Heroes: the Army
A Special Tribute to the Men of:
Co. F., 405th Regiment, 102nd Division (2nd Battalion)
European Theater of Operations
Gardelegan War Crimes:
Recently, we received the following e-mail message from (Mr.) Francis van Gorp of the Netherlands. He has been researching the Gardelegan War Crimes for an upcoming TV Documentary and has asked for assistance.
Some stories of the men of the 102nd Division relate some details of this massacre.
If anyone is interested and has additional information relating to the Gardelegan War Crimes and would like to be of assistance to Mr. van Gorp, you can contact him at the address/e-mail address listed below.
Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.
Much of the ongoing research is available on the web page listed at the end of the following message received from Mr. van Gorp.
Message from Mr. van Gorp:
Sorry, no story but some questions.
I'm researching the massacre of Gardelegen, Germany, April 13th 1945. The goal of the research is to write a scenario to apply for a budget for a tv-documentary about the massacre. Unfortunately, nowadays freelancers (like me) have to present an almost completely researched scenario before the decision to grant a budget will be made.
This also means that all the efforts might be in vain. To prevent that, I promised Mrs. Hope Emerich, editor and historian of the 102nd Infantry Division Association to send her copies of everything I found so the material can be used for future reference. I'm also in touch with the author of the site of the 102nd Infantry Division on which is the story about Gardelegen. This site prompted my research.
While surfing the internet I found your site and on it stories of veterans about the Gardelegen massacre. Although I found some of the stories of the 405th Regt. (Hansen, Skene and Larson), I wonder if there are more that refer to Gardelegen. If so, could you please tell me where I can find them on your web pages?
To give you an idea about the extent of my research, you can go to my (always changing) homepage which is there to inform others about my progress:
Gardelegen: A Research
I would very much appreciate your help!
(Mr.) Francis van Gorp
"Francis van Gorp" <email@example.com>
5051 EL Goirle
Exerpts of some of the stories of the men of the 405th Regiment, 102nd Division, [2nd Battalion] relating to the Gardelegen War Crimes:
The Attack on Gardelegen
by Lt. Jim Hansen, Co. F., 405th Regiment
"...Pocket resistance had ceased so we were moving right along. We spotted a large column of black smoke to our front. We thought they had fired a gasoline and oil storage area. Our line of advance was right in line with the smoke. As we drew closer we saw a long building and the smoke was coming out of it. Now our conclusion was that the building had been set on fire by artillery fire. We were going to by-pass the building and proceed to an airport supposedly in the vicinity. Then the awful odor hit us.
I passed on one side of the building and saw a large trench. Upon investigation, I saw bodies lying at the bottom. I heard shouts from the other side of the building and went there. The horrid scene unfolded in front of us. We saw heads and hands sticking out from under the doors. It looked like they had dug that far out with their bare hands.
The discovery was reported to company headquarters and on up the chain of commands. S-2 and G-2 Officers gathered at the scene Some more survivors that had escaped showed up and were being questioned by the officers. Two German officials, a man and a woman, were brought to the scene and were being questioned. One of the prisoners seized one of the officer's pistol and shot the German man. His prison mates grabbed the German and dragged him to the corner of the building where some gasoline cans sat, poured gasoline on him and set him afire. This happened so fast I guess everyone froze.
The town officials were rounded up, taken to the scene, and all doors were opened. Three on each side. The officials were made to clear a path from one door across to the other door. This was probably my most sickening experience. After the three lanes were cleared we went back into town and brought everyone that could walk to the scene. They were made to walk thru the lanes to view the atrocity. Those that fainted were carried thru by those that didn't.
Higher officials now took over the scene and we continued on with the war.
Thru the years, I have often wondered how so many people could be brain-washed by so few degenerates..."
Experiences with Fox Company
by PFC. John "Dick" Skene, Co. F., 405th Regiment
"...We moved up into the outskirts of Garlegen and the next day discovered the atrocity of Garlegen. In a cement barn with wooden doors on both sides, we discovered the charred bodies of prisoners of war and political prisoners who had been burned alive by the S.S. It was a mishmash of prisoners, apparently, Germans, French, Russians, Poles, whatever. There was a fairly large prisoner of war camp in the general area. Some of the H company people got so upset when they view this atrocity that they went back into the town of Garlegen, rounded up the men, women, and children that they could, and opened up both sides of this barn, and ran them through the barn, so they could see what their German troops had done. Of course the civilian population were very much in fear that somehow they would be punished for this atrocity, and they were quite upset by the whole deal. We had information that three of the prisoners in the barn had managed to escape. They had been taken there by the S.S., who locked them up in the barn with gasoline-soaked straw, and had lit the straw with a thermite grenade. They had mounted machine guns some distance from the barn by the door, so that those who managed to work their way under the doors and got out would be shot, and there were several that were shot. In fact, there were huge holes around the perimeter of the barn, a little bit away from the barn, where there were already bodies stacked in these holes. Of the two or three prisoners who had managed to escape, one, I was told, had managed to crawl out with another fellow. His friend had been shot, and an S.S. man approached and asked the man if he were hurt, and when he answered, he shot him [140-23] dead. The man who was able to escape had faked being dead (and managed to crawl off with some geese that were off on one edge of the area, and climb into a wrecked aircraft on the edge of the airfield, where this barn was located. I recall as a part of this incident, while we were viewing the tragedy, that a Frenchman across the way came up with a Walter pistol. A German medical officer and a nurse in the barn had also been run out to view this atrocity by the H company people, and the Frenchman raised his pistol and shot the German officer. These were not S.S. people, and there was no way of knowing how responsible the person who was shot was for the tragedy. At any rate, someone got a can of gasoline off one of the trucks and burned the German officer up with the rest of the prisoners. It was really a case of murder, but no one knew who this prisoner of war was, he spoke only French. After the incident, he just disappeared. The S.S. who were responsible for the atrocity in he barn had been in charge of the town, but they had turned over control to the regular German forces and moved on out..."
Down Memory Lane with Co. H.
by 1st Lt. Donald E. "Swede" Larson,
Co. H., 405th Regiment
"...We were quartered that night in Gardelagen. Early next morning some of us were nosing around the town when we noticed a black plume of smoke coming from a nearby hill outside of town. Upon investigating, we came upon the most horrible sight we had ever seen in this war. Inside the barn were burning bodies piled half way up the walls. It was obvious they had been machine gunned down, some fuel poured over them, and set on fire. A body count revealed 1016 bodies of POWs in black and white stripped clothes, most of which were German and Polish prisoners. They had been ruthlessly set on fire, locked in the barn, and left to die. If some had managed to dig out with their teeth and bare hands, they were machine-gunned from outside. Many arms, heads, etc. were visible under the walls where they had tried to get out.
The GIs were so outraged at finding the burned bodies that they dragged, pushed and pulled every civilian in the town out to the barn. We made them walk by in single file to see the deeds their brave soldiers had committed. Some would put their hands over their eyes so as not to see the bodies, but when that was noticed, the hands were promptly pulled down and they were made to see. And, of course, not one civilian had any knowledge of what had happened.
"H" Company was detailed to stay in Gardelagen to await higher authorities and clean up the town. As you might expect, the civilians were treated quite firmly. Searching groups hit each and every house and building while looking for guns, ammunition, etc. We found a hidden arsenal of automatic weapons at the outskirts of town, and a manufacturing company's warehouse for the Walther .32 pistol. Gardelagen was a hot-bed of Naziism. We found a warehouse full of Walther pistols, and hauled away enough guns for a pistol for every man in the battalion. We collected a truck full of pistols, swords, knives, daggers, rifles, and every other type of weapon possible. All from these "peace loving" Germans who knew nothing about the bodies in the burning barn..."
The Tapes of Jim Brophy
by James J. "Jim" Brophy, Sgt.,
Co. F., 405th Regiment
"...It was a day or two later when we were in Gardelegen. This where the Germans had killed over a thousand concentration camp people that they had brought from the north of Germany.
