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Mittelbau Dora Concentration Camp
The Story of the liberator who found the prisoners of Mittelbau
Dora Concentration Camp and called the troops to Nordhausen
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During World War II, Mittelbau Dora Concentration Camp housed the most top-secret factory in Germany. The Mittelwerk! Deep in a labyrinth of dark underground caves running through the Harz Mountains, emaciated slave laborers from Buchenwald and other camps worked under the lash of brutal Nazi guards, struggling to manufacture the world's first ballistic missile---a weapon for which the world had no defense!

By April 9, 1945, the Nazis had locked the prisoners inside the camp with no food or water. Having given up the hope of being rescued, they dragged themselves to the infirmary to die. The Journey of Private Galione is a compelling historical account that reveals how a single soldier on a lone mission:
Discovered Dora-Mittelbau and its prisoners

Caused the discovery of Nordhausen, Buchenwald, and others

Beat the Russians to the world's greatest missile technology

Changed world history
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The updated and abridged version of The Journey of Private Galione is now available as an e-book. To purchase the e-book through PayPal, click on the Buy Now button. The e-book will be e-mailed to you within 24 hours of your purchase.
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April 4 to 5, 1945: It was about 3 a.m. We smelled an odor. I said, "Hey Sarge, what do you think that odor could be? I get a bad feeling with it." He said there was a rumor that there might be a labor camp in the area where Nazis are keeping prisoners. See, the rumor came from the Russians who had found a camp a few weeks earlier. Something was telling me that the odor had something to do with the prisoners, that they were somehow connected.

I asked for permission to go in and get the people out. I wanted to go in with the three or four guys I always hung with. There were actually five of us, but three of us were always together. We watched each other's back and we had been good together in battle. We trusted each other. The sarge said, "It's too dangerous. This would not be enough men to send in, and we don't even know where the Nazis are keeping the prisoners."

I don't know what it was, but for some reason I couldn't let it go. Throughout the day I tried to forget it, but as the day wore on something kept driving me to investigate and pursue it. Something kept nagging me.

Those who were still alive by April 4 felt lucky to have made it this far in the war. Some of them had families to return home to. They were tired of taking risks. I know, because I felt the same way they did. I had a daughter to return home to and I was tired, but something kept driving me to find the prisoners. I just had a gut feeling something horrible was going on. Only one guy would discuss it with me and he was my good friend, too. (Dad smiled.) So, we put our heads together.

"If only we could find out how the Nazis are bringing the prisoners in we could intercept them, hold them at gunpoint, and force them to bring us to their camp," I said. We asked ourselves, "What would be the best way for the Nazis to sneak large numbers of people through the neighborhoods and into the camp without being seen?"

THE TRAINS! We figured they must have been bringing them in on the trains! All that day, something kept nagging me, telling me to go, to follow the trains. By the end of the day, the feeling was so strong I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep that night and it was getting near time to turn in. I thought, "If I could find the camp during the night while everybody's sleeping, I could bring back this information for the sarge by morning. If I can locate the camp, then maybe he will agree to send us in to get the people out." I couldn't shake the feeling that if there were prisoners, the Germans were most likely torturing them or something along those lines.

Hey, if I were prisoner of the Nazis I'd want somebody to come looking for me. So, when all the soldiers were getting into their sleeping bags that night, I left to follow the trains. It was about nine or nine thirty at night when I left.

See, I was fairly certain that we were right about the Nazis using the trains to transport the prisoners. So, I had planned to jump the train and intercept the Nazi guards as they transport the prisoners to the camp. I knew the Germans would use two guards at the most for this task, and I knew I could handle that by myself. I had taken several Nazis prisoner a few weeks earlier. (February 23 - Roer River) I had planned to put a gun to the guard's head. Nobody wants to die. With his life at stake, I knew he would take me to the camp. Even if he was with a partner, I knew he wouldn't want him to die.

I walked and walked all night. The hours were passing. I was exhausted because we had just gotten in from all those miles. My legs were tired, weak, and the wound on my leg was raw. My boot kept digging in. I had to put something in there to cushion it, to keep it from hurting. When I saw that there had been no activity by the trains all night, I was beginning to think my gut feeling was wrong.

