Scrapbookpages Blog

March 24, 2018

The Sobibor death camp is in today’s news

Filed under: Holocaust — furtherglory @ 3:31 pm

Still photo from film that has just been released

The film is about the Sobibor death camp.

Many years ago, Sobibor was one of the Nazi death camps for Jews. The name Sobibor is pronounced “so-bee-bore” with the accent on the first syllable “so”.

My photo of a famous monument at the former Sobibor death camp

Many years ago, I went there and took many photos, which you can see on my website at

Now there is a new film, which has just been released. You can read about the film at

I was advised not to go there alone, but I went anyway, all by myself. I was told that this was a place where Jews would hide, and then jump out to rob and rape tourists.

Nothing bad happened to me. I arrived safely back home.


Photo of young Holocaust victim going viral

Filed under: Holocaust, Auschwitz — furtherglory @ 12:46 pm

It’s all over the news:

This is the story of a young girl, who was very beautiful before the Nazis got a hold of her.

Young Holocaust victim is shown in black & white and in a colorized version of the same photo

The following quote is from the news article which is included the photo above:

Begin quote

Czeslawa Kwoka was 14 when she was photographed at the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp. Tens of thousands of social media users have reacted to recently restored and colorized versions of the original images.

Recently colorized images of a 14-year-old Polish girl at a Nazi death camp have sparked widespread interest after the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum shared them on social media.

The museum first shared the registration photos of Czeslawa Kwoka, which date from December 1942, on Twitter on March 12.

Brazilian artist Marina Amaral colorized the original black-and-white images that another Auschwitz prisoner, Wilhelm Brasse, had taken shortly after Kwoka arrived at the camp.

Read more: Reconstructed Auschwitz prisoner text details ‘unimaginable’ suffering

Since then, the accompanying post has been shared more than 10,000 times and received over 250,000 media engagements.

“Thank you all for helping us to remember the past,” the museum said in a tweet responding to the social media reaction. “We need to learn about this tragic history of Auschwitz to create a better and safer future.”

End quote

I used to be a photographer myself — I took photos with a Speed Graphic camera for the newspaper where I worked for a year. I had to take portraits of people who were in the news.

To me, this photo seems to be too contrived. Notice how her uniform jacket is pulled together. This is an adult jacket that is too big for her.

All of the in-coming prisoners had to have their hair cut short, as part of the effort to control lice. This was not explained in the newspaper article. This young girl was not being humiliated — the photographer was trying to make her look good.

March 23, 2018

Ohrdruf was a famous camp in the Holocaust

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust, World War II — furtherglory @ 5:10 pm

Ohrdruf – a sub-camp of the famous Buchenwald camp

Colonel Hayden Sears poses with survivors of the Ohrdruf camp, April 8, 1945

On April 4, 1945, American soldiers of the 4th Armored Division of General Patton’s US Third Army were moving through the area south of the city of Gotha in search of a secret Nazi communications center when they unexpectedly came across the ghastly scene of the abandoned Ohrdruf forced labor camp.

A few soldiers in the 354th Infantry Regiment of the 89th Infantry Division of the US Third Army reached the abandoned camp that same day, after being alerted by prisoners who had escaped from the march out of the camp, which had started on April 2nd.

Prior to that, in September 1944, US troops had witnessed their first concentration camp: the abandoned Natzweiler camp in Alsace, which was then a part of the Greater German Reich, but is now in France.

Ohrdruf, also known as Ohrdruf-Nord, was the first Nazi prison camp to be discovered while it still had inmates living inside of it, although 9,000 prisoners had already been evacuated from Ohrdruf on April 2nd and marched 32 miles to the main camp at Buchenwald.

According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the camp had a population of 11,700 prisoners in late March, 1945 before the evacuation began.

The photograph at the top of this page, taken at Ohrdruf on April 8, 1945, shows survivors who had escaped during the evacuation of the camp, but came back after the American liberators arrived.

One of the American liberators who saw the Ohrdruf camp on April 4, 1945 was Bruce Nickols. He was on a patrol as a member of the I & R platoon attached to the Headquarters company of the 354th Infantry Regiment of the 89th Infantry Division, Third US Army.

According to Nickols, there were survivors in the barracks who had hidden when the SS massacred 60 to 70 other prisoners on the roll call square before they left the camp on April 2nd. The body of a dead SS soldier lay at the entrance to the camp, according to Nickols.

Dead prisoners at Ohrdruf forced labor camp

In the photo above, the prisoners have been partially covered by blankets because their pants had been pulled down, an indication that these men might have been killed by their fellow prisoners after the Germens left.

The first Americans on the scene said that the blood was still wet. The liberators all agreed that these prisoners had been shot, although some witnesses said that they had been shot in the neck, while others said that they had been mowed down by machine gun fire.

The American soldiers were told by Ohrdruf survivors that these prisoners had been shot by the SS on April 2nd because they had run out of trucks for transporting sick prisoners out of the camp, but there were sick prisoners still inside the barracks when the Americans arrived.

Among the soldiers, who helped to liberate Ohrdruf, was Charles T. Payne, who is Senator Barak Obama’s great uncle — the brother of his maternal grandmother. Charles T. Payne was a member of Company K, 355th Infantry Regiment, 89th Infantry Division.

According to an Associated Press story, published on June 4, 2009, Charles T. Payne’s unit arrived at the Ohrdruf camp on April 6, 1945.

The following is an excerpt from the Associated Press story:

“I remember the whole area before you got to the camp, the town and around the camp, was full of people who had been inmates,” Payne, 84, said in a telephone interview from his home in Chicago.

“The people were in terrible shape, dressed in rags, most of them emaciated, the effects of starvation. Practically skin and bones.”

When Payne’s unit arrived, the gates to the camp were open, the Nazis already gone.

“In the gate, in the very middle of the gate on the ground was a dead man whose head had been beaten in with a metal bar,” Payne recalled. The body was of a prisoner who had served as a guard under the Germans and been killed by other inmates that morning.

“A short distance inside the front gate was a place where almost a circle of people had been … killed and were lying on the ground, holding their tin cups, as if they had been expecting food and were instead killed,” he said. “You could see where the machine gun had been set up behind some bushes, but the Germans were all gone by that time.”

He said he only moved some 200-300 feet (60-100 meters) inside of the camp. But that was enough to capture images so horrible that Gen. George S. Patton Jr. ordered townspeople into Ohrdruf to see for themselves the crimes committed by their countrymen – an order that would repeated at Buchenwald, Dachau and other camps liberated by U.S. soldiers.

“In some sheds were stacks of bodies, stripped extremely – most of them looked like they had starved to death. They had sprinkled lime over them to keep the smell down and stacked them several high and the length of the room,” Payne said.

On April 11, 1945, just a week after the discovery of the Ohrdruf camp, American soldiers liberated the infamous Buchenwald main camp, which was to become synonymous with Nazi barbarity for a whole generation of Americans.

Buchenwald is located 5 miles north of the city of Weimar, which is 20 miles to the east of Gotha, where General Dwight D. Eisenhower had set up his headquarters.

The Ohrdruf forced labor camp was a sub-camp of the huge Buchenwald camp. Ohrdruf had been opened in November 1944 when prisoners were brought from Buchenwald to work on the construction of a vast underground bunker to house a new Führer headquarters for Hitler and his henchmen. This location was in the vicinity of a secret Nazi communications center and it was also near an underground salt mine where the Nazis had stored their treasures.

A. C. Boyd was one of the soldiers in the 89th Infantry Division who witnessed the Ohrdruf “death camp.” In a recent news article, written by Jimmy Smothers, Boyd mentioned that he saw bodies of prisoners who had been gassed at Ohrdruf.

The following quote is from the news article in The Gadsden Times:

On April 7, 1945, the 89th Infantry Division received orders to move into the German town of Ohrdruf, which surrendered as the Americans arrived. A mile or so past this quaint village lay Stalag Nord Ohrdruf.


When regiments of the 89th Division got to the camp, the gates were open and the guards apparently all had gone, but the doors to the wooden barracks were closed. Lying on the ground in front were bodies of prisoners who recently had been shot.

“When I went into the camp I just happened to open the door to a small room,” recalled Boyd. “Inside, the Germans had stacked bodies very high. They had dumped some lime over them, hoping it would dissolve the bodies.


“I still have vivid memories of what I saw, but I try not to dwell on it,” Boyd continued. “We had been warned about what we might find, but actually seeing it was horrible. There were so many dead, and some so starved all they could do was gape open their mouths, feebly move their arms and murmur.

“There were ditches dug out in the compound and we could see torsos, lots of arms, severed legs, etc., sticking out. Many had been beaten to death, and bodies were still in the ‘beating shed’. Many had been led to the ‘showers,’ where they were pushed in, the doors locked and then gassed.”

One of the survivors of Ohrdruf was Rabbi Murray Kohn, who was then 16 years old. He was marched from Ohrdruf on April 2nd to the main camp at Buchenwald and then evacuated by train to Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic.

The following quote is from a speech that Rabbi Kohn made on April 23, 1995 at Wichita, Kansas, at a gathering of the soldiers of the 89th Division for the 50ieth anniversary of the liberation of the camps:

It has been recorded that in Ohrdruf itself the last days were a slaughterhouse. We were shot at, beaten and molested. At every turn went on the destruction of the remaining inmates. Indiscriminant criminal behavior (like the murderers of Oklahoma City some days ago). Some days before the first Americans appeared at the gates of Ohrdruf, the last retreating Nazi guards managed to execute with hand pistols, literally emptying their last bullets on whomever they encountered leaving them bleeding to death as testified by an American of the 37th Tank Battalion Medical section, 10 a.m. April 4, 1945.

Today I’m privileged thanks to God and you gallant fighting men. I’m here to reminisce, and reflect, and experience instant recollections of those moments. Those horrible scenes and that special instance when an Allied soldier outstretched his arm to help me up became my re-entrance, my being re-invited into humanity and restoring my inalienable right to a dignified existence as a human being and as a Jew. Something, which was denied me from September 1939 to the day of liberation in 1945. I had no right to live and survived, out of 80 members of my family, the infernal ordeal of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Ohrdruf, and its satellite camp Crawinkel and finally Theresienstadt Ghetto-Concentration Camp.