Years later I had read where this was a column of some of those guys who were held up near the Baltic. One of the groups was marched south and a lot of them were killed along the way. They had a lot of nationalities there -- French and Polish and I don't know what all and Germans as well. They armed some of the Germans, according to that story and used them to guard the column and when they got near their destination, they disarmed these German prisoners and killed them along with the rest. The story that I heard at the time was that they herded them into the barn and there was a lot of straw on the bottom of the barn. They soaked it with kerosene and they fired a flare pistol into it and when anyone tried to escape they machine gunned them. I don't know if that was all that or as Greenburgs' account of they killed them and then burned the bodies. I am not real sure of that.
But we got there. Someone was looking for boz. We found the bodies and I remember and we built...well, anyway I will get back to that. The bodies were found and when I got there, some G.I.'s had gone to town a few minutes earlier. They captured a German army medic. He was wearing an arm band. Somebody searched and they found a stick of Spearmint in his pocket. When I saw him, he was standing with his hands above his head. One of the displaced persons, a DP, standing holding a small pistol against the guy's chest, threatening him with it. Apparently the DP's brother had been killed by the German's or something. So I walked around the end of the barn and came in the other side. There were doors on both sides. It was kind of a like a machine sh---, brick building. As I was walking around, I heard a shot and as I got in the other door, the German was down on the ground dying. He had been shot in the chest by the DP. The other German that had been brought out was a woman -- a nurse. Some of the guys wanted to kill her, too. But cooler heads prevailed. As much as I saw, someone had her knees and was forced to kiss some of the dead people in the barn. Some of them had tried to dig their way out under the doors. I could see where the body could be half buried and trying to dig out before he died.
German people were brought out in batches the next day to see the sight and they all claimed American bombers had done the damage. German boys would never do anything like that. I have often wondered if anyone ever caught the perpetrators. They made the Germans rebury the people and make a cemetery out of the place.
I remember that night guarding the bodies, we had a fire and we would sit there. The bodies were cooling and there was a constant sound of rustling sound as the bodies changed position as they cooled. Pretty eerie.
There is a lot of story involved in that. On of them I heard was that this column that was sent south. The story that I had read was that the Frenchman who was a civil engineer -- the first one who really figured out the German V-1 launching site in France pointed at London. He worked it out on his maps. He got the sites mapped -- a lot of them and sent them to England -- the maps. The British were able to investigate to some degree using the French underground and decided to attack those sites. The story I got was where they had hoped to launch ten of those missiles in a given period of time. They were only able to launch two. In other words they lost 80% of the missiles, because the sites were destroyed. I don't know what the total number of missiles they launched was or how many they destroyed at the sites. This Frenchman was then taken prisoner and he was part of that group that was brought up in that Baltic area. Half of them were put into boats -- old freighter hulks and the Germans were going to take them out to sea and sink them. The other half were marched south. I don't know why they split the column. The Swedish Red Cross intervened and forced the Germans not -- just by saying they were going to take names, ranks and serial numbers and then after war the Allies would catch the perpetrators. So they didn't sink any of the hulks. But one was sunk by the RAF by mistake. They thought it was a German boat. These guys drowned in it. In any case I was told that a book indicated that this group ended up at the town of Gardelegen and that would have been the same group.
That was one of the really terrible things. That is something that you are absolutely prepared for. You know, I thought this stuff was going on. It was beginning -- when I was home, a kid playing cowboys and indians and this was a lot -- a lot grimmer than any of us had ever seen..."
(Webmaster note: Mr. James "Jim" Brophy passed away on 2 May 2004.)
by Robert "Bob" Fisher,
Co. F., 405th Regiment
"...We captured a village late one afternoon. It was not long after we disovered a large barn into which the SS had herded hundreds of POW's and burned them alive, shooting those that tried to escape out the doors. We found and talked to the one survivor. We were so sickened by this that we rounded up the towns people and marched them thru the barn to see what the SS had done. I'm sure that most of them thought that we were going to kill them too. As I remember, the townspeople were required to make a special cemetary and place all the remains from this building and from the burnings previously and thrown in a common grave, in individual graves and were charged with the eternal upkeep of the cemetary for ever..."
War Diary of Gene Greenburg
by Eugene "Gene" Greenburg, Sgt.,
Co. F., 405th Regiment
Tuesday, April 13.
