Thursday, April 16, 2015

What They Saw First

Ohrdurf Concentration Camp, located near Gotha, Germany, was a subcamp of Buchenwald. Its history was short and brutal, having only begun operation in November 1944. Indeed, other than appearing on the far-too-long list of brutal Nazi camps, Ohrdurf may have been lost to history’s particular notice but for the fact that it was the first concentration camp liberated by the American Army.

Approximatly 11,500 prisoners were held at Ohrdurf. The prisoners were forced to dig underground caverns for Nazi headquarters and build various transportation facilities.

On April 4, 1945, the 4th Armored Division and the 89th Infantry Division of the Third U.S. Army arrived to find the SS guard lying dead across the entrance. They found that the camp had been evacuated. Most of the inmates were sent on forced marches during which many died, and those unable to leave had been executed. Piles of bodies were found throughout the camp.

It was the first time American troops had seen the Nazi atrocities with their own eyes. Generals Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton arrived at Ohrdurf the following week. Afterwards, Eisenhower ordered all free U.S. Army units in the area to visit the camp. On April 19. Eisenhower requested that journalists and members of Congress come and bear witness as well. The visits had a profound impact on those who came and underscored the vital importance of an Allied victory.

This Treat was written in honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is observed today.
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