I must tell you something about Crawinkel, just outside Ohrdruf. It was recently discovered after the reunification of East and West Germany that in nearby Crawinkel, the Nazis were preparing the Führerbunker, the final headquarters of Hitler from where he planned to strike a deal with the Americans to join in fighting the Red Army. We worked around the clock, the project was known as the Olga Project. We were excavating inside the hills a bunker. Ten thousand people died there and it was completed with rivers of blood right down to the cutlery to embellish Hitler’s table.

When in Auschwitz my eyes witnessed the gassed transports of Jews at the Birkenau Crematories. My own eyes have witnessed Buchenwald terror and planned starvation. My body was decimated, starved and thrashed to the point of no return in Ohrdruf for stealing a piece of a potato, and my flickering life was daily, and hourly on the brink of being snuffed out from starvation or being clubbed for no reason or literally being pushed off a steep cliff over a yawning ravine at Crawinkel.


The war was intrinsically a war against the shallowness of a civilization which had evidently so little moral depth, a nation which can acquiesce in such a short time to the demagoguery of a “corporal” and accept the manifesto of racial superiority, entitled to destroy their supposed inferior enemies, as a moral right. World War II was by far not a testing ground of arms or strategic skills and sophistication, but A MORAL WAR, which declared that human rights, freedom and the equality of all men and women are the highest divine commandment, the supreme commandment to deny the Nazi racists and their cohorts any victory. My friends, many of your comrades (a half million Americans lost their lives to declare eternal war against inhumanity). Six million innocent Jews, five million Christians and some 27 million plus, lost their lives to secure finally that humanity is never to rest until crimes against humans have been eradicated.

The American military knew about the Nazi forced labor camps and concentration camps because Allied planes had done aerial photographs of numerous factories near the camps in both Germany and Poland, and many of these camps, including Buchenwald, had been bombed, killing thousands of innocent prisoners.

In fact, General George S. Patton bragged in his autobiography about the precision bombing of a munitions factory near the Buchenwald concentration camp on August 24, 1944 which he erroneously claimed had not damaged the nearby camp. Not only was the camp hit by the bombs, there were 400 prisoners who were killed, along with 350 Germans.

On Easter weekend in April 1945, the 90th Infantry Division overran the little town of Merkers, which was near the Ohrdruf camp, and captured the Kaiseroda salt mine.

Hidden deep inside the salt mine was virtually the entire gold and currency reserves of the German Reichsbank, together with all of the priceless art treasures which had been removed from Berlin’s museums for protection against Allied bombing raids and possible capture by the Allied armies. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum web site, the soldiers also found important documents that were introduced at the Nuremberg IMT as evidence of the Holocaust.

All of America’s top military leaders in Europe, including Generals Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton, visited the mine and viewed the treasure.

The photo below shows General Dwight D. Eisenhower as he examines some paintings stored inside the Kaiseroda salt mine, which he visited on April 12, 1945, along with General Omar Bradley, General George S. Patton, and other high-ranking American Army officers before going to see the Ohrdruf camp. The Nazis had hidden valuable paintings and 250 million dollars worth of gold bars inside the salt mine.

General Eisenhower at a salt mine near Ohrdruf

General Dwight D. Eisenhower examines Nazi treasure in salt mine.

The soldier on the far left is Benjamin B. Ferencz. In the center is General Eisenhower and behind him, wearing a helmet with four stars is General Omar Bradley.

In 1945, Ferencz was transferred from General Patton’s army to the newly created War Crimes Branch of the U.S. Army, where his job was to gather evidence for future trials of German war criminals. A Jew from Transylvania, Ferencz had moved with his family to America at the age of 10 months.

General Patton, left, and General Bradley, center, at Ohrdruf, 12 April 1945

On the same day that the Generals visited the salt mine, they made a side trip to the Ohrdruf forced labor camp after lunch. The photo above was taken at Ohrdruf.

Except for General Patton, who visited Buchenwald on April 15, 1945, none of the top American Army Generals ever visited another forced labor camp, nor any of the concentration camps.

One of the first Americans to see Ohrdruf, a few days before the Generals arrived, was Captain Alois Liethen from Appleton, WI.

Liethen was an interpreter and an interrogator in the XX Corp, G-2 Section of the US Third Army. On 13 April 1945, he wrote a letter home to his family about this important discovery at Ohrdruf.

Although Buchenwald was more important and had more evidence of Nazi atrocities, it was due to the information uncovered by Captain Liethen that the generals visited Ohrdruf instead.

The following is a quote from his letter in which Captain Alois 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

Generals watch a demonstration of a whipping

In the photo above, an ordinary wooden table is being used to demonstrate punishment on a whipping block. By order of Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, whipping prisoners on a wooden block was discontinued in 1942, so no whipping block had been found at Ohrdruf.

The first photo below shows another demonstration at Ohrdruf on a reconstructed wooden whipping block. The second photo below shows the whipping block that was found at Natzweiler by American troops in September 1944.

Ohrdruf survivors demonstrate the whipping block for the Americans

Whipping block used at Natzweiler

All punishments in the concentration camps had to be approved by the head office in Oranienburg where Rudolf Hoess became a member of the staff after he was removed as the Commandant of Auschwitz at the end of December 1943.

According to the testimony of Rudolf Hoess on April 15, 1946 at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, this punishment was rarely used and it was discontinued in 1942 because Heinrich Himmler, the head of the concentration camp system, had forbidden the SS guards to strike the prisoners.

Some of the prisoners at Ohrdruf, who had previously been at the Buchenwald main camp for a number of years, were familiar with this punishment device and were able to reconstruct it.

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.

Now about this concentration camp. It was evacuated by the germans when things got too hot for them, this was on the night of April 2. All the healthy ones were marched away in the night, and those who were sick were loaded into trucks and wagons, and then when there was no more transportation available the remainder — about 35 were shot as they lay here waiting for something to come to take them away. Too, in another building there were about 40 dead ones which they did not have the time to bury in their hasty departure.

One of the survivors of Ohrdruf was Andrew Rosner, a Jewish prisoner who had escaped from the march out of the camp and was rescued by soldiers of the 89th Division in the town of Ohrdruf.

The following is a quote from Andrew Rosner on the occasion of a 50ieth anniversary celebration of the liberation of the camp, held on 23 April 1995 at Wichita, Kansas:

At the age of 23, I was barely alive as we began the death march eastward. All around me, I heard the sound of thunder – really the sound of heavy artillery and machinery. I looked for any opportunity to drop out of the march. But, any man who fell behind or to the side was shot instantly by the Nazis. So, I marched on in my delirium and as night fell, I threw myself off into the side of the road and into a clump of trees. I lay there — waiting — and waiting — and suddenly nothing! No more Nazis shouting orders. No more marching feet. No more people. Alone. All alone and alive — although barely.

I moved farther into the woods when I realized I was not really left behind. I slept for awhile as the darkness of night shielded me from the eyes of men. But, as the light of dawn broke, I heard shooting all around me. I played dead as men ran over me, stumbling over me as they went. I lay there as bullets passed by me and Nazis fell all around me. Then all was quiet. The battle was over. I waited for hours before I dared to move. I got up and saw dead German soldiers laying everywhere. I made my way back toward the road and started walking in the direction of a small village, which I could see in the distance. As I approached the village two Germans appeared. One raised his gun toward me and asked what I was doing there. I told him I was lost from the evacuation march. He told me that I must have escaped and I knew he was about to shoot me when the other German told him to let me be. It would not serve them well to harm me now. They allowed me to walk away and as I did, I said a final prayer knowing that a bullet in the back would now find me for sure. It never did!

In the small village I was told to go farther down the road to the town of Ohrdruf from where I had come three days before. There, I would find the Americans. And so I did.

As I entered the outskirts of the town of Ohrdruf two American soldiers met me and escorted me into town. I was immediately surrounded by Americans and as their officers questioned where I had been and what had happened to me, GIs were showering me with food and chocolate and other treats that I had not known for almost five years.

You were all so kind and so compassionate. But, my years in the camps, my weakened state of health, the forced death march, and my escape to freedom was more than a human body could bear any longer and I collapsed into the arms of you, my rescuing angels.

When the generals and their entourage toured the Ohrdruf-Nord camp on April 12th, the dead bodies on the roll-call square had been left outside to decompose in the sun and the rain for more than a week.

The stench of the rotting corpses had now reached the point that General Patton, a battle-hardened veteran of 40 years of warfare, the leader of the American Third Army which had won the bloody Battle of the Bulge, and an experienced soldier who had seen the atrocities of two World Wars, threw up his lunch behind one of the barracks.

The photo below shows the naked bodies of prisoners in a shed at Ohrdruf where their bodies had been layered with lime to keep down the smell.

Corpses sprinkled with lime at Ohrdruf-Nord

General Eisenhower was not as easily sickened by the smell of the dead bodies. Although he didn’t mention the name Ohrdruf in his book entitled “Crusade in Europe,” Eisenhower wrote the following about the Ohrdruf camp:

I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that ‘the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to go through with the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.

General Patton wrote in his memoirs that he learned from the surviving inmates that 3,000 prisoners had died in the camp since January, 1945. A few dozen bodies on a pyre, constructed out of railroad tracks, had recently been burned and their gruesome remains were still on display. According to General Patton, the bodies had been buried, but were later dug up and burned because “the Germans thought it expedient to remove the evidence of their crimes.” But after all that effort to cover up their crimes, the SS guards had allegedly shot sick prisoners when they ran short of transportation to move them out of the camp, and had left the bodies as evidence.

The first news reel film about alleged German war-time atrocities, that was shown in American movie theaters, referred to the Ohrdruf labor camp as a “murder mill.” Burned corpses were shown as the narrator of the film asked rhetorically “How many were burned alive?”