"...It was while taking a walk with Racine and DiGiovanni that I [195-52] came across the most horrible sight I had ever seen. We stopped to talk to a Polish woman for a minute and she pointed out a very large shed and told us to look in it. We went toward this building and on going into it we saw a sight that we would never forget. Inside the building were hundreds of bodies that were smoking. Later we learned the whole story. It seemed the night before we entered Gaidelegen SS troops took 1200 prisoners and put them inside this shed. The shed was filled with straw and all entrances were guarded with machine guns and bazookas. The Germans then proceeded to machine gun the men in cold blood. In the confusion that followed two prisoners escaped and that's how the story finally came out. When the Germans thought they killed everyone they poured gasoline on the bodies and lit it. While looking on this scene we heard a moan and found one man still alive. We called the medics and he was taken to the hospital but died the next morning. Within the next week all the Germans in the town were forced to pick up the bodies and dig graves for them. It wasn't pleasant work but Jerry was still getting off too easy. Gardelegen proved to any skeptic in the division that German atrocities were true..."
A War Story
by Robert "Bob" Lira,
Co. F., 405th Regiment
"...Another awesome incident comes to mind as I write. This was about April 12&emdash;13, 1945.
The 2nd Plt. of Co. F, 405th Reg. was almost in its final mopping up stages. I had my scouts out and we were addvancing in the direction of Gardelegen, a small village about 30 miles from the Elbe River. As usual, our tanks were giving us fire power from behind, by blasting tall steeples and buildings in front of us. just to make sure there were no snipers therein. There was a sort of a greyish black smoke coming out of the side of a large building that was part brick and concrete near a wooded area. It looked like a factory or warehouse. Our zone of advance was right smack in the middle of the building so I instructed my scouts to guide on the building as I studied the building thru my binoculars, while still a fair disance away. There were no enemy troops in the immediate area. As we approached the big structure we could see thick black smoke coming out near a sliding door. We figured that our artillery has set the building on fire. When we got closer, we saw that the building itself was not on fire. Actually, what we saw that was burning was a huge pile of human flesh. The occupants were jammed up against a partially opened part of the building next to an exit door, which they had been trying to open. We could't believe what we were seeing. Inside we saw piles of human bodies 5 -- 6 feet tall at the main exits, and they were burning too. I got a whiff of the burning flesh for the first time in my life, an awful nauseating sickining smell that I can never forget. I honestly thought I was having a nightmare.
I immediately called my CO. to come and look at what we had run into. He, and his Exec. came in jeeps and they sent for the higher ranking officers of Bn. They went on all the way to the Division officers. I remember seeing human heads, hands, feet -- sticking up out of hastily dug mass graves that the SS troops had tried to bury the prisoners in before we came. There were hundreds of them, many were just burried alive. In all, there were about 4000 burried there.
We found out later that they were Polish and Jews who had arrived 2 days prior to our arrival. The SS had scattered hay inside the building, poured gasolene over the hay, herded the prisoners into the building, closed the doors and set the straw on fire. Those inside that made it to the exits were machine gunned down as they fought to escape.
It was soon after that people from the Red Cross arrived, a man and a woman. Our officers wanted to make sure that these atraucities were properly recorded. These were used in the war criminal trials that were to take place later after the war was over. I saw a polish POW suddenly take a 45 caliber pistol out of a holster and go up to an SS man and shoot him in the head before anyone could stop him. The POW was avenging the death of one of his friends that the SS had done..."
Forget About Home
by Joel Stenson,
Co. F., 405th Regiment
"...In Gardelegen we were posted 25 yards apart and about 25 feet from those barns was a awful smell around to make you sick. I kept telling my buddy I can't wait til morning to get away from this place. We could not leave until relieved. When we were, we went over to the barns and they were full of straw and along the side of the door was a water trough with a tin cup on a chain. Then we went into the barns and I was sick for about 3 days. Charred bodies were laying all over the placeand under the bottom of the door was a mans head with a bullet hole in it. He was trying to escapee when the germans shot him. A couple of the prisoners did escape and came to our officers and told them what had hppened. They were herded into the barn when the german troops heard we were in the area they filled the barn with gasolene and lit a match to it. Those that were near the doors they shot with machine guns. They said it was a 16 year old boy who lit the match to the barn. I thought that Co. F was the first to find this place but it was really G Co. as they over to the left of our company. This was on April 17, 1945. We were there on the 18th. I picked up a camera a few weeks before and took a picture of it. I send it for the scrap book. Ive been watching a lot of TV and I never see this on TV and wonder why. I think people should know about this place. I think it is one of the forgotten things in the war. About 1016 prisoners perished and as the years go by, I can't forget this place. The next day we moved toward Stendal and other outfits buried the people..."
