On the Eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Higgins Honors Private First Class Howard Michael Ehrhardt who helped Liberate the Dachau Concentration Camp
On the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) Town of Tonawanda Deputy Supervisor John Bargnesi, Village of Kenmore Mayor Patrick Mang, Tonawanda Councilman Dan Crangle of and other local leaders paid tribute to Howard Michael Ehrhardt, a WWII veteran from Western New York, who helped to liberate Dachau (DAAK-HOW), Hitler’s first and longest run concentration camp in Germany. During a ceremony in Tonawanda Town Hall, Mr. Ehrhardt’s military service medals were presented to his son Howard Michael Ehrhardt, Jr., also a United States Army veteran, who served during the Vietnam War.
“Today we remember the service of World War II veteran Private First Class Howard Michael Ehrhardt and honor his wish to never forget the horrors of the Holocaust,” said Congressman Higgins. “His sacrifice, that of those he liberated and the ultimate sacrifice paid by Holocaust victims and those who fought for their freedom are an urgent reminder of the valuable lessons history holds.”
Town of Tonawanda Supervisor said, “Private First Class Howard Michael Ehrhardt is part of what Tom Brokaw referred to as “The Greatest Generation”. It was through his generation’s perseverance and in particular, Mr. Ehrhardt’s perseverance through very difficult times, that exemplified their extraordinary character. His remarkable actions during liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp, ultimately made the United States a better place in which to live, and for that future generation will be eternally grateful.”
Howard Michael Ehrhardt was born in Buffalo on June 16, 1919 to Elizabeth and Emil Bruno Ehrhardt. He had two siblings: Gene and Bernice. Howard attended Boys Vocational High School in Buffalo. From 1937 to 1944 he was employed by Star Ring Company where he fabricated medal jewelry rings. He prepared wax dyes to duplicate models of rings and early on demonstrated his leadership, supervising a small crew.
He married Delma Theresa Dotzler on March 15, 1944. Just a few months later, on October 11, 1944, he joined the U.S. Army and was assigned to F Company 222nd Infantry Regiment of the 42nd Infantry Division, known as the Rainbow Division.
At just 5 foot 5 inches tall with red hair, Ehrhardt took the fighting skills he was forced to learn in the neighborhood and applied them to combat. A highly skilled rifleman, he used the M-1 rifle during combat and was also trained to operate the heavy machine gun, mortar, bazooka, and a 45 caliber pistol. His color blindness was used as an asset; unit leaders placed him in the front or in the back during patrols because of his keen ability to spot the movement of the enemy.
Ehrhardt shared some of his war stories with his children. During a mission while crossing the Rhine River, PFC Ehrhardt heard someone yell “Red.” Hearing the familiar nickname, he turned his head to see his brother, Gene, who served in the combat engineer division of the U.S. Army, crossing the bridge in the other direction.
During a tough battle in Germany’s Ohlungen forest, Private First Class Ehrhardt’s unit was surrounded by German forces. At risk of capture or death, Ehrhardt was able to turn the tables on the enemy and single handedly captured two German soldiers. A picture of Ehrhardt leading the enemy soldiers out of the forest is featured in a book detailing stories of the 42nd Rainbow Division.
But the most ingrained experience recalled by PFC Ehrhardt was liberation of the Dachau concentration camp by the 42nd Rainbow Division and the 45th Thunderbird Division of the U.S. Army, supported by the 20th Armored Division in April 1945. Located about 10 miles from Munich, Germany, Dachau was the first and longest running concentration camp. Operated by the Nazis for approximately 12 years, the camp held more than 188,000 prisoners and was responsible for the deaths of at least 28,000, but likely many more.
Private First Class Howard Michael Ehrhardt was one of the first to arrive at the Dachau Concentration Camp. Sitting at the main gate was a machine gun nest. PFC Ehrhardt, with aim and might, threw a grenade which landed perfectly in place to free up a path to the main gate of the camp.
While many German SS officers fled when American forces arrived, about a hundred or so remained. Once inside the camp a German officer pointed a gun at PFC Ehrhardt but Ehrhardt was able to aim and fire first.
Lt. Col. Walter Fellenz, 42nd Infantry Division, 7th US Army is quoted recalling the scene inside the Dachau, "Several hundred yards inside the main gate, we encountered the concentration enclosure, itself. There before us, behind an electrically charged, barbed wire fence, stood a mass of cheering, half-mad men, women and children, waving and shouting with happiness - their liberators had come! The noise was beyond comprehension! Every individual (over 32,000) who could utter a sound, was cheering. Our hearts wept as we saw the tears of happiness fall from their cheeks."
Today there is a plaque on the Dachau concentration camp commemorating the liberation of the camp by the Rainbow Division. The plaque reads: “In Honor of 42nd Rainbow Division and other U.S. 7th Army liberators of Dachau Concentration Camp April 29, 1945 in everlasting memory of the victims of Nazi barbarism, this tablet is dedicated May 3rd, 1992.”
Private First Class Howard Michael Ehrhardt told his son that he marched underneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, surrounded by the people of France celebrating the victory.
PFC Ehrhardt was honorably discharged from the United States Army on July 13, 1946. After the war, he worked for Bond Bread Company for 25 years and was later employed at Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo until he retired. Howard and his wife Delma had 4 children: Howard, Kathy, Donna, and Dawn who gave them 8 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Howard Michael Ehrhardt passed away on September 16, 1991 but his son will never forget what his dad said a week before he passed away. “Do not ever let anything like the Holocaust ever happen again,” instructed the brave WWII hero who saw the human devastation with his own eyes.
Howard Michael Ehrhardt, Jr. reached out to Congressman Higgins’ office in an effort to get a full set of his father’s military service medals. Following in the footsteps of his father, Ehrhardt Jr. also fought for our country. In October 1965, at the young age of 19, he was called to active duty by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He served as a Specialist 4 in the 565th Transportation Co., 10th Battalion from 1966 to 1967. In the early 1990’s he was a Commander of VFW Post 463 in Depew, NY. Ehrhardt, Jr. currently lives in Kenmore, is a proud member of the Vietnam Veterans of America - Chapter 77 Western N.Y and volunteered at the VA Hospital for many years.
The following medals were presented to the Ehrhardt family in honor of the valiant service of Private First Class Howard Michael Ehrhardt during WWII:
- Marksman Badge and Rifle Bar: earned by soldiers who qualify as a marksman during rifle training
- Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII: awarded to those who were discharged under honorable conditions during World War II
- Combat Infantryman Badge 1st Award: awarded to an infantryman who personally fought in active ground combat while assigned as members of an infantry
- Army of Occupation Medal and Germany Clasp: recognizes those who performed occupation service in Germany
- World War II Victory Medal: awarded for service in U.S. Armed Forces between 1941 and 1946
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Two Bronze Service Stars: awarded for serving during WWII in the European Theater, including North Africa and the Middle East. The bronze stars represent participation in various campaigns.
- Bronze Star Medal: Awarded for acts of meritorious service in a combat zone. The Bronze Star is the fourth highest individual award bestowed by the U.S. military.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the date that Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp was liberated. Approximately 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust.