Discovery of Concentration Camps at Ohrdruf
During the morning of 9th April 1945, together with units of the 4th Armored Division, three battalion scout-observers, myself included, members of the Combat Intelligence and Reconnaissance Section of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 355th Infantry Regiment, 89th Infantry Division, riding in a Jeep equipped with a post-mounted 50 cal. machine gun, and followed by a group of vehicles carrying officers and men of other units of 2nd Battalion, rolled through the gates of a concentration camp north of the town of Ohrdruf, Germany. Most of the SS Guards had escaped before our arrival. This camp was later identified as the OHRDRUF-NORD concentration camp, a sub camp of BUCHENWALD. Even though I had already experienced more than 7, or 8, weeks of infantry combat by this time and had observed the wounding and death, in many of its countless ghastly forms, of many American and German soldiers, and had heard rumors of the Nazi atrocities committed against the Jews and other minorities, I was totally unprepared for the appalling sights of "man's bestiality towards men" which were to suddenly appear before me! Some few minutes must have passed before I could sense the full impact, and actually understand, what I was looking at, and smelling, as we drove in, dismounted, walked around and saw some unbelievably horrible sights:
...a sprawled group of about 30 apparently executed prisoners, including a US
Army Air Corps flying officer POW.
...an iron pyre covered with many cremated bodies in the center of an open area.
...a large pile, about 4 to 5 layers deep of about 40 or 50 starved, beaten, "skin and bones" type bodies lying in a shed, probably waiting to be cremated prior to our arrival.
...a couple of 6 or 7 feet-high piles of burnt bones and skulls against the rear (?) wall of the crematorium building, which contained the ovens.
...a small building, with a warning sign saying: "KRANKHAUS-ACHTUNG: TYPHUS", containing about 12 or 13 bodies lying in two-high wooden bunks, and emitting the worst stench of rotten flesh, blood and feces that I had ever before encountered, so intense that it stopped my breath and I had to escape to the outdoors, which didn't smell as bad.
...and, then, we saw the single location containing the greatest number of dead bodies I had ever seen in one place:
An immense rectangular open pit (or group of pits?), containing an estimated 6000 or 7000 more of the starved "skin and bones" type bodies, part of them covered with a sparse dusting of lime. The bodies were piled in layers, about 6 to 7 bodies deep.
When one of the men in our group, a devout Roman Catholic, came to the edge of this large pit, he let out a loud wail, dropped to his knees, clasped his hands and prayed to God amidst loud sobs, with tears running down his cheeks! Although we had both been in 2nd Battalion for at least the last 8 months, including stateside training in Camp Butner, NC, I had never before realized he could be such a compassionate person!
Although more than 50 years have passed since I was present at Ohrdruf, the above scenes are so deeply ingrained in my memory that I have never been able to forget them and will carry them to my grave!