Scrapbookpages Blog

May 10, 2018

The Shack is back — in Columbia, Missouri

Filed under: Uncategorized — furtherglory @ 3:46 pm

This news article tells about “the Shack”.

https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/local/the-shack-comes-back/article_6e41158c-7982-5f91-bf09-c61359503213.html

One of the things that I remember fondly about my college days at the University of Missouri is “The Shack” which was a hangout for students. The original Shack is long gone, but a new Shack was recently built.

The following quote is from the news article, cited above:

Begin quote

COLUMBIA – A chipped and faded green door gave way to the musty, wooden smell of one of MU’s oldest hangouts. Inside The Shack, the tables and bar were adorned with initials carved into them by many generations.

The Shack was one of the lasting memories of MU alums for the better part of the 20th century, but it has been nearly 20 years since it burned to the ground in 1988.

Soon, a new generation of MU students will be able to experience this former campus landmark. A restoration of The Shack is included in the plans for the expansion of Brady Commons. But these students might not even realize The Shack dates back to before many of their grandparents were even born.

End quote

 

The story of Bergen-Belsen

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust, World War II — furtherglory @ 10:39 am

The story of Bergen-Belsen

“In our collective conscience, we have to remember the lessons to be learnt from these events: to ensure that never again should the mass murder of millions of people be possible as it occurred in Auschwitz, in Bergen-Belsen; the genocide of the Jews, the gypsies, in order to ensure that events like these can never be repeated we have to understand why they could happen. We must not forget.”

The quote above was written by Simone Veil, an inmate at Bergen-Belsen from January 1945 to April 15, 1945

Unburied corpses on the grounds of Bergen-Belsen camp

Bergen-Belsen was the name of an infamous Nazi camp which has become a symbol of the Holocaust that claimed the lives of 6 million Jews in Europe more than sixty years ago.

In 1943, Bergen-Belsen was initially set up as a detention camp (Aufenthaltslager) for prisoners who held foreign passports and were thus eligible to be traded for German citizens being held in Allied internment camps.

In December 1944, Bergen-Belsen became a concentration camp under the command of Josef Kramer, the former Commandant of the Auschwitz II camp, also known as Birkenau.

A section for sick prisoners, who could no longer work in the Nazi forced labor camps, was set aside at Bergen-Belsen in March 1944.

In 1945, when World War II was drawing to a close, civilian prisoners were evacuated from other concentration camps as Soviet troops advanced westward; thousands of these prisoners were brought to the Bergen-Belsen camp which was not equipped to handle such a large number of people.

Finally, Bergen-Belsen itself was right in the middle of the war zone where bombs were falling and Allied planes were strafing the Autobahn and the railroads.

British and Germans troops were doing battle on the Lüneberg heath right outside the camp.

In February 1945, the situation at Bergen-Belsen became catastrophic when a typhus epidemic broke out in the crowded camp.

Emaciated corpses were thrown into mass graves at Bergen-Belsen

By April 1945, the war in Europe was very definitely over. All that was needed now was a formal surrender signed by Adolf Hitler. Hitler was a broken man: his dream of uniting the German folk into a Thousand Year Reich was gone, his health was ruined by Parkinson’s disease and for the past several years, his mental capacity had been increasingly failing. He was holed up in an underground bunker beneath his Chancellery in Berlin, still moving his armies around on a map and unwilling to admit defeat.

The Nazis has gotten their start in 1919, fighting against the Communists in the streets of Berlin; it was now 26 years later and Hitler was not ready to surrender his beloved Fatherland to the Communist Soviet Union and its American and British Allies. He would rather see Germany completely annihilated, and in the last days of the war, he ordered his best friend, Albert Speer, the chief of Nazi war production, to destroy what was left of Germany after Allied bombs had reduced every major city to rubble. Speer ignored the order.

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin determine fate of Europe at Yalta

In the last days of the war, Hitler’s second in command, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, had been plotting behind Hitler’s back in an attempt to negotiate a peace with America and Great Britain, with the aim of forming an alliance to fight against the Communists. He knew that half of Germany and all of Eastern Europe, with a population of 120 million people, had been promised to the Communists by American president Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference. As the leader who was in charge of all the concentration camps (his rank in the SS was equivalent to a 5-star General in the US Army), he planned to use the Jewish prisoners as bargaining chips in his negotiations with the non-Communist Allies.

