Bernie Mellman enlisted in the Army reserves in 1942 and served with the U.S. Army in Europe in 1945-46. In April 1945 his battalion, the 542nd Field Artillery, assisted in the liberation of the concentration camp at Dachau. He was twenty years old and like most American soldiers, had no idea that the death camps existed — even though he was Jewish. It was, he remembers, “a soul-wrenching experience for me. . . . I can still see. . . . starved, emaciated inmates. . . . I remember seeing those ovens and smelling the stench of dead bodies.” A few days later Bernie took part in the capture of nearby Munich. After the war, he became an accountant. He and his wife, Beverly, have four children and eight grandchildren and resided in Dayton until 2000.
Dachau, located in a suburb of Munich, was the first concentration camp established by Hitler in 1933. It became one of the largest and most notorious, though it was never technically considered a death camp. During its twelve years of operation it housed at least 206,000 prisoners, 35,000 of whom died.