The narrator described “the murder shed” at Ohrdruf where prisoners were “slain in cold blood.” Lest anyone should be inclined to assume that this news reel was sheer propaganda, the narrator prophetically intoned: “For the first time, America can believe what they thought was impossible propaganda. This is documentary evidence of sheer mass murder – murder that will blacken the name of Germany for the rest of recorded history.”

The documentary film about all the camps, directed by famed Hollywood director George Stevens, which was shown on November 29, 1945 at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, claimed that the Germans “starved, clubbed, and burned to death more than 4,000 political prisoners over a period of 8 months” at Ohrdruf-Nord.

These atrocities allegedly took place while the Nazis were desperately trying to finish building a secret underground hideout for Hitler who was holed up in Berlin.

Ohrdruf-Nord survivor shows shallow grave to American Generals

In the photo above, the soldier on the far right, holding a notepad in his hand, is Benjamin B. Ferencz, who was at Ohrdruf to gather evidence of Nazi atrocities for future war crimes trials.

Five years after seeing the Ohrdruf camp, General Bradley recalled that “The smell of death overwhelmed us even before we passed through the stockade.

More than 3,200 naked, emaciated bodies had been flung into shallow graves. Others lay in the streets where they had fallen. Lice crawled over the yellowed skin of their sharp, bony frames.” The presence of lice in the camp indicates that there was probably an epidemic of typhus, which is spread by lice.

In his letter to his family, written 13 April 1945, Alois Liethen wrote the following regarding the burial pit:

Then, about 2 kilometers from the enclosure was the ‘pit’ where the germans had buried 3200 since December when this camp opened. About 3 weeks ago the commandant of the camp was ordered to destroy all of the evidence of the mass killings in this place and he sent several hundred of these inmates out on the detail to exhume these bodies and have them burned. However, there wasn’t time enough to burn all of the 3200 and only 1606 were actually burned and the balance were still buried under a light film of dirt. I know that all of this may seem gruesome to you, it was to me too, and some of you may think that I may have become warped of mind in hatred, well, every single thing that I stated here and to the generals yesterday are carefully recorded in 16 pictures which I took with my camera at the place itself.

Both General George S. Patton and General Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to the Ohrdruf-Nord camp as a “horror camp” in their wartime memoirs. Eisenhower wrote the following in his book, “Crusade in Europe” about April 12, 1945, the day he visited the salt mines that held the Nazi treasures:

The same day, I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.

Eisenhower did not take the time to visit the main camp at Buchenwald, which was in the immediate area and had been discovered by the American army just the day before.

The Ohrdruf camp did not have a crematorium to burn the bodies. Instead, the bodies were at first taken to Buchenwald for burning, but as the death rate climbed, the bodies were buried about a mile from the camp. During the last days before the camp was liberated, bodies were being burned on a pyre made from railroad tracks. The rails were readily available because the underground bunker that was being built by the Ohrdruf prisoners featured a railroad where a whole train could be hidden underground.

In the photo below, the man on the far right wearing a dark jacket is a Dutch survivor of the camp who served as a guide for the American generals on their visit. The second man from the right is Captain Alois Liethen, who is interpreting for General Bradley to his left and General Eisenhower in the center of the photo.

The man to the left of General Eisenhower is Benjamin B. Ferencz, who is taking notes. On the far left is one of the survivors of Ohrdruf.

Gen. Eisenhower views bodies, April 1945

On the same day that the Generals visited Ohrdruf, a group of citizens from the town of Ohrdruf and a captured German Army officer were being forced to take the tour. Colonel Charles Codman, an aide to General Patton, wrote to his wife about an incident that happened that day. A young soldier had accidentally bumped into the captured German officer and had laughed nervously. “General Eisenhower fixed him with a cold eye,” Codman wrote “and when he spoke, each word was like the drop off an icicle. ‘Still having trouble hating them?’ he said.” General Eisenhower had no trouble hating the Germans, as he would demonstrate when he set up a POW camp in Gotha a few weeks later.

After his visit to the salt mines and the Ohrdruf camp on April 12, 1945, General Eisenhower wrote the following in a cable on April 15th to General George C. Marshall, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, DC; this quote is prominently displayed by the U.S. Holocaust Museum:

. . .the most interesting–although horrible–sight that I encountered during the trip was a visit to a German internment camp near Gotha. The things I saw beggar description. While I was touring the camp I encountered three men who had been inmates and by one ruse or another had made their escape. I interviewed them through an interpreter. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to “propaganda.”

Ironically, General Eisenhower’s words about “propaganda,” turned out to be prophetic: only a few years later, Paul Rassinier, who was a French resistance fighter imprisoned at the Buchenwald main camp, wrote the first Holocaust denial book, entitled “Debunking the Genocide Myth”, in which he refuted the claim by the French government at the 1946 Nuremberg trial that there were gas chambers in Buchenwald.

Note that General Eisenhower referred to Ohrdruf as an “internment camp,” which was what Americans called the camps where Japanese-Americans, German-Americans and Italian-Americans were held without charges during World War II. Ohrdruf was undoubtedly the first, and only, “internment camp” that General Eisenhower ever saw.

Why was Captain Alois Liethen investigating this small, obscure forced labor camp long before he arrived in Germany? Why did all the US Army generals visit this small camp and no other? Could it be because there was something else of great interest in the Ohrdruf area besides the Führer bunker and the salt mine where Nazi treasures were stored?

The Buchenwald camp had been liberated the day before the visit to the Ohrdruf camp. At Buchenwald, there were shrunken heads, human skin lampshades and ashtrays made from human bones. At Ohrdruf, there was nothing to see except a shed filled with 40 bodies. So why did Captain Alois Liethen take the four generals to Ohrdruf instead of Buchenwald?

What was Captain Liethen referring to when he wrote these words in a letter to his family?

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.

There has been some speculation that the Germans might have tested an atomic bomb near Ohrdruf. In his book entitled “The SS Brotherhood of the Bell,” author James P. Farrell wrote about “the alleged German test of a small critial mass, high yield atom bomb at or near the Ohrdruf troop parade ground on March 4, 1945.” The “troop parade ground” was at the German Army Base right next to the Ohrdruf labor camp.

Why did General Eisenhower immediately order a propaganda campaign about Nazi atrocities? Was it to distract the media from discovering a far more important story?

The first news reel about the Nazi camps called Ohrdruf a “murder mill.”

News reel film calls Ohrdruf a “murder mill”

Ohrdruf, Continued


March 22, 2018

All about the famous “Schindler’s List”

Filed under: Holocaust, TV shows — furtherglory @ 2:02 pm

Scene from the Movie “Schindler’s List”

I have written many times on my website, and on my blog, about “Schindler’s List”:

Read some of what I have written about this subject at


March 21, 2018

My first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau — many years ago

Filed under: Auschwitz, Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 1:55 pm

This morning, I read a news article about high school students who had recently visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Many years ago, I wrote about my first visit to Birkenau:

The following quote is from my website:

Begin quote

Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, was the largest of the Nazi extermination centers; by the Spring of 1943, Birkenau had 2 very large underground gas chambers, 2 smaller above-ground gas chambers, and an old farmhouse called “the little white house” that were used for gassing the Jews. Another old farmhouse, called “the little red house,” that was used as the first gas chamber at Birkenau, had been torn down.

The word Birkenau means birch tree meadow. The grove of birch trees at the western end of the Auschwitz II camp is shown in the photo below.

My photo of Birch trees at Birkenau

Were Jews sent to Auschwitz merely for the crime of being Jewish?

Filed under: Auschwitz, Holocaust, World War II — furtherglory @ 11:55 am

The following quote is from this recent news article:

Begin quote from news article:

“… being sent to a certain awful death at Auschwitz merely for the crime of being Jewish?”

End quote from news article

No, no, no! The reason, that is given above, is not why the Jews were sent to camps, and not why the Jews died at Auschwitz.

My blog post today is a comment on the quote above, which is from this news article:

The Jews were not sent to camps by the Nazis for the crime of being Jewish. They were sent to camps because they were lying, cheating and stealing during war time.

March 20, 2018

Schindler’s List — the movie

Filed under: Holocaust, movies — furtherglory @ 3:24 pm

Photos of the place where Schindler’s List was filmed

Courtyard in Kazimierz used for movie location

In 1993, when Stephen Spielberg made a movie out of a novel called “Schindler’s Ark,” written by Australian author Thomas Keneally, he needed an authentic Jewish quarter for the scenes depicting the Jewish ghetto of Podgorze in Krakow. He chose the Kazimierz district of Krakow because this area had not changed since the 1940s, while Podgorze had been partially rebuilt with modern buildings.

Schindler’s List tells the story of how Oskar Schindler, an ethnic German industrialist from the Sudetenland in what is now the Czech Republic, saved 1098 Jews from the misery of having to work at the Nazi forced labor camp at Plaszow, by employing them in his factory in the Zablocie district of Krakow.

Schindler’s factory became a sub-camp in the Nazi concentration camp system; the Jewish prisoners lived in barracks which Schindler built for them on the grounds of his factory.

Instead of paying wages to the Jews, Schindler paid less than normal wages to the WVHA (SS Economic Office in Oranienburg) for their labor. Although Schindler didn’t mistreat his Jewish workers, he did profit from their slave labor. Initially, he was motivated by the desire for money, not by a desire to save the Jews.

The photo above shows the balconies in the courtyard from where the suitcases were thrown down in the scene in Spielberg’s movie in which the Podgorze Ghetto is liquidated.

According to my tour guide, a courtyard such as this is typical of the way living space was traditionally arranged in the old Jewish quarters of Polish cities.

Since the fall of Communism in Poland in 1989, Kazimierz has been revived as a Jewish community, and it has also become a popular tourist attraction with special tours of the places where the movie was filmed.

In October 1998, I took a guided tour of Kazimierz and took some photographs of the places where Schindler’s List was filmed.

One of the most memorable passages in the novel Schindler’s List is the one where Mrs. Dresner hides under a stairwell when the Nazis come to round up the Jews in the Ghetto in June 1942, to take them to the Belzec extermination camp.

