A WWII Photo Mystery – Dachau to Chicago

Bruce Sadler is a man on a mission — similar in some ways to that of his late father Paul – and he hopes a treasure trove of 200 photos unearthed in his attic will help.

Bruce Sadler hopes these WWII photos will be identified by readers in France or elsewhere in Europe

For this pictorial hoard is a cache of never- seen-before World War II images retrieved by his dad, Paul Sadler, from the Dachau concentration camp northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria – which his military unit was helping guard 60 years ago — at the end of the War.

Bruce Sadler first found the dusty and crumbling photo album in the attic of his home in the city of Chicago, Illinois in the United States some thirty years ago. It was stacked in a box with three hardcover books, two about the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the third about the life of Adolf Hitler, all three published by Herausgegeben Vom Cigaretten/Bilderdienst Altona/Bahrenfeld.

His father Paul Sadler who died in January 2011, was a member of the U.S Army’s 838th Antiaircraft Artillery Unit. He was present at Dachau shortly after the notorious camp was liberated. What he saw there clearly left him marked for life as he always refused to describe the horrors to his son at least until just a few months before his death in January 2011, when he finally opened up a little about how he came on May 1, 1945 to be at the concentration camp, which the Americans had liberated two days earlier. He said he was never able to forgot the sight and the stench as they opened the train wagons and the bodies fell out. This was the first and only time that his father spoke of this devastating Dachau experience.


The gallery of photos above is reproduced and kindly authorised by Bruce Sadler.

Here by way of a short deviation is portion of a transcript from an interview with another US serviceman Jim Erickson who was with the same battalion, describing what the Dachau experience was like for him. The transcript was made when Jim was 70 years old: “Every morning after that we would find several SS Troopers that were killed by the former prisoners. One of the worst things that I – I’ll never forget it. They had 50 boxcars of starved people [ ] and I remember our chaplain made every one of us climb up there and take a look at them…(Q:You were there when the smell was still there. You never get that out of your memory. Jim Erickson: Unbelievable. And for these modern Nazis to say that it was all a hoax, all they have to do is talk to me. “ .

Paul Sadler’s unit history shows that they landed in France by LST at LeHavre,(February 8 1944) Duclair (February 8), Luneville (February 11) and other places as part of the Allied advance before going into Germany. It seems, Bruce Sadler told French News Online, that representatives from each section of the unit were sent to visit Dachau after it was liberated to observe the existing conditions in the camp. “I am not sure how he found the album and the 3 books because he would not talk about what he saw – so horrific and brain-searing were the scenes,” he said. 

Bruce Sadler says that he approached Dr Oliver Sander of the German Federal Archives Bundesarchiv about the photo collection. Dr.Sander told him that a number of German war correspondents were the likely photographers of the pictures since some of the images include their names on the reverse. One of these is Walter Henisch (1913-1975) who won several awards for his war coverage.

In an article subsequently published in the German news magazine Der Speigel, Dr Sander is quoted as saying: “the photos are apparently taken by photographers of The “Propagandakompanien der Wehrmacht” (or PK or the German Army Propaganda Company), namely Trautvetter and Jager; However, there were at least three photographers in this company whose also had the surname Jager: namely Josef Isepp Jager, Hugo Jager and Heinrich Jager.  Also the numbers on the back of the, photos like “16/2248” and “30/ 2446″ correspond to the PK films reels in the Federal Archives, which can be found under the following references: Stock signature, volume number, film number, frame”16” would a film number so a volume number, “2248”. 

However, the Federal Archives have retained no photos by these photographers under those reference numbers! At the time though they would often give prints from PK photographers to soldiers in the units they had photographed. Whether this was the case here, can of course only be conjecture. These Propagandakompanien photos could also have been taken by Wehrmacht soldiers at the time on behalf of the German Command”. 

Dr Sander added: “it would appear that many of the photos originated during the German-Soviet battles on the eastern front, some others at the surrender of France in June 1940. Among clues is the Compiègne railcar.

One of the clues about the provenance of the images is this Compiègne railcar

These were common at the time — the ceasefire agreed with the Germans in November 1918 was signed in one and another carried Hitler to Berlin in 1940… most of the Landser albums are predominantly private photos or postcards – rather than official propaganda photos. It is likely, therefore, that the original owner of the album would have been a German officer rather than a simple soldier….the large number of PK photos in the album is remarkable. Some of them bear a stamp on the back “mil & pole.” “not censored”. Military censorship of PK photos at that time was the responsibility of Department of propaganda in the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. From there the images were sent to the Propaganda Ministry, where again they would be censored, before release to photo agencies. Somewhere between the front and Berlin they had to obtain the stamps shown on the photos mentioned.” 

This link is to a report in Der Speigel on July 4, 2012 which published an article on the photos. This in turn attracted a large number of commentaries in the comments and the forum associated with the article. All of these are in German but can be read in English with the help of Google translate.

Bruce Sadler was also interviewed about the photos by the Moscow Times on May 04, 2012. The article published in this paper notes: “On the back of some photos one can find: “Henisch/10.XII.41/Rschew”. Rzhev is a Russian town on the Volga River, about 200 km west of Moscow, and is best-known as the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. In October 1941, the town was occupied by the Wehrmacht. In the month-long fighting there between the German forces and the Red Army, it was completely destroyed. The Austrian photographer Walter Henisch accompanied the army on their campaign to the East, he was temporarily attached to the German army Propagandakompanie.

