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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.

April 11, 2012

The “Liberation” of Buchenwald 67 years ago today

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 10:30 am

American soldiers arriving at the entrance to Buchenwald camp

I put the word “liberation” in quotes in the title of my blog post today because the Buchenwald concentration camp was not actually liberated.  Four American soldiers in the Sixth Armored Division of the US Third Army arrived at the main Buchenwald camp around 5 p.m. on April 11, 1945 AFTER the Communist prisoners, who ran the camp, had already taken over, killing some of the guards and forcing the rest of the guards to flee into the surrounding forest.  The photo above shows American soldiers arriving at Buchenwald to tour the camp a few days after the camp was taken over by the inmates.

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.

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.

Communist prisoners at Buchenwald had disarmed the guards and stacked the weapons outside the camp before American liberators arrived

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.

Note that the headline in the 6th Armored Division newspaper said: Four 9th AIB Doughs (doughboys) FIND Buchenwald.  Credit for finding Buchenwald goes to the 6th Armored Division.  Credit for liberating Buchenwald goes to the Communist prisoners in the camp.

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.

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 Buchenwald concentration camp was located 5 miles from the town of Weimar.  It was at Weimar that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany’s most famous writer, had lived from 1775 until his death in 1832. The area, where the concentration camp now stood, had been his favorite forest retreat, where he had sat under an oak tree. When a spot in the forest on the Ettersberg was cleared for the Buchenwald camp, Goethe’s oak was left standing, and when the tree was killed in an Allied bombing raid on the camp on August 24, 1944, the Nazis cut it down but carefully preserved the stump.

The stump of Goethe's oak tree inside the Buchenwald camp

The 6th Armored Division of General Patton’s US Third Army had approached Weimar from the northwest, when they discovered Buchenwald, which was on a wooded hill called the Ettersberg, 8 kilometers north of the historic town of Weimar. The prisoners had already hoisted a white flag of surrender by the time the Americans arrived. The soldiers in the Sixth Armored Division would not see the ruins of Weimar, the citadel of German culture, until the following day.

Weimar was the last residence of Friedrich von Schiller, a German writer whose patriotism and nationalism had encouraged the unification of Germany in 1871. The famous composers, Franz Liszt and Johann Sebastian Bach, had both lived for a time in Weimar, and the famous philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, had spent his last days there. In April 1945, Germany had long been recognized as the most cultured country in the Western world, as well as the most technically advanced.  But all anyone cares about today is the Buchenwald concentration camp; you never hear about the destruction of the city of Weimar by American bombs.  There were no factories in Weimar and there was no reason to bomb the city, except to destroy German landmarks.

April 14, 2010

African-American soldiers who “liberated” Buchenwald

So many American soldiers have claimed that they were “liberators” of a Nazi Concentration Camp that the US Army and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have gotten together to make rules regarding which soldiers can claim the honor of liberating a camp. Only soldiers who arrived within 48 hours of the first soldiers to enter a camp can claim to be liberators. That means that only the 6th Armored Division and the 80th Infantry Division are the official liberators of Buchenwald.

African-American soldiers from Headquarters and Services Co. of 183rd Engineers Combat Battalion, 8th Corps, Third Army arrived at Buchenwald on April 17, 1945, too late to be given the honor of being liberators of Buchenwald. Among these soldiers was Leon Bass. (more…)

April 10, 2010

The liberation of Buchenwald at 3:15 p.m. on April 11, 1945

The clock on top of the gate house at the Buchenwald concentration camp has been permanently stopped at 3:15 p.m., the exact time that the Communist prisoners in the camp took over and liberated the camp, forcing the SS guards to flee into the surrounding woods.

Four American soldiers with the 6th Armored Division of General George S. Patton’s Third Army arrived a short time later. 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. They arrived just in time to see 15 SS guards who had been captured by the prisoners and brought back to the camp.

The gatehouse at the Buchenwald concentration camp, 1999

There were 21,000 prisoners in the Buchenwald camp on the day that it was liberated, including around 4,000 Jews, most of whom had been brought to Buchenwald after the Auschwitz camp was closed. The typhus epidemic in the camp was being brought under control, but there were still 3,000 sick prisoners.