According to the book, after this roundup in which many of the Jews escaped, the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB), a group of resistance fighters, bombed the Cyganeria Restaurant and killed 7 German SS soldiers. Next, the SS-only Bagatella Cinema was bombed in Krakow.

In the next few months the ZOB sank German patrol boats on the Vistula, fire-bombed German military garages in Krakow and derailed a German army train, besides forging papers and passports for Jews to pass as Aryans.

In the movie, the date of the scene where Mrs. Dresner hides has been changed to the day of the liquidation of the ghetto on March 13, 1943.

The photograph below shows the stairway used in the scene in which Mrs. Dresner hides from the Jewish police who were helping the Germans to round up the Jews for “transportation to the East,” a euphemism for taking them to the alleged gas chambers.

Stairs where Mrs. Dresner hid in the story of Schindler’s List

The guided tour that I took in 1998 was called “Schindler’s Steps”.  From Krakow, the tour entered Kazimierz on Jozefa street and the first thing we saw was the courtyard, which links Jozefa street with Meiselsa street, and the stairwell where the hiding scene in Schindler’s List was filmed.

Mrs. Dresner hid under the stairwell, pictured above, after a neighbor allowed her daughter, but not her, to hide behind a false wall in an apartment. Mrs. Dresner was the aunt of Genia, the little girl in red, in the movie.

In the movie, the Nazis went through the Podgorze ghetto, room by room, and tore down walls as they looked for Jews who were hiding. While they are searching for Jews, a German soldier stops to play the piano. The Nazis loved classical music and this is a reference to the Jewish saying that the Nazis literally put down their violins in order to kill the Jews.

Germany was the most civilized and advanced country in the world in the 1930s, which makes it all the harder to understand how the Nazis could have planned the deliberate genocide of the Jews.

According to the novel, entitled “Schindler’s Ark,” around 4,000 Jews were found hiding in Podgorze during the liquidation of the ghetto and they were executed on the spot.

However, during the post war trial of Amon Goeth, the Commandant of the Plazow camp, the charges against him mentioned that 2,000 Jews were killed during the liquidation of the Podgorze ghetto.

The Jews who managed to escape from the ghetto joined the partisans of the Polish People’s Army, who were hiding in the forests of Niepolomice. Unlike the novel, the movie “Schindler’s List” does not mention the heroic Jewish resistance fighters, who managed to escape from the Nazis, and lived to fight as partisans throughout the war.

The Schindler’s Steps guided tour, which I took in October 1998, started in Krakow with Schindler’s modern apartment building at #7 Straszewskiego Street. From there, Schindler could look out his third floor windows and see the Planty, a narrow park all the way around Old Town Krakow which marks the area where the town walls once stood.

This apartment, in a very ordinary, ugly gray building, was given to Schindler by the Nazis after it was taken, without compensation, from the Jewish Nussbaum family.

Straszewskiego Street ends at Wawel, the limestone hill where the ancient royal palaces still stand. During the German occupation of Poland, Hans Frank, the governor of occupied Poland, which was called “the General Government,” lived on Wawel hill in the Castle originally built by King Kazimierz the Great, the founder of the separate city of Kazimierz. Schindler’s apartment in Krakow was north of the Kazimierz district and north of Wawel hill.

Street in Kazimierz before the Germans came

The next stop, on the tour that I took, was Schindler’s Enameled Pots and Pans Factory, on the south side of the river Vistula, at #4 Lipowa Street. Lipowa Street goes through Podgorze, and the factory is just east of the former ghetto and across the railroad tracks.

Enamelware was apparently widely used in Poland instead of pottery or china, judging by the large amounts of enameled dishes, that were brought to the concentration camps by the prisoners. It is now on display in the museums at Auschwitz and Majdanek.

Enamelware is the type of dishes that Americans associate with the Old West when cowboys ate the beans that they cooked over the campfire on metal plates coated with mottled gray enamel. The most popular color of enameled bowls, displayed in the museums in Poland, is a dull brick red. Enameled pots and pans, such as Schindler produced in his factory, were also popular in American kitchens up until the 1960s.

Oskar Schindler

Schindler obtained a contract with the Germans to supply mess kits and field kitchen pots to the German army. Schindler’s Krakow factory produced armaments as well as enamelware. The Enamelware part of the factory remained open until 1945 with 300 Polish non-Jewish workers.

When the Plaszow camp closed, Schindler moved the munitions part of his factory to Brünnlitz in what is now the Czech Republic.

The factory produced 45 mm anti-tank shells, but none of his shells were ever used because Schindler deliberately set his machines so that the calibration was incorrect, according to the movie “Schindler’s List.” Other sources claim that Schindler spent all the money that he made on his enamelware business to purchase shells on the black market which he then sold to the Nazis. By that time, his purpose was not to make money, but to save his Jewish workers, and thereby save himself from being indicted as a war criminal.

Thomas Keneally, the author of the novel “Schindler’s Ark,” who is a native of Australia, mentioned in the book that in 1944, an Australian plane was shot down by the Germans over Schindler’s factory; the plane was not trying to bomb his munitions factory, but was dropping supplies to the Jewish and Polish partisans in the forest east of Krakow, according to the author.

Schindler’s factory building was still being used for an electronics factory when I visited Krakow in 1998 and I only saw it from the street. The factory is an ordinary gray stucco three-story building with lots of windows, built right next to the sidewalk.

The architectural style of the building is what Americans would call Art Deco; in Poland in the 1940s, this style was called Modern. There is an iron gate at the entrance to the factory courtyard where Schindler built barracks for his workers.

The factory was named Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrick (German Enamelware Factory) and was called DEF for short.

Jewish workers at Schindler’s factory

Oscar Schindler’s factory was taken over by the Jewish Council in Krakow and the building then had a sign outside, just like the original sign, which says “Deutsche Emalia Fabrika – Oscar Schindler.” The factory is now included on the Schindler’s Steps tour; visitors can see the stairs that were used in the filming of the movie.

Schindler’s original office is at the top of the stairs and visitors may sit at his desk. The rest of the factory is off limits but visitors can look around the grounds. The factory interior was not used in the film, except for the stairs.

The photos below were contributed by Richard Stephenson, who took the Schindler’s Steps tour in December 2005.

The grounds of Oskar Schindler’s Factory in Krakow

Photo Credit: Richard Stephenson

Stairs in the factory were shown in Schindler’s List

Photo Credit: Richard Stephenson

Oskar Schindler’s real office was not shown in Schindler’s List

Photo Credit: Richard Stephenson

On my visit to Poland in 1998, I stayed at the Hotel Cracovia in Krakow which was owned by Orbis Travel Agency, the tour company that I used. Built in 1965, it was a first class, but inexpensive, hotel where tour groups from all over Europe stayed before visiting such places as Auschwitz, which is due west of Krakow.

Tours of Kazimierz and the site of the Plaszow labor camp can be arranged from the hotel, as well as private tours of the Auschwitz concentration camp.


Schindler’s List – the Movie

Podgorze ghetto in Krakow

Books about Schindler’s List

March 19, 2018

It all started with Oradour-sur-Glane

Filed under: Holocaust — furtherglory @ 11:19 am

One of the first places that I went, when I began traveling, was to Oradour-sur-Glane.

I wrote about it on my website at

The Official Story of Oradour-sur-Glane

The official story of the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane is told in a 190-page book entitled “Oradour-sur-Glane, a Vision of Horror.” This is the Official Publication of the Remembrance Committee and the National Association of the Families of the Martyrs of Oradour-sur-Glane, written by Guy Pauchou, sub-prefect of Rochechouart, which is a nearby town, and Dr. Pierre Masfrand, the curator of the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane.

The book tells the official story of the destruction of the peaceful village of Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944 when 642 innocent men, women and children were brutally murdered for no reason at all and the whole town was destroyed by Waffen-SS soldiers in Hitler’s elite army.

On June 6, 1944, four days before the Massacre, the Allies had landed at Normandy; this was a crucial time for the German Army. If the Germans had any chance of winning the war, they had to get to Normandy as soon as possible and stop the invasion, yet Waffen-SS soldiers took time out to go to Oradour-sur-Glane to murder innocent civilians who were not involved in the war in any way.

This official version of the Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, as told by the survivors, reveals the enormous pride that the inhabitants had in this unique village in the rolling farm country of the Limosin. The survivors never recovered from the overwhelming grief that gripped them after they lost their entire families and the village that held so many fond memories from their childhood. Their peaceful way of life was destroyed forever by marauding Waffen-SS soldiers who targeted defenseless French civilians for no good reason on a beautiful Summer day in 1944.

After the war, the town received a citation from the Nation of France, which reads as follows:

“The methodical rounding up, the deliberate massacre of these 700 men, women and children, the systematic destruction of these 328 buildings, is the archetypal example of a French community that suffered under barbarism. A motiveless crime, an unthinking cruelty which did nothing but lift the patriotic fervour of the French people, stiffen their desire for liberation, and add to, if possible, the dishonour of Germany and the disgust it engendered.”

According to the Official Publication, the perpetrators of the atrocity at Oradour-sur-Glane were Waffen-SS soldiers of the 3rd Company of the SS regiment “der Führer,” which was part of the 2nd Panzer Division known as “das Reich” Division.

On June 9th, the day before the massacre, a detachment of “das Reich” Division soldiers was billeted in the area bordering Oradour. Some of the soldiers were staying at Rochechourart and others were staying at Saint-Junien, only 13 kilometers from Oradour-sur-Glane, where the French Resistance had blown up a bridge that day. That evening, the soldiers at Rochechourart were moved to Saint-Junien after committing acts of violence and killing several citizens in the town.

Included among the SS soldiers, who were involved in the Rochechourart violence, were some from Schiltigheim, a suburb of Strasbourg in Alsace, a former French province that had been annexed by the Germans into the Greater German Reich after France was defeated in June 1940. There were also refugees from Schiltigheim living in Oradour-sur-Glane.

