The Liberation:
A Story of the Liberation of the Holocaust Camps

By Garrett DeJesus
Cortlandt Manor, New York


 

In 1944, the tide of World War Two swayed toward a victory for the Allied Forces. As the German army weakened and diminished in size the allied liberators and rescuers were able to emancipate the prisoners of the Nazi concentration camps. The liberators of World War Two played an extensive .role in the freeing of the survivors. The scope and grandeur of the contributions made by the liberators can never be equated to any other rescue known to man. Many of the survivors have lived to tell their stories as well as many liberators. The description given by them hopefully will help to ensure their suffering was not in vain. A lesson learned from the Holocaust that will hopefully live on forever, is that never shall we forget that night. (Rosenburg,l-2)

When the Allied Liberators began to reach the concentration camps in the summer of 1944, they witnessed abominable sights of malnourished prisoners unable to walk or speak. But just the mere fact of the Americans being there sparked a bit of hope among the inmates. Captain J.D. Pletcher, Commander of the 71st. Division Headquarters for the Allied Army described what he observed in his liberation of Dachau – "As we entered the camp, the living skeletons still able to walk crowded around us and though we wanted to drive further into the place, the milling, pressing crowd would not let us. People would crowd around us to kiss our arms–perhaps just to make sure that it is was all true. The people that couldn't walk crawled out toward our jeep. Those who couldn't even crawl propped themselves up on an elbow and somehow, through all the pain and suffering, revealed through their eyes the gratitude and joy they felt at the arrival of Americans" (Crawford, 2-5).

Auschwitz–Birkenau

Auschwitz–Birkenau, located in Treblinka outside of Warsaw, was liberated on January 27, 1945. It was one of the largest and most well known camps. When the Soviets liberated Auschwitz they found 7,650 sick and exhausted prisoners. Even after liberation many continued to die of disease and malnutrition. Auschwitz, often referred to as the "killing camp," was designated solely for the purpose of the extermination of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, the ghettos of other cities, as well as thousands of Jews from many other European nations. Approximately one fourth of the people killed in the Holocaust were killed at Auschwitz. The camp was completely surrounded by an electrical barbed wire fence that was approximately 12 feet high. In the watchtower the SS men stood guard with machine guns. The prisoners were forced to watch public hangings for the purpose of intimidation and to achieve total obedience. Auschwitz is considered to have been the largest factory of death in the history of humanity because of the massive amount of deaths that occurred in the camp. (Adler, 46-59)

Now, Auschwitz is a museum that was established to preserve the Nazi camp structures and installations and to memorialize the suffering of the man people that perished during the Holocaust (Adler, 46-59).

Dachau

Dachau, was a concentration camp named after its location in a quaint German town. It was liberated on April 29, 1945. Thousands of skeletons were found as well as living ones hobbling around. Liberators found bodies heaped one on top of the other filling two rooms and spewing out the door of the gas chamber. But it was here that the cold weather worked to the advantage of the witnesses. The stench of the bodies and the accompanying filth would have been unbearable under other conditions. Outside, there was much evidence of bones and ash where the furnaces had been emptied many times of their gruesome contents. Many traces of experiments were found in Dachau. One particular experiment was to test how pilots who have to eject from their planes would fare. High-altitude gas chambers were used and people were exposed to these conditions. Majority would die within minutes. Other experiments tested how long a German pilot would be able to survive in freezing water in case their plane was shot down. This was done by putting the experimentee into a tub of below-freezing water and keeping them their until death occurred. (Chersoff, 51-67)

Dachau is now a modern museum depicting the horror from the camp. It was created to commemorate all the innocent beings that were exterminated there. All around the camp are blueprints on display showing everything from the crematoriums to the gas chambers (Chesnoff, 51-67).

Treating the Living Dead

The first Allied medical units to reach the camps were attached to combat forces and equipped to give only the most basic care. More elaborate hospital units usually arrived within a few days of liberation, and organized evacuations of the sick began. Army doctors, nurses, medics, the Red Cross, and other relief workers struggled to feed and clothe tens of thousands of people and to treat and control typhus, tuberculosis, and other diseases that ravaged the camp populations. Medical teams dusted the survivors with the insecticide DUT to destroy typhus carrying lice. They vaccinated the freed inmates and isolated those with contagious diseases. The squalid prisoner barracks were scrubbed, disinfected, or burned, often by German townspeople recruited for the task. Engineering units restored sewage, water, and electricity (Fischer, 2-4).