YANK: the Army Weekly
From an article in YANK magazine, May 18, 1945, Vol 3, No 48
Caption on the following sequence of images read as follows:
American soldiers who were prisoners of the Germans.
By Sgt ED CUNNINGHAM
YANK Staff Correspondent
With The 104TH Division, GERMANY -- The sergeant was apologetic. He said he was sorry but there was no other transportation.
"I'll have to send you all back to Corps headquarters in a six-by-six. Best I can do. The truck'll be ready right after chow. Rations are short because the supply lines are fouled up, but we'll make supper as good as we can."
Two or three of the 12 soldiers sitting around the room laughed.
"We're kinda used to short rations by now," one of them said.
"Yes," the soldier on the sofa next to him said, "the Germans never spread any banquets our way.
"I know that," MP Sgt. Ray Bunt of Lafayette, La., said. "That's what gripes hell out of me every day when I have to feed these Kraut prisoners. Because of the Geneva Convention or some god dam thing, I have to give those bastards a C-ration at 9 in the morning and another at 4 in the afternoon. Besides that, they can have all the water they want."
AGI who was still wearing a German camouflaged rain cape got in the conversation. "The Germans who had us never bothered about the Geneva Convention," he said. "They walked us two days and nights without food after they took us at St. Vith. The only water we had was what we could get in the ditches when the snow melted."
That started the rest of the stories.
Sitting there in the parlor of a German home which had been requisitioned as an MP billet, a dozen Yanks who had been released from a German PW cage when the 104th Division overran it told what had happened to them during their captivity.
The dean of the prisoners had spent two years and eight months in a PW camp. He had been captured in August 1942 and had been shot in the ankle and thigh by a German sniper just before he was taken prisoner. Despite his wounds, the Germans made him walk 12 miles to a prison camp without giving him medical attention.
After a week in a French prison, he and 1,500 other Allied prisoners were herded into French 40-and-8 cars and taken to Stalag 8-B at Lamsdorf in Ober Silesia. The rations for each man on the four days and four nights' train ride were a loaf of bread, a third of a tin of meat and a quarter pound of margarine.
"When we got to Lamsdorf," the dean of the prisoners said, "they put us in a compound by ourselves. We couldn't have any contact with the other Allied prisoners. There were 400 men in a hut and each hut was built to hold only 200. Just to make sure we weren't too comfortable, they tied our hands with binder twine from 8 in the morning until 8 at night. Later they used handcuffs instead of twine.
That went on for a whole year. Sometimes some of the boys managed to slip out of their bonds but if they were caught they got five days of solitary confinement in a bunker with no food at all."
Despite temperatures that dropped to 10 and 20 below zero, the Germans made no effort to heat the prisoners' barracks. Men had to sleep in their clothes with their overcoats for blankets. Many of them suffered frozen feet and fingers. Later some of these frozen feet and fingers had to be amputated by Allied military doctors in the prison.
"The food at Lamsdorf was terrible," the soldier said. "They gave us a loaf of bread for seven men and it was usually green with mold. Sometimes we'd get about a quart of watery soup made from the water the Germans boiled their own potatoes in, with a few cabbage leaves thrown in to make it look like soup. I lost about 50 pounds in my two years and five months there."
Along with 8,000 other Allied prisoners at Lamsdorf, he was evacuated from the Silesian prison camp on January 23, 1945, because the Russian Army had advanced to within five miles. All the men who were able to walk were forced to do so. A few invalid prisoners went by freight.
"They put me on a train, but some of the other boys who had frozen feet and hands never made it. Their guards clubbed them with rifles and left them lying there along the roadside in the snow and zero weather when they dropped out because of bad feet. God knows what happened to them."