One out of every three soldiers in the 3rd Company of “der Führer” regiment, the perpetrators of the Oradour massacre, was a Frenchman from Alsace and most of them were under 18 years of age. Except for one man who had volunteered to join the SS, the Alsatians who participated in the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane had been drafted into the regular German Army and were then assigned to the volunteer SS army, according to their testimony in the trial held in 1953.

At least one survivor, Monsieur Paul Doutre, was a 21-year-old “draft dodger” who stayed in his home while the villagers were being assembled and then managed to escape after the SS set fire to his house. Although the booklet doesn’t mention it, he might have been a refugee from Alsace or Lorraine and was called a “draft dodger” because he had refused to join the German army after Alsace-Lorraine was annexed into the Greater German Reich in 1940.

The authors of the booklet, “Oradour-sur-Glane, A Vision of Horror,” point out that what was most striking about the destruction of the village was “the methodical, systematic and even scientific manner in which it was perpetrated.” As the booklet explains, “The German insistence in asking whether there were any munitions dumps was evidently a step of prudence which may be explained by the desire to protect against explosions which the fire might cause and of which they might be the first victims.”

The SS soldiers brought with them all the equipment necessary to destroy the village including bombs, grenades, cartridges, and incendiary bombs, a collection of modern weapons which the authors call “the last word in science and progress!”

According to the authors, “An asphyxiating gas container intended for the liquidation of the unfortunate victims in the church was specially brought in by lorry.” In the opinion of the authors, “The Germans have distinguished themselves from other peoples by their delirious taste for torture, death and blood.” The official story is that the German beasts made plans in advance to gas the women and children and to carry out this terrible crime in the sanctity of a church.

The official version of the massacre makes it abundantly clear that the people of the village were completely innocent. Although the Limosin region was the center of the Communist Resistance movement, the villagers in Oradour-sur-Glane were completely isolated from the war going on all around them.

No German soldier had ever before set foot in Oradour, because there was no reason to. No one in the village had anything to do with the French Resistance. No weapons had ever been stored there and no Maquisards, as the Resistance fighters were called, had ever stayed there. No attacks on SS soldiers had ever occurred in the town, nor anywhere near it, according to the official version of the story. Nothing had ever happened that could possibly offer any justification for the murder of defenseless civilians, nor the burning alive of women and children and the desecration of a Catholic Church.

In 1944, Oradour-sur-Glane was an idyllic village that was heretofore untouched by the war. The inhabitants were neither collaborators with the enemy, nor connected in any way with the Resistance movement. They were engaged only in peaceful pursuits such as playing soccer, fishing in the Glane river, gathering in the numerous cafes, or socializing at the tram station where it was the custom for the villagers meet the daily trains from Limoges.

The word Oradour comes from the Latin oratorium which means an altar and a place to offer prayers for the dead who, in Roman times, were buried in the vicinity of a crossroads. An ancient “lantern for the dead” in the cemetery at Oradour-sur-Glane is one of the few that have survived from the Roman days.

The Glane river flows past the southern entrance to the village, “singing under deep green cradles its eternal hymn of glory to our beautiful Limousin,” as the book so poignantly describes it.

Oradour-sur-Glane was an island in a sea of chaos, where hundreds of refugees had come to get away from the war, including some of the Red Spaniards, the Communists who had fought in the Spanish Civil War which ended in 1939. The town itself had 330 inhabitants, but there was an equal number of refugees there at the time of the massacre. There were even a few Jews hiding in the village, safe in the knowledge that the villagers were non-partisan, so there was no reason for the German occupiers to ever enter the village.

This quote from the Official Publication mentions the Jewish survivors:

“We must also mention: Monsieur Litaud, former postman; Madame Lauzanet, a woman in her sixties; and finally two young Israeli girls by the name of Pinede, and their younger brother, who managed to escape the massacre by fleeing under the Germans’ noses.”

The town was surrounded by small hamlets where the farmers lived. They shopped in the town and sent their children to the Oradour schools. According to the 1936 census, the commune of Oradour-sur-Glane had a population of 1,574 people, including the 330 residents of the town and the inhabitants of all the surrounding hamlets. As the Official Publication states, “It was into this small, quiet, delightful town that the German hordes would perpetrate the most monstrous and abominable crime in our history.”

There was no excuse whatsoever for the German occupiers to select Oradour-sur-Glane for such a horrific crime. The official version points out that “the Nazis had no valid reason to attack this peaceful town.”

There are various theories about why the village of Oradour-sur-Glane was randomly selected by the SS. One possible reason was that the town was mistaken for another village, only 15 miles away, with a similar name, Oradour-sur-Vayres, which was active in the Resistance.

In his book entitled “Justice at Nuremberg,” author Robert E. Conot wrote the following:

When a popular battalion commander was killed in the village of Oradour-sur-Vayres, near Limoges, the troopers descended in error on Oradour-sur-Glane. Unable to extract any information, they machine-gunned the 190 men of the community in the square, and burned 245 women and 207 children alive in the church. The account of an eyewitness was introduced into evidence: “Outside the church the soil was freshly dug, children’s garments were piled up, half burned. Where the barns had stood, completely calcinated human skeletons, heaped one on the other, partially covered with various materials, made a horrible charnel house.”

The above testimony was given by one of the survivors at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946. The “popular battalion commander” was Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, a close personal friend of Adolf Diekmann, the man who had ordered the massacre. (Diekmann’s name is given as Otto Dickmann in all the official accounts.)

Another story is that an SS officer dropped a pencil on a map and the tip pointed to Oradour-sur-Glane.

Some say that nearby Saint-Junien was originally the target because Resistance fighters had blown up a bridge in the town the day before, but when the mayor told the SS that there were 1800 partisans in the town, they chose Oradour-sur-Glane instead. As the authors of the Official Publication explain, Oradour-sur-Glane was targeted since “it was not because of elements of resistance there, but rather because they knew very pertinently that there were not and that they could consequently commit their odious crime with impunity.”

In a book entitled “Oradour, Village of the Dead,” the author Philip Beck wrote the following:

Colonel Rousselier, commander of the 12th military region of the FFI at Limoges, stressed: “There were no engagements of any sort in the region of Oradour-sur-Glane. We had no camp, no arms cache and no explosives anywhere near the village.”

The FFI was the French Forces of the Interior, a French resistance organization which was very active in the area near Oradour-sur-Glane; it was the army of Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French, who had his headquarters in London.

Philip Beck points out that the inhabitants of Oradour would have been fearful of reprisals and would have tried to flee when the SS arrived if they had been involved with the resistance. He wrote: “All accounts point to their air of innocence throughout.”

The Official Publication paints a vivid picture of the Waffen-SS and the German people as barbarians devoid of any civilized manners or feelings. The first sentence of their version of the story tells us that Oradour-sur-Glane was “a charming, attractive, small town” before it was “crucified with such atrocity by German barbarity.”

Oradour-sur-Glane is today called a “martyr village;” the ruins have been preserved as a symbol of German barbarity, according to the Official Publication.

The authors of the Official Publication were particularly offended by two reports filed by the SS shortly after the massacre. Regarding the first report, on June 13, 1944, the Official Publication states that “it is understandable that its purpose was to justify the massacre by mentioning the importance of the advantages that the Reich had gained from it.” This is a reference to the fact that Resistance activity in the area ceased after the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane and the SS troops were finally able to get to Normandy to fight the Allied invaders, instead of battling the guerrillas.

The second report by the SS on June 17, 1944 was even more offensive because it “raises the matter of its salutary influence on the troops’ morale.” Before the massacre, the morale of the SS had been low because they were frustrated by the delay in getting to Normandy since the railway lines had been sabotaged by “terrorists,” and the SS soldiers were being attacked by the Maquisards, the Resistance fighters. This report implied that their morale had been raised by the joy of killing innocent villagers who had never done them any harm.

The Official Publication points out that the

… unleashing of such monstrous instincts and the obsession with atrocities such as these has no name in any language – except however in the German language, where the term ‘Schadenfreude’ has been created and which may be translated as ‘pleasure in doing evil.’ How edifying it is when we find that in Germany such a brutal state of mind, heart and spirit should be so natural, normal and usual that it should be necessary to create a special word to designate this!

The German word Schadenfreude is frequently used in America to mean “taking malicious pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.” It is not used to mean “pleasure in doing evil.”

In the Forward at the front of the book, the authors of the Official Publication leave no doubt about their opinion of the SS soldiers whom they refer to as “The Huns.” This is a pejorative term that was first used during World War I when German soldiers were accused of cutting off the hands of babies in Belgium.

The following paragraph is a quote from the Forward of the Official Publication:

A traveler in June 1944 leaving Limoges for Angouleme would have been captivated by the charming balance of the surrounding countryside. How easily he would have stepped aside from the main road to take some more intimate by-way to discover to his delight, above the meandering river Glane, between two rows of willows and poplars, the church of the town going by the melodic name of Oradour.

A few days later, nothing was left of this village apart from ruins and embers, the blackened sections of walls grasping the sky like stumps, and the charred remains of its inhabitants. The Huns had been that way, killing, pillaging, destroying, burning and annihilating animate beings and inanimate alike with method and refinement, for in the art of killing they are masters par excellence.

The “fateful day” of the massacre was on a Saturday, the 10th of June, 1944. The villagers were looking forward to the Sunday Mass the next day, which was to be the First Communion day for some of the Catholic children. Ironically, the 10th of June was also the date of the German destruction of the town of Lidice, two years earlier, in what is now the Czech Republic. At the trial of the perpetrators in 1953, the survivors of Lidice were invited to witness the proceedings, along with the survivors of Oradour-sur-Glane.

Oradour-sur-Glane was crowded with people that June day, including children who had been evacuated from other areas, especially Nice, Avignon, Montpelier and Bordeaux. Although it was a Saturday, the schools were filled with children because a medical visit had been scheduled. In addition to a boys school and three separate classroom buildings for girls, there was a special school for refugee children from Alsace-Lorraine which had 21 students. There were 64 pupils in the boys school and 109 girls in three classrooms, making a total of 191 children registered in the Oradour schools.

