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December 2, 2011

New book by Michael Hirsh about the American Liberators of the Nazi concentration camps

Filed under: Buchenwald, Dachau, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 2:02 pm

One of the regular readers of this blog recommended a new book, written by Michael Hirsh, which you can download here.  The cover of the book has a photo of the Allach sub-camp of Dachau which was liberated by American troops on April 30, 1945, the next day after the main Dachau camp was liberated.

The liberation of Allach, a sub-camp of the Dachau concentration camp

Allach was near the city of Munich; it was located approximately 10 miles from the main Dachau camp. According to Marcus J. Smith, who wrote Dachau: The Harrowing of Hell, the Allach camp was divided into two enclosures, one for 3,000 Jewish inmates and the other for 6,000 non-Jewish prisoners. Smith was a doctor in the US military, assigned to take over the care of the prisoners after the liberation. He wrote that the typhus epidemic had not reached Allach until April 22, 1945, about a week before the camp was liberated.

At the main Dachau camp, prisoners were dying at the rate of 400 a day during the typhus epidemic which started there way back in December 1944.  The prisoners at Allach were still relatively healthy, as the photo below shows.

Survivors of the Allach sub-camp of Dachau (Click on the Photo to enlarge)

Why did the author of the book entitled The Liberators — America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust choose a photo of Allach for the cover?  There were virtually no atrocities committed there and the survivors were in relatively good condition.  There were no “bodies stacked like cordwood.”  The only reason that I can think of is that the photo shows an American flag flying and a person of color in the foreground.

The book mentions the Nordhausen camp where thousands of dead bodies were found.  The photo below was taken at Nordhausen, which was a sub-camp of Buchenwald.

Bodies of Nordhausen prisoners killed by Allied bombs

The photo above shows the bodies of prisoners at Nordhausen who were killed by Allied bombs when the factories located there were bombed.

The book mentions Don Timmer who was an interpreter for General Eisenhower when he visited Ohrdruf, another sub-camp of Buchenwald, which was the one and only camp that Eisenhower ever saw.

This quote from the book is about Don Timmer:

Private Don Timmer, a nineteen-year-old kid from Mansfield, Ohio, had just arrived at Ohrdruf with the 714 Ordnance Company of the 89th Infantry Division.  Because he’d had two years of high school German, he’d been interpreting for his unit.  On the first nice day of sping, they’d driven from Gotha through the town of Ohrdruf, and he remembers that the German civilians had hung white sheet of surrender in their windows.  He also recalls a German plane flying low other their small convoy but not strafing them.

As Eisenhower came into the camp, Timmer was told that the general’s interpreter was on a plane that had not yet arrived.  Timmer would have to do the job.  “I said to him, ‘General, I’m not that good at German.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry, I know German, but I need time to formulate my responses.’”

Several years ago, Mary Liethan sent me copies of some of the letters that her uncle wrote home to his family during World War II.  Her uncle was Captain Alois Liethen from Appleton, WI. Captain Liethen was an interpreter and an interrogator in the XX Corp, G-2 Section of the US Third Army. On 13 April 1945, the day after General Eisenhower visited Ohrdruf, Captain Liethan wrote a letter home to his family about his initial discovery at Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald. Although Buchenwald was more important and had more evidence of Nazi atrocities, it was due to the information uncovered by Captain Liethen at Ohrdruf that General Eisenhower visited the Ohrdruf sub-camp instead.

General Eisenhower listens to his interpreter, Alois Liethan

The photo above shows General Dwight D. Eisenhower viewing the gallows at Ohrdruf. Standing to the left of the general, and partially hidden by a pole, is Captain Alois Liethen, who was General Eisenhower’s interpreter. The two men on Eisenhower’s right are survivors who are explaining the atrocities committed in the camp. The man on the far left, wearing a jacket and a scarf, is one of the survivors who served as a guide for General Eisenhower and his entourage.

The following is a quote from Captain Alois Liethan’s letter to his family, dated April 13, 1945, in which Captain Liethen explains how the visit by the generals, shown in the photo above, came about:

Several days ago I heard about the American forces taking a real honest to goodness concentration camp and I made it a point to get there and see the thing first hand as well as to investigate the thing and get the real story just as I did in the case of the Prisoner of War camp which I described in my last letter. This camp was near the little city of OHRDRUF not far from GOTHA, and tho it was just a small place — about 7 to 10000 inmates it was considered as one of the better types of such camps. After looking the place over for nearly a whole day I came back and made an oral report to my commanding general — rather I was ordered to do so by my boss, the Col. in my section. Then after I had told him all about the place he got in touch with the High Command and told them about it and the following tale bears out what they did about it.

The photograph below was contributed by Mary Liethen Meier, the niece of Captain Liethen. The man standing next to General Eisenhower, and pointing to the prisoner demonstrating how the inmates were punished at Ohrdruf, is Alois Liethen, her uncle. Left to right, the men in the front row are Lt. General George S. Patton, Third U.S. Army Commander; General Omar N. Bradley, Twelfth Army group commander; and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander. This photo was published in an American newspaper above a headline which read: U.S. GENERALS SEE A “TORTURE” DEMONSTRATION

Captain Alois Liethan on the far right; General Eisenhower in the center  Photo taken at Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald

Captain Liethen’s letter, dated 13 April 1945, continues as follows:

Yesterday I had the honor of being the interpreter for such honorable gentlemen as Gen EISENHOWER, Gen BRADLEY, Gen PATTON and several lesser general officers, all in all there were 21 stars present, Eisenhower with 5, Bradley with 4, Patton 3, my own commanding general with 2 and there were several others of this grade as well as several one star generals. Since I had made the investigation with some of the men who had escaped from the place the day that we captured it I was more or less the conductor of the tour for this famous party. There were batteries of cameras that took pictures of us as we went about the whole place and as I made several demonstrations for them — hell I felt like Garbo getting of (sic) a train in Chicago.

Hirsch’s book also mentions Melvin Waters, a 4-F volunteer civilian ambulance driver, who recalls that a woman at Bergen-Belsen “fought us like a cat because she thought we were taking her to the crematory.” I googled Melvin Waters and learned that he was born around 1925 and that he was a Driver in D Platoon, 567 Company R.A.S.C. (American Field Service).

So Melvin Waters was an ambulance driver who was sent to Bergen-Belsen, the camp that was voluntarily turned over to the British on April 15, 1945.  This is the first time that I’ve ever read that there were Americans at Bergen-Belsen.

Of course, I didn’t know either that General Eisenhower had two interpreters at Ohrdruf because the man who arranged the tour of the camp was on a different plane and arrived late at the camp.  And then Captain Liethan had the nerve to write home to his family and brag about being Eisenhower’s interpreter, never mentioning that a private had to fill in because he was late getting there.

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