If you want to do a google search to find the stories, told by American soldiers, about seeing the Nazi concentration camps in World War II, just search on “bodies stacked like cordwood.” Without exception, every single soldier who saw Dachau or Buchenwald or Ohrdruf or Mauthausen reported that he saw the horror of “bodies stacked like cordwood.”
Back in those days, everyone knew what the word cordwood meant. Cordwood is not a type of wood; it refers to a measurement. A cord of wood is a stack of four-foot logs with a specific height and width. In the old days, a “cord of wood” was something that you purchased, if you didn’t have trees on your own property that you could cut down. In my home town, most people had a cord of wood on their back porch, ready to be used in the wood-burning pot-belly stove in their “front room.”
So what does this have to do with anything? To me, the use of the phrase “stacked like cordwood” is significant because it shows that the typical American soldier in World War II was from a small town or a farm, and was not overly sophisticated. When the soldiers saw the dead bodies in the concentration camps “stacked like cordwood,” their first thought was “how can human beings do this to other human beings?” They just naturally assumed that the prisoners had been starved to death or killed in a gas chamber.
The photos above show what the American soldiers saw. After visiting the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald on April 12, 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered that as many American soldiers as possible should be brought from the battlefield in trucks and shown the bodies in the nearest concentration camp. The bodies were left out for weeks so that thousands of soldiers could have a chance to view them. As more prisoners died after the camps were liberated, their bodies were added to the piles.
What was the purpose of bringing soldiers from the battlefield to see dead bodies? As General Eisenhower famously said: “The American soldiers didn’t know what they were fighting for, but after seeing the concentration camps, they knew what they were fighting against.”
No explanation of how these prisoners had died was given to the American soldiers. The soldiers were 18 and 19-year-old boys from small town America. It never occurred to them that there was a typhus epidemic going on in Germany during the last days of World War II and of course, they were not told that these prisoners had died of typhus. The American soldiers had been vaccinated, so they didn’t have to worry about typhus. Typhus had been completely wiped out long ago in America by the use of vaccines.
In World War I, four million people died of typhus — and that was just in Poland. During World War II, the Germans knew of the danger of a typhus epidemic and that’s why they used tons of Zyklon-B to kill the lice that spreads typhus. But as the war progressed and Germany was losing, there was such chaos that the epidemic of typhus could not be controlled. The American liberators finally stopped the epidemic with DDT and typhus vaccine, which the Germans didn’t have.
As far as I know, not one American soldier ever asked the liberated prisoners, “What’s going on here? How did these people die?” The soldiers had been shown propaganda films before going overseas, so they knew that the German people were evil. They had been warned not to be fooled by the friendly, fun-loving Germans in their Lederhosen and dirndls; they had been thoroughly indoctrinated in hatred for the German people. After the war, the soldiers were ordered not to fraternize with the Germans, and most of them returned to America without ever having the opportunity to learn the truth.
Today, these World War II veterans speak to school children in the classroom, telling their stories of how they liberated Dachau or Buchenwald and saw the “bodies stacked like cordwood.” Sometimes, they tell the children about how they saw human soap or human lampshades or gas chambers.