At 5:30 p.m. on April 11th, First Lieutenant Edward A. Tenenbaum arrived in a Jeep, along with a civilian named Egon W. Fleck; they stayed in Buchenwald that night in Block 50, the medical building.  (Source:  The Buchenwald Report, a book about the camp written by a special intelligence team of the American Army, led by Albert G. Rosenberg)

Fleck and Tenenbaum wrote a detailed report on what their lengthy investigation of the camp had revealed. Alfred Toombs, who was Tenenbaum’s commanding officer, wrote a preface to the report, in which he mentioned how “the prisoners themselves organized a deadly terror within the Nazi terror.”

The following quote from Fleck and Tenenbaum’s report describes the power exercised by the German Communist prisoners at Buchenwald:

“The trusties, who in time became almost exclusively Communist Germans, had the power of life and death over all other inmates. They could sentence a man or a group to almost certain death … The Communist trusties were directly responsible for a large part of the brutalities at Buchenwald.”

The next day, on April 12, 1945, soldiers of the 80th Infantry Division arrived in the nearby town of Weimar and found some of the liberated prisoners roaming around, looking for food.  That same day, Edward R. Murrow arrived in Weimar; he 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. Marguerite Higgins wrote in her book News is a Singular Thing, that American soldiers joined in and helped the prisoners beat the German SS soldiers to death.

According to the Buchenwald Report, it was not until Friday the 13th that the rest of Patton’s troops arrived, accompanied by Generals Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton.

Although the Buchenwald Report says that the three top American generals saw the camp on April 13, Patton himself wrote in his memoirs that it was not until April 14, 1945 that he heard some of the gory details about Buchenwald from General Gay and Colonels Pfann and Codman, who had visited it.

Patton wrote in his book that he immediately called General Eisenhower, even before seeing the camp himself, and suggested that he send photographers and members of the press “to get the horrid details.”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Omar Bradley had visited the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald, along with General Patton, on April 12, 1945 but neither Eisenhower nor Bradley ever bothered to visit the Buchenwald main camp.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower on a visit to Ohrdruf camp, April 12, 1945

General Patton’s impression of the Buchenwald camp being controlled by the inmates was confirmed by Colonel Donald B. Robinson, chief historian of the American military occupation in Germany, who wrote an article for an American magazine after the war about the report of Fleck and Tenenbaum:

“It appeared that the prisoners who agreed with the Communists ate; those who didn’t starved to death.”

General Patton had visited the Ohrdruf  sub-camp of Buchenwald on April 12, 1945 along with General Omar Bradley and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. On April 15, 1945, the day that he visited Buchenwald, General George S. Patton wrote the following in a letter to General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“We have found at a place four miles north of WEIMAR a similar camp, only much worse. The normal population was 25,000, and they died at the rate of about a hundred a day. The burning arrangements, according to General Gay and Colonel Codman who visited it yesterday, were far superior to those they had at OHRDRUF.

“I told the press to go up there and see it, and then write as much about it as they could. I also called General Bradley last night and suggested that you send selected individuals from the upper strata of the press to look at it, so that you can build another page of the necessary evidence as to the brutality of the Germans.”

General Eisenhower did not visit Buchenwald himself, but he did follow General Patton’s advice to “build another page” about the “brutality of the Germans.” A group of  “upper strata” reporters were flown to Germany, arriving at Buchenwald on April 24, 1945, and given the grand tour of the Buchenwald atrocities.

Robert Abzug wrote the following in his book entitled Inside the Vicious Heart:

Soon after seeing Ohrdruf, Eisenhower ordered every unit near by that was not in the front lines to tour Ohrdruf: “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.'” Eisenhower felt it was essential not only for his troops to see for themselves, but for the world to know about conditions at Ohrdruf and other camps. From Third Army headquarters, he cabled London and Washington, urging delegations of officials and newsmen to be eye-witnesses to the camps. The message to Washington read: ‘We are constantly finding German camps in which they have placed political prisoners where unspeakable conditions exist. From my own personal observation, I can state unequivocally that all written statements up to now do not paint the full horrors.”

The photo below shows American soldiers who were brought to Buchenwald to see the horror.  The prisoners had prepared exhibits for the visitors.