Himmler was determined to do all he could to hamper the inevitable take-over of Europe by the Communists. To this end, beginning on April 5, 1945, he ordered the execution of Communist leaders being held at the three main concentration camps in Germany: Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald.

Before surrendering Bergen-Belsen to the British on April 15, 1945, Himmler ordered about 7,000 people to be evacuated from the camp. The three train loads of prisoners, which left the camp between April 6 and April 11, were made up of prominent Dutch Jews, Hungarian Jews, Jewish prisoners from neutral countries and Jewish prisoners who held foreign passports. Himmler was hoping to use these prisoners to negotiate with the Allies. The rest of the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen were to be voluntarily turned over to the British.

Heinrich Himmler stands below Adolf Hitler at a parade

On April 4, 1945, American soldiers had seen their first Nazi horror camp in Germany, the abandoned forced labor camp at Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald. On April 11, American troops had discovered Buchenwald, which had already been taken over by the Communist political prisoners there. The next day, on April 12, 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt died and Himmler had renewed hopes of negotiating a surrender to the Americans and the British, but not to the Communist Soviet Union. It was within this context that Himmler began negotiations to voluntarily turn the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp over to the British in early April 1945.

Two German officers were sent to a British outpost to explain that there were 9,000 sick prisoners in the camp and that there was no water after the electric pump had been hit in an Allied bombing attack. The Germans proposed that the British Army should occupy the camp immediately to keep the epidemics in the camp from spreading to the troops on both sides. In return, the Germans offered to surrender the bridges over the river Aller. At first, the British rejected the German proposals, saying it was necessary that the British should occupy an area of ten kilometers around the camp in order to be sure of keeping their troops away from the epidemic, but eventually a compromise was reached and the British agreed.

On April 15, 1945, Bergen-Belsen was surrendered to British Officer Derrick Sington, who wrote about it in a small book called “Belsen Uncovered” which was published by Duckworth, London in 1946.

Still photo from a film shows a British bulldozer shoving diseased bodies toward a mass grave

Himmler had not anticipated that the British would film the mounds of dead bodies in the camp and that the film would be shown in movie theaters around the world as proof of the Nazi Crimes against Humanity. Anyone who has ever seen the British film of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen will never forget the sight of British bulldozers shoving thousands of emaciated corpses into mass graves. Or the sight of the living dead, the emaciated prisoners whose bodies were nothing but skin and bones.

As a result of the British Army taking control, Bergen-Belsen became the first Nazi horror camp to become widely known to the American public. After the British revealed the Nazi atrocities to the world, this camp came to epitomize the brutality and depravity of the Nazis who called the German people the Master Race (Herrenvolk) and who were carrying out a systematic plan to kill the Jews and others whom they considered sub-human (Untermenschen).

Thanks to the British Army, which filmed the unbelievable sights that greeted the British when they entered the camp, the grim record of the atrocities exists to this day.

Anne Frank, the most famous victim of the Holocaust, lies in an unmarked mass grave at Bergen-Belsen; the date of her death is unknown. Both Anne and her sister Margot died in the camp during one of the world’s largest epidemics of typhus, a disease which is spread by body lice.

The Journal of the American Medical Association wrote about the epidemic in a 1945 issue:

By negotiations between British and German officers, British troops took over from the SS and the Wehrmacht the task of guarding the vast concentration camp at Belsen, a few miles northwest of Celle, which contains 60,000 prisoners, many of them political. This has been done because typhus is rampant in the camp and it is vital that no prisoners be released until the infection is checked. The advancing British agreed to refrain from bombing or shelling the area of the camp, and the Germans agreed to leave behind an armed guard which would be allowed to return to their own lines a week after the British arrival.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower anticipated that future generations might find it hard to believe the horror that they found when Nazi Germany was liberated by the Allies. He ordered that both the Ohrdruf camp and the Buchenwald camp be preserved for several weeks in the state in which they were found and German civilians in nearby towns were forced to visit the camps to view the piles of rotting bodies.