But when I started to think about turning around, something overpowering came over me. I don't know what it was. My legs just kept walking. It was like somebody was pushing me from behind. It was strong. I turned around to see who pushed me, but nobody was there. I thought it was my buddy. I thought he had changed his mind and decided to go with me. I knew it wasn't a German soldier. A German soldier wouldn't have pushed me first; he would have just shot me from behind. It was like somebody had shoved me, grabbed me at the elbows and pushed me forward. I don't even know where my energy was coming from. My legs were tired, but something was making me walk, telling me to keep following the trains; and somehow it gave me the strength to keep going.

As I walked, I wondered what kind of trouble I could be in if I didn't turn around and return by morning. But something kept telling me to keep following the trains. The feeling was so strong I just couldn't shake it.


April 10, 1945: I followed the trains all the way down, for miles, and found a train car filled with dead bodies. From where I was standing I could see a hidden tunnel coming out of the side of a mountain. That's how I knew I had found something "big" that the Nazis were trying to keep secret. I knew there was a reason the Germans would go through the trouble of building an entrance hidden inside a mountain.

While I was investigating the tunnel and the bodies, trying to find some kind of identification underneath the bodies-a patch, a uniform, anything that would tell me whether they were the bodies of Russians, Germans, or American soldiers-I was spotted by a German guard who looked like he was leaving. I had seen him before, packing supplies in boxes on top of his truck. I was trying to be quiet as I used my gun to move the bodies, to lift their arms and legs, hoping to find some kind of clue underneath the bodies that would tell me who these people were.

But my legs were weak and wobbly from walking for days with no sleep. When I leaned over I lost my footing. My gun hit the side [of the train car] and my ammo clip fell off and made a noise. If I hadn't been so tired, I would have been more careful. It would have never happened.

He heard me and came running over. I was shot at and took cover over top of the tunnel, around where the trains would run. This is where it would have been good to have a soldier to cover me. It was hard getting up there. It took me a while to climb up. I could have easily been killed on the way up. I don't know how he missed me. Bullets were flying past me on both sides. A couple of 'em whizzed right by my ear! We shot back and forth for a while, but he seemed to let me go. He was in a hurry to get out of there. I don't think the Germans wanted to die this late in the war either. But, for a moment, I didn't think I'd make it out of there.

I was standing in front of a gate that was locked with a strong lock. That's how the Nazis would do it when they'd keep you prisoner. I had seen this before when we freed our own men. They'd put you behind a gate, lock you in with a strong lock, and assign a couple of guards to watch the gate. That's all. I figured this might be the camp where the Nazis are keeping the prisoners, but I needed to get inside to investigate further.

I was there for a while trying to break the lock, but I didn't want to stay there too long with no soldier to cover me and no jeep to escape with. I had seen some of the prisoners standing there watching me from behind a building. They were just standing there, watching me. But because I wasn't sure of who they were or what was going on-and I didn't know if there were any more German guards around-I didn't want to stay there. It was a bad spot. There was nowhere to run. On one side was a mountain and on the other side was an open field. I had already tried climbing the mountain and I didn't do too good with that. I was almost killed. To stay there would have made me like a sitting duck. There was nowhere for me to take cover.

I wasn't only worried about dying for myself, but now I had information that I could die with. In war, you have to think that way. I had to stay alive so I could pass on what I had discovered, especially because I had found the prisoners. What good would I be to the prisoners if I am shot and killed right there by the gate? Then, no one would have ever found them. The camp was in such a hidden place, and our soldiers were not in position to advance upon the camp.

While I was at the gate trying to twist the lock with my gun, I had remembered passing American soldiers of another group during my walk up. I had seen where they were camped out from afar off. So, I decided to walk back to where they were to see if I could obtain at least a jeep, but a soldier would be better.

(Galione had followed the trains from the evening of April 5 until he found the prisoners of Camp Dora on April 10.)

I hadn't had any sleep in all that time. See, there were thick woods above the tunnel, so I went deep into the woods to find a safe place where I could get a couple hours rest before having to walk again. It was about five thirty when I found a spot where I thought it would be safe for me to rest. I was exhausted, weak. I had walked almost five days with no sleep. When I woke up, the timing was perfect for me to continue walking in the dark. That way, you can travel faster and without being seen.

I started to walk in the direction where I had remembered seeing the soldiers. It was a miracle! On the way, I spotted a soldier with a jeep broke down on the side of the road. There were two soldiers (from the 929) with the jeep . . . it was like a plum waiting to be picked.

I told the soldier that I had found something "big" that the Nazis were doing, but that I wasn't exactly sure of what it was. I told him that if he would let me use the jeep and come with me to help break the lock on the gate that I would fix the jeep for him . . .. I told him I had found a train car filled with dead bodies and that we had to find out whether they were the bodies of Russians, Germans, or our own American soldiers.

