Scrapbookpages Blog

March 14, 2010

“bodies stacked like cordwood” How many times have you read those words?

If you want to do a google search to find the stories, told by American soldiers, about seeing the Nazi concentration camps in World War II, just search on “bodies stacked like cordwood.”  Without exception, every single soldier who saw Dachau or Buchenwald or Ohrdruf or Mauthausen reported that he saw the horror of “bodies stacked like cordwood.”

Schollmeyer wood pile — Photo by Brucellocius on Flickr

Back in those days, everyone knew what the word cordwood meant.  Cordwood is not a type of wood; it refers to a measurement. A cord of wood is a stack of four-foot logs with a specific height and width.  In the old days, a “cord of wood” was something that you purchased, if you didn’t have trees on your own property that you could cut down.  In my home town, most people had a cord of wood on their back porch, ready to be used in the wood-burning pot-belly stove in their “front room.”

So what does this have to do with anything?  To me, the use of the phrase “stacked like cordwood” is significant because it shows that the typical American soldier in World War II was from a small town or a farm, and was not overly sophisticated.  When the soldiers saw the dead bodies in the concentration camps “stacked like cordwood,” their first thought was  “how can human beings do this to other human beings?”  They just naturally assumed that the prisoners had been starved to death or killed in a gas chamber.

Bodies found in the crematorium at Dachau

Bodies stacked outside the crematorium at Buchenwald

Bodies stacked up at Mauthausen

Bodies found in a shed at Ohrdruf

The photos above show what the American soldiers saw.  After visiting the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald on April 12, 1945,  General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered that as many American soldiers as possible should be brought from the battlefield in trucks and shown the bodies in the nearest concentration camp.  The bodies were left out for weeks so that thousands of soldiers could have a chance to view them. As more prisoners died after the camps were liberated, their bodies were added to the piles.

What was the purpose of bringing soldiers from the battlefield to see dead bodies?  As General Eisenhower famously said: “The American soldiers didn’t know what they were fighting for, but after seeing the concentration camps, they knew what they were fighting against.”

No explanation of how these prisoners had died was given to the American soldiers.  The soldiers were 18 and 19-year-old boys from small town America.  It never occurred to them that there was a typhus epidemic going on in Germany during the last days of World War II and of course, they were not told that these prisoners had died of typhus.  The American soldiers had been vaccinated, so they didn’t have to worry about typhus.  Typhus had been completely wiped out long ago in America by the use of vaccines.

In World War I, four million people died of typhus — and that was just in Poland. During World War II, the Germans knew of the danger of a typhus epidemic and that’s why they used tons of Zyklon-B to kill the lice that spreads typhus.  But as the war progressed and Germany was losing, there was such chaos that the epidemic of typhus could not be controlled.  The American liberators finally stopped the epidemic with DDT and typhus vaccine, which the Germans didn’t have.

As far as I know, not one American soldier ever asked the liberated prisoners, “What’s  going on here?  How did these people die?”  The soldiers had been shown propaganda films before going overseas, so they knew that the German people were evil.  They had been warned not to be fooled by the friendly, fun-loving Germans in their Lederhosen and dirndls; they had been thoroughly indoctrinated in hatred for the German people.  After the war, the soldiers were ordered not to fraternize with the Germans, and most of them returned to America without ever having the opportunity to learn the truth.

Today, these World War II veterans speak to school children in the classroom, telling their stories of how they liberated Dachau or Buchenwald and saw the “bodies stacked like cordwood.”  Sometimes, they tell the children about how they saw human soap or human lampshades or gas chambers.


  1. “The bodies of human beings were stacked like cord wood. All of them dead. All of them stripped. The inspection I made of the pile was not very close, but the corpses seemed to be all male. The bottom layer of the bodies had a north/south orientation, the next layer went east/west, and they continued alternating. The stack was about five feet high, maybe a little more; I could see over the top. They extended down the hill, only a slight hill, for fifty to seventy-five feet. Human bodies neatly stacked, naked, ready for disposal. The arms and legs were neatly arranged, but an occasional limb dangled oddly. The bodies we could see were all face up. There was an aisle, then another stack, and another aisle, and more stacks. The Lord only knows how many there were.”

