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April 19, 2012

The liberation of the Dora-Mittelbau (Nordhausen) labor camp by American troops

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 10:41 am

A reader of my blog provided a link to this news report from 2008 about two American veterans who took part in the liberation of Dora-Mittelbau, aka Nordhausen, the famous labor camp where the Germans were building rockets, using the labor of political prisoners. Mittelbau-Dora began as a sub-camp of Buchenwald, but by the end of the war, it was a separate camp with sub-camps of its own.

The article, which was written by Lia Russell, starts off with this quote:

It was a scene beyond their minds’ capacity to process – even now, 63 year later – as Portsmouth natives Jack Lorber and Robert Elliott prepare to observe another Veterans Day.

Lorber, Elliott and the other men of the 786th Tank Battalion and 243rd Engineer Combat Battalion were already seasoned combat veterans by the time they came upon Buchenwald – a notorious Nazi concentration camp near Weimar, Germany. Yet, they described the horrors they witnessed there as worse than seeing their own comrades blown to pieces by land mines and left strewn in frozen fields.

Every one of their senses was assaulted by their initial confrontation with Buchenwald on April 11, 1945 – the terrible smells of human waste and burnt flesh that caught in their throats, the 27,000 surviving inmates who grabbed and hugged and begged them for food, the sounds of moaning, wailing, crying, rejoicing at freedom.

As soon as I read this, I knew these veterans were not talking about the Buchenwald concentration camp.  There were 21,000 survivors of Buchenwald and there was no smell of burnt flesh when the liberators arrived.  The survivors of the Buchenwald main camp were not starving, except maybe the prisoners that the Communists, who ruled the camp, didn’t like.  You can read about the liberation of Buchenwald on my website here.

The 786th Tank Battalion was attached to the 3rd Armored Division which is credited with liberating the Dora-Mittelbau labor camp on April 11, 1945, the same day that the Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated by the 6th Armored Division.  The Dora-Mittelbau camp, located near the town of Nordhausen, had been abandoned by the SS and most of the prisoners had been marched to Bergen-Belsen because the Dora-Mittelbau camp was in a war zone.  Only a handful of prisoners, who were too sick to walk, had been left behind.

Here is a quote from this page of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website:

On April 11, 1945, the 3rd (Armored Division) discovered the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp. The division first arrived on the scene, reporting back to headquarters that it had uncovered a large concentration camp near the town of Nordhausen. Requesting help from the 104th Infantry Division, the 3rd immediately began transporting some 250 ill and starving prisoners to nearby hospital facilities.

So there were 250 prisoners still in the camp, not 27,000. Note that the USHMM calls Dora-Mittelbau a concentration camp, not a sub-camp of Buchenwald, which is correct.

American soldiers found bodies of prisoners at Dora-Mittelbau that had been killed by American bombs

The famous photo, shown above, which was published in Life magazine in 1945, shows the bodies of prisoners, killed at Dora-Mittelbau, by bombs dropped from American planes.

This website has a video which shows American soldiers carrying the sick prisoners out of the Dora-Mittelbau camp on stretchers.  They were the lucky ones, who had been too sick to march to Bergen-Belsen where they would have most likely died in the typhus epidemic that was in progress.

This video about Dora-Mittelbau shows what the labor camp was like.  At 1.51 minutes in the video, you can see a memorial sign for the “death march” of the prisoners out of the camp before it was liberated.  At 3:45 minutes, you can see the dead bodies laid out in rows.  These prisoners were not killed by the Germans; Germany was trying to win a war so it would have been stupid to kill the workers who were building rockets.  World War II was bad enough without telling lies about it.