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April 4, 2011

April 4th — the 66th anniversary of the day that American troops discovered Ohrdruf

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany — Tags: — furtherglory @ 1:39 pm

Col. Hayden Sears talks to Ohrdruf survivors

On April 4, 1945, American soldiers of the 4th Armored Division of General Patton’s US Third Army were moving through the city of Gotha in Germany, searching for a secret Nazi communications center when they unexpectedly came across the abandoned Ohrdruf forced labor camp, which was a sub-camp of the Buchenwald concentration camp.  Ohrdruf was the first Nazi prison camp that still had a few survivors there when the Americans arrived.

In September 1944, US troops had witnessed the abandoned Natzweiler camp in Alsace, which was then a part of the Greater German Reich, but is now in France.  But it was Ohrdruf where American soldiers first saw evidence of the atrocities committed in the Nazi camps.

Dead prisoners were found on the ground at Ohrdruf

In the photo above, the prisoners have been partially covered with blankets because their pants had been pulled down, an indication that these men might have been killed by their fellow prisoners after the Germans 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.  The inmates at Buchenwald had weapons stored inside the camp and they liberated themselves on April 11, 1945.  Perhaps, the Ohrdruf prisoners also had a cache of weapons and they killed some of the prisoners that they didn’t like.  There was also the body of an SS man near the gate.

On April 2, 1945, there had been 9,000 prisoners evacuated from Ohrdruf 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.

A few soldiers in the 354th Infantry Regiment of the 89th Infantry Division of the US Third Army also reached the abandoned Ohrdruf camp on April 4th, after being alerted by prisoners who had escaped from the march out of the camp, which had started on April 2nd.

Among the soldiers who witnessed the atrocities at Ohrdruf was Charles T. Payne, the great uncle of President Barak Obama. 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.

General Walton Walker ordered the mayor of the town of Ohrdruf to visit the camp. After this visit, the mayor and his wife committed suicide. General Patton suggested that the rest of the citizens of Ohrdruf should see the camp. The two photos below were taken at other camps where German civilians were forced to look at the dead bodies.

German civilians forced to look at dead bodies.

German civilians were shocked by the sight of prisoners who had died from typhus

A few days later, when the main camp at Buchenwald was liberated on April 11th, General Walker ordered the citizens of Weimar to be marched 5 miles uphill, at gunpoint, to see the exhibits that had been set up inside the Buchenwald camp.  As far as I know, none of them killed themselves.

The discovery of Ohrdruf is the first thing that visitors learn about at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

American soldiers view bodies that were burned on pyres at the Ohrdruf forced labor camp

The photo above is significant because it marks the beginning of the history of the Holocaust.  Visitors to the USHMM step out of the elevator and see a life-size copy of the photo, which is supposed to re-create the shock that the American soldiers experienced when they discovered Ohrdruf.

I previously blogged about Ohrdruf here.


  1. Are there more pictures of Ohrdruf and “the German civilians”?

    Comment by Tom — January 27, 2016 @ 8:06 am

  2. Are there any known survivors of this camp living in WI or MN? There is a liberator here in Northern WI and we are trying to arrange a meeting for this 90 year old man with someone who was liberated from the camp.

    Comment by Gary — May 31, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

  3. May I email the link to you? I cannot post it here because of the Hebrew War High. I do not like Hebrews knowing where I linger.

    Comment by Lucien — April 4, 2011 @ 9:47 pm

  4. FYI, there are real pics from Ohrdruf and frauds from that same camp. I can supply an example of each as I have both saved. Also, this “photo” is the most notrious of the fakes:

    Comment by Lucien — April 4, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

    • You are correct that the photo you linked to is a fake. But that photo is not at Ohrdruf. Do you have a link to the fake photo from Ohrdruf?

      Comment by furtherglory — April 4, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

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