Research

Woodward, William Thomas

Eyewitness
Dachau

Woodward was born in 1913 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of an Episcopalian family. Following his studies at the University of Wisconsin and a short period working in commercial art, he joined Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, as a professor of art in 1939.

In 1941 Woodward was drafted into the U. S. Army and, in order to utilize his artistic skills, became part of a camouflage battalion. He served in North Africa and then entered Europe and Germany. When his military unit was in the vicinity of the village of Dachau, Bavaria, Woodward was made aware of the existence of a concentration camp at Dachau. At the time he was a captain in the Corp of Engineers, 84th Army Camouflage Battalion, 7th Army. He and a few of his men drove into the camp on a reconnoitering trip, which he believes was one or two days after the camp's liberation. As their jeep approached the camp, the group noticed open freight cars with many dead bodies on the railroad tracks leading into the camp. The corpses were in striped uniforms in great disarray, with many showing signs of mutilation. Upon entry into the camp, the group found many more bodies of former camp prisoners, as well as the corpses of former camp guards and their large watch dogs. In the crematoria partially burned bodies were still moving. Most inmates had left the camp in search of food by the time Woodward arrived, but some who had survived were too weak to leave. Woodward took photographs of the mutilated corpses, which he showed during the interview. He stated that he was told that about 75 percent of the inmates of the camp were Jewish.

Since Woodward had noticed that some of the NCOs (non-commissioned officers) under his command were very hard on Jewish soldiers, he ordered that all under his command, sixty-five men and four officers, visit the camp right away. He stated that the anti-Semitism in his unit stopped following their visit.

Woodward's unit was ordered by the 7th Army to survey the civilian population of Dachau pertaining to their reaction to the camp and to make a report of their findings. In general, the response received was either of ignorance of the camp or of fear of reprisals from the Gestapo (German Secret Police) had they reported what was going on. Some of the homes of the inhabitants of the village of Dachau were in full view of the boxcars and the concentration camp.

Subsequent to his visit to the camp, Woodward took his commanding officer, a colonel, to the camp for a tour. Later the civilian population of the village of Dachau was forced by the American military authorities to enter the camp, to witness the devastation there, and to bury the corpses.

His unit stayed at the Dachau location about three to four days. During their entire tour of duty in Europe, Dachau was the only concentration or labor camp his unit was aware of.

Following his discharge from the army, Woodward resumed his position of professor of arts at Wayne State University, from which he retired a few years ago.

Interview Information:
Date: January 18, 1993
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 25 minutes
Format: Video recording