Clarice Wilsey was 6 years old, helping to unpack boxes as her family moved from one part of Spokane to another, when she found a stack of horrific photographs her father had taken as one of the doctors who treated the survivors in Dachau concentration camp.
Her father, Capt. David Wilsey, got upset and told her little girls should not see such things. He never talked about his time in the war or the weeks he spent at Dachau.
“Those pictures were always in my mind throughout my life,” Clarice Wilsey said Friday morning, while speaking at Gonzaga University. “I kept looking for these pictures and I never forgot them. They were so profound to me. I mean, they were just buried into my soul.”
After her parents died, Wilsey discovered the photos and a cache of “pristinely” preserved letters her father had written to her mother. In 2020, Wilsey’s book “Letters from Dachau: A Father’s Witness of War, a Daughter’s Dream of Peace,” was published, chronicling her journey discovering the letters, preserving them and speaking to groups across the West Coast on the importance of preventing another hate-filled period like the Holocaust.
Wilsey spoke to nearly 30 members of the Greater Gonzaga Guild Friday morning before the group toured the ongoing exhibit “Americans and the Holocaust” in the Foley Library. The exhibit is set to close Oct. 7.
Wilsey’s father only spoke of his service in World War II when someone on television would deny the Holocaust. After his death, Wilsey’s mother continued the couple’s code of silence, even when Wilsey stumbled upon footage of her father at Dachau when she visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
After her mother’s death, Wilsey and her siblings cleaned out the family home. Still, she didn’t discover the letters until months later when she was clearing out boxes she had hauled back from Spokane to her home in Eugene, Oregon.
That’s when Wilsey discovered her father had written her mother once a day, sometimes twice, the entire time he was overseas. That trend continued when he entered Dachau on May 2, 1945, with the 27 other physicians in the 116th Evacuation Hospital, Wilsey said.
In the letters, her father detailed the condition of both the camp and the people in it, referring to the camp as “D.D.” code for “dastardly Dachau.”
“The atrocity reports are true and more,” he wrote in one letter.
While at Dachau, Wilsey’s father would monitor seven patients at a time in his role as anesthesiologist. He oversaw more than 5,000 surgeries and received a bronze star for his efforts. Along with the letters, Wilsey found that bronze star and the dozens of photographs she last saw as a curious 6-year-old.
Now retired, Wilsey wrote about her father’s experience and continues sharing the horrors of the Holocaust with new generations, speaking at schools, libraries and events.
“We have to do something about the hate that is going on in our world,” Wilsey said.
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