George R. Rodericks was a young U.S. Army captain in May 1945 when his unit was assigned to count the bodies at Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp near Munich liberated by U.S. troops just days before.
The dramatic special "Holocaust" on NBC television this week evoked vivid memories for Rodericks, now 62 and director of the D.C. Emergency Preparedness Office and chief of the mayor's command center.
"There were about 20,000 cadavers piled in a warehouse," he said. "They were just in huge piles, waiting to be cremated . . . naked a jumble of arms and legs . . . A good percentage were women and children."
American troops found only about 5,000 survivors in the camp, aid Rodericks, "and most of them were just human, live cadavers." Some died in the days immediately after liberation, he said.
Rodericks said the depiction of the camps in "Holocaust" was generally authentic - "outwardly spic and span with manicured lawns and well kept brick and concrete buildings and wooden sheds . . . All the instruments of extremination were inside."
At Dachau, he said, there were barracks to house the prisoners brought in by train, "shower" facilities where they were gassed to death and an enormours crematorium for burning the bodies. He said the shower facilities had not plumbing for water and were hermetically sealed by large metal doors. The crematorium consisted of 50 to 60 gas-fired ovens, he said.
Side-by-side to all this, Rodericks said, was a large sewing and tailoring operation where skilled Jewish tailors were forced to make insignia, braid, bunting, flags and uniforms for the German army.
"Some of it was beautiful work done by the finest tailors with the best of gold and silver thread," said Rodericks. He said he kept several items as mementos including an "SS" collar insignia and a Reinhard Heydrich Division patch, named for the Nazi security police chief who played a major role in the "Holocaust" television program.
"It was ironic," said Rodericks, "that these tailors - the cream of the land - had to make insignias and uniforms for the very people who killed them."
Rodericks was an assistant adjutant general for the 7th Army in Germany and commanded the 52d Statistical Unit responsible for maintaining U.S. personnel inventories. The unit was detailed to count and identify the bodies of prisoners at Dachau, he said, but the task became impossible and "the authorities decided to burry them immediately because of the health hazard."
He said the mayor of the town of Dachau was ordered to conscript some 500 civilians to carry out the mass burial under U.S. supervision.