Corporal Vernon W. Tott, 335 Infantry, 84th Division
Vernon W. Tott was born and raised in Iowa, across the river from South Dakota.
Although he is not a South Dakota veteran, his proximity, his
recollections, and his photographs make his story a special addition to
this book. And, as Vernon says, "I am a fisherman and I think I
fished every lake and river in your state many times." What better
qualification to become an honorary South Dakotan for this publication?
Service Record: Corporal Vernon W. Tott served as a radio operator for the 84th
Division "Railsplitters" and had seen 180 consecutive days of
action, including the major battles of Rhineland-Central Europe and the
Ardennes, "Battle of the Bulge." The 84th Division had 1438
killed in action and 5098 wounded in action, most of which were in the
Battle of the Bulge. 70,000 German POWs were captured by the 84th
Division. The weather was cold and there was much snow; the riflemen in
the infantry divisions slept on the cold ground in deep snow and rain.
On April 10, 1945, the 335th Infantry Regiment of the 84th Division, came
upon Hannover-Ahlem, a slave labor camp primarily made up of men and boys
from the liquidated Lodz Ghetto in Poland. A subcamp of Neuengamme,
Hannover-Ahlem was created for the purpose of using Jews as slave labor to
dig tunnels underground and build an underground factory that the American
Air Force couldn't bomb.
I was a radio operator in the Infantry and on April 10, 1945, we
were going to attack Hanover, Germany. Early that morning I was sitting in
my radio jeep with Capt. Reed, at a crossroad, west of Hannover. After the
sun came up we could see down a dirt road that someone was waving to us.
Capt. Reed thought these people might be American POW's so he told me to
drive down to them. A couple truckloads of riflemen came with us. When we
got there we could see that it was a Jewish slave labor camp (Ahlem). What
we saw inside of the camp was Hell on Earth.
My memory of what we saw when we first entered the camp was the
pile of dead bodies. The men alive were in ragged clothing and they were
just skin and bones. They came towards us with smiles on their faces. They
knew their horrible nightmare was finally coming to an end.
We motioned them back as we didn't want them to get too close to
us. We feared they were full of disease and lice. We threw cigarettes and
food rations that we had on the ground in front of them. We could see they
were starving for food. Capt. Reed used my radio to call division
headquarters and told them what we had come across and to send us some
Then we went into one of the barracks. What we saw in there is
something that a person could never forget. There were prisoners laying in
bunks too weak to get up. There were dead bodies in some of the bunks. In
one particular bunk, there was a boy, about fifteen years old, who was
lying in his own vomit, urine, and stool. I could see he was near death.
When he looked at me, I could see he was crying for help. Over the years,
every time I would think about Ahlem, I could still see the look on this
Next, I went into another barracks and it was just as bad as the
first one. There was a prisoner there that could speak English. He told me
he was a doctor from Belgium, and said that this was the infirmary. He
explained that he was the camp doctor. The prisoners here, I could see,
were near death. He had no medicines or bandages to help treat the
prisoners. Then he took me to look out the back window. There were
trashcans full of dead bodies. All skin and bones. What a horrible,
inhuman way to die! Our troop had just come through six months of bloody
battle but what we were seeing here made us sick to our stomachs and some
Our next building was the kitchen. There were two large steam pots
where the food was cooked. This camp had five buildings with an
electrified fence around it. There was no running water and in the middle
of the camp was a trench. It was unbelievable. The prisoners were expected
to straddle it to use as their toilet. The prisoners had diarrhea and no
toilet paper was available. This had to be a very humiliating experience
for these prisoners. The smell was horrendous.
What I saw in this camp was so shocking that I wanted pictures to
send home to show my family. I took eighteen photos of everyone that was
alive in the camp. In the Army, we had no radios or newspapers so I didn't
know Hitler was treating the Jewish people in this manner. After the war
these photos laid in a shoebox, in my basement, for fifty years.
In addition to Hannover-Ahlem, Vernon's division also liberated a
camp in Salzwedel, Germany, where there were 2700 Jewish women [and some
300 non-Jewish women]. Across the highway from the Salzwedel camp were the
Adolph Hitler barracks at a German airfield. General Bolling had us burn
the camp down and we moved all these prisoners into these modern barracks.
Capt. Charles E. Wilson is quoted as saying, "Those people were
starving. After we set up our messes, they fought to get in line. Under
the German system, thirty people were given food for ten and the ten who
fought the hardest stayed alive. We told them that there was enough for
all and that they could have seconds if they wanted. They wouldn't believe
it. After a while, they began to settle down."
Awards: Combat Infantryman Badge
After the War: For some years after the war, Vernon Tott worked as the beef
kill foreman at Swift and Company in Iowa. He and his wife, Betty, have
made their home for many years in Sioux City, Iowa. And, of course, Vernon
is an avid fisherman.
In 1995, Vernon saw an letter of inquiry from Benjamin Sieradzki,
an Ahlem survivor, in his Army newsletter for the veterans of the 84th
Infantry Division. Mr. Sieradzki was looking for the soldier who had taken
the pictures on April 10, 1945. Vernon responded by "going
down to my basement and finding the pictures, from that liberation day,
that had been hidden away for so long." Soon after, he contacted
"I soon called Benjamin and he got very excited and told me
that it was a miracle that he found me after fifty years. I have a picture
of him in this camp which I mailed to him. Benjamin was so thankful to me,
for the copies of these pictures that I felt that I should try and find
more survivors of Ahlem. It's a long story but now I have found
twenty-four survivors of Ahlem and thirteen of these survivors are in my
When studying or reading about the Holocaust, you see pictures and
read about the large death camps. The history of these small slave labor
camps was lost because the SS destroyed all of the records and most of the
camps were burned down soon after liberation to kill the disease and to
avoid an epidemic...
When I heard that tear-jerking speech from Gerda Klein in Des
Moines, and she asked us liberators to please tell our stories of what we
saw in these concentration camps, I went home and put my story and
pictures all together. I have spent hundreds of hours and dollars
enlarging my pictures and making a booklet about what I saw of the
Holocaust. I have told hundreds of people what I saw in the camps and have
talked to many school children and given their school a copy of the book
and pictures I made about it. So I kept my promise to Gerda Klein."
in the Ahlem concentration camp welcome the sight of an American soldier on
April 10, 1945; photo courtesy of Vernon Tott
Two steam pots full of soup for Salzwedel
survivors; photo courtesy of Vernon Tott
of Salwedel line up with bowls; photo courtesy of Vernon Tott
Milberger is in the middle of the picture with a cigarette in his mouth. Moniek
is but one of the survivors of Ahlem who has been in contact with Vernon because
of the photograhs Vernon took at Ahlem. After he received this picture, Moniek
called Vernon and said that he owed him a cigarette. Moniek
came to the United States in 1946 and
attended high school and college in Minnesota before serving in the US
Army from 1953 through 1955, stationed in Germany
In 1955 Moniel moved to Michigan where he has been a CPA for many years.
Below is Moniek Milberger in 1997.