The soldier agreed, but first he wanted to go back and ask his commander for permission. I fixed the jeep and we drove back to tell his commander what I had found, and to ask permission for the soldiers to come back with me and help me break the lock. But when the commander heard about what I had found, he wanted to go himself and he wanted to pick up another buddy of his. So, we went to pick him up. Then, I led them to the camp.


April 11: There were three of us that night who went to break the lock on the gate, but one sat in the jeep keeping watch. We worked on the lock just a little while and then it opened. We started to drive into the camp, slowly at first, while looking around. The sun had not yet come up, but the glow of the sun was just starting to light the earth to where we could begin to see a little more of what was in the camp. (Dad's eyes opened wide as he remembered the first glow of sun bringing to light a multitude of emaciated corpses lying throughout the camp.)

What we saw in there was like something out of a horror movie! There were dead bodies, but their bodies were not normal; they were gray in color and they looked like skeletons wrapped in skin. Some of them were so thin you could see their backbones through their stomachs. Then, somebody who looked like he was in a horror movie ran up to us pointing to one of the buildings and saying something like, "There are people in here." The soldier in the jeep could speak his language, so he interpreted what he said for me.

(The prisoner pointed to the infirmary where sick prisoners of Dora lay dying of starvation. The jeep driver pulled his jeep up close to the infirmary door and with one foot inside the building he peaked inside and saw the frightening sight of about one hundred living skeletons wrapped in skin too weak to move and barely breathing. Horrified, they drove away from the infirmary and were struck by fear and terror unmatched by any they had ever faced in war as they came upon the horrifying sight of a pile of twisted corpses stacked high in a corner of the camp.)

We came to a point where we were approaching a corner and would have to turn the jeep around. We were so frightened by what we saw in there that we put the jeep in reverse and drove out backwards real fast! The guy who was driving the jeep didn't even want to take the time to turn the jeep around until we got out of there, to where the road was. That's how frightened we were that we might be captured. We just wanted to get the hell out of there. We didn't know what was going on in there and we didn't want to end up like the people we saw. The German guards had abandoned the prisoners, but we didn't know that at the time. To be safe we wanted to bring in more men.

I didn't have to walk all the way back. (Dad smiled big.) The soldiers drove me back to my sergeant. It took us about two and a half to two and three quarter hours to drive back by jeep. That means I had walked over a hundred miles while I was searching for the camp. I told the sergeant I had located the camp. I told him all about what I had found: the bodies, the prisoners, everything. (Fearing ambush, the sergeant was reluctant to go.)

"We have to go!" I said. "We'll go in from another direction, but we have to go! The people who are still alive in the camp are in bad shape. They're barely breathing. They're on their last leg. They might only have a day or two left to live. I found a train car filled with dead people that stink to high heaven and they don't have uniforms on. We have to find out who these people are! For all we know, they could be our own American boys!"

I was thrilled! The next day they sent us in to rescue the people. I couldn't believe it. I had originally asked permission for the three of us to go in and rescue and they sent in a whole gang of us! They pulled men from different areas: tanks, medical teams, the Red Cross, the 414th . . . I was so happy! I couldn't have asked for anything better! I was just so happy we were going in to rescue. The people were in such bad shape. I don't think they had another day left to live.


The sarge asked me to radio the Third Armored Division to give them directions to Camp Dora. See, the Third Armored would support us at various times in the war. They were closer to the camp than we were, and they would be coming in from another direction. This was good, because the main reason we called in the Third Armored was to protect us from ambush; since the German guard had seen me they would know we were coming. Our plan was to send the Third Armored to the camp first, before we, the Timberwolves, arrive. That way they could take care of any Germans that might have set up an ambush for us. It was important that we wait until they get there first.

I radioed Combat B of the Third Armored at about eleven thirty in the morning. I called Taskforce Lovelady. Taskforce Lovelady and Taskforce Wellborn were both under Combat Command Boudinot. I radioed [104th attachments] too. The sarge called the medical teams. I believe he called Colonel Taggart. I told the Third Armored about the camp and the prisoners, but I was so exhausted from the whole ordeal; I didn't go into detail about the hidden tunnel. I just told them to "divert" to the Nordhausen area where they would find "something unique" that the Germans had done. I figured if they followed my directions they would find it. But when I gave the Third Armored directions to Camp Dora, I failed to consider the direction they would be coming from. After all, I didn't take the road; I traveled through the woods. I was tired and forgot to tell them about the curve in the road. But this was meant to be because it caused a miracle.

