Research

Jacobson, Bill

Liberator
Dachau

Jacobson was born in North Dakota in 1919 but moved to Michigan with his family at age five. His parents were Edwin and Harriet Jacobson, who were Protestants, as is he. Following his schooling at Dondero High School in Royal Oak, Michigan, he went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and subsequently for Essex Wire Company. When the draft for military service began in the United States, he was initially classified as unfit for medical reasons and subsequently received an occupational deferment. Nevertheless, he was drafted for military service in 1944 and received his basic training as a heavy weapons (machine gun) crewman in the infantry. By that time, Jacobson had married and was the father of a son. While he was in basic training another child, a girl, was born.

Jacobson was sent overseas in January 1945, arriving in Le Havre, France, where he joined the 45th Infantry Division, 157th Infantry Regiment, Company D. He was involved in various campaigns earning two Bronze Stars for meritorious service in the field. On April 29, 1945, without any previous briefing or advance information, his company was ordered to the site of the Dachau concentration camp near Munich, Germany. On a railroad siding outside the camp he saw a train of many boxcars all filled with dead bodies, which, based on their physical condition, had apparently died from starvation and exposure. Inside the camp he found thousands of inmates aimlessly walking around, all in extremely poor physical condition. He also witnessed large piles of dead bodies near a crematorium. In front of another building he saw rows of striped uniforms hanging very neatly on racks. The building was ostensibly a place to shower but actually was used as a gas chamber to kill inmates. He describes the sights as horrible and incomprehensible and states that his fellow soldiers were equally affected.

Jacobson states that the camp was initially entered, i.e., liberated, by Company I, probably around two hours prior to his arrival there. Members of Company I and some of the inmates killed many of the remaining German guards.

Numerous photographs were displayed showing the sights described above. Jacobson states that they were taken by a member of his company and that they reflect what he actually saw. He also states that disposing of dead bodies in the crematorium by inmates of the camp was still being done while he was at Dachau. He believes his company was at the camp for about a half a day before proceeding towards Munich, which they entered the following day without meeting any resistance from the German army.

Jacobson states that he was so traumatized by what he saw at Dachau that to this day he is affected by nightmares from that experience. He received an honorable discharge from the army in November 1945, by which time he had achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Following his discharge Jacobson returned to his previous place of employment but subsequently worked for the U. S. Postal Service.

Interview Information:
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Date: August 14, 2000
Length: 49 minutes
Format: Video recording