Liberation Photo

George Oiye
American, 1922-2006

Prisoners liberated from Dachau death march by 522nd Field Artillery Battalion
Waakirchen, Germany
May 2, 1945
Photograph reproduced on vinyl

Reproduced with permission from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

After the liberation of the first concentration camp in 1944, Nazi authorities ordered that prisoners of all camps be evacuated to the interior of the Reich. They wished to avoid further publicity of what had happened in the camps and to retain their slave labor. They hoped that prisoners could be used as hostages to bargain and ensure the survival of the Nazi regime.

As the German position crumbled, many evacuations were conducted on foot; they became known as “Death Marches.” The SS guards had strict orders to kill prisoners who could no longer walk or travel. Many died of exhaustion, starvation, and exposure. To almost the last day of the war, German authorities marched prisoners to various locations in the Reich. 

This photograph shows prisoners liberated from a Dachau death march by the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion (FAB). The 522nd FAB was a segregated Japanese-American unit. The irony of the liberation of German concentration camps by Japanese Americans, many of whom had families who were persecuted and imprisoned in the United States, was not lost on the men of the 522nd.

George Oiye was born in 1922 in Basin Creek, Montana to Japanese immigrants, Jengoro “Tom” Oiye and Taka Kimura. He was drafted into the infantry in May 1943. In the 522nd, he served as a section chief and forward observer. Though photography was technically not allowed, he and his close friend Susumu Ito had smuggled in cameras and took photographs documenting their experiences. In addition to a Kodak 620 folding camera, Oiye acquired a 35mm Kodak Retina 1 from a dead German soldier, taking most of his photos with this camera. He was awarded a bronze star and honorably discharged in 1946. He eventually moved to California and had a distinguished career as an engineer. He died on February 28, 2006.

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