CLEVELAND — No maps were needed. When U.S. troops asked where the Dachau death camp was, a villager held his nose and pointed down the road.
Following the stench of death and decay, the soldiers finally arrived in April 1945 to a scene of horrific display - survivors barely clinging to life, clothing hanging off skin and bones, as they emerged from overcrowded and disease-ridden barracks.
Retired Army Brig. Gen. Russel R. Weiskircher, then a sergeant, didn't soften words as he recalled his role in the Nazi camp's liberation at the end of World War II in Europe, as he spoke Thursday to Truett-McConnell College students in a chapel service.
He told the group, meeting at the Bridge Church across from the TMC campus, he felt compelled to share "some things with you that I pray to God you'll never live to see."
"We study the past to understand the present, to educate you for the future because all that's been done, all the talk about the ‘greatest generation' ... is of no importance if you go out of here with personal prejudices, hatred, greed and self-satisfaction."
Among his memories was meeting with a young Dachau survivor.
Weiskircher recalled giving a piece of gum to a 6-year-old girl at the camp who pointed to the tattooed number on her arm when he asked her name.
Years later, when Weiskircher was attending a Holocaust remembrance service, a 66-year-old woman introduced herself to him, saying she was the girl at the camp.
Weiskircher, a White County resident, was so moved by the Dachau experience that he has devoted years to volunteer work, lecturing and conducting anti-prejudice training.
He currently serves as the vice chairman of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust.
Photo albums, photographs and books on the Holocaust and the Dachau liberation were scattered across several tables in front of the podium where Weiskircher spoke.
He talked about the roots of the Holocaust, starting with Adolph Hitler's rise to power in Germany and his pursuit for a "master race."
In 1938, "Hitler's policy was to eliminate those people who got in his way," Weiskircher said.
"World War II and the Holocaust, in its European application only, cost the world 40 million people," he said. "That's inconceivable."
Dachau, the first concentration camp to turn into a killing machine, became "the model" for some 80 major death camps and 200 smaller ones that eventually were used to kill 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews.
Weiskircher's military service began in World War II. As a rifleman in the Army's 45th Division, he fought in Italy, France and Germany.
By the spring of 1945, "we were chasing remnants of the German army," he said. "... They were not a fighting force anymore."
On April 29, a snowy day, the 45th got an emphatic radio message: "Cease what you're doing. Take your battalion to Dachau. Locate the concentration camp. Liberate it, occupy it, close it up - let nobody in or out ... and be prepared to turn the camp over to the people who will relieve you."
When they arrived in Dachau, locals said they had no idea where the camp was.
"It was 2 kilometers away and you could smell it," Weiskircher said.
When soldiers arrived, most of the German SS troops who ran the camp had fled.
"We started to spread out from the gatehouse," Weiskircher said.
He recalled coming upon piles of clothes that had been stripped from people before they were taken to gas chambers. Bodies were "stacked like cord wood" at the crematorium.
Weiskircher said some of the liberating soldiers went "half crazy" when they came upon the scenes of death and suffering.
"How would you like to encounter the pictures you'll see here," he said, motioning to the tables in front of him.
After the war, he remained in service for 45 years. He retired from active duty in 1978 and later became a Realtor before retiring and moving to North Georgia.
"Why am I here?" he asked the young crowd. "I'm here because I believe if enough of you people - this generation right here - will sing, smile, pray and go to God for guidance and live in that faith, that we'll have real peace and real understanding."