It has been six-plus decades since Dwain “Mike” Mitchell experienced the Nazi death camps in Germany, but today, after a long silence, he is speaking out as a witness.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who later became president of the United States, ordered Mitchell and the other men in the Armed Forces to view the camps because he thought there would be a time when people wouldn’t believe what had happened to the Jewish people. For nearly 60 years, Mitchell held what he had witnessed inside, but he recently opened up to The Telegraph.

“General Eisenhower’s idea was to get as many witnesses as possible to the Holocaust camps because he thought the time would come when it was all denied, just as it is now,” said Mitchell, who grew up in Palmyra. “In fact, in Britain, they have taken it out of the schools. I still think people need to be reminded that this could happen anywhere, including here.”

A trip to the Holocaust Memorial in St. Louis a few years ago spurred Mitchell to start talking about the death camps. When he visited the memorial, he ran across a photo on the wall, and he told his wife, Ruthie, that he might well be in that picture because he was there. When the two looked closer, sure enough, Dwain was in the photo, standing with his arms folded, in the company of Gens. Eisenhower, George Patton and Omar Bradley. The photo was taken in April 1945 at the concentration camp in Ohrdruf, Germany.

“Many of the inmates at the camps were just skin and bones, no clothes, very little hair left,” Mitchell said. “The thing that stands out was all the bodies on the ground and the stench of the whole area. The whole area was permeated with that smell. In some cases, the bodies had been lying around in a gas chamber and not buried or cremated. Ohrdruf was the worst camp I saw, and I saw at least five camps.”

In the photo that shows Mitchell with the generals at Ohrdruf, he said it is simple to understand what is going on. The generals and the other men were simply witnessing one of the most horrible crimes of the century in the camps.

“Local mayors and aldermen also had to look and ended up helping do the burials of the people,” Mitchell said. “They made the townspeople make mass graves. Every one of those people had a tattoo number on them.”

Today, Mitchell is 87 years old and lives in Taylorville. He retired after 39 years with the Christian County Highway Department, ultimately working as a highway engineer.

Mitchell was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and served in the 102nd Infantry Division.

Another vivid memory for Mitchell is an argument between British Gen. Bernard Montgomery and the U.S. 9th Army. Montgomery insisted the troops quit doing what they were doing and work for his transport. At that point, the U.S. Army manned roadblocks and checks for people coming into Germany.

“I remember the poor Poles and Russians coming in,” the Palmyra native recalled. “They were field laborers. I will never forget our checkpoint there; we stripped men, women of whatever they had. We put them through our showers and deloused them and things like that. I often think of the humiliation that would have been for me and my family. Of course, they had been through everything.”

Another time, Mitchell remembers some Army cooks wanting to get involved and earn combat pay. Both of those men were wounded by shrapnel. The veteran said that opened his eyes to the importance of being safe in combat and adhering to rules.

“In that area, it was almost impossible to take a step without getting into something,” he said.

Dwain and Ruthie have a daughter, Carolyn, and son, Roger, and several relatives who live in the Alton area, including Mark Hines of East Alton, his nephew, who brought Dwain’s story to The Telegraph.

Mitchell seems glad that he finally is speaking out about the injustices that occurred in Germany and around Europe during World War II.

“I would like people to know the inhumanity of man to man that happened,” he said.