American soldiers, newspaper reporters and Congressmen were also called in as witnesses to the Nazi atrocities. But it was the British who had the biggest impact on the public conscience when they released their newsreel film of Bergen-Belsen to movie theaters around the world in the last days of the war. This was something that Himmler had not anticipated when he negotiated with the British to voluntarily turn the camp over to them. And he certainly didn’t expect that the staff members, who had voluntarily stayed behind in the camp, would be arrested, or that some of the Hungarian soldiers, who were assigned to help with the surrender of the camp, would be shot by the British.

As early as June 1942, there had been stories circulated by British radio about the Nazi death camps and Jews being killed in gas chambers, but few people in America believed it.

The death camps in Poland had been discovered by the Soviets, starting on July 23, 1944, when the Majdanek camp just outside Lublin was liberated. On January 27, 1945, a day that is now commemorated as National Remembrance Day in Europe, the largest Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau had been discovered by the Soviet army. These stories had been reported in the press, but Americans were still unaware of just how horrifying the Nazi camps actually were.

When the film of Bergen-Belsen was shown in American theaters, it was naturally assumed that the prisoners had been deliberately starved to death or killed in a gas chamber, since the film made no mention of the typhus epidemic in the camp. Nor was it mentioned that the water pump at Bergen-Belsen had been hit by Allied bombs and fresh water had to be brought in by trucks.

When British soldiers were finally allowed, as agreed upon in the negotiations, to enter Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, they at first saw nothing amiss. Smiling, healthy prisoners came out to greet them and some of the 500 children in the camp cheered and waved to them. But as they advanced further into the camp, they were stunned by the sight of over 10,000 unburied naked bodies. The horror was beyond human imagination. The sickening stench of the rotting corpses was so great that British soldiers later claimed that they could smell the camp from a distance of 10 miles.

In the last months of the war, as the Russian army advanced westward, prisoners in the camps in Poland had been evacuated and ultimately 60,000 prisoners had been crowded into the Bergen-Belsen camp which did not have enough space for them. Some of those who were still alive at Bergen-Belsen were walking skeletons. There were a variety of diseases that were rampant in the camp.

The Germans claimed that they had been unable to fix the broken water pump which had been destroyed by Allied bombs, and many inmates were dying of thirst, even though the camp was near a creek. The camp Commandant claimed that the water was not fit for drinking. The camp used cisterns for its water supply, but the water could not be accessed without the electric pump that had been hit in a bombing raid.

The British promptly fixed the broken pump and provided water from the creek for the camp which had been without water for six days. The nearby Army garrison had arranged for drinking water to be brought to the camp by truck, but it was not nearly enough.

Some of the female German guards, who had only arrived in the camp a couple of weeks before the liberation, appeared to be overweight, while many of the surviving prisoners appeared to be starving.

The German Army garrison had facilities for baking 60,000 loaves of bread daily, but they had been providing only 10,000 loaves per day to the concentration camp, while keeping the rest to feed the German soldiers.

The Camp Commandant had to scrounge for food in the countryside which was in the middle of a war zone. According to the British, the camp had been without food for six days, and there were no medical supplies at all.

Women Overseers (Aufseherin)  Bergen-Belsen April 1945

The concept of putting civilians into concentration camps in wartime was made famous by the British in the Boer War at the turn of the century, but it was the Nazis who had taken the idea to the extreme and had incarcerated millions in camps where they were allegedly starved and worked to death under inhuman conditions during World War II.

Although 20,000 women and children had died of disease and starvation in the concentration camp run by the British in South Africa, this was nothing compared to the Bergen-Belsen camp where up to 600 people were dying each day from hunger and sickness during the final chaotic days of the World War II.

The condition of the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen was so bad that many of them could not be kept alive even with the best of medical care given to them by the British Army. Approximately 13,000 of the Bergen-Belsen inmates died after the camp was liberated, in spite of the heroic efforts of the British to save them.