Many of the parents of these children lived outside the town itself and were not killed in the massacre. They continued to live in the area, mourning the loss of their children for the rest of their lives. Only one of the school children escaped that day. In addition, younger children and babies died in the church, the youngest one only a week old.

On the day of the massacre, there was to be a distribution of tobacco rations in Oradour-sur-Glane. The village was located in a rich agricultural region and many people were there to stock up on food provisions. Others had come for week-end recreation, as the Glane river was noted as a great place to fish. The Hotel Avril was full of guests, some of whom had come to the town to escape the “danger of bombardments in Paris,” or from other places like Reims and Bordeaux.

There were “one or two Jewish families hiding under assumed names” who were long-term guests at the Hotel. At the Milord Hotel, the tables were also full for lunch. Amongst the regulars who were eating lunch at the Milord were “Parisians with their families.” It was a beautiful summer day and the residents had no reason to believe that the hostilities between the German occupiers and the French Resistance fighters would ever reach their peaceful community.

The inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane had just finished a leisurely lunch when “the Krauts” arrived around 2 p.m. according to Madame Lang, one of the survivors, who lived near the church.

The Official Publication also quotes Hubert Desourteaux, who was one of the first to observe the SS soldiers at around 2:15 p.m. According to his recollection, there was a “heavy lorry convoy” consisting of “ten or so vehicles, five of which (three lorries and two half-tracks) moved through the main street, rue Emile-Desourteaux, making for the upper town, where they stopped.” They had entered the lower town at the south end of the main street, coming from the direction of Limoges. He estimated that there were around 200 soldiers, all wearing camouflage jackets in shades of green and yellow.

The town crier, Monsieur Depierrefiche, was ordered to walk through the streets, beating a drum, and reading out an order that all the inhabitants, without exception, men, women and children, were to assemble immediately in the Market Square with their papers for an identity check. The fact that Oradour-sur-Glane had a town crier gives one an idea of how much life has changed in the 60 years since the massacre. For years, the survivors mourned the loss of their former way of life, and the loss of the scene of their childhood, neither of which could ever be replaced. The ruins of the village serve as a constant reminder of what was lost when the German barbarians overran Europe.

According to Monsieur Marcel Darthout, who was one of the survivors, the SS men “went into the houses in Oradour, had every door opened and under threat of arms, brutally forced everybody, even the ill, to the assembly point.” The troops “proceeded without hesitation, methodically and with order, just as if on manoeuvres.”

Survivor Clement Broussaudier described how a sick school teacher, named Madame Binet, was forced to leave her bed and go to the Market Square in her pajamas. The crippled uncle of Armand Senon, another survivor, was beaten and forced to leave his house. Everyone had to assemble under the pretext of checking their identity papers.

There were unverified stories that one of the SS soldiers said that a skirmish was expected to take place in the village and he would himself escort the children to the church to “assure their safety.” There was only one school child who was not killed in the massacre. Roger Godfrin, a schoolboy from the French province of Lorraine, which had been annexed into the Greater German Reich in 1940, escaped through the garden behind the school and disappeared into the woods. According to the official story, Godfrin told a friend: “They’re Germans, I know what they’re like. They’ll try to hurt us. I’m going to try and escape.”

Madame Lang observed the scene from her hiding place in one of the houses. “What an anguishing sight,” she said, “of mothers enfolding their babies in their arms and others pushing them in prams. Young girls were crying. Then the school children arrived, boys and girls, making their way to their place of execution. I can still hear the sound of those poor kids’ shoes, tapping the road, overshadowed by the heavy thud of the torturers’ boots.”

The book lists the names of all the victims, along with their occupation. One of them was Jean Ramnoux, a clog maker. The sound of the shoes “tapping the road” came from the wooden clogs, probably made by Ramnoux. The majority of the victims were unemployed, according to the list in the Official Publication.

The SS soldiers also rounded up the inhabitants who lived in the surrounding hamlets south of the village of Oradour and drove them in trucks to the Market Square. The family of survivor Marguerite Rouffanche was among them. By 2:45 p.m. everyone had been assembled. Mothers carried babies in their arms; old people had been dragged from their beds, and the town baker, who had been interrupted in his work, was standing there bare-chested and covered with flour. The assembled villagers were surrounded by SS soldiers who had six sub-machine guns trained on them.

Dr. Jacques Desourteaux, who had been out on a house call, drove into the village in his car just as the people were being assembled. His father, Dr. Paul Desourteaux, who was the mayor of the town, was ordered by one of the soldiers to select 30 hostages. When he refused, he was taken to the Town Hall for a short time and then returned to the assembly point. He had offered himself and his family as the hostages, but his offer was declined.

At 3 p.m. the assembled inhabitants were divided into two groups with women and children in one group and the men in the other. The women and children were marched off to the church while the men were ordered to sit down in three rows, facing a wall.

Monsieur Darthout is quoted in the book as saying the following:

“They had to find a pretext for the terrible massacre they were preparing. An interpreter stood forward and announced “There are secret arms and munitions deposits here made by ‘terrorists’. We shall make searches. During this time, to facilitate our operations we shall put you in the barns. If you know of any such deposits,” he added, “we request you to reveal them to us now.”


No one admitted to any deposit and for the good reason that there were none. It was a totally peaceful village where each went about his own small business or farming his land. I must mention that never was any assassination committed against any German soldier and there was no reason that might justify the least reprisal from them.”

According to the Official Publication, while the women were awaiting their fate in the church and the men were sitting in rows of three on the Market Square, the SS began carrying out a systematic pillage of the town, searching each house and emptying it of its contents.

The Official Publication claims that this was not a search for weapons, but rather a search for valuables that the SS wanted to steal. “The village was rich and theft was bound to be lucrative: silver, linen, provisions, precious objects, everything was there.”

The next day a locked safe was found in the burned out home of Monsieur Dupic, where the SS soldiers had stayed the night after the destruction of the village. When the safe was forced open, it was found to be empty, proof that the SS had stolen the money from it, according to the Official Publication.

At 3:30 p.m. “an officer, tall and thin looking, came from the side of the church to speak to Monsieur Desourteaux,” according to 29-year-old Armand Senon who witnessed the action from his house which was on the Market Square. He was not at the assembly point because he was incapacitated by a broken leg, which he had sustained playing football. After a brief discussion, the men of the town were ordered into six locations: the Laudy, Milord, and Bouchoule barns, the Desourteaux garage, the Denis Wine and Spirits storehouse and the Beaulieu smithy.

According to Monsieur Roby, one of the five survivors who escaped from the Laudy barn, the SS soldiers leveled machine guns at them as they sat in the barn. And then “Suddenly, five minutes after our entrance into the barns, as if in obedience to a signal like a powerful explosion, that I judged to come from the Market Square, they gave a loud cry and cowardly opened fire on us.” Several of the survivors mentioned hearing a loud explosion, which they thought was a signal, just before the men of the village were murdered.

The first men to fall, during the shooting in the barns, were protected by the bodies that fell on top of them. After all the men had apparently been shot, the “torturers walked on top of our bodies to finish off at point blank range with their revolvers any injured person they saw still moving,” according to Roby. The SS men then piled “straw, hay, faggots, cart slats, ladders and so on” on top of the bodies and set fire to them. Then they left the barn. The men in the Laudy barn, who had not been hit, or who were only slightly injured, managed to crawl out from under the bodies and escaped through a hole in the wall into an adjoining storeroom. An SS soldier returned and set fire to some straw in the storeroom. When he left, the five survivors managed to escape through an exit in the storeroom to another building where they hid for the next three hours. The fire eventually reached this building, and the five men escaped through a narrow passageway between two walls. They made their way to the Market Square. It was now around 7 p.m. The SS men had apparently left, so the survivors ran towards the cemetery, where they finally found safety in the surrounding fields.

All of the survivors reported that the men in the barn were initially shot in the legs. The five survivors who escaped from the Laudy barn all said that there were wounded men who were burned alive. Madame Lang, a survivor who was hiding in a house only six yards from the Milord barn, said that she “heard the most heartrending screams and cries for help with intermittent strafes of gun fire.” There is no explanation offered in the official version for why the prisoners were shot in the legs and then burned alive.

In the barn belonging to Monsieur Bouchoule, the bodies of women and children were found, along with the charred remains of the men. This barn is located across the road from the Church. In the wine storehouse of Monsieur Denis, the remains of both men and women were found. The official version of the massacre explains that “No doubt, these were poor victims apprehended at the last moment and added at random to the men’s group.” There were no women or children found in the other four buildings where the men were massacred.

The village of Oradour-sur-Glane was connected to the city of Limoges by a tram line. In the midst of the destruction of the village, two trams arrived. The first tram had only tramway employees in it. The SS soldiers shot one of the employees, Monsieur Chalard, after he stepped off the tram and tried to cross the bridge over the Glane river. His corpse was thrown into the river and the tram was sent back to Limoges with the rest of the employees still in it.

The second train arrived around 7 p.m. by which time, most of the villagers had been murdered and the town had been burning for at least two hours. One of the passengers was Mademoiselle Marie Gauthier, a resident of Limoges, who gave the following account, which is quoted in the small booklet entitled “Oradour-sur-Glane, A Vision of Horror,” the official version of the story:

“This tram was stopped at the changeover point of the Saint-Victurnien road by the Germans, who made us stay in the carriages. A soldier left by bicycle apparently to get orders and when he came back, he made all the passengers who were heading for Oradour get out. There were about 22 or 23 of us and we were heavily escorted to a point not far from the village of Les Bordes. We were made to cross the Glane on a narrow footbridge with the help of a tree trunk and then were directed to the Thomas house where the command post was situated.

Our group was then stopped in the open country. The officer commanding the detachment held a discussion with the officer of the command post. The men and women were then separated and an identity check was made before we were brought back together again. After some hesitation and debate, suddenly the S.S. came forward, cocked their guns and made a circle around us. There was no doubt in our minds that they were preparing to execute us. Those were interminable moments of anguish and terror. Finally after a somewhat heated discussion between the officer and the commander, they announced that we were free. We immediately hurried to reach the country.”

