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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.

8 Comments

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    Comment by Lhhlan7k — September 22, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

  2. My Father was Alfred William Baker From Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK, He was forced to work in the crematorium, he suffered terrible nightmares after laiberation for most of his life.

    Comment by Admin — January 11, 2014 @ 1:54 am

    • Was your father in the SOE? It was usually the Sonderkommando Jews who worked in the crematoria.

      Comment by furtherglory — January 11, 2014 @ 7:22 am

  3. My father is the harry ward the speak of in the liberation of that awful camp,buchenwald,he talk of it sometimes,he was very proud to have been apart of the freeing of those poor prisoner’s,he died of cancer in the early 1980,he was in the army reserve for 26 years,and a very proud man,and a true patriot,God bless you dad,Frederick j Ward

    Comment by Frederick j Ward — January 2, 2014 @ 6:50 pm

  4. Margaret’s photography prisoners are not political prisoners but Holocaust survivors.
    The reason I know this is that the survivor on the left with the Black hat is my grandfather – Herman Forkosh
    He celebrated his 19th birthday when he was released from the Buchenwald camp, and he is still alive
    http://www.tofes630.com/blog/?p=1013

    I am his granddaughter

    Comment by Tal Forkosh — December 13, 2012 @ 3:22 am

    • Thank you for this information. The “Black hat” that he is wearing is a French beret. Several of the other prisoners in the photo are also wearing berets. What did the beret symbolize? Most of the concentration camp prisoners wore striped hats, which matched their striped uniforms. What is the significance of the clothing in this photo?

      Your grandfather is wearing a civilian jacket over his uniform. The other men are also wearing civilian clothes. The man in the front is wearing a nice overcoat. What is your explanation for why these prisoners are wearing this kind of clothing and hats? They appear to be in good health, considering that they are in a concentration camp.

      What is your explanation for why Margaret Bourke-White chose these men for her photo, instead of photographing the emaciated, starving prisoners who were dressed in striped uniforms?

      What is the difference between “political prisoners” and “Holocaust survivors”? Are all of the men in the photo Jewish?

      Comment by furtherglory — December 13, 2012 @ 7:28 am

  5. Try and read how the Americans turned their backs on women and Children rounded up by the red army for rape. This was such a big rape scene that it was done on open fields and sports grounds. Whole families committed suicide rather than be raped – while truck loads of american watched. Thousands of women and children (male and female) were raped again and again. Most of the children died. The women and children ran to the americans to help them by they were herded back to the rape fields. Well done.

    Comment by Steven de Kock — June 20, 2012 @ 6:29 am

  6. The so-called “unsung heroes” in the above essay, including Hebert Pinkley and Capt.Frederic Keffer were NOT heroes at all–they were pigs! What a pity that the Germans did not catch them and hang them. slowly the way they deserved to be hung.

    Just look at those Buchenwald prisoners. They were obviously NOT starved or abused in any way at all by the Germans. Open your eyes, morons!

    Friedrich Paul Berg :
    Learn everything at http://www.nazigassings.com
    Nazi Gassings Never Happened! Niemand wurde vergast!

    Comment by Friedrich Paul Berg — June 15, 2012 @ 4:23 pm


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