Americans Liberate Buchenwald Concentration Camp
U.S. soldiers from General George S. Patton’s Third Army liberated the Nazis’ Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, on April 11, 1945. They were horrified at the unspeakable cruelty they found at the camp, whose official purpose was to provide slave labor for German armament factories. The camp’s policy was to starve, beat, and work the prisoners to death, then burn their bodies and bring in fresh victims. Although the Germans kept records the exact number of victims will never be known, but it is estimated that from 1938 to 1945 over 230,000 prisoners were brought to Buchenwald and as many as 56,000 killed. Most of the victims were Jews, but political prisoners and military prisoners of war were also sent to Buchenwald, especially Poles and Russians.
As the following newspaper articles describe, the conditions found at Buchenwald and other concentration camps and prisoner of war camps enraged the Allies. Germany was on the brink of collapse—it would surrender a few short weeks later, on May 7—and the Allies’ thoughts were increasingly turning toward how to deal with Germany after the war and the prosecution of those responsible for the horrors being discovered at the camps (the commandant of Buchenwald, Hermann Pister, was hanged for his crimes in 1948).
This copyrighted article was published by the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on April 19, 1945:
Mopping Up Begins
A new phase of the German war has begun or is about to begin. With the Reich bisected at the waist as a result of the rapid advance of Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army the western front has all but disappeared…
The stories that have come to this country in the last two days of unspeakable Nazi atrocities at Gardelegen and Buchenwald throw a good deal of light on the reasons for the refusal of the high command to come to any kind of armistice agreement with those who so recently have been responsible for such incomparable cruelty, and they explain moreover why Gen. Eisenhower expects no formal surrender.
By the same token they make it clear that German war criminals must be run down and punished, as President Truman reaffirmed in his address to Congress Monday, and that a peace must be imposed upon the Germany of the post-war period that will effectively disarm her and in so far as possible compel her to make amends for the immeasurable destruction for which her war leaders have been responsible.
This copyrighted article was published by the Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington) on April 19, 1945:
Patton Compels Civilians to See Prison Horrors
Paris, April 19—(AP)—Lieut. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., has compelled a large part of the civil population of Weimar, including men, women and children, to visit the Buchenwald prison camp and see for themselves the horrors of the Nazi regime, liberated Frenchmen said today.
Patton was horrified by the conditions he found, the French said, ordered all prisoners moved out and then had Military Police line up all the civilians they could find in Weimar and march them to the camp.
The doors of the crematoriums were opened, exposing burned and semi-burned bodies of the victims. On being marched past these ovens some Germans tried not to look at the spectacle, but the repatriates said American officers, on Patton’s orders, compelled the Germans to turn their heads toward the scene.
The French quoted the officers as saying to the Germans: “You must look at this. You are responsible for it.”
This copyrighted article was published by the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) on April 20, 1945:
Big 3 Fury on Crimes Overflows
Churchill Warns All ‘Foul Work’ Will Be Repaid
London, April 20. (AP)—The United States, Britain and Russia have drafted a final solemn warning to the Germans that both the top Nazis and those who have done the “foul work with their own hands” will be made to pay for atrocities committed against the Allies, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced Thursday.
Disclosure that the warning had been drafted by himself, President Truman and Premier Joseph Stalin and would be issued within a “very few days” was made by Churchill to the House of Commons, whose anger flamed as a result of direct word from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower that atrocities just discovered “far surpass” anything seen before.
Reich Collapse Anticipated
In what appeared to be a suggestion that the central Nazi government might not last even long enough to receive the warning, Churchill said it had been prepared “for the German government or whatever authorities exist.”
Nazi atrocities have become of paramount importance in communications between the Big Three, the prime minister said, disclosing that a delegation from Parliament would leave Friday at the invitation of Eisenhower to see firsthand “these gruesome scenes.” One woman is on the eight-member committee appointed to get personal proof of the crimes.
British Anger Mounts
The flaring of anger toward the Nazis and concern for prisoners still in their hands swept through Commons after Churchill had fenced good-naturedly with members who tried to “tempt” him into talking about prospects for Victory Day in Europe.
The prime minister said that any V-E proclamation would come in concert with the United States and Russia. He emphasized that both “military and political considerations” would be taken into account. He added that he did not mean domestic political considerations.
Crimes Called ‘Foul’
Discussing Nazi atrocities, Churchill declared that “no words can express the horror which is felt by His Majesty’s government and their allies at proof of these frightful crimes now daily coming into view.”
The warning of retribution, he said grimly, is being directed “not only to the men at the top, but to the actual people who have done this foul work with their own hands.”
“No order from superior authority would be any shield to them,” he said.
This copyrighted article was published by the Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington) on April 20, 1945:
Yanks Bitter at Nazi Brutality
By Thoburn Wiant
Associated Press Foreign Staff
United States Third Army, Germany, April 20.—Third Army troops are becoming increasingly bitter over German treatment of American prisoners of war.
