The Testimony of a French Liberator

Note: This testimony was sent to Chuck Ferree in 1998 after a long exchange of e-mails. Chuck asked to Dominique to share what her father, James Choukroun, veteran of the famous 2nd DB of General Leclerc, told her about the liberation of Dachau concentration camp.

Dear Chuck,

This is not as easy as I thought, and indeed I have never really told anyone what my father told me as it is very hard. My late father was a French national born in Oran, Algeria, of a Jewish father and a gentile mother; he was called up as a soldier in July 1940 and he told me that when France capitulated the soldiers were sent home, but not the Jewish ones; this is not in the history books of course but the French army in Algeria did not really behave very well towards the Jewish soldiers. The young men kept behind were employed at making roads for the army; naturally the conditions were not nearly so bad as they were in Europe but all the same, the food was not plentiful and the work hard; he was eventually sent home but then he was called back after a few months; he went as he had no choice, but escaped after a while; he was labelled a deserter, although the post-war authorities corrected that in 1945. I do not think he was a fighter entirely by choice, and I have always wondered whether he would have joined the Free French Forces if he had been left alone; as it was, he could not stay at home and he joined the 2ème Division Blindée (2nd Armoured Division) of Général Leclerc on 31/05/1943 (immatriculation number 18707). (I have some details of his journey until Aug.1944 but perhaps this is not relevant here). His unit was one of those that took part in the liberation of Paris (where he met my mother) and then they went east. I am not sure when they entered Dachau as they did not really keep their journals up to date when they were fighting. This could easily be verified with the archives of the Division. From what I remember he said he was one of those who liberated the camp, so I imagine that must have been recorded.

As I told you before, I asked him about this in about 1968; he did not really want to talk about any of it but I insisted and he said he would tell me once but I must never ask him again. He said that what happened was that the men in his unit were each allocated a prisoner in the camp and told to look after him; they shared their spare clothing and their spare rations of food with them. The prisoner my father looked after had been repeatedly tortured. His tormentors wanted him to tell them something and to make him speak they tortured him by applying a red hot metal rod to one cheek, then to the other; when one side healed they started again.

He was very angry at the time and he was still angry when he told me about it. He said that the people living around the camp pretended they did not know anything so they were made to visit the camp. He also said that if someone had put 50 unarmed SS men in front of him and given him a machine gun, he would have shot them all. Remember that by then he was a soldier who fought other soldiers but he had never been in a situation where he would shoot an unarmed man or a civilian. He was aware of death as a young man as his father had been murdered in 1937. He was not one who would get a sense of power from being armed; his only ambition was to get out of it all in one piece.

If you think that the soldiers shared their clothing and army rations (that must have been their emergency rations!) with the prisoners in the camp, that must mean that the military authorities were not really prepared for what they had to deal with.

He may well have told me more about it all than what I can remember now; it is probably that the thought of that tortured man takes central place. I was only a teenager when I heard all this; the next shocking thing was to hear my father talking about killing people like that; it really proves how evil it all was; he felt that.

No one should try and deny it all now; I would understand the first generation trying to suppress it, but why now? What purpose would it serve? The nazis themselves recorded it in great detail, what other proof does one need? I read sometimes that people cannot understand how Yahweh allowed this to happen; I would not say that He had much to do with what happened. The people who organised all this were free to choose, and they chose to do evil. Now we now what the devil is after, perhaps it should be clear which way is best to follow...

Dominique Zaccari