In a news article here, I read that
[David] Cohen is one of 16 concentration camp liberators joining Holocaust survivors and some 10,000 high school students from 35 countries on the 25th March of the Living. It’s the first time U.S. WWII vets will be going on the march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, which takes place on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 19.
This part of the news article got my attention:
In west-central Germany, Cohen mainly found small work camps, where enslaved peoples from the Third Reich’s former conquests labored for whatever war industries the Allies hadn’t bombed to smithereens. [...]
Today, Cohen doesn’t seem capable of holding a mean thought in his head. One wonders, though, if he despised the Germans 67 years ago.
“Inwardly you do,” Cohen shrugged. “But you have to realize, everywhere you went there were dead bodies, and since we were in Germany they were mostly German. So a certain hardness comes in, it’s like part of our training.”
Cohen fought with the 69th Infantry Division which is credited by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with liberating a sub-camp of Buchenwald. This quote is from the USHMM website here:
During the fierce battle for Leipzig, the 69th Infantry Division uncovered Leipzig-Thekla, a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp, on April 19, 1945. The camp had been established in September 1943 to supply labor for the German war effort. At its height, Leipzig-Thekla held approximately 1,400 prisoners.
On April 18, 1945, the SS guards had set fire to the barracks housing some 300 inmates and shot those who attempted to escape the flames. Upon arriving at the camp, the 69th immediately began providing for the 90 to 100 survivors. Days later, U.S. Army Signal Corps photographers arrived at the site to document this atrocity. On April 28, 1945, a U.S. Army Protestant chaplain reported that 325 male prisoners, who were too ill or weak to continue working for the German war effort, had been forced into oil-soaked barracks, which were then set aflame. Prisoners who attempted to escape the conflagration were shot by the guards or electrocuted on the electrified fences. According to the report, the swift advance of the 69th prevented the SS guards from committing a similar atrocity at a nearby camp housing some 250 women.
I can’t believe that this atrocity committed by the Germans in the last three weeks of the war is not more well-known. In the middle of a battle for the city of Leipzig, the Germans stopped to burn to death the prisoners in a labor camp. But they didn’t manage to kill all the prisoners. Why not? The German SS soldiers were shooting the prisoners who tried to escape the flames, but they couldn’t manage to kill them all and there were up to 100 survivors.
I previously blogged about Thekla here.
Strangely, it was a men’s barrack that went up in flames, while the women’s barracks were not touched. It seems to me that the evil Nazis would have targeted the women’s barracks first when they started burning prisoners alive three weeks before the war ended. They would have made the men suffer by forcing them to listen to the screams of the women while they were being burned alive.
Cohen mentioned that the “war industries were being bombed to smithereens.” The German “war industries” were located in the concentrations camps. For example, the main Buchenwald camp was bombed and prisoners were killed. Did the Allies also bomb the Thekla sub-camp of Buchenwald and hit one of the prisoners barracks?
From the news article, I got the impression that Cohen did not remember the name of the sub-camp that his division liberated. He just mentioned that his division liberated Buchenwald. The burning of prisoners in a barrack at Thekla was no doubt the worst atrocity committed by the SS in World War II and a Jewish liberator of the camp doesn’t remember the name of it? Something wrong!