Dachau in April 1945, American soldier James Garner saw bodies being put into crematoriums and burned: “The Nazis were just shoveling them in and setting them on fire.” He recalls that some were even still alive. “Most of my troops broke down.”

The end of World War II was a confusing, emotional time. American and British troops entering Germany met little resistance, and they came upon the concentration camps often by accident. “Inhumanity, torture, starvation…it was everywhere. These were starving, crazed people,” Garner says. Some fed the inmates, but he refused. “They were in such terrible shape. I didn’t know what to do but somehow I knew I shouldn’t feed them.” Many who were given food by their liberators died; their stomachs, shrunken from starvation, ruptured.

“War brings terrible things to us all, but this was different. We came in so patriotic, so willing to fight. Then you see innocent people…abused and tortured-not for war crimes, for their religion…for their religion. Can you believe that? You wonder why you got there so late and who was responsible. You wonder if you did anything at all to help.”

As James bows his head in tears, his wife Geraldine holds his hands and shakes her head. She tells him he did all he could have done.