Lieut. Gen. George S. Patton’s divisions already have liberated several camps containing thousands of Americans from every state. The situation was about the same in every prison: the Americans had been forced to walk 100 or more miles to camps and were assigned to filthy quarters which were unheated in cold weather. They were fed barely enough to keep alive.
In at least one prison camp, Americans told of beatings received from German guards wielding rifle butts.
Army censors have been wary of passing stories about conditions in these camps. Everything indicating severe cruelty has been stopped until recently. The censors have contended that unfounded exaggerations might be printed, provoking the Germans to retaliate.
The policy has been relaxed. Correspondents may report what they see, but still cannot write of what liberated Americans tell them, if severe cruelty is involved. Such reports still must be referred to higher authorities.
Liberated troops seen in several camps unanimously told this correspondent that the whole truth should be told. One prisoner of war said: “The Germans could not treat doughboys still in camps much worse and there is always a chance that widespread publicity might cause the Germans to institute reforms.”
Perhaps the German captors have been unable to transport American prisoners of war to camps by rail or truck, as do Patton’s divisions.
However, there is no excuse for assigning Americans to cramped and filthy quarters, or for feeding them minute quantities of watery soup, bread and margarine. Nor is there an excuse for beating them.
Near every camp this correspondent has seen, there have been large, clean and heated buildings which could be used for prisoners. Throughout overrun Germany, great stores of foodstuff have been found.
This copyrighted article was published by the Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) on April 21, 1945:
Massacre Halted by Captives’ Note
(The Associated Press)
Paris, April 20.—Frenchmen liberated from the horror camp at Buchenwald said today that prisoners themselves prevented a massacre of 20,000 survivors of the rigors of the camp. They gave this account:
As American armored forces approached the camp the commander there received an order to put all the remaining inmates to death.
The general was preparing to carry out the order when he received a note from a group of the prisoners which stated: “If you spare the lives of the prisoners of Buchenwald we will testify that you have been a model camp director.”
The general, flushed with pleasure, slipped the note into his pocket and called off the plans for the massacre.
This copyrighted article was published by the Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas) on April 22, 1945:
Solons View Full Horror of Atrocities
Weimar, Germany, April 21. (AP)—A congressional delegation composed of Representatives Clare Booth Luce (Rep.) of Connecticut, John Kunkel (Rep.) of Pennsylvania and Leonard Hall (Rep.) of New York, Saturday visited the Buchenwald concentration camp, and saw the horrors which liberating United States troops found in this German den of death and brutality.
Mrs. Luce spared herself none of the grisly spectacles, and said she hoped the people of the United States would see motion picture records which have been made there.
She visited the basement crematorium where, in a white-walled room, thousands had been hanged from iron hooks.
Her prisoner guide told her how the executioners used clubs shaped like potato mashers to kill victims who did not die quickly enough in the noose.
She saw the elevator which carried the bodies upstairs to the furnaces.
Stack of Shriveled Bodies
Outside the crematorium she saw a wagon stacked high with shriveled bodies.
She did not remain long, saying, “It’s just too horrible.”
In the barracks she saw prisoners too weak to move from the tiered shelves on which they lay. Six had been forced to lie on the shelves in a space big enough only for three.
She talked to many patients in the hospital—once a brothel—getting firsthand information about Buchenwald’s brutalities.
Scores of American doughboys silently had been viewing the concentration camp, which has been cleaned up considerably since its liberation. There were 51,000 dead of Buchenwald’s atrocities.
“Only a few years ago some were talking about there being good German people,” said Mrs. Luce. “After seeing this, one wonders whether there is good in any German people.”
Important to Know Truth
She was visibly affected by the sight of an emaciated 6½-year-old boy who had been imprisoned two and one-half years—for being out after the curfew in Paris. “No one wants to believe these things, but it is important that people know they’re true,” she said.
Kunkel said, “No one could visualize these horrors without seeing them. It is incredible that some of the people were able to survive such an ordeal. This is a sight I hope never to see again.”
Said Hall: “You have to see Buchenwald to realize fully what debased beasts the Germans are. There is nothing here except brutality: corpses by the wagon loads. It certainly points up the question as to what should be done with Germany after the war.”
Informed that newsreel cameramen had made a film record of the atrocities found in the camp, Mrs. Luce told newsmen: “Everyone should see these films and never forget them.”
Shocking, Horrible Scenes
Correspondents told her that one cameraman, Tom Priestly, of Rockaway Beach, L.I., had said he doubted the films would reach public theater screens “because they portray scenes so horrible they would shock the average moviegoer.”
She retorted: “No one wants to believe such things could happen. But they have happened here. We must always remember this could happen to us, too, in twenty years.”
Congress and the Army Saturday arranged to send a delegation of twelve lawmakers and seventeen publishers and editors to see firsthand evidence of Nazi atrocities.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in urging that such a delegation be sent, had said that the conditions prevailing in overrun prison camps are almost impossible to describe in words.
The twelve congressmen designated will join Mrs. Luce, Kunkel and Hall.
A ten-member group from the British Parliament also is undertaking a similar firsthand inspection.
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