Atrocities discovered in Germany


Back Story

Taking Note of History

April 02, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

In early April 1945, near the end of World War II, armored units of Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army were racing northeastward from Frankfurt, Germany, as beleaguered and disorganized German units fell back, offering little resistance.

Lee McCardell, Sunpapers war correspondent, was traveling with 3rd Army troops when they made the startling discovery of a German concentration camp on the outskirts of Ohrdruf, eight miles south of Gotha.

"There on the blood-soaked ground before you lay the bodies of 31 miserable men. Each had a bullet hole in the back of his head. They had been shot three days ago by SS Guards, you were told," McCardell wrote.

"You had heard of such things in Germany. You had heard creditable witnesses describe just such scenes. But now you were actually confronted with the horror of mass murder, you stared at the bodies and almost doubted your own eyes," he wrote.

"`Good God!' you said aloud, `Good God!'"

McCardell reported seeing bodies stacked like cordwood near a shed. "These dead, more horrible in death than any carnage you had ever seen on a battlefield, belonged to German Concentration Lager North S-3," he wrote.

"`Good God!' you repeated, `Good God!'"

An average of 30 prisoners a day perished from typhus. Others who had died by other means were stripped of their clothes while SS guards scrawled a number upon their skin with a black crayon. Bodies were then piled on trucks for transport to a crematory pit in the woods for disposal.

Col. Hayden A. Sears, of the 4th Armored Division, took Ohrdruf residents, including Nazi party members who claimed they had no knowledge of what went on there, to the camp so they could see the bodies of inmates who had been tortured, shot and beaten to death.

"All of you are responsible," Sears told them. "It was done by the party the German people had put in power. Therefore, we hold the German people responsible." Three days later, the 6th Armored Division liberated 21,000 inmates at Buchenwald, where 44,000 had died.

"Perhaps Americans are tired of reading these atrocity stories. God knows we correspondents are sick of writing them," McCardell wrote. "We are sick of seeing these people, sick of listening to their tales. But they belong to the Nazi wreckage, laid bare by the ebbing tide of war on the battlefront. And the tide is still running out."

On April 20, as U.S. forces approached Flossenbuerg concentration camp in Bavaria, SS guards ordered the camp's evacuation. The 22,000 inmates, including 1,700 Jews, were marched toward Dachau.

Near the outskirts of Neunburg, 160 Hungarian Jews were slain while they ate from a cart of cooked potatoes that German peasant women had prepared and persuaded guards to let them eat.

They were buried in shallow graves by SS guards who hastily disappeared. Arriving American forces were told of the mass execution by survivors.

An American commander ordered that the citizens of Neunburg were to remove the bodies from the fresh graves. When the work was done, they were to serve as pallbearers for the slain Jews.

McCardell was an eyewitness to the events that unfolded in the small Bavarian village.

"Every man, woman and child above the age of 5 in Neunburg who was able to walk attended the funeral by military order," he wrote.

"They stood in the cemetery with the mutilated and emaciated bodies of 160 murdered Jews lying in front of them in open coffins."

As they stood near the open coffins, loudspeakers blared a message in German to the town's residents.

"The German people, all of you, conspired to tear these wretched victims from their homes and families - from their wives, children and other dear ones in foreign lands. You conspired to transport them here to work as your slaves in your factories, your farms, your homes.

"None among you raised his voice or arm in protest. You were content to profit by their blood and sweat and misery."

The bodies were placed in wooden coffins built by village carpenters. After a service conducted by U.S. Army chaplains, they were buried in three large common graves that had been dug in the Catholic cemetery.

"The Germans accepted the task stoically. Several of the women faltered and wept and one fainted with hysteria, but the others struggled along with set faces," McCardell observed.

The loudspeaker had a final message: "May the memory of these tragic dead rest heavily upon the conscience of every German so long as each of you shall live."

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