COLUMBUS – Richard Dutro, who retired from his career as an educator and principal in the Lakewood School System in 1991, witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust when he was 18 years old.
Now 91, Dutro was a young replacement soldier in the American 7th Army in the waning days of World War II. When he joined his unit in Europe, the famed “Rainbow Division,” in January 1945, the war was winding down.
Twenty-five years passed before he would discuss the devastating scenes he and his fellow comrades witnessed when they happened upon the concentration camp in Dachau. According to Dutro, “Dachau held originally 5,000 prisoners, but there were 32,000 prisoners when we got there. The Germans had moved many there because it was the last concentration camp in Germany. It was also the first.”
Dutro gave his liberator’s account May 17 on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse during the Governor’s 37th annual Holocaust Commemoration.
“Rarely did anyone escape,” he said. “They only left by one way – the furnace.”
His unit, the 42nd Infantry under the direction of Gen. George Patton, had left France to head east toward Munich, Dutro said. However, along the way, his unit happened upon what they soon learned was Dachau.
“We came upon something that smelled like a slaughterhouse,” he said. “I grew up in Zanesville, where we had slaughterhouses. But this was a slaughterhouse of human beings.”
The scene he described was gruesome and gut-wrenching. He recalled 114 train cars at the nearby train station full of dead prisoners the Germans did not have time to burn in the crematorium before the Allies invaded. Barrels full of personal items such as eyeglasses and teeth, things that do not incinerate in a gas chamber, were abundant and strewn about.
As it happened, one of Dutro’s fellow soldiers owned a Brownie camera. The soldier took photos of various scenes, and Dutro ended up with eight of those black-and-white photos. Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich assisted Dutro by holding each photo up so attendees at the commemoration could see them for themselves as the liberator spoke of them. Dutro said the photographs would be donated to a Holocaust museum upon his death.
Robert “Mendy” Klein, a Cleveland businessman and a child of Holocaust survivors, shared his parents’ love story. Prior to the war, Klein’s father, Armin, was a married and successful businessman in Hungary. His father was taken away and spent several years in Hungarian forced labor camps before eventually being sent to Auschwitz. A year after Armin Klein was removed, his wife and their three children were sent to Auschwitz, where they died.
Meanwhile, Klein’s mother, Jolan, also was sent to Auschwitz, where she would cheat death twice. The first time, the gas chambers malfunctioned. The second attempt was interrupted by a surprise visit from the Red Cross.
Armin Klein also had a story of survival. Nine days before the Russians invaded Auschwitz and liberated its prisoners, the Nazis ordered all able-bodied prisoners to participate in what became known as “The Death March.” That 35-mile trek was designed to move the prisoners farther inland and away from the fast approaching Russians.
Armin Klein and a few other men spoke and realized they would not survive the brutality of such a long trek, so they hid in a barracks. They thought it would be better to die in place than to perish in the wilderness somewhere. It wasn’t long before a Nazi captain entered the barracks to make sure it was empty, only to discover him and the other men hiding.
According to Klein, the captain asked the men why they didn’t join the march, imploring them with the question, “’Don’t you know I have to kill you?’” Armin, said Klein, responded that the Nazis already had killed them. The captain then threw down his weapon and began to weep. He wailed how his family, too, had been ruined by the Holocaust. The Nazi would not let anyone in the barracks, ensuring the men’s safety. At 4 a.m. that morning, he would tell the men the Russian army was there and they were free.
Armin and Jolan did not know one another until they met in a displaced person camp subsequent to their liberation.
“They met and married, determined to build a new life,” Klein said.
They lived in Budapest until the night the Soviets invaded Hungary. On that Passover night, said Robert Klein, his parents fled to the United States.
Klein, founder and chairman of Safeguard Properties, Community Blights Solutions and SecureView, retells his parent’s story of survival, mindful to liken the story of Passover and the Jewish exodus from Egypt to the incredible reality of their Holocaust survival.
“Armin and Jolan Klein’s three children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren serve as a rebuke to the Nazi’s genocidal plans for the Jews,” Klein said.
Dutro summed up his reason for finally sharing what he experienced during the Holocaust by saying, “People who said it didn’t happen, I’m here to tell you it did. I was a witness. Let’s never have this happen again.”