As they went down the road [following my directions] they missed Camp Dora all together. Instead, they got lost in the tunnels and found about four or five hundred more dying prisoners at a second camp a few miles from Dora called, Camp Nordhausen. There were probably about four hundred and fifty. The real name of that camp was strange; it was Boelcke-Kaserne. That camp was even worse than the one I found. There were children in there and everything. They found the bones of babies and very small children that had been burned. It was so horrible; I don't even want to go into it.


Early the next morning Taskforce Kelleher pulled up [to our encampment]. See, they were of the 414th and I was of the 415th. We were all of the same Infantry Division, but of a different Regiment. They came in the middle of the night, while it was still dark. The sarge asked me to lead them to the camp. He asked me to go because I had found the camp and would know how to get there from where we were. He didn't want to take a chance of them getting lost. Because it was near the end of the war, he didn't want to be responsible for anything bad that might happen to them. Also, time had passed. The people in the camp didn't have long to live. I was glad he asked me to go.


We thought nothing could hurt us. We were hard from war. But when we walked in there, we couldn't help getting choked up. I had been there before, so I knew what to expect. But some of the soldiers cried and some of them got sick to their stomachs. You know, they turned aside and threw up by the fence. There were dead bodies piled up. The smell was so bad . . . like nothing you can imagine. We couldn't believe any human being could be so cruel.

The people were so happy to see us. They were tugging our clothes, feeling our uniforms between their fingers like they were gold. They just wanted to touch us. They were thanking us, hugging us; some of them were even putting their hands together and thanking God over and over again. They were so happy to see us. I imagine we were an answer to their prayers.

They looked like the walking dead. They were skin and bones. That's all. No meat. Their faces were sunken like skeletons. They were so weak we had to carry them out. Some of them were so weak they didn't even get to see their own rescue, their own liberation. They died before getting out the gate.


We had to get food into them right away. I felt so sorry for the way the people had been treated. When we kids were sick my mother always made us homemade chicken soup, but there were hundreds of starving people. We would need too many chickens to get enough meat to feed them and it would take too long to prepare that many chickens. So, I ran to a nearby farm that I had remembered passing in the days before the rescue, when I was looking for the camp. I had remembered seeing two pigs behind a fence. I chose the pigs because they would be the fastest and easiest to slaughter for the most amount of meat.

There was a wealthy German woman sitting up on her horse. I let her know I wanted to kill the two pigs that were behind her. I pointed at them with my gun. She refused in German. I pointed my gun at her horse, letting her know that I would kill the horse if she didn't let me have those pigs. Speaking in German, I told her to do it "NOW! Raus! Schnell!" You do what you have to do in war. I was prepared to take her out if I had to. She was one life, but hundreds were dying at the camp.

She only spoke German, but she understood my gun. We butchered them right there in her kitchen, with my gun on the counter by the sink. I had other weapons hanging off my body. I knew she wouldn't make trouble with a fully armed soldier. I wrapped up the meat and took the bread off her table. I packed some fresh potatoes and whatever food I could carry on my back and we made like a soup for them because they were too weak to eat. We had seen a cauldron next to some black, rotten potatoes. We realized the Nazis had been feeding that to the prisoners. "The Nazis are the cruelest people that ever lived," I thought. "After seeing what they did to these people, you know there is a devil!"

"I remember those poor people and the terrible shape they were in, and I wonder how many of them lived and if they were ever able to live normal lives, after all they had been through.

(As for the thousands of prisoners who died, there were so many bodies in the camp, it took days to bury them. German citizens were held at gunpoint to execute this task.)

"When it was all over," Dad said solemnly, "me and a handful of soldiers stood over their graves crying. We did that to give them a moment of honor, because we felt so sorry for the way they had died."
The prisoners were close to my father's heart for many years. Before he died he asked me to tell them the story behind their rescue, along with an important message. "Tell them my story, Mary," he said. "It will be the only good they'll have to think about when the dreadful name of Dora is mentioned."

After five years of writing, "The Journey of Private Galione" is finally in print. The above account is a small part of a compelling story which details the life experiences that gave John Galione the courage and strength to engage in the scouting mission that saved thousands and changed world history.
Order the Book:
The updated and abridged version of The Journey of Private Galione is now available as an e-book. To purchase the e-book through PayPal, click on the Buy Now button. The e-book will be e-mailed to you within 24 hours of your purchase.
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