The typhus epidemic was raging out of control in the camp, and the British were forced to move all the inmates to the nearby German Army garrison and then burn down the wooden barracks in the camp. Because typhus is transmitted by lice, burning down the barracks was the fastest way to stop the epidemic.

SS men were forbidden to wear gloves to handle the  diseased bodies in the camp
In the days just before the British arrived to take over, the German guards had ordered 2,000 prisoners in the camp to drag the dead bodies to mass graves, using strips of leather or cloth tied to the ankles of the corpses. After the British took control, the German guards were forced to handle the diseased bodies with their bare hands, without protective gloves, and 20 of the 80 guards became sick and died as a result. In the film that was shown in American theaters, the British narrator explained that this was done as punishment for the guards.

The British soldiers would not touch the decomposing bodies; instead, they used bulldozers to shove the emaciated corpses into the mass graves. Many of the viewers who saw the British film mistakenly thought that it was heartless German soldiers who were driving the bulldozers.

Leslie Hardman, a Jewish Chaplain with the British troops, wrote a book entitled “The Survivors – the story of the Belsen remnant” (Vallentine, Mitchell & Co. Ltd). He said that he was concerned after watching the bodies being shoved into the mass graves with a bulldozer. He asked the officer in charge if the dead could be treated with more dignity, but was told that the burial was urgent. The officer promised that he would call the Chaplain back to recite prayers when the grave was ready to be filled.

After the liberation of the camp, German civilians from the nearby towns were forced to remove the bodies of the 13,000 prisoners who died afterwards, while the survivors stood by and jeered at them.

The photograph below shows a group of survivors in the background on the left, watching as German citizens are forced, at gunpoint, to handle the diseased bodies with their bare hands. German homes in the nearby towns were taken by the British military and assigned to the surviving prisoners after the barracks in the camp were burned down.

German civilians were forced to remove bodies at gunpoint

British sign warns soldiers about typhus epidemic

On May 4, 1945, part of the German Army surrendered to the British on the Lüneberg heath where the Bergen-Belsen camp is located. A few days later, on May 7th, the rest of the German Army surrendered to General Eisenhower.

Eisenhower had been so sickened by the sight of dead bodies on his personal visit to the Ohrdruf forced labor camp near his field headquarters at Gotha, that he stunned the Germans by refusing the traditional handshake after the signing of an unconditional surrender by the German Army on May 7, 1945. World War II in Europe officially ended the next day on May 8, 1945.

Thanks to the foresight of Eisenhower, who ordered that every American soldier stationed in Germany should visit the gas chamber at Dachau, today there is scarcely a person in America who has not heard the stories of the Nazi atrocities first-hand from a relative or an acquaintance. However, it was the British who, by bringing their soldiers to Bergen-Belsen to see the ultimate horror so that they could pass their eye-witness information on to future generations, insured that the world now knows the true extent of what happened at Bergen-Belsen. The film made by the British at Bergen-Belsen has been shown to students in America for over 50 years, so that the nightmare lives on. Bergen-Belsen is a name that has become synonymous with Man’s Inhumanity to Man.

Eight Separate Camps at Belsen

The liberation of the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, World War II — furtherglory @ 9:15 am

American soldiers at Buchenwald gatehouse, April 1945

The Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated on April 11, 1945 by four soldiers in the Sixth Armored Division of the US Third Army, commanded by General George S. Patton. Just before the Americans arrived, the camp had already been taken over by the Communist prisoners who had killed some of the guards and forced the rest to flee into the nearby woods.

Pfc. James Hoyt was driving the M8 armored vehicle which brought Capt. Frederic Keffer, Tech. Sgt. Herbert Gottschalk and Sgt. Harry Ward to the Buchenwald camp that day.

The following quote is from a CNN news story on the occasion of the death of James Hoyt on August 14, 2008 at the age of 83:

Begin quote

According to military records, Keffer was the officer in command of the six-wheeled armored vehicle that day. The soldiers were part of the Army’s 6th Armored Division near the camp when about 15 SS troopers were captured. It was mid-afternoon.