American soldiers enter a barracks at Buchenwald to see an exhibit

Exhibit at Buchenwald shows human lampshade and shrunken heads

Exhibit shows how the prisoners were whipped at Buchenwald

Although the whipping block was used for punishment in all the camps, no such block was ever found in either the Ohrdruf sub-camp or the Buchenwald main camp. The survivors of these camps had to improvise a wooden block to show the American soldiers how they had been punished. According to the testimony of Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz, at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal on April 15, 1946, this punishment was discontinued in 1942 after Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler gave a new order that the SS men were forbidden to whip the prisoners.

The words on the top sign in the photo above, translated into English, read as follows:

“Model! The original was destroyed by the SS Murdering Bandits before their departure”

The English translation of the first two lines on the sign below it reads as follows:

“The so-called Support!”

“A Nazi cultural monument in all concentration camps”

The words on the lower sign then describe how the prisoners were whipped with 25 or more lashes on their naked buttocks until they were nearly unconscious. Then cold water was thrown on them to revive them and they were beaten some more.

All punishments in the Nazi concentration camps had to be authorized by the main office in Oranienburg after a report was made by the SS guards regarding an offense committed by a prisoner. A doctor had to be present during the whipping.

Another punishment that was no longer used was the infamous hanging punishment which was portrayed in another exhibit at Buchenwald.

Exhibit at Buchenwald shows the famous hanging punishment

The sign on the hanging punishment at Buchenwald

The words on the sign, shown in the photo above, are “Ein Strafvollzug der Nazi-Kultur: Das sogenannte an den Baum hängen.” The last two words are illegible. The English translation is “A Punishment of Nazi Culture: The so-called hanging on a tree.”

Martin Sommer, the innovator of this cruel punishment, was put on trial by SS officer Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen in a Nazi court in 1943 at the same time that Buchenwald Commandant Karl Otto Koch and his wife Ilse were put on trial by the Nazis for embezzlement and abuse of the prisoners at Buchenwald. After the trial, Sommer was transferred to the Russian front as punishment.

Sign put up by Polish prisoners at Buchenwald

The words on the sign in the photo above say “We from Silesia are ready to go back home and destroy the Fascists (Nazis).” Silesia is a province that became part of the German state of Prussia after the country of Poland was divided in 1772 among Prussia, Austria and Russia.

In 1871, Silesia became part of Germany after the German states united under the Kaiser who was the King of Prussia. After World War I ended, Silesia was given to the newly formed country of Poland. After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Silesia was annexed to Germany and became part of the Greater German Reich. Since the end of World War II, Silesia has been part of Poland.

At the end of World War II, the ethnic Germans in Silesia were expelled, after their homes and farms had been taken from them by the Poles. So it turned out that the former Polish political prisoners at Buchenwald did in fact participate in destroying the Nazis in Poland after the war.

Building where exhibits were set up at Buchenwald

On April 15, 1945, German civilians from the town of Weimar were marched five miles up a steep hill, at gunpoint, by American soldiers and forced to see the exhibits that had been set up by the prisoners.  Some of the Jewish survivors, wearing their striped prison uniforms, sat at a table in one of the barracks, ready to confront the German civilians with stories of what they had suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

The American soldiers were angry when the German civilian population said over and over: “We didn’t know.”  The American army was determined that the ordinary German people should see the atrocities that were committed at Buchenwald and other camps.

Bodies of prisoners who had died at Buchenwald

Postcard from Buchenwald shows the barracks for the prisoners

Exhibit shows how prisoners were hung from hooks in the crematorium

US Congressmen on a tour of Buchenwald, April 24, 1945

According to the exhibits put up after the camp was liberated, the Germans had a unique method of killing prisoners at Buchenwald.  Instead of gassing prisoners in the crematorium, as was done at Auschwitz-Birkenau, there were hooks on the walls of the crematorium where prisoners were hung a few inches from the floor until they were dead.  The photo above shows US Congressmen as they view the club that was allegedly used to kill prisoners who didn’t die fast enough when they were hung on hooks in the morgue.

However, a different explanation for the hooks was given by one of the former Polish prisoners to Cpl. Norman W. Paschen when he toured the camp shortly after it was liberated by American troops.

