Ralph Cole: Ohrdruf-North Stalag III

The Forgotten Death Camp

On April 4, 1945, the Fourth Armored Division and the 355th Infantry Regiment of the 89th Infantry Division, part of General George Patton's famed Third U.S. Army, liberated the first death camp, Ohrdruf or North Stalag III, a sub camp of Buchenwald, located near Weimar.

Having moved through France and Luxemburg, and after heavy fighting across the Moselle and the Rhine Rivers, the 89th Infantry Division was at last on German soil. It was there that we fought and took Ohrdruf.

One of the first sights to greet our troops were the bodies of approximately twenty emaciated persons who had just been shot prior to the flight of their Nazi captors. Included in this group was a young American aviator, still dressed in his flight gear. The crematorium was filled with the partially consumed bodies of many people, some still smoldering and smoking. In addition, the Germans had placed iron railroad tracks, interlaced with ties, and had stacked countless corpses on this funeral pyre. Nearby in a warehouse were piles of bodies covered with lye, awaiting cremation. In one locale, a body was still on a roasting type campfire, treated as you might roast a pig. There were almost no survivors, as the Nazis had killed as many prisoners as possible to prevent anyone from telling what had happened.

Ohrdruf was subsequently visited by Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton. General Eisenhower stated:

"I have never been able to describe my emotional reaction when I came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard to every shred of decency. I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about the things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda. I want every American unit not actually in the front line to see this place. We are told that the American solider does not know what he is fighting for. Now at least he will know what he is fighting against"

General Patton said:

"This is one of the most appalling sights I have ever seen. Honestly, words are inadequate to express the horror of these institutions. The scenes witnessed here are beyond the normal mind to believe. No race except a people dominated by an ideology of sadism could have committed such gruesome crimes. Inmates, all in a bad state of starvation, even those who live, in my opinion, will never recover mentally."

General Bradley commented:

"The smell of death overwhelmed us even before we passed through the stockade. More than 3,200 naked emaciated bodies had been flung into shallow graves. Others lay in the streets where they had fallen. Lice crawled over the yellow skin of their sharp, bony frames. A guard showed us how the blood had congealed in course black scabs where the starving prisoners had torn out the entrails of the dead for food I was too revolted to speak, for here death had been so fouled by degradation that it both stunned and numbed us."

Having witnessed that holocaust, as long as we live, my comrades and I can so testify! After inspecting Ohrdruf, the generals flew on to inspect captured artwork and bullion, which had been looted by the Nazis. Although their visit had been recorded by the press, that night, April 12 1945, they were notified that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had just died. With that significant news event, Ohrdruf received no coverage!

Ohrdruf remains ever imbedded in the minds of the men of the 4th Armored Division and the 89th Infantry Division. Let us hope that others will learn and remember...

There are times that we must fight for what is right, and in order to accomplish what is right, such as destroying those who caused the Holocaust or who may cause another, we must be strong! With strength, we may further peace!