“At the same time, a group of Russians just escaped from the concentration camp, burst out of the woods attempting to attack the SS men. The Russians were restrained and interrogated,” Maj. Gen. R.W. Grow, the American commander of the 6th Armored Division, wrote in a 1975 letter about the Buchenwald liberation.

Keffer was ordered to take his three comrades and two of the Russian prisoners “as guides to investigate, report and rejoin as rapidly as possible.”

“I took this side journey of about 3 km away from our main force because we kept encountering SS guards and prison inmates, and the latter told us of the large camp to the south,” Keffer wrote in a letter around the 30th anniversary of the liberation.

“We had been told by our intelligence that we might overrun a large prison camp, but we — or at least I — had no idea of either the gigantic size of the camp or of the full extent of the incredible brutality.”

Keffer and Gottschalk, who spoke German, entered the camp through a hole in an electric barbed wire fence. Hoyt and Ward initially stayed at the vehicle.

“We were tumultuously greeted by what I was told were 21,000 men, and what an incredible greeting that was,” Keffer wrote. “I was picked up by arms and legs, thrown into the air, caught, thrown again, caught, thrown, etc., until I had to stop it. I was getting dizzy.

“How the men found such a surge of strength in their emaciated condition was one of those bodily wonders in which the spirit sometimes overcomes all weaknesses of the flesh. My, but it was a great day!”

Keffer said the prisoners, through an underground system, had already taken control of the camp. The four soldiers notified division command to get medical help and food to the prisoners as soon as possible.

The 6th Armored Division newspaper “Armored Attacker” ran a headline on May 5, 1945: “Four 9th AIB Doughs Find Buchenwald.” The article described the discovery as “the worst concentration camp yet to be uncovered by west wall troops.”

Hoyt, a Bronze Star recipient and veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, was the last of the four original liberators to die.

End quote

Today visitors can relive the historic moment that the Communist Resistance fighters took over the Buchenwald concentration camp when they see the clock on top of the gatehouse, which was stopped at 3:15 p.m., the exact time that the prisoners gained control.

Gatehouse at Buchenwald, October 1999

On the morning of April 12, 1945, soldiers of the 80th Infantry Division arrived in the nearby town of Weimar and found it deserted except for some of the liberated prisoners roaming around. The townspeople were cowering in fear inside their bomb-damaged homes.

Edward R. Murrow arrived in Weimar that day and reported in his famous radio broadcast from Buchenwald that the liberated prisoners were hunting down the SS soldiers who had escaped from the camp the day before and killing them while the Americans watched.

Buchenwald’s most famous survivor, Elie Wiesel, wrote that after the liberation of the Buchenwald camp, some of the inmates drove in American jeeps to Weimar, where they looted homes, raped the women, and randomly killed German civilians.

There were approximately 21,000 prisoners at Buchenwald on the day it was liberated. This included approximately 4,000 Jewish prisoners who were survivors of the death camps in what is now Poland, and 904 children under the age of 17, many of whom were orphans.

Regarding the liberation of Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, Robert Abzug wrote the following in his book “Inside the Vicious Heart”:

Begin quote

The Americans were met by reasonably healthy looking, armed prisoners ready to help administer distribution of food, clothing, and medical care. These same prisoners, an International Committee with the Communist underground leader Hans Eiden at its head, seemed to have perfect control over their fellow inmates.

End quote

T/4 Carroll E. Peterson was an 18-year old high school student who had never been more than 100 miles from his home town of Webster, South Dakota until he was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Europe with the 80th Infantry Division in 1944. He reported that one of the sights that he witnessed at Buchenwald, when he visited the camp for a couple of hours on April 12th, was the autopsy table where the skin of starved-to-death prisoners had been removed to make lamp shades.

Harry Snodgrass was a 23 year-old American soldier from Tennessee who had enlisted at the age of 20. He toured the Buchenwald camp a day or two after it was liberated, escorted by a Lithuanian inmate who spoke broken English. In an interview for a documentary film, Snodgrass recalled: “It was in the commander’s office. There were lampshades made from the skin of Jews. In the crematorium they used the ashes of the inmates to fertilize the fields – the ashes of dead people. After an hour, it just became too much. I was stunned – just stunned. We don’t even treat dogs like this.”