"The bastards did the same thing to our guys," another GI said. "They beat them with rifle butts when they couldn't walk any further. And if any of the stronger ones tried to help a guy they saw was getting weak, the guards clubbed them too. Besides that, they egged on German kids in the towns we went through to throw stones at us."
This man, an infantryman from the 14th Armored Division, was captured at Bitche on January 2, during the German break-through in Belgium and Luxembourg. Along with 200 other Americans, he was loaded on a freight train and sent to eastern Germany. They had neither food nor water on the trip, which took four days and five? nights. Their overcoats, blankets, field jackets and shoes were taken away from them, together with their watches and other personal belongings.
It was mostly from dysentery. Nearly everybody in camps had it because they never let us wash the pots we had to eat out of. They didn't let us wash ourselves much either. I went for seven weeks without a bath once. Sometimes lice worried us more than whatever we were sick from.
"We licked the ice on the hinges of the box car for water," he said. "There were 60 or 70 of us in each car with no blankets or warm clothes or even straw to sleep on. And just to make sure we didn't get any sleep, German guards stopped outside our car several times a night and fired a couple of rounds in on us. They weren't trying to hit us, because they always fired high, but they kept us awake, so we wouldn't have energy to try to escape."
Returning to the earlier days of his capture, he told us how all his clothes had been taken from him at a Leipzig hospital. Although he had a fever of 103, he was put on a train in mid-February for a two-day ride to another camp, his only clothing being a half a blanket. During the trip both his feet were frozen.
"I spent three of my four months as a prisoner in a hospital," he said. "I lost 60 pounds and was down to 90 pounds once, but I gained a lot of it back later.
"Besides that when we were locked in cars, the men with dysentery would have to go in the corner because the German guards wouldn't give us any pails or pots to use. Then, in the morning, the guards would come around and call us 'dirty Yankee swine.' But the worst part of it all was that they wouldn't give our medics any medicine or supplies to treat us with. And the German doctors ordered sick prisoners to work over the protests of American medical officers who had been treating them.
"The sons of bitches," the MP sergeant said.
A medic, who was one of the 12 ex-prisoners, got in the conversation then. He was a medic of the 101st Airborne Division and he had been captured at Bastogne, on December 19, 1945.
"They not only wouldn't give us medical supplies," he said, "they even, took our own away from us. After they captured us, they made us turn over our kits and left us nothing to treat wounded and sick prisoners with. I had a ball of adhesive tape, a pack of morphine syrettes and some bandages in my pants which I used later on our boys, but they didn't last very long.
"They marched us from Bastogne to Coblenz in zero weather and with two and three feet of snow on the ground. I saw guys who dropped out along the road clubbed on their bare tails with the butts of rifles by their guards. At Gerolstein they made 80 of our boys clean out buildings which had just been bombed by our planes and which were still burning. While they were working, the guards kicked them, hit them over the heads with pitchforks and then turned the fire hose on them, spraying them with water that froze their clothes on them.
"They marched us seven days, then gave us two days rest and started us off again. Finally, they put us in box cars for a five-day ride to Stalag 2-A, about 85 miles north of Berlin. From December 19 until January 3, when we reached the Stalag, the total food given each of us 600 prisoners was two cups of ersatz coffee, a sixth of a loaf of bread and two cups of barley soup. That's all. It wasn't much for a two-week trip, most of it on foot."
After six days at Stalag 2-A, his group was put on freight trains for a ride back to another camp. There he worked in a prison hospital, treating American patients.
"They would only give us some straw and two blankets for the sick and wounded prisoners," he said. "That was their bed and bedclothes, even though the temperature often got down around zero. Then they forbade us to use bedpans for patients and ordered that all the patients had to go to the toilet themselves. Some of the guys were just too weak to do it and the guards finally let us help them to the latrines."
"That's right," another one interrupted. "He must have carried me to the latrine at least a dozen times besides helping me to a shelter during air raids."
Another MP came in the room and told Sgt. Bunt that chow was ready. One of the exprisoners asked, "Do we have to line up in fives and count off, sergeant?"
"You fellows are finished with that kinda orders,"Bunt replied in his soft Louisiana drawl. "After chow a truck'll take you back to Corps and they'll pass you back to Army. Army'll probably ship you to England. Hell, you'll all probably be back in the States this time next month."
