Scrapbookpages Blog

June 15, 2012

The unsung heroes of the Buchenwald liberation by the 6th Armored Division

I received an e-mail yesterday from Dave Pinkley who gave me his father’s story about the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.  His father, Herbert Pinkley, was a tank driver/gunner in the 6th Armored Division which is credited by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with being the liberators of Buchenwald.

I previously blogged about the liberation of Buchenwald here.

Pfc. James Hoyt has been credited with driving the M8 armored tank which brought Capt. Frederic Keffer, Tech. Sgt. Herbert Gottschalk and Sgt. Harry Ward to the Buchenwald camp around 5 p.m. on April 11, 1945. He parked the vehicle outside while Capt. Keffer and Sgt. Gottschalk (both of whom spoke German) went through a hole in the barbed wire fence that had been made by the prisoners.

According to his son, Herbert Pinkley “is not listed in the rolls, probably due to the main incident” described in his e-mail letter.

The “incident,” which was pieced together by Herbert Pinkley’s son, is that, after seeing the Buchenwald camp, Herbert Pinkley was in the town (Weimar) near Buchenwald and he found a photo of a man in a high-ranking German officer’s uniform, standing in front of the camp.  According to Dave Pinkley, his father “beat the officer to within inches of his life, and the officer filed charges with U.S. officials.”

I have no trouble believing that an American soldier beat a German officer after discovering that he had been associated in some way with the Buchenwald camp.  However, I have difficulty in believing that a German officer would report this incident to “U.S. officials” and that Herbert Pinkley’s name would be removed from the official story of the liberation of Buchenwald because of this.

To continue the story, Herbert Pinkley “managed to get  him (the high-ranking German officer) imprisoned for something and visited him in jail daily, finally smuggling in a piece of line (rope) and so this officer was able to hang himself, maybe with some help.”

I have heard at least one other story of a German SS soldier who was captured, after escaping from Buchenwald, and forced, by the American liberators, to hang himself.  However, this kind of revenge was not sanctioned by the U.S. military and according to Dave Pinkley, “my dad got into a lot of trouble over that and got reduced in rank.”

According to Dave Pinkley “Another incident of which is not so gory, maybe, is that the tankers, upon seeing the camp, emptied their catches of liberated German weapons and gave them to the inmates. A few of the Polish inmates left, well armed, and started on a crime and murder spree across Germany and had to be hunted down by Allied troops.”

Another side of this story is given by Flink Whitlock in his book The Beasts of Buchenwald.  This quote is from the book:

A former prisoner [of Buchenwald] said, “The survivors of Buchenwald are tremendously proud of two facts, the liberation of the camp by its underground organization, and the humane manner in which the captured guards were treated and of whom not even a single one was murdered or executed.”

Another American soldier, named Harry J. Herder, Jr. claims that he was on the first American tank that arrived at Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. In his story of the liberation of Buchenwald, Herder described how the American soldiers looked the other way when the Communist inmates hunted down an escaped SS guard, brought him back to the camp and forced him to tie a noose to hang himself.  (Could this have been the incident which involved Herbert Pinkley?)

Political prisoners at Buchenwald, April 15, 1945 Photo taken by Margaret Bourke-White

US Army Signal Corps photo of Buchenwald survivors, April 14, 1945

Read more stories about the liberation of Buchenwald on my web site here.

According to The Buchenwald Report, in the first days after the liberation of the Buchenwald camp, the political prisoners who had been freed by the Americans, hunted down 76 of the camp guards who had escaped into the surrounding woods; they were brought back to the camp and killed.

According to Robert Abzug in his book Inside the Vicious Heart, the inmates “killed almost eighty ex-guards and camp functionaries in the days following the liberation, sometimes with the aid and encouragement of Americans.”

In his book Abzug quotes one of the liberators, Fred Mercer:

… a German soldier attempted to surrender to the Americans, but was intercepted by a prisoner with a four-foot wood log: “He just stood there and beat him to death. He had to – of course, we didn’t bother him.”

American newspaper reporter Marguerite Higgins wrote in her book News is a Singular Thing, that 20 to 30 American soldiers took turns beating 6 young German guards to death at Buchenwald.