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UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO / Fall 2010

Aroundthe Park

Fall 2010by Melissa Wagoner

A Promise to Never Forget

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Liberator of Dachau recalls days of horror and hope

Holocaust museums and memorials across the globe tell the stories of survivors, of those who saw and lived a horror beyond imagination, whose lives were shattered and never again returned to normalcy. These recollections have largely shaped the way historians andglobal citizens view, and have learned from, the atrocities of the Holocaust. Few stories, however, are recorded of those who were part of the American liberation, and who helped shape the course of history through their heroism and sacrifice.

Ninety-year-old First Sergeant Marvin Hall, United States Army, is part of a diminishing group of veterans who share an experience “beyond description.”

Sitting in the Joan B. Kroc School for Peace & Justice, First Sergeant Hall speaks slowly, trying to describe the images he sees in his mind as clearly as if it were yesterday. “I’ll always remember. Never want to see it again” he says, his eyes glassy.

In April 1945, with snow still on the ground, Hall and three other soldiers were sent to Dachau by jeep. Not knowing what to expect, Hall recalls the water that surrounded the camp, meant to trap and kill prisoners who tried to escape.

“First thing I saw was water, 100 feet wide. Several men in the water had been shot.” Some were prisoners, and some were U.S. soldiers, killed by German soldiers during the liberation, Hall explains. German soldiers had tried to retaliate by killing U.S. soldiers and taking their uniforms, posing as American soldiers until turning on their comrades. “That didn’t last long,” Hall says defiantly.

Hall recalls the dead and near-dead bodies as he walked through the barracks housing women, and wondering how anyone could survive such conditions. Bodies were piled 50 deep in the crematorium and women in the gas chamber, still alive, were rescued when American soldiers came through.

Upon leaving the camp that day, the soldiers saw two emaciated men walking slowly toward the camp. They had managed the impossible and escaped. Starving and ill, the Americans offered the prisoners a ride, and brought them to base where the ration wagon was being set up. Upon arrival, Hall and his fellow soldiers asked their superiors if the two men could sit and have some food. The men were hired, and worked in the kitchen on the makeshift base. Three months later, Hall saw them again, healthy and thriving.

Sixty-five years after the Dachau liberation, First Sergeant Hall has brought memories to the forefront that he would most likely rather
forget entirely.

Hall’s account of that grim history will endure, thanks to his son, USD anthropology professor Jerome Hall, who videotaped his dad’s stories this summer and delivered them to the Yad Vasham Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

Now Marvin’s words and experiences will live forever.