Two of the pictures he has scanned and placed in his Flickr account on the Internet were taken inside a crowded church in the Tver region town of Rzhev, 150 kms west of Moscow, and dated Dec. 10, 1941. “I found that in January, maybe three or four weeks after the picture was taken, Stalin ordered that town destroyed so that it wouldn’t fall into the enemy’s hands,” Sadler said. He contacted a Russian author who had written a book about the battle in Rzhev and learned that Soviet soldiers had destroyed nearly everything in the town, in their eagerness to prevent it from being seized by Nazi troops.

One of the pictures from inside the Church in Rzhev, Russia

The Moscow Times article continues: “Apart from the propaganda photos other images that were probably taken before the war, were also found in the album. One for instance was taken in 1933, in the French ski resort of Megeve. Another shows a man and three women … possibly a family portrait. And then there is a photo of soldiers carrying a coffin. “This is our comrade Uffz Richard Feihl. My sister Marina had known well him”, someone has written on the back. It is the only personal note in the whole album.

Bruce Sadler told the paper he would like to find out as much as possible about the photos: “It’s hard to say what drives me to this: to know that they include perhaps last photographic record of a city like Rzhev before it was destroyed… or perhaps these are photos of people missing from their families – and these are the only remaining images”?

Bruce Sadler told French News Online: “I have a number of pictures from WWII that were taken in France.These pictures can be seen here in my gallery on the Internet.

“This is the link to the first report published about the cache, but the biggest response so far came after the German article that appeared in Der Speigel: Einestageson July 04, 2012.  I would be really pleased if any French readers were able to help with more information.” (Editorial note please use this email to contact Bruce: basadler1952@att.net)

“The pictures were definitely taken by a professional,” Mr Sadler added, explaining that an ordinary soldier would not have had the equipment to produce such high-quality pictures. “I was told that the quality of paper is the best one could get at that time … and was also used by Nazis at that time.” The occasional scratches in German on the back of the photos reveal that the photographer started taking them in France back in 1933 and continued though France’s surrender in 1940.

“The pictures include action shots in the field,  staff meetings, parades and ceremonies, and the commonplace of everyday life and groups enjoying dinner.” Mr Sadler said he would like family members of those pictured to find and identify their loved ones so he could send them copies of the photos.

He added: “Two of the photos that I have are from the Minsk Radio Factory which was a forced labour factory. I received an email from a lady who’s parents and uncle worked there. She thinks that one of the photos is of her mother. This lady lives here in the U.S and I talked with her for about an hour. What a story she had.”

Robert Citino, a historian with the University of North Texas, wrote about the album on Historynet.com: “I know the photos of this war as well as any historian, and I hadn’t seen these (Sandler’s collection) before.”

A few of the photos have gone on display in the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C as well as at the Rzhev museum.

Bruce Sadler, a caregiver by profession, said the reason why so many years had passed before he picked up the photo album was mainly because his father had found it painful to recall Dachau.

Plaque at Dachau concentration camp commemorating the liberation of the camp by the Rainbow Division. (Credit: Wikipedia – John)

Dachau was the Nazis’ first concentration camp, established in 1933. U.S. forces liberated the Bavarian town of Dachau in April 1945. When they arrived, the big field outside the compound was deserted. Suddenly someone began running toward the gate at the other side of the field. Others followed. The word was shouted through the mass of grey, tired prisoners. Americans! That word repeated, yelled over the shoulders in throaty Polish, in Italian, in Russian, and Dutch and in the familiar ring of French. The first internee was shot down as he rushed toward the gate by the guard. Yet they kept running and shouting through eager lips and unbelieving eyes. Americans!”

They found dozens of train cars filled with the bodies of dead prisoners abandoned on the tracks. To avoid the mass liberation of prisoners from other camps, the Nazis had been moving them to Dachau, often without food or water. In the month of May 1945, there were 2,226 former inmates of the Dachau concentration camp who died of typhus and other diseases in spite of the excellent medical care given to them by the US Army doctors. An additional 196 former prisoners died in the month of June 1945 before the typhus epidemic could be brought under control.

Some of the victims who died after the liberation were cremated in the ovens at Dachau, while others were buried in unmarked graves, even though their names were known. Approximately 7,500 Dachau prisoners are buried at Leitenberg, including those buried by the Germans before the liberation and 5,380 who were buried afterwards by the Americans.

If you have any information about the pictures please get in touch — Bruce Sadler, 7010 Sweet Gum Ct Evansville, In 47710, USA. email: basadler1952@att.net


Story: Ken Pottinger


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6 Responses to A WWII Photo Mystery – Dachau to Chicago

  1. Pingback: Storming the D-Day Beaches — 69 Years On | FrenchNewsOnline

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  4. design1983 September 3, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Hello. I just found your blog. fantastic collection of unique world war two history. thank you very much for sharing !
    If you are interested, I am now uploading my private collection of 24,000 never before seen color photos from world war two on my new site pixpast.com Maybe they are interesting for you ? Best wishes. Ian

    • admin September 3, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      Dear Ian
      Thank you very much for your comments. Be delighted if you would like to share the pictures and some of the history behind them, we could put up a gallery?
      Best wishes

  5. Pingback: Forgotten Massacres of Summer 1944 | FrenchNewsOnline

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