A reader of my blog wrote the following comment, regarding the liberation of Buchenwald and the action taken by General George S. Patton, whose nickname was “Old Blood and Guts.”
My father was one of the four scouts mentioned who stumbled upon Buchenwald hours after the prisoners overthrew their captors. The only story my dad ever told about his service was about that first night. Patton was outraged that so many surviving prisoners were starving to death. He sent the scouts to a bakery in Weimar to have bread baked. The baker refused. Patton himself went; the baker still refused. Patton brought his tanks into town and lined them up facing the bakery. He woke the baker and told him that if he didn’t start making bread NOW, he wouldn’t have a bakery by morning. The bread was made – unfortunately, not soon enough for many prisoners.
That sounds like something that Patton would do. I read General Patton’s autobiography several years ago. This quote is from his autobiography:
“I drove to the Rhine River and went across on the pontoon bridge. I stopped in the middle to take a piss and then picked up some dirt on the far side in emulation of William the Conqueror.”
General Patton urinated into the Rhine river when he crossed it in March 1945
You can read about General Patton’s advance into Germany on Wikipedia. Strangely, Wikipedia does not mention Buchenwald in the section about Patton’s advance into Germany. Did General Patton even see Buchenwald? Yes, General Patton finally made it to the Buchenwald camp on April 15, 1945, the day that German citizens of Weimar were marched 5 miles, at gunpoint, up the steep hill to the camp.
Here is how the liberation of Buchenwald took place:
In the late afternoon on April 11, 1945, four soldiers in the 6th Armored Division of General Patton’s US Third Army, approaching Weimar from the northwest, discovered Buchenwald, one of the massive main concentration camps, which was on a wooded hill called the Ettersberg, 8 kilometers north of the historic town of Weimar. The prisoners had already taken charge of the camp and had hoisted a white flag of surrender.
Pfc. James Hoyt has been credited with driving the M8 armored vehicle which brought Capt. Frederic Keffer, Tech. Sgt. Herbert Gottschalk and Sgt. Harry Ward to the Buchenwald camp that day. He parked the vehicle outside while Capt. Keffer and Sgt. Gottschalk went through a hole in the barbed wire fence that had been made by the prisoners.
The bombed ruins of Weimar was deserted when American soldiers arrived
The soldiers in the Sixth Armored Division would not see the ruins of Weimar, the citadel of German culture, until the following day. Except for General Patton, who immediately went to Weimar to get bread for the starving prisoners that he had seen at Buchenwald, according to one of the four soldiers in the Sixth Armored Division.
Starving prisoners in the crowded barracks at Buchenwald
According to The Buchenwald Report, the official history of the camp, written by a special intelligence team of the American Army, led by Albert G. Rosenberg, it was not until Friday the 13th that the rest of Patton’s troops arrived, accompanied by Generals Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton.
Although The Buchenwald Report says that the three top American generals saw the camp on April 13, Patton himself wrote, in his autobiography, that it was not until April 14, 1945 that he heard some of the gory details about Buchenwald from General Gay and Colonels Pfann and Codman, who had visited it.
Patton wrote in his autobiography that he immediately called General Eisenhower, even before seeing the camp himself, and suggested that he send photographers and members of the press “to get the horrid details.” General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Omar Bradley had visited the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald, along with General Patton, on April 12, 1945 but neither Eisenhower nor Bradley ever bothered to visit the Buchenwald main camp. General Patton did not see the Buchenwald camp until April 15, 1945, on the same day that Margaret Bourke-White arrived to take photos of the dead bodies.
Margaret Bourke-White arrived at Buchenwald on April 15, 1945
General Patton’s impression of the Buchenwald camp was that it was being controlled by some of the inmates. This was confirmed by Colonel Donald B. Robinson, chief historian of the American military occupation in Germany, who wrote an article for an American magazine after the war: “It appeared that the prisoners who agreed with the Communists ate; those who didn’t starved to death.”
So it seems that there was plenty of bread at Buchenwald, and it was distributed by the Communist prisoners who were in charge of the camp.
In the following quote from his autobiography, General Patton explained his understanding of the Nazi system of killing prisoners at Buchenwald, as told to him by the former inmates:
One of the most horrible points about this place was that all these executions were carried out by slaves. There was a further devilish arrangement of making the various groups select those who had to die. Each racial group had a certain number of men who represented it. These men had to select those from their group who would be killed locally, or sent to camps like Ohrdruf, which were termed “elimination camps.”
General Patton had visited the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald on April 12, 1945 along with General Omar Bradley and General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
On April 15, 1945, the day that he visited Buchenwald, General George S. Patton wrote the following in a letter to General Dwight D. Eisenhower:
We have found at a place four miles north of WEIMAR a similar camp, only much worse. The normal population was 25,000, and they died at the rate of about a hundred a day. The burning arrangements, according to General Gay and Colonel Codman who visited it yesterday, were far superior to those they had at OHRDRUF.