The town of Weimar had suffered extensive damage after an Allied bombing raid on February 9, 1945. When the soldiers of the 80th Infantry Division arrived, the bodies of German civilians were still buried under the fallen buildings and the stench was unbearable. The classic building, where Germany’s Weimar Republic was born, lay in ruins; the 18th century homes of Goethe and Schiller, both of which had been preserved as national shrines, were severely damaged. All the historic buildings on the north side of the main town square had been demolished, and the rest of the buildings were damaged.

Damage from Allied bombing of Weimar on Feb. 9, 1945

The American liberators had no sympathy for the residents of Weimar, who had let unspeakable atrocities happen at the Buchenwald camp, only five miles from the town. Regarding the complacency of the townspeople, Harry Snodgrass told an interviewer: “They saw the trains going in but no one saw them leave. If they say they didn’t know what was happening, they were lying.”

The Allies used the word “extermination camp” for all the Nazi camps, assuming that the purpose of these camps was the mass murder of the Jews.

Gatehouse at Buchenwald, October 1999

On the morning of April 12, 1945, soldiers of the 80th Infantry Division arrived in the nearby town of Weimar and found it deserted except for some of the liberated prisoners roaming around. The townspeople were cowering in fear inside their bomb-damaged homes.

Edward R. Murrow arrived in Weimar that day and reported in his famous radio broadcast from Buchenwald that the liberated prisoners were hunting down the SS soldiers who had escaped from the camp the day before and killing them while the Americans watched.

Buchenwald’s most famous survivor, Elie Wiesel, wrote that after the liberation of the Buchenwald camp, some of the inmates drove in American jeeps to Weimar, where they looted homes, raped the women, and randomly killed German civilians.

There were approximately 21,000 prisoners at Buchenwald on the day it was liberated. This included approximately 4,000 Jewish prisoners who were survivors of the death camps in what is now Poland, and 904 children under the age of 17, many of whom were orphans.

Regarding the liberation of Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, Robert Abzug wrote the following in his book “Inside the Vicious Heart”:

The Americans were met by reasonably healthy looking, armed prisoners ready to help administer distribution of food, clothing, and medical care. These same prisoners, an International Committee with the Communist underground leader Hans Eiden at its head, seemed to have perfect control over their fellow inmates.

T/4 Carroll E. Peterson was an 18-year old high school student who had never been more than 100 miles from his home town of Webster, South Dakota until he was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Europe with the 80th Infantry Division in 1944. He reported that one of the sights that he witnessed at Buchenwald, when he visited the camp for a couple of hours on April 12th, was the autopsy table where the skin of starved-to-death prisoners had been removed to make lamp shades.

Harry Snodgrass was a 23 year-old American soldier from Tennessee who had enlisted at the age of 20. He toured the Buchenwald camp a day or two after it was liberated, escorted by a Lithuanian inmate who spoke broken English. In an interview for a documentary film, Snodgrass recalled: “It was in the commander’s office. There were lampshades made from the skin of Jews. In the crematorium they used the ashes of the inmates to fertilize the fields – the ashes of dead people. After an hour, it just became too much. I was stunned – just stunned. We don’t even treat dogs like this.”

The town of Weimar had suffered extensive damage after an Allied bombing raid on February 9, 1945. When the soldiers of the 80th Infantry Division arrived, the bodies of German civilians were still buried under the fallen buildings and the stench was unbearable. The classic building, where Germany’s Weimar Republic was born, lay in ruins; the 18th century homes of Goethe and Schiller, both of which had been preserved as national shrines, were severely damaged. All the historic buildings on the north side of the main town square had been demolished, and the rest of the buildings were damaged.

Damage from Allied bombing of Weimar on Feb. 9, 1945

The American liberators had no sympathy for the residents of Weimar, who had let unspeakable atrocities happen at the Buchenwald camp, only five miles from the town. Regarding the complacency of the townspeople, Harry Snodgrass told an interviewer: “They saw the trains going in but no one saw them leave. If they say they didn’t know what was happening, they were lying.”