    Comment by who+dares+wings — April 12, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

  2. this is sad i hope nun like this will happend again

    Comment by kalitha — December 7, 2010 @ 9:53 am

  3. Good blog and good answer to Paolosilv, who repeats rumors without any documentation.

    Where were these depots containing food and medicine for Typhus victims? I don’t think even pro-holocaust historians claim such a thing.

    Another thing that’s not right about those unofficial countermanding orders is that they are signed Heinrich Himmler, Reichfuehrer SS, when the proper way Himmler always signed himself is Reichfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler (isn’t that right?) There is a protocol here and he would not sign his name in any old way.

    These fraudsters are not even very good at it.

    Comment by sceptic — March 15, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

    • You are correct that Himmler signed his name Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler. Note the letter s in Reichsführer. The letter s denotes the possessive. In English it would be Empire’s Leader of the SS. It is a title, like General, so it comes before the name.

      The depots containing food and medicine were at each of the concentration camps in Germany; the depots were located in the SS garrisons that were always right next to the camps. Both the prisoners and the SS soldiers were fed from the food that was stored in the depots in the SS garrisons. If it hadn’t been for these depots of food, all the prisoners in the camps in Germany would have starved because the transportation system had completely broken down due to the bombing of every city in Germany. Dachau had food that was brought in by the Red Cross; the Dachau camp was the only one that the Red Cross trucks could get to in the last days of the war, so the prisoners at Dachau were not starving.

      There was no medicine that was effective in treating typhus. The SS men also got typhus, but they had a better chance of recovering because they were in better health to begin with. However, some of the prisoners also recovered from typhus.

      Comment by furtherglory — March 15, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

  4. The Nazis had food and medicine for typhus stored in depots, but chose to follow Himmler’s orders and let the prisoners die, or kill them.

    Comment by paolosilv — March 15, 2010 @ 12:49 am

    • I am familiar with the Himmler order. I have written about it on this page of my website:

      Here is the part about the Himmler order:

      On that same day, the 14th of April, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler authorized SS Colonel Kurt Becher to negotiate the surrender of Dachau and other camps to the Allies because conditions in the overcrowded camps were now totally out of control. Becher had previously been involved in negotiating with the Allies in the infamous “Blood for Goods” deal in which the Nazis offered to trade a million Hungarian Jews for 10,000 trucks.

      Allegedly, Himmler immediately rescinded his order in a note hurriedly written by hand on plain paper, dated 14 April 1945 and 18 April 1945. The hand-written note from Himmler is now stored in the files of the International Red Cross Tracing Service and news of the existence of the note was released to the public in March 2007.

      The note which was signed “Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer SS” read as follows:

      “A handover is out of the question. The camp must be evacuated immediately. No prisoner must be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy alive. The prisoners have behaved horribly to the civilian population of Buchenwald.”

      Buchenwald was the name of a concentration camp, not the name of a town, and there was no “civilian population of Buchenwald,” which Himmler, of all people, should have known. There were around 25,000 prisoners at Dachau at that point, and thousands more arriving every day, as the prisoners from the sub-camps were brought to the main camp. Keeping this mass of prisoners out of the “hands of the enemy” would have been virtually impossible.

      Arthur Haulot, a Belgian political prisoner at Dachau, wrote in his diary that he heard about this order, one hour after it arrived in Dachau, allegedly by telex. Haulot referred to the order as a “pessimistic rumor.” He had heard about it from a German nurse in the camp, who was his lover.

      However, Marcus J. Smith wrote in his book “Dachau: The Harrowing of Hell” that the Dachau main camp had no telephone or telegraph service on April 27, 1945 so that acting Commandant Weiss was unable to contact headquarters in Oranienburg for permission to allow a Red Cross man to enter the camp; Weiss was forced to give permission on his own authority. The lack of telephone and telegraph service was due to damage caused by the Allied bombing of the camp on April 9, 1945, so presumably there was no telegraph service on April 14th or 18th.

      (The fact that the note mentioned citizens of Buchenwald, not citizens of Weimar, which was the city nearest to the Buchenwald camp, is an indication that this note was faked by someone else, and not hand written by Himmler.)

      Comment by furtherglory — March 15, 2010 @ 8:39 am

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