To help with spiritual needs, army chaplains conducted religious services, and thousands welcomed the opportunity once more to begin a life that had a semblance of normalcy. In addition to prayer, the survivors needed such basic staples as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, mirrors, hairbrushes, blankets, clothing, and sanitary supplies. The survivors required assistance to return to their former homes. They also needed help in finding relatives from whom they were separated during the war (Fischer, 5).

Unfortunately, military units were not equipped to deal with all the physical and emotional rehabilitation that the survivor required. Extreme food shortages were the norm in devastated postwar Europe; adequate supplies and provisions were not available to the military units charged with assisting the camp populations. As a result, after the first few days of contact, food distribution to the survivors consisted of not much more than bread, watery soup, and coffee that had been their diet under the Nazis. Nor was there sufficient clothing or sundrie (Schwartz, 56-64).

On April 12,1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander in chief of the Allied military forces, visited the Ohrdruf concentration camp. After viewing the evidence of atrocities, he ensured that these unbelievable scenes would be witnessed and documented so that firsthand testimony of the crimes could be given. Eisenhower ordered members of the U.S. military forces to see what had been done and urged politicians, dignitaries, reporters, photographers, and filmmakers to inspect the camps and describe the atrocities they saw to their constituencies. Subsequently, explicit photographs appeared in Life Magazine, leading newspapers, tabloids, and exhibitions in the United States, Great Britain, and France. Eisenhower and his subordinates also ordered nearby German townspeople to come and witness the results of Nazi depravity and to help clean up the areas and to bury the dead. At burial services, Allied chaplains harshly reminded ordinary German citizens of their responsibility for the crimes (Moxon, 3).

In a broad informational campaign in the occupied zones of Germany and Austria, the Allies distributed booklets with graphic photographs, Such as "KZ," a pictorial report from five concentration camps. The Allies also set billboard displays and sponsored radio programs and film screenings. Almost everywhere, the Germans appeared to accept the facts of the atrocities but were reluctant to acknowledge responsibility for acts of their government. Most Germans were too busy focusing on rebuilding their live, homes, and cities after the devastation of the war (Fischer, 3).

Although the soldiers had witnessed all the horrors of war, the condition of the prisoners was even more shocking. It was beyond any war scene that the soldiers had experienced. There were rows upon rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. Liberators struggled to make sense of the scenes they witnessed. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, wrote a letter to the Chief of Staff George Marshall dated April 1945: " I have never felt able to describe my emotional reaction when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. I visited every nook and cranny of the camps because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda." Eisenhower's comment shows his foresight in thinking that we must preserve documentation and photographs to remind the world of the horrors that took place in the concentration camps. Nobody can deny the vivid scenes and descriptions of the Holocaust. Nobody can forget (Lewin, 32-33).

 

Works Cited

Adler, Jerry. "The Last Days of Auschwitz." Newsweek January 16, 1995:

p.g. 46-59.

Chesnoff, Richard Z. "Freeing the Survivors." U.S. News April 3,1995: p.g. 51-67.

Crawford, Fred Roberts. "Witness to the Holocaust." Georgia Tech Library . Est. 1961. Online. Dialog file: 583.

Fischer, Carol S. "Never Forget." Teachers of the Holocaust. Created in 1996. Online. Dialog File: unknown.

Lewin, Rhoda G. The Last Days of the War. New Hampshire: Literary History. 1962.

Moxon, Gerald. "Liberators of the Holocaust." Encarta Encyclopedia 1996-97. Online. Dialog file: 814.

Rosenburg, John and Marie Coleman. "WWII liberators and their Stories." Holocaust Memorial Library. Est. 1976. Online. Dialog File: 2102.

Schwartz, Michael. Liberators and Rescuers of WWII. New York: Henry Holt & Company, Inc. 1987.

 

 


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