The Allies used the word “extermination camp” for all the Nazi beration of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp

American soldiers at Buchenwald gatehouse, April 1945

The Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated on April 11, 1945 by four soldiers in the Sixth Armored Division of the US Third Army, commanded by General George S. Patton. Just before the Americans arrived, the camp had already been taken over by the Communist prisoners who had killed some of the guards and forced the rest to flee into the nearby woods.

Pfc. James Hoyt was driving the M8 armoured vehicle which brought Capt. Frederic Keffer, Tech. Sgt. Herbert Gottschalk and Sgt. Harry Ward to the Buchenwald camp that day.

The following quote is from a CNN news story on the occasion of the death of James Hoyt on August 14, 2008 at the age of 83:

According to military records, Keffer was the officer in command of the six-wheeled armored vehicle that day. The soldiers were part of the Army’s 6th Armored Division near the camp when about 15 SS troopers were captured. It was mid-afternoon.

“At the same time, a group of Russians just escaped from the concentration camp, burst out of the woods attempting to attack the SS men. The Russians were restrained and interrogated,” Maj. Gen. R.W. Grow, the American commander of the 6th Armored Division, wrote in a 1975 letter about the Buchenwald liberation.

Keffer was ordered to take his three comrades and two of the Russian prisoners “as guides to investigate, report and rejoin as rapidly as possible.”

“I took this side journey of about 3 km away from our main force because we kept encountering SS guards and prison inmates, and the latter told us of the large camp to the south,” Keffer wrote in a letter around the 30th anniversary of the liberation.

“We had been told by our intelligence that we might overrun a large prison camp, but we — or at least I — had no idea of either the gigantic size of the camp or of the full extent of the incredible brutality.”

Keffer and Gottschalk, who spoke German, entered the camp through a hole in an electric barbed wire fence. Hoyt and Ward initially stayed at the vehicle.

“We were tumultuously greeted by what I was told were 21,000 men, and what an incredible greeting that was,” Keffer wrote. “I was picked up by arms and legs, thrown into the air, caught, thrown again, caught, thrown, etc., until I had to stop it. I was getting dizzy.

“How the men found such a surge of strength in their emaciated condition was one of those bodily wonders in which the spirit sometimes overcomes all weaknesses of the flesh. My, but it was a great day!”

Keffer said the prisoners, through an underground system, had already taken control of the camp. The four soldiers notified division command to get medical help and food to the prisoners as soon as possible.

The 6th Armored Division newspaper “Armored Attacker” ran a headline on May 5, 1945: “Four 9th AIB Doughs Find Buchenwald.” The article described the discovery as “the worst concentration camp yet to be uncovered by west wall troops.”

Hoyt, a Bronze Star recipient and veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, was the last of the four original liberators to die.

Today visitors can relive the historic moment that the Communist Resistance fighters took over the Buchenwald concentration camp when they see the clock on top of the gatehouse stopped at 3:15 p.m., the exact time that the prisoners gained control.

Gatehouse at Buchenwald, October 1999

On the morning of April 12, 1945, soldiers of the 80th Infantry Division arrived in the nearby town of Weimar and found it deserted except for some of the liberated prisoners roaming around. The townspeople were cowering in fear inside their bomb-damaged homes.

Edward R. Murrow arrived in Weimar that day and reported in his famous radio broadcast from Buchenwald that the liberated prisoners were hunting down the SS soldiers who had escaped from the camp the day before and killing them while the Americans watched.

Buchenwald’s most famous survivor, Elie Wiesel, wrote that after the liberation of the Buchenwald camp, some of the inmates drove in American jeeps to Weimar, where they looted homes, raped the women, and randomly killed German civilians.

There were approximately 21,000 prisoners at Buchenwald on the day it was liberated. This included approximately 4,000 Jewish prisoners who were survivors of the death camps in what is now Poland, and 904 children under the age of 17, many of whom were orphans.

Regarding the liberation of Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, Robert Abzug wrote the following in his book “Inside the Vicious Heart”:

The Americans were met by reasonably healthy looking, armed prisoners ready to help administer distribution of food, clothing, and medical care. These same prisoners, an International Committee with the Communist underground leader Hans Eiden at its head, seemed to have perfect control over their fellow inmates.