The tram was then sent back to Limoges where it arrived at around midnight.

A group of SS soldiers spent the night in the home of Monsieur Dupic, a fabric merchant who managed to escape when he saw the Germans enter the town. His house was located at the north end of the main street. The SS soldiers did not leave Oradour-Sur-Glane until the following day at about 11 a.m. They set fire to the Dupic house just before they left. The next day, the remains of 20 to 25 Champagne bottles were found in the ruins.

According to the Official Publication:

Without doubt, during the night, the most atrocious orgies occurred in this house. […] They drank and binged in the Teutonic fashion, whilst other discoveries indicate clearly enough the monstrous nature of the scenes that these sadistic brutes gave themselves over to in the light of the fading glow of the fires.



The SS Version of the Story – illegal in France

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March 17, 2018

The Hungarian Jews who were deported to Bergen-Belsen

Filed under: Auschwitz, Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 2:33 pm

The Deportation of the Hungarian Jews

Bergen-Belsen camp, April 1945

According to Eberhard Kolb, who wrote a book entitled “Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945,” Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had opened a special section at the Bergen-Belsen exchange camp on July 8, 1944, where 1,683 Hungarian Jews from Budapest had been brought. The Jews in the Hungarian section were treated better than all the others at Bergen-Belsen. They received better food and medical care and were not required to work nor to attend the daily roll calls. They wore their own clothes, but were required to wear a yellow Star of David patch. The Bergen-Belsen camp had different categories of prisoners, and the Hungarian Jews were in the category of Preferential Jews (Vorzugsjuden) because they were considered desirable for exchange purposes.

Prisoners at the Bergen-Belsen camp

The first transport of 318 “exchange Jews” left the Bergen-Belsen Hungarian camp on August 18, 1944, bound for Switzerland. On August 20th, the trainload of Hungarian Jews arrived in Bregenz and then went on to St. Gallen the next day.

Hitler had given his permission in December 1942 to release Jews for ransom, so Himmler was not going against established Nazi policy.

On August 21, 1944, three SS officers (Kurt Becher, Max Grüson and Hermann Krumey) who were representing Himmler, and a representative of the Budapest Jews, Rudolf Kastner, met with Saly Mayer, a leading member of the Jewish Community in Switzerland. The meeting took place in the middle of a bridge at St. Margarethen, on the border between Germany and Switzerland, because Mayer refused to enter Germany and he also did not want the SS men to enter Switzerland, according to Yehuda Bauer.

Becher asked for farm machinery and 10,000 trucks, and in return, he promised to free 318 Hungarian Jews from Bergen-Belsen.

In a show of good faith, the train with the 318 Jews was already waiting at the Swiss border. Mayer offered minerals and industry goods instead of the trucks.

According to Yehuda Bauer, Becher later claimed that he had persuaded Himmler not to deport the Budapest Jews, and that was why Himmler issued an order to stop the deportation three days later.

A second group of 1,368 Hungarian Jews left the Bergen-Belsen detention camp on December 4, 1944 and entered Switzerland just after midnight on December 7th, according to Yehuda Bauer. Altogether, there was a total of 2,896 Jews released for ransom, including a transport of 1,210 Jews from the Theresienstadt Ghetto, who entered Switzerland on February 7, 1945.

After the departure of the second Hungarian transport to Switzerland in December, more transports from Budapest continued to arrive at Bergen-Belsen and the Hungarian section remained in existence there until April 15, 1945 when the camp was voluntarily turned over to the British by Heinrich Himmler.

According to Eberhard Kolb, it was a transport of Hungarian Jews in February 1945 that bought in the lice that started a typhus epidemic in the camp. The delousing facilities in the camp had been temporarily out of order at that time.

After the Hungarian Jews had entered Switzerland, there were false reports by the Swiss press that the Jews were being ransomed in exchange for asylum for 200 SS officers who were planning to defect. When Hitler heard this, from Ernst Kaltenbrunner who was no friend of Himmler, he ordered all further releases of Jews for ransom to stop.

Between April 6 and April 11, 1945 the Hungarian Jews were evacuated from Bergen-Belsen on the orders of Himmler who was planning to use them as bargaining chips in his negotiations with the Allies. Himmler still had hopes that the Western Allies would join the Germans in fighting against the Communist Soviet Union.

The next day, on April 12, 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died and Hitler and Himmler truly believed that America would now join them in their war against the Communists.

The Jews in the Star Camp and also in the Neutrals Camp were also evacuated, along with the Hungarians, in three trains which held altogether about 7,000 Jews who were considered “exchange Jews.”

One of these trains arrived with 1,712 Jews on April 21, 1945 in the Theresienstadt Ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Two weeks later, the Theresienstadt Ghetto was turned over to the Red Cross, just before Soviet troops arrived with Russian doctors to take care of the prisoners who were sick with typhus.

The other two trains from Bergen-Belsen never made it to Theresienstadt because they had to keep making detours due to frequent Allied air attacks, according to Eberhard Kolb. One of the trains finally stopped on April 14th near Magdeburg in northern Germany; the guards ran away and the Jews on the train were liberated by American troops.

The third train halted on April 23, 1945 near the village of Tröbitz in the Niederlausitz region; they were liberated by Soviet troops after the guards escaped.


Eli Wiesel – A famous Hungarian Jew

The war of the Crosses was my introduction to the Holocaust

Filed under: Auschwitz, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 10:03 am

The 1998 War of the Crosses or Whose Holocaust is it?

My photo of crosses that were put up in 1998 in front of Block 11

In 1998, Polish nationalists embarked upon a mission to put up 152 Christian crosses in honor of the Polish Catholic resistance fighters who were executed by the Nazis in a gravel pit behind Block 11 at the main Auschwitz concentration camp. This was their way of protesting Jewish demands, over the previous 10 years, that the 26-foot souvenir cross from a Mass, said by the Pope at Birkenau, be removed. The basic attitude of the Poles, as expressed to me, was “This is our country. You have your country and we have ours. If we want to put up a Catholic Cross in our country, we’ll put it.”

It was Kazmirierz Switon, a Polish citizen, who began the crosses campaign in August 1998. The crosses were removed on May 28, 1999, and peace was restored. The place where the crosses were set up was right next to the building where Carmelite nuns had set up a convent. At that time, the plot of land where the crosses were set up had been leased to a non-profit “save the cross” group that wanted to save the Pope’s cross, which the Jews wanted removed.

Graffiti on billboards along the route to the Auschwitz camp in 1998 alerted visitors to the War of the Crosses before they even reached the camp. The graffiti that I saw was light-hearted and joked about the controversy, even mentioning Winnie the Pooh. When I was there in October 1998, the War of the Crosses had escalated to the point that the Polish Catholics were threatening to put up over 1,000 crosses, or one for each year that Poland has been Catholic territory. During the years when Poland had ceased to be a country, it was the Catholic Church that kept the spirit of Polish nationalism alive.

Jewish protests against Christian symbols were increasing in 1998, and there was a new demand that the Catholic Church in the former SS administration building at Birkenau be removed because it is not appropriate at the place where over a million Jews perished in the gas chambers.

In October 2005, when the photo below was taken, a Catholic Church was still in this building.

Catholic Church in administration building at Auschwitz-Birkenau

The War of the Crosses was the culmination of years of tension between the Poles and the Jews. The Jews are still resentful that some of the Poles collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, and even worse, after the war in 1946, there were pogroms in which more Jews were killed by Polish civilians. The Jews say that the Nazis killed the Jews because they were acting under orders, but the Poles killed the Jews because they wanted to. As late as 1968, there was violence against the Jews in Poland, and even today Jewish memorials and Synagogues in Warsaw must be constantly guarded against vandalism and arson.

The desire of the Jews is to make Auschwitz an international site, rather than a place under the control of the Polish government. Jewish students come from Israel, and from other countries all over the world, for a bi-annual event called the “March of the Living” and at this time, they meet and talk informally with Polish students in an attempt to understand the past and to prevent future bloodshed.

Auschwitz is the world’s largest Jewish graveyard. It was here that over a million innocent Jews lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis. The very name Auschwitz is synonymous with Jewish suffering and genocide. So why would anyone ever want to put up Christian crosses at Auschwitz? Worst of all, why would anyone put up crosses just outside the grounds of a Holocaust Memorial Site, where they might be seen by Jewish mourners praying inside?

The photograph below shows Block 11, the prison building at the main Auschwitz camp with the execution wall, called “the black wall,” on the left. A person standing here in October 1998 would not have been able to see the crosses that were erected in the gravel pit on the other side of this building.

The other side of the Block 11 building, taken from inside the camp

Actually, the place where most of the Jews perished in the Holocaust is not at the Auschwitz main camp, called Auschwitz I, outside of which Christian crosses were placed in 1998, but at Auschwitz II, a huge subsidiary camp, 3 kilometers from the Auschwitz I camp. Auschwitz II is better known as Birkenau, and the whole camp complex is now called Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Every school child in America knows about the Holocaust and the fate of Anne Frank, who died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen, where she was transferred after being a prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The place where Anne Frank was sent was actually Auschwitz II, now called Birkenau. Birkenau is the German name for the village of Brzezinka where the camp for Jewish prisoners, brought from all over Europe, was located. It was at Birkenau that the genocide of the Jews was carried out, not at the main camp where the crosses were placed.

To understand the War of the Crosses, from the viewpoint of Polish nationalists, one needs to understand that the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz I, which has been turned into a museum, is called the Museum of Martyrdom, suggesting a non-denominational connotation. When the main Auschwitz camp was first turned into a museum in 1947, the official decree read, “On the site of the former Nazi concentration camp, a monument to the martyrdom of the Polish nation and of other nations is to be erected for all time to come.” There was no mention of Jews or the Holocaust in any of the official Museum guidebooks at that time. The Museum was intended to be strictly political, a monument to the struggle of the Communists against the Fascists. The Museum was officially described as an “International Monument to Victims of Fascism.”

