70 years ago Saturday, Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated by General Dwight Eisenhower.
He would go on to become President of the United States and a friend to Israel.
WEIMAR, Germany (AP) – Buchenwald survivor Henry Oster recalls thinking that a fellow inmate had “lost his sense of reality” when he said 70 years ago Saturday that the concentration camp was being liberated, bringing an end to the long ordeal of the 21,000 surviving prisoners.
Oster, 86, visited the site near the German city of Weimar for the first time since its liberation on April 11, 1945 – one of a group of survivors and veterans who came to mark the anniversary of the liberation. Buchenwald was the first major concentration camp entered by American forces at the end of World War II.
“What I see here, where the barracks used to be, at every barrack there was a pile of dead bodies, this is in your memory forever,” Oster said. “When someone asks how Buchenwald was, you immediately see the dead bodies again.”
Around 250,000 prisoners in total were held at Buchenwald from its opening in July 1937 to its liberation. An estimated 56,000 people were killed, including political prisoners, people dubbed “asocial” by the Nazis, Soviet prisoners of war, Sinti and Roma, and approximately 11,000 Jews.
Oster, a Jewish German born in Cologne, was taken to the Lodz ghetto in occupied Poland in 1941 and later to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. His father died of starvation and his mother was gassed on the day they arrived at Auschwitz, he said.
In January 1945, Oster was sent on a “death march” to Buchenwald as the Nazis forced inmates westward in the face of advancing Soviet forces.
Entering the former camp through the wrought-iron gate that bears the words “Jedem das Seine” – “To each his own” – with its clock stopped at 3.15, the time of the liberation, Oster recalled that moment.
“We had no idea the Allies were in Europe, and when we heard noises at about a quarter past three, we looked out of the window – which took a great effort – and one of my friends said with a weak voice ‘I think we are getting liberated,'” Oster said. “And we thought he had lost his sense of reality like so many people there.”
Oster was taken to an orphanage in France and emigrated to the United States in 1946. He now lives in Woodland Hills, California.
A minute of silence was held Saturday afternoon at the tree-ringed hilltop site’s former assembly ground, bringing together former inmates and liberators – on whom Buchenwald also left an indelible impression.
James Anderson, a 91-year-old from Indianapolis, went in as an army medic on that day and recalled that many prisoners were so weak they could no longer move.
“The devastation was so tremendous,” Anderson said, his voice trembling. “I was a … kid, and to see this it was hard for me to believe this was actually happening, you know, and the prisoners were so glad to see us, they would hug us and everything.”
Robert Harmon, then a private serving in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army, was deployed in Weimar and first saw Buchenwald survivors a few days after the camp’s liberation.
“They had these thin pyjama clothes, they had terrible food, you can imagine, and of course the men had not shaven forever, and they just looked awful,” said Harmon, from Seattle, who turns 90 on Sunday.
“They were stunned psychologically, they were so afraid of authority that they were very careful about speaking to us, but they were so hungry that they dared, and that was such an act of courage, I think, for them to speak to us,” he said.
Patton was so disgusted by Buchenwald that he ordered residents of nearby Weimar to march the few miles up the hill to see what had been going on so close nearby.
“The younger generation should get to see this,” Anderson said. “It was unbelievable.”
Geir Moulson contributed to this report from Berlin.
Anyway it is an important film but not for those who are offended by the showing of graphic images.
If you are DON’T WATCH!
R.1:Army Lt. Col. George C. Stevens, Navy Lt. E. Ray Kellogg and U.S. Chief of Counsel Robert H. Jackson read exhibited affidavits which attest to authenticity of scenes in film. Map of Europe shows locations of concentration camps in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovokia, Danzing, Denmark, France, Germany, Isle of Jersey, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland and Yugoslavia. At Leipsig Concentration Camp, there are piles of dead bodies, and many living Russian, Czechoslovakian, Polish and French prisoners. At Penig Concentration Camp, Hungarian women and others display wounds. Doctors treat patients and U.S. Red Cross workers move them to German Air Force hospital where their former captors are forced to care for them.
R.2: At Ohrdruf Concentration Camp, inspection team composed of Allied military leaders, members of U.S. Congress and local townspeople tours camp. Among them are Generals Dwight David Eisenhower, Supreme Headquaters Allied Expeditionary Forces commander; Omar Nelson Bradley; and George S. Patton. General Eisenhower speaks with Congressmen. They see bodies heaped on grill at crematorium and Polish, Czechoslovakian, Russian, Belgian, German Jews and German political prisoners. Col. Heyden Sears, Combat Command A, 4th Armored Division commander, forces local townspeople to tour camp. U.S. officers arrive at Hadamar Concentration Camp, where Polish, Russian and German political and religious dissidents were murdered. Maj. Herman Boelke of U.S. War Crimes Investigation Team (WCIT) examines survivors. Bodies are exhumed from mass graves for examination, identification and burial. Four-man panel interviews facility director Dr. Waldman and chief male nurse Karl Wille.
R.3:At Breendonck Concentration Camp, Belgium, methods of torture are demonstrated. At Harlan Concentration Camp near Hannover, U.S. Red Cross aides Polish survivors. Allied troops and able-bodied survivors bury dead. At Arnstadt Concentration Camp, German villagers are forced to exhume Polish and Russian bodies from mass graves.
R.4: At Nordhausen Concentration Camp, there are piles of bodies. Troops treat, feed and remove survivors who are mainly Polish, Russian and French. At Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Navy Lt. Jack H. Taylor stands with fellow survivors and describes his capture, imprisonment and conditions at Mauthausen. Volunteers bathe victims.
R.5: At Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Army trucks arrive with aid for survivors. Piles of dead, mutilated and emaciated bodies. Some survivors among dead. Huge ovens and piles of bone ash on floor of crematorium. Civilians from nearby Weimar are forced to tour camp. They see exhibits of lampshades made of human skin, and two shrunken heads. R.6: British commander of Royal Artillery describes conditions at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. German Army Schutzstaffel (SS) troops are forced to bury dead and aid survivors. Woman doctor, former prisoner, describes conditions in female section of camp. Belson commander Kramer is taken into custody. German guards bury dead. Bulldozer pushes piles of bodies into mass graves.