T/4 Carroll E. Peterson was an 18-year old high school student who had never been more than 100 miles from his home town of Webster, South Dakota until he was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Europe with the 80th Infantry Division in 1944. He reported that one of the sights that he witnessed at Buchenwald, when he visited the camp for a couple of hours on April 12th, was the autopsy table where the skin of starved-to-death prisoners had been removed to make lamp shades.

Harry Snodgrass was a 23 year-old American soldier from Tennessee who had enlisted at the age of 20. He toured the Buchenwald camp a day or two after it was liberated, escorted by a Lithuanian inmate who spoke broken English. In an interview for a documentary film, Snodgrass recalled: “It was in the commander’s office. There were lampshades made from the skin of Jews. In the crematorium they used the ashes of the inmates to fertilize the fields – the ashes of dead people. After an hour, it just became too much. I was stunned – just stunned. We don’t even treat dogs like this.”

The town of Weimar had suffered extensive damage after an Allied bombing raid on February 9, 1945. When the soldiers of the 80th Infantry Division arrived, the bodies of German civilians were still buried under the fallen buildings and the stench was unbearable. The classic building, where Germany’s Weimar Republic was born, lay in ruins; the 18th century homes of Goethe and Schiller, both of which had been preserved as national shrines, were severely damaged. All the historic buildings on the north side of the main town square had been demolished, and the rest of the buildings were damaged.

Damage from Allied bombing of Weimar on Feb. 9, 1945

The American liberators had no sympathy for the residents of Weimar, who had let unspeakable atrocities happen at the Buchenwald camp, only five miles from the town. Regarding the complacency of the townspeople, Harry Snodgrass told an interviewer: “They saw the trains going in but no one saw them leave. If they say they didn’t know what was happening, they were lying.”

The Allies used the word “extermination camp” for all the Nazi camps, assuming that the purpose of these camps was the mass murder of the Jews. Buchenwald was a Class II camp, intended for the imprisonment of condemned criminals and captured anti-Fascist resistance fighters who were considered to be beyond “rehabilitation.”

General Patton urinates into the Rhine river in Germany

General Patton wrote:

I drove to the Rhine River and went across on the pontoon bridge. I stopped in the middle to take a piss and then picked up some dirt on the far side in emulation of William the Conqueror.

General George S. Patton, March 1945

After crossing the Rhine river, Germany’s ancient line of defense, on the night of March 22, 1945, the US Third Army, commanded by General George S. Patton, was advancing through the middle of Germany toward a pre-determined line where they would stop and wait for the Russian troops advancing from the east. In their path were four charming old towns laid out like a string of pearls in a straight line through the Horsel Valley on Highway F7: Eisenach, Gotha, Erfurt, and Weimar.

This was the heartland of German culture, the old stamping grounds of such German greats as Goethe, Schiller, Liszt, Herder, Nietzsche, Cranach, Luther, and Bach. Today these four cities draw millions of tourists who want to follow in the footsteps of the famous on “the Classics Road.” The area has long been known for its well preserved medieval villages and its gemütliche German people.

By April 1st, which was Easter Sunday, the American soldiers were approaching the first town, Eisenach, on the northwestern edge of the Thuringian Forest. Eisenach has been at the center of German culture since the Middle Ages; it is where Johann Sebastian Bach was born and the place where Martin Luther holed up in a castle to translate the Bible. A few miles down the road is the town of Erfurt, the place from which St. Boniface set out on his mission to convert the Germans to Christianity.

The typical American soldier in World War II was a 19-year-old youth, fresh from the farms and small towns of a country that was less than 200 years old. Most of them had never been outside their home state and the closest they had ever come to the kind of sights they were seeing in Germany was a picture in an encyclopedia. Some of the towns and villages they were marching through had been in existence for 700 years before America had even been seen by a white man. The war-time destruction of this ancient culture, which they were participating in, must have been mind-boggling. Most of these soldiers had no clear idea of why they were fighting the Germans, as General Dwight D. Eisenhower admitted.