Real-life Band of Brothers colonel Edward Shames thought he’d seen all the horrors of war — until he stepped into Dachau, Nazi Germany’s oldest concentration camp, in April 1945.
For nearly 67 years, he’s refused to speak with anyone about the terrors he witnessed there, including his own family and closest friends.
But the World War II veteran will recount his untold story Tuesday evening in Chandler, in commemoration of Yom Ha’Shoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, and in support of the East Valley Jewish Community Center’s efforts to bring a Holocaust and tolerance museum to the city.
“I witnessed something that no other human being should witness,” Shames, 89, says.
The abominable sights and smells from the camp haunt him nightly.
“I don’t know how, but I’m just going to tell them like it is,” says Shames, unsure of how the crowd will receive his story. He sometimes questions the reality of it himself.
Time to talk
As a member of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), and later Easy Company — the unit made famous by the 2001 HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers,” Shames has spoken to numerous crowds about his battle experiences.
He’s turned down many local, national and international organizations for the chance to tell his Dachau story.
Why drop the heavy baggage he’s been carrying since the camp’s liberation now in Chandler?
A good friend, Gilbert’s Beth Archer, asked him to.
“It went like this,” says Shames, who lives in Virginia.
“Archer says ‘I’m here in Phoenix, and I have a question for you.’ (The Archer family) has always been very wonderful to me, so I said, ‘Shoot.’
“‘I understand that you were one of the first American officers in Dachau?’ After I caught my breath, I said ‘Yes, but what’s it to you?’
“She told me that she had been working with the (East Valley Jewish Community Center), and I told her that ‘I do not talk about that.’”
That night, Shames received a pop-up link on his computer. He followed it to an article about Arthur Jones, an Illinois congressional candidate purported to be a member of the neo-Nazi party, white supremacist and anti-Semite, he says.
Appalled, the Jewish American veteran picked up his phone, dialed Archer and said, “What do you want me to do?”
Before Shames speaks on Tuesday, the audience will have the opportunity to see a Holocaust-era rail car from Macedonia. It is the type and kind that Nazis used to transport Holocaust victims, according to EVJCC spokeswoman Courtney Griggs.
The 11-ton, 33-foot long rail car has traveled about 11,000 miles to become a permanent exhibit at the not-yet-constructed Holocaust museum.
“It is a symbol of the terror of the time,” Griggs says.
The rail car will be on display at 4:30 p.m. in the parking lot at Chandler Center for the Arts.
“We wanted to give the community a chance to see the car before putting it into storage,” where it will remain until the museum’s opening, Griggs says.
The rail car exhibit and Shames’ presentation have been named a Chandler Centennial event, Griggs says. It is hosted by the EVJCC in commemoration of Yom Ha’Shoah.
The mayor, members of the City Council and Shames’ grandson and nephew are expected to attend Tuesday’s event.
During his visit, Shames will participate in a book signing for “Tonight We Die As Men: The Untold Story of Third Battalion 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment from Toccoa to D-Day,” for which he authored the forward. He’ll also speak at Chandler Unified Schools.
With about seven original Easy Company members left, Griggs says it is important to “preserve their memory for future generations.”
“Thank God for people like Col. Shames,” she says.
The EVJCC Holocaust and tolerance museum plans were announced in November 2009. Griggs predicts construction plans to be finalized in a “few years.” An architect has been chosen, and the City of Chandler has promised $2 million for infrastructure improvements.
The museum will be built on four and a half acres located next to the Community Center at 908 N. Alma School Road. The EVJCC is waiting for additional funding to break ground.
• Angela, a senior studying journalism at Arizona State University, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org