It was only after the fall of Communism in 1989 that the genocide of the Jews was even mentioned on the monument in the former Birkenau camp. Before 1989, few people from outside Poland had ever seen Auschwitz-Birkenau, but there were actually more visitors during the Communist regime than there were in 1998 because all Polish citizens were encouraged to go on group tours of the camp and most of these visitors were Catholic. In 1998, the largest group of visitors were the Polish Catholic high school students who were fulfilling an educational requirement to visit Auschwitz where so many of their Catholic grandfathers suffered and died bravely during the Polish resistance to the Nazi occupation.

From the first day that the Auschwitz main concentration camp opened in June 1940, it was the place where Polish political prisoners were sent. It was Catholic religious pictures that were laboriously scratched with fingernails onto the concrete walls of a basement prison cell at Auschwitz by Polish resistance fighters who were imprisoned there. It was mostly Catholic political prisoners who were led naked to the black wall at Auschwitz and executed with a shot in the neck. It was mug shots of Polish Catholic prisoners that lined the walls of the corridors in 1998 in the former camp buildings at Auschwitz that have been converted into a museum.

For the Polish people, who are 98% Catholic, Auschwitz-Birkenau is the place where not one, but two, of their Catholic saints died as martyrs. Both Father Maksymilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest, and a Carmelite nun named Edith Stein met their deaths at Auschwitz-Birkenau and have been canonized as Catholic saints. The prison cell in Block 11 at the Auschwitz main camp, which was occupied by Father Kolbe who volunteered to die to save the life of a fellow prisoner, is a prominent Catholic shrine. In 1998, the controversial crosses were placed in front of the side wall of the Block 11 building, where Father Kolbe was imprisoned in a “starvation cell.”

Pictured below is the inside of the basement cell where Father Kolbe was left to die. On the wall is a memorial plaque. This cell is always decorated with fresh flowers, but notice that there is no cross here, as this building is inside the main Auschwitz camp, which is now a museum.

My 2005 photo of Prison Cell No. 18, Father Kolbe’s cell

Edith Stein was born a Jew and was an atheist, but converted to the Catholic religion and became a Carmelite nun under the name of Sister Benedicta of the Cross. Because she was a Jewess, she was gassed in the gas chamber in the little cottage known as Bunker 2 at Birkenau on August 9, 1942; she was canonized a saint in the Catholic Church in October 1998.

The original War of the Crosses began in 1979 after pious Catholics erected a Christian cross at the ruins of Bunker 2, following the announcement by the Pope that the Church was initiating the beatification process, the first step toward sainthood. Jews then erected a Star of David symbol and soon there was a proliferation of crosses and stars: the war had begun.

2005 photo of the ruins of Bunker 2

The original War of the Crosses ended when an agreement was reached in May 1997 and signed in December 1997 between Jewish leaders and Polish leaders. The agreement stated that no religious, political or ideological symbols would be placed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The papal Cross, used by Pope John Paul II when he said Mass at Birkenau, was exempted in the agreement. The Jewish leaders did not approve of this exemption and in 1998, the new War of the Crosses began.

It was the Carmelite nuns who had placed the papal cross at the Auschwitz main camp in 1988, near their convent which was just outside the walls of the camp. The Carmelite convent had been established in 1984 in a brick building, which was formerly used by the Nazis to store the Zyklon-B pellets that were used for gassing the Jews.

There is also a Carmelite convent just outside the walls of the former Dachau concentration camp, and the Christian cross on the top of it is within sight of, and only a few yards from, the Jewish Memorial which was built at a later date. The convent at Dachau has an entrance through one of the former guard towers at the camp and it is open to tourists who are visiting the former concentration camp.

The Jews have also protested against the Dachau convent, but to no avail. It was still there when I visited in May 2007, along with a Protestant Memorial Chapel and a Catholic Memorial Chapel on the grounds of the former camp. There are no crosses or Christian symbols of any kind atop the memorial chapels at Dachau, although the nearby Jewish Memorial has a Menorah on top and a Star of David on the entrance gate.

Protests about the convent at Auschwitz were more effective and finally the hierarchy of the Catholic Church agreed to evict the nuns from the building.

The controversy became even more heated in the summer of 1989 when the nuns failed to meet the deadline for moving. Local residents reacted furiously when Jewish activists from the USA and Israel staged a series of protests at the site. The Poles interpreted the protests as a hostile foreign intrusion and an assault on the sovereignty of the Polish nation by the governments of other countries.

The nuns finally moved to new quarters across the street in 1993, but left behind the cross from the Pope’s mass, which they had erected near their convent.

Poland became the premier country for the world’s Catholics because it was the birthplace of Karol Wojtyla, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Krakow, who was elected in 1978 as the first-ever Polish pope and the first non-Italian pope in 450 years. The birthplace of John Paul II is only 30 kilometers from Auschwitz in Wadowice, a small and once obscure town that has become a popular place of pilgrimage for pious Catholics. Wadowice now has an international airport to handle the many visitors to the town.

On June 7, 1979, Cardinal Wojtyla came back to Poland, as Pope John Paul II, and honored the country of his birth by saying Mass at the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz II or Birkenau. Birkenau was chosen because it is the closest place to the Pope’s home town that was large enough to hold the crowd of 500,000 people who attended this unique event in the history of Catholic Poland.

The 26-foot cross from the altar of that Mass is the same cross that was erected by the Carmelite nuns in 1988 at their new convent in a building just outside the grounds of the Museum of Martyrdom at Auschwitz I. The building that the nuns moved into had formerly been a theater before World War II.

The pictures below, taken in 1998, represent a panoramic view of the scene of the controversy about the crosses. The first picture starts at the left of the scene and shows the former building occupied by the Catholic Carmelite nuns; the other pictures were snapped from left to right as you take in the whole area of the crosses. Shown in the last two pictures is the brick building inside the camp, called Block 11, where Father Kolbe was imprisoned. On the other side of Block 11 is the infamous black wall where many Polish Catholic prisoners were shot.

On the spot where the large cross now stands, 152 Polish Catholics were shot. The gas chamber where Jews and Russian Prisoners of War were gassed between January 1942 and March 1942 is on the opposite side of the camp, as far away as you can get from the place where the crosses were erected in 1998.

Former Catholic Carmelite convent

Polish flag and flowers honoring 152 Polish Catholics who were executed on this spot

Some of the more than 200 crosses erected outside Auschwitz I camp

Block 11 which was the prison block at Auschwitz I

26-foot cross used by Pope John Paul II to say mass

As the last three pictures above show, the crosses were placed on three sides of a former gravel pit, surrounding the 26-foot cross from the Mass said by the Pope in 1979 which was erected in the middle of the former gravel pit, now covered with grass.

At the time that these photos were taken on October 1, 1998, the number of crosses here was over 200. The whole display was tastefully done and not as chaotic or disrespectful as one might imagine from reading about the controversy in the Los Angeles Times.

The yellow sign erected along the fence, shown in the first picture, demanded the return of the Carmelite nuns to the beautiful brick building here. The nuns moved to new quarters in 1993 in response to Jewish protests, led by Rabbi Weiss in New York, but left behind the 26-foot cross that was erected in 1988.

The photo below shows the front of the building from which the nuns were evicted. A new house was built for them across the road, and this building is now empty.

2005 photo of building where Carmelite nuns formerly lived

The former gravel pit, which is in a sunken area below the fence around the Auschwitz I camp, is the spot where 152 Polish Catholic political prisoners were executed by the Nazis.

This spot is located just down the street from the tourist entrance to the former camp and the brick administration building which is now a part of the Museum.

Since the crosses are in a low spot, not even the 26-foot cross can be seen from inside the camp because it is hidden behind the Block 11 building.

When I visited Auschwitz again in October 2005, only the 26-foot cross remained in the gravel pit and everything had returned to normal.

Block 11 with 26-foot cross in former gravel pit

On Sunday, May 28, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of the Catholic Church, visited the former camp at Auschwitz, which was mainly a prison for political prisoners, and the Birkenau camp where 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered.

The photo below shows the Pope, wearing a white robe and red shoes, as he walks into the Auschwitz main camp through the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate, followed by his entourage of Catholic bishops and cardinals.

Pope Benedict enters Auschwitz main camp Photo Credit: Associated Press

The photo below shows Pope Benedict XVI standing at the International Monument at Birkenau as he pays homage to the victims who were gassed in Crematorium II and Crematorium III, the ruins of which are only a few steps away, on either side of the monument.

Pope Benedict XVI at the International Monument at Birkenau 

The Pope’s visit did nothing to heal the rift between Catholics and Jews. In spite of the fact that Pope Benedict XVI paid his respects to the Jews who were murdered at Auschwitz and bowed his head in shame, he was widely criticized in the media for not mentioning the anti-Semitism of the Catholic church which contributed to the hatred of the Jews in Europe, and for not addressing the failure of Pope Pious XII to do everything in his power to prevent the deportation of the Jews to the death camps. Pope Benedict XVI offered no apology to the Jews for Auschwitz.

The Pope spoke in Italian, so as not to offend the Poles and the Jews by speaking in the hated German language, but still managed to insult the Jews with these words: “In a place like this, words fail; in the end there can only be a dread silence, a silence which itself is a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?”

It was not God, but rather the millions of Catholics in Europe who were silent, and it was not God, but the ordinary Germans who tolerated the genocide of the Jews, according to the media critics.

In his speech at Auschwitz, Pope Benedict XVI blamed the Holocaust on the “criminals” in the Nazi regime and did not acknowledge the collective guilt of the German people who enthusiastically supported Hitler. The Pope also neglected to acknowledge his own Nazi past as an unwilling member of the Hitler Youth and a soldier forced to fight in the German Army.

The Pope visited the Black Wall at Block 11 and lit a candle in honor of the political prisoners who were executed there, but he wisely avoided the other side of Block 11 where the cross used for the Mass said by Pope John Paul II still stands.

He visited the cell where Father Kolbe died, but stayed far away from the Catholic Church in the former administration building at Birkenau and avoided the empty building where the Carmelite nuns formerly lived.

The general consensus in the media was that the Pope did his best, but his best wasn’t good enough.

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