"They're the sweetest words I've heard in months," one said.
"You can say that again," the GI in the camouflaged German rain cape said. "Think of it. The States in a month, maybe."
"I've been thinking of it," said the prisoner for two years and eight months, who hadn't seen his wife and daughter since May 25, 1941.
Buchenwald, Germany -- At Buchenwald concentration camp I saw bake ovens. Instead of being used to bake bread, they were used to destroy people. They were in a most efficient cellar equipped at its door with a sliding board down which victims could be slipped to eventual destruction.
There were various stories about how the victims were knocked out before they were "baked," and I saw one club which was undoubtedly used for that purpose. There was also a table where gold fillings were removed from the teeth of skulls.
There were long steel stretchers on which the prisoners, often still alive, were rolled into the stinking heat of the ovens. I don't know how far German efficiency went, but I'm sure the heat from so much good coke and so many tons of sizzling flesh could not have been wasted. Perhaps it was circulated through asbestos pipes to warm the quarters of the SS guards.
The Germans were not complete beasts about their bake ovens. they had an inspiring four-line stanza painted on a signboard in the cellar. The stanza explains that man does not want his body to be eaten by worms and insects; he prefers the purifying oblivion of flame.
Before purification the prisoners lived in barrackslike structures about 200 feet long. On either side of the buildings are four layers of shelves about five feet deep and three feet apart. Two-by-fours, spaced five feet apart, cut these building-long shelves into compartments. The final compartment is about five feet wide, five feet deep, two or three feet high.
In each of these compartments, the Germans put six men -- or seven when, as was norman, the camp was croweded. And, remarkably enough, there is room for six or seven men. After all, a man whose thighs are no bigger around than my forearm doesn't take up much room.
The stench of such a place became something to dread on a hot spring afternoon. Vomit and urine and feces and foul breath and rotting bodies mingled their odors -- the smell of 1,500 men in a single room half again or at most twice as long as one of our model barracks back home -- barracks which today are housing many German PWs.
This camp is a thing that has to be seen to be believed, and even then the charred skulls and pelvic bones in the furnaces seem too enormous a crime to be accepted fully. It can't mean that they actually put human beings-- some of them alive -- into these furnaces and destroyed them like this.
But it means just that.
The camp used to be well guarded to keep the townspeople away, but they couldn't have lived in ignorance or innocence of what was going on here. Many of the prisoners worked in the nearby Weimar factories. They collapsed of hunger at their benches and no one asked why. They died along the road on the long walk back to camp and no one expressed surprise. The good citizens of Weimar shut their eyes and their ears and their nostrils to the sight and the sound and the smell of this place.
Cpt. Howard Katza
YANK Staff Correspondant
Row after row of corpses covered the ground inside the Nordhausen concentration camp. First Army men who captured the camp said that there were 3,000 to 4,000 inmates of a half dozen nationalities.
Ohrdruf, Germany -- The tankmen Combat Command A, 4th Armored Division, had taken this town two days before. Prisoners in Concentration Camp North (Stalag III) -- those who were too weak or too sick to travel -- had been killed the day before the doughs rolled in. The cold had preserved their bodies and deadened the stench so that you could walk around them and inspect them at fairly close range.
There were 31 bodies piled in one place and more than that tumbled together on top of each other in a nearby shack -- 65 in all. Some of the bodies were clothed in rags and some were completely naked. One body was that of an American soldier, and the few survivors pointed him out. Blood had caked the ground around the bodies into pancakes of red mud.
All the peoples of Europe were represented here among the survivors and the dead evidence of German efficiency. The Americans who went through the camp looked quietly at the dead and spoke softly to the living.
Col. Hayden Sears of Boston, Mass., CO of Combat Command A, said little as he looked around on the second day. The third day he assembled the leading citizens of Ohrdruf and took them to visit the camp of death.
The leading citizens were very much ashamed of what their fellow Germans had. done. "This is the work of only 1 percent of the German Army," said one of them. "You should not blame the rest."
Col. Sears spoke to them through an interpreter.