I told the press to go up there and see it, and then write as much about it as they could. I also called General Bradley last night and suggested that you send selected individuals from the upper strata of the press to look at it, so that you can build another page of the necessary evidence as to the brutality of the Germans.
General Eisenhower did not visit Buchenwald himself, but he did follow General Patton’s advice to “build another page” about the “brutality of the Germans.” A group of “upper strata” reporters were flown to Germany, arriving at Buchenwald on April 24, 1945, and given the grand tour of the Buchenwald atrocities.
Jedem das Seine on the gate into the Buchenwald camp
So what really happened after the Buchenwald main camp was found by four American soldiers?
In the first days after the liberation of Buchenwald, the political prisoners who had been freed by the Americans, hunted down 76 of the camp guards, who had escaped into the surrounding woods. According to The Buchenwald Report, the guards were brought back to the camp and killed, as the prisoners watched.
According to Robert Abzug in his book Inside the Vicious Heart, the inmates “killed almost eighty ex-guards and camp functionaries in the days following the liberation, sometimes with the aid and encouragement of Americans.”
In his book Abzug quoted one of the liberators, Fred Mercer:
… a German soldier attempted to surrender to the Americans, but was intercepted by a prisoner with a four-foot wood log: “He just stood there and beat him to death. He had to – of course, we didn’t bother him.”
American newspaper reporter Marguerite Higgins wrote in her book News is a Singular Thing, that 20 to 30 American soldiers took turns beating 6 young German guards to death at Buchenwald.
Following the liberation of Buchenwald, the prisoners were moved to the SS barracks outside the camp. The opinion of the Americans, regarding the inmates, soon changed. Abzug wrote the following:
The liberated prisoners themselves also bewildered innocent American onlookers. Despite what they knew about what their wards had undergone, some Americans never ceased to wonder why, even after food had been made readily abundant, the survivors pushed and shoved their way to the soup kettle or bread basket. Others were appalled to find some indifferent to nudity or personal cleanliness. Nor was it readily understood why many were slow to volunteer for work, even though it might help the condition of the camp.
By July 1945, General Patton had turned against America’s Communist allies; he had become pro-German.
After a trip to Berlin where he had seen the horrendous damage done by Allied bombing and the damage done during the battle for Berlin, General Patton sent a letter to his wife on July 21, 1945 in which he wrote:
Berlin gave me the blues. We have destroyed what could have been a good race, and we are about to replace them with Mongolian savages. And all Europe will be communist.
“Mongolian savages” was a reference to the Russians of Asian heritage, while a “good race” was Patton’s term for what he thought the Germans could have been.
In August 1945, Patton wrote in another letter to his wife:
Actually, the Germans are the only decent people left in Europe. It’s a choice between them and the Russians. I prefer the Germans.
Sorry for my contradiction of the story of General Patton going to Weimar, lining up tanks, and threatening to destroy a bakery. Technically, there were no tanks involved in the liberation of Buchenwald. There was one armored vehicle, in which there were four soldiers.
There were probably no bakeries left in Weimar after the historic city was bombed. The citizens of Weimar had deserted the ruins and were hiding somewhere in the hinterland, cowering in fear.
It was the Germans who were starving in the last days of the war, not the prisoners at Buchenwald. The Red Cross was sending food to all the camps; the only problem was getting to the camps because American planes had bombed the railroad tracks and the roads were clogged with Germans fleeing from the Russians.
Update, 11:27 a.m.
I wrote my blog post today before I had had my morning coffee, when I was barely awake. Now that I’ve had my coffee, I realize that I did not address the most important issue, which is “Why did an American soldier, who was one of the first four liberators to arrive at Buchenwald, tell such an egregious lie about a baker in the town of Weimar who refused to bake bread for the starving prisoners in the camp?”
Churchhill, Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference
You have to understand that America was allies with the Communist Soviet Union in World War II. We were fighting on the side of Communism. President Roosevelt had promised Uncle Joe half of Europe at the Yalta Conference. The Buchenwald camp was in the part of Germany that was scheduled to be controlled by the Soviet Union.
Suppose an American soldier had gone back to the States and told everyone that the Communists were in charge of the Buchenwald camp and that they were denying food to some of the prisoners. That would have been a disaster. What happened at Buchenwald must stay at Buchenwald. The American public did not know, until years later, that the liberating soldiers had allowed the prisoners to beat to death German Prisoners of War, and that the Communists were allowing some of the non-Communist prisoners to starve.
The American soldiers, who liberated Buchenwald, were probably told to make up some stupid story about how General Patton went to Weimar and rousted a baker out of bed, in the perfectly preserved historic city of Weimar. The baker was defiant, because he couldn’t have cared less about the fall of his country, so he refused to bake bread for the starving prisoners until General Patton brought four tanks to his bakery and threatened to smash it.
Oh, the stories they tell!