The following quote is from a letter to his family, written by Cpl. Paschen:

“We then went to the crematory, a cold, dismal building resembling a dungeon. A large chute similar to a coal chute had been used to convey the bodies to a cellar. On the walls of the cellar were many hooks which were used to hold the corpses until it came time for them to be elevated to the crematory upstairs. The hooks had been forced into the neck behind the ear. They were still blood-stained. In this room, also men were executed if they were deemed no longer useful to the Nazi. The methods of execution were varied. Sometimes a bullet was used, but our guide informed us that his captors had said many times that a bullet was too expensive a price to pay for the death of a slave. Poison gas or starvation was much cheaper.”

The morgue at Buchenwald which was the alleged execution room

General George S. Patton, who toured Buchenwald on April 15, 1945, wrote the following in his autobiography regarding what he was told by the former prisoners:

“If a sufficient number (of the Buchenwald prisoners) did not die of starvation or if, for other reasons, it was desirable to remove them without waiting for nature to take its course, they were dropped down a chute into a room which had a number of hooks like those on which one hangs meat in a butcher shop, about eight feet from the floor. From the execution room in the Buchenwald set-up there was an elevator, hand operated, which carried the corpses to an incinerator plant on the floor above.”

The “chute” which Patton saw was built to drop dead bodies down into the morgue in the basement.  According to the Buchenwald survivors, the basement room at the end of the chute was an execution room, not a morgue. This means that there was apparently no morgue for storing the bodies at the Buchenwald crematorium before they were cremated.

According to the camp guidebook, which I purchased on a visit to Buchenwald in 1999:

“Approximately 1,100 people were strangled to death on wall hooks in the body storage cellar. Ivan Belevzev from Kharkov, 8 years old, was the youngest victim of the murderers.”

Under German law in the Third Reich, no one under the age of 16 could be executed, but an exception was apparently made for the 8-year-old who was executed at Buchenwald.

According to the book entitled IBM and the Holocaust, by Edwin Black, the Jewish prisoners at Buchenwald were assigned to “the Little Camp, where they were expected to lose 40 percent of their body weight and then move on to other barracks.” The Little Camp was the quarantine camp where prisoners had to be confined for several weeks after they first entered the camp.

According to information that Black obtained from an Army report, the Jews were “arbitrarily condemned to death,” one shelf at a time. A shelf was a three-tiered bunk bed where 16 prisoners slept together.

The following quote is from IBM and the Holocaust in which Edwin Black describes the corpse slide at Buchenwald.

Once the murder decision had been made, all sixteen Jews in the shelf were immediately marched to a small door adjacent to Buchenwald’s incinerator building. The door opened inward, creating a short, three-foot-long corridor. Jews were pushed and herded until they reached the corridor end. There, a hole dropped thirteen feet down a concrete shaft and into the Strangling Room. A camp worker recalled, “As they hit the floor they were garroted … by big SS guards and hung on hooks along the side wall, about 6 1/2 feet above the floor … any that were still struggling were stunned with a wooden mallet … An electric elevator … ran [the corpses] up to the incinerator room.

Elevator in the corner of the “incinerator room”

On April 14, 1945,  the 120th Evacuation Hospital arrived in Weimar with a staff of 273 service personnel to take care of around 3,000 sick prisoners at Buchenwald; a hospital was set up in the barracks of the SS soldiers who had been stationed at Buchenwald. There was a typhus epidemic at Buchenwald and also at Dachau, where the 120th Evacuation Hospital was sent after Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945.

One of the soldiers with the 120th Evacuation Hospital was Tech. Sgt. Warren E. Priest from Haverhill, MA. In his letter home to his mother, Warren Priest told about objects made from human skin that were found at Buchenwald:

“I saw lampshades made of patches of human skin – anyone who came to the camp with a tattoo on him evidently didn’t enjoy himself quite as much as he might have. The commandant of the post collected these as a hobby, and had lampshades, pictures, even a ship’s sails made from human skin. I have that boat now. Ironically, it’s called the Santa Maria and has pictures of the Virgin & Child on the sails, with crosses garnished about. Quite a charming fellow, this commandant.”

The sailboat with sails made from human skin was donated to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.