"Tell them they have been brought here to see with their own eyes what is reprehensible by any human standard," he said. "Tell them we hold the whole German nation responsible because of its support and toleration of the Nazi Government.
"Tell them so long as this kind of thing goes on, we must consider the German people our enemy.
--- Sgt. Saul Levitt
YANK Staff Correspondent
Most of us were brought up to be suspicious of atrocity stories." Our suspicion carried over into this war, and we were, some of us, wary and unbelieving when we heard the first stories of Nazi concentration camps. Until after the invasion of France we weren't very close to the fact of Nazi terror and the strange names of the camps - Dachau, Lublin Buchenwald -- and the foreign, to us, names of the victims made it all a little unreal.
Now American soldiers have opened some of these of Hitler's Reich. They have freed concentration camps and prison camps and have found starvation and murder and torture applied as Nazi veapons to American prisoners of war with the same ruthless violence with which they have long been applied to Germany slave laborers ----- races." GI's have seen wrecked bodies that once belonged to good American names like Smith and Jones and Johnston, have seen starved hulks of men with faces like skulls who used to take the New York subway to work in civilian life or plow a field in Missouri or lie on the beach in California.
This is what the Germans did to one soldier, an American, imprisoned at Limburg.
The 90th Infantry Division moved into Flossenberg, Germany and found a concentration camp where 12,500 prisoners had been slaughtered since 1938 -- almost enough prisoners to make up a full-strength infantry division, SS guards, retreating before the Americans, from Thekla, Germany, burned 300 prisoners alive because they could not take them with them. At Struthof, France, GIs found a model concentration camp. "It might have been a Civilian Conservation Corps camp," said the New York Times correspondent. It had a spotless crematorium for burning bodies, and hooks, like in a butcher shop, to hold the bodies before burning.
The list goes on and on. At the Oswiecm camp near Erfurt, Germany, 3,500,000 Jews were killed. At Buchenwald, Germany 30,000 prisoners were killed. At Nordhausen, Germany, 2,700 Allied and political prisoners were killed. At Gardelegen, Germany, 1,100 prisoners were killed by suffocation and fire. You can go on counting for some time. The full list isn't in yet and won't be till long afterthe war.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower is used to war and the death and dirt that goes with it. But visiting these liberated death camps so moved him that he requested a committee of Allied and neutral journalists and statesmen to visit some of the camps in person, to see the horror with their own eyes while the marks of the horror were fresh. On these pages YANK presents first-hand reports by our own reporters who have been with U. S.troops as they went into some of concentrations and extermination camps and have spoken with U. S.soldiers who have experienced what it means to be prisoners of the Germans.
[Note: The preceeding article/photographs ran in "YANK" magazine on May 18, 1945 Vol. 3 No. 48., pp. 1 - 4. Edward Souder has kindly supplied World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words the materials depicted on this page.
Co. F., 405th Regiment -- Kitchen History Stories:
Gene Greenburg, Sgt., Co. F., 405th Reg. -- Gene's World War II Diary
Jim Hansen, Sgt., 2nd Lt., Co. F., 405th Reg. -- Jim Hansen Remembers
Bob Herrick, 2nd Lt., Co. F., 405th Reg. -- From the Roer to the Rhine
Edward L. Souder, Pfc., Co. F., 405th Reg. -- Going Off to War
+ Many Additional Stories...
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
102 Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
Gardelegen Massacre: 13 April, 1945
102nd Div. Pamphlet Cover: Gardelegen Massacre: 13 April, 1945
Pamphlet Cover: Gardelegen Massacre: 13 April, 1945
Scrapbook: Gardelegen Massacre: 13 April, 1945
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
Information and photographs were generously provided to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by Mr. Edward L. Souder of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Additional links to the website mentioned above, 102nd Division Pamphlet, Gardlegen Massacre: 13 April 1945, were generously provided by Mr. Paul Rentz, the son of Clifford Rentz, 102nd Division, who at the time was the body guard to General Frank A. Keating, the commander of the 102nd Division. We wish to extend our "Thank You" to Mr. Rentz for bringing our information up to date on the Gardelegen Massacre.
Original Story submitted on 7 September 2002.
Story added to website on 8 October 2002.
Story links updated on 24